Do you remember this moment? Simon Cowell, breathless on "American Idol" after Fantasia Barrino sang Gershwin's "Summertime," pronounced her and her performance the best ever on the show. Fantasia was just a scared 19-year-old who hoped to win the contest.
Last night, Fantasia — now all of 20 — was the special guest at legendary New York radio personality Hal Jackson's 65th anniversary dinner.
The black-tie gala at the Rainbow Room was a swell affair, with featured artists Ashford & Simpson, Chuck Jackson, The Manhattans and Patti LaBelle. There was a proclamation from New York Gov. George Pataki and lots of media. There wasn't a single reporter or photographer from the mainstream press — it was their loss.
Fantasia made her appearance right after the first three performers turned in spectacular sets in the Art Deco dining room. She slithered up to the stage in a lovely peach-colored gown.
It was instantly apparent that since "American Idol," Fantasia has matured and maybe even been tutored a little. She looked sensational and acted sensationally, singing an impromptu a cappella "Happy Birthday" to Hal.
You folks outside the New York area might not know this, but Hal is responsible for breaking more records and acts than any other DJ in New York history. Years ago I learned to drive listening to him on WBLS while he spun records.
But the best was yet to come. Patti LaBelle arrived, looking like a very cool diva in a mink cape over a black cat suit. But she quickly explained that she had a cold, her nose had been bleeding and she was a mess.
"I agreed to be here and I couldn't stay away," she said.
However, knowing that she might not be in perfect voice, LaBelle invited Fantasia onstage to sing with her. And the rest is history.
Fantasia, now very polished but not slick, comes across as a young Aretha Franklin. She helped Patti through "If You Only Knew" and "Love You, Need You" without any rehearsal or lyric sheet. There was no lip-synching either. Just straight-ahead, gorgeous R&B belting, crooning and scatting.
"She knows my music," Patti said as she mustered up the strength to temporarily overcome her illnesses and give Fantasia a run for her money.
"I'm 60 years old and I've been doing this for 40 years. How old are you?" Patti asked a shocked Fantasia when they finished a song to one of many standing ovations.
"Twenty," the girl replied.
Even LaBelle couldn't believe it. If last night was any indication, Fantasia is poised to be a superstar.
As for Patti, her patter — including telling Hal from the stage "I'll sweat like a man for you" — was glib, off-the-cuff and no doubt aided by the cold medicine she needed to make the show.
She said she couldn't sing, but really, she outdid herself. You can hear the whole thing this Sunday on Hal and Debi Jackson's show on WBLS.
Have we reached the end of an Oscar era? The magic 8-ball says yes.
After nine years, In Style magazine has pulled the plug on its annual party thrown for the Elton John AIDS Foundation on Oscar night.
The news came as a surprise to Elton's people, but not as much to the folks inside Time Warner. Apparently they've been trying to get out of it for a couple of years now.
"In Style already gives a great Golden Globes party, and then they have to deal with this Oscar thing," an insider said. "Elton's people did not adhere to quality control and the kind of people who came were not that great."
Indeed, the last two years have seen the decline of Elton's shindig, possibly caused by the venue. Because Vanity Fair has its party at Morton's, Elton et al. moved to a rambling nightclub across the street.
At first, the club was owned by the folks from New York's briefly very hot Moomba. But when that closed and the owners did the moomba out of town, Elton stayed on — to the detriment of the party.
A woman who answered the phone at the foundation yesterday said they were in negotiations with a new sponsor who would be announced shortly.
"It's a jeweler," a source said, but not DeBeers. So use your imagination.
Meanwhile, Vanity Fair has published a $75 book with pictures that are supposedly just from its own Oscar parties. It may be a sign that even that party is "over," considering the book is stalled at an appalling No. 4,334 on Amazon.com.
There's no audience for this exercise in bloated self-congratulation? What a surprise.
Since Graydon Carter only started sucking up to celebrities in public in 1994, the book is supplemented with lots of pictures that have nothing to do with Vanity Fair. They're from Hollywood parties of the past, long before Vanity Fair came rolling in with its light-touch journalism.
There are none from the nine years of In Style's Elton John parties. And that's too bad, since you'd have seen, for example, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington enjoying their Oscar wins with Elton rather than Carter.
And no, there are no snaps of Vanity Fair PR director Beth Kseniak throwing out journalists or the door people telling invitees they can't bring in guests. Those are being left for the sequel, to be called "Oscar Night: Ten Years of Humiliation, Exhaustion and Pandering to B-List Stars."
Explosive Disney Book Set for March 1
James B. Stewart's book about Michael Eisner, "Disney War," will be published no later than March 1, 2005, and possibly even in early January, according to a Simon & Schuster insider.
The book, which is already in production, is said to be very damaging to Eisner, even though he participated in interviews with Stewart.
Dealt with directly and at length is the current civil trial involving Michael Ovitz and Disney shareholders, as well as Eisner's public dislike of Pixar chief Steve Jobs and Miramax's Weinstein brothers.
According to my sources, Stewart will lay out Eisner's long-standing desire to "get" the Weinsteins.
"He has some idea he can run Miramax without them," a source familiar with the book said. "He wants their library."
To that end, Eisner is said to have approached former New Line and Dreamworks exec Mike De Luca about joining Disney and running some part of a post-Weinstein Miramax.
I told you yesterday that De Luca was best known in Hollywood for having received a sexual favor in public at an Oscar party in 1998.
Stewart is said to also address Ovitz's recent court testimony that he attempted several different big-scale projects, only to have each one shot down by Eisner before Ovitz finally was forced to leave with his $140 million golden parachute after only 15 months.
"Every one of those projects, Disney either wound up spending more money for later or tried and failed to do without Ovitz," my source said.
The book and the ongoing testimony in the shareholder case down in Delaware are adding up to a PR nightmare for Eisner.
He will be taking the stand soon himself to try to explain why shareholders shouldn't get back the disputed $140 million paid out to Ovitz — plus the $60 million in interest the money would have earned over the past eight years.
The shareholders are wondering how Eisner managed to sneak Ovitz's severance package past his board of directors.
So far, one of the more amusing tidbits to come out of the testimony is news that Ovitz used company money to give expensive gifts to other Disney execs at his level.
It's one thing to give gifts to movie stars, but to fellow company chiefs? Ovitz actually gave ABC's Robert Iger an expensive watch to make him feel "special." The shareholders' group must be apoplectic.