J.Lo Backup Singer Zooms to No. 1

Ashanti Douglas | Liza Minnelli | Michael Jackson 

J.Lo Backup Singer Zooms to No. 1

I told you about Ashanti Douglas last summer, when her vocals on Jennifer Lopez's remixed "I'm Real" were so good that she outshined J.Lo.

So guess what? Ashanti's self-titled debut album hits No. 1 this week in its debut. The numbers aren't completely in yet, but it looks like Ashanti will sell a mind-blowing 700,000 in her first week. That's almost 200,000 more than Celine Dion did last week with her new album.

In fact, the big news on the charts is that Celine will probably sell 200,000 copies this week — not bad, but still a more than 50 percent drop-off after one week. She'll finish at No. 3.

So what of Ashanti, a newly minted star? She's been groomed by Bronx rapper Ja Rule and Murder Inc. record company's Irv Gotti as this year's star. When Ja Rule remixed the Lopez singles from the J.Lo album he put Ashanti's voice on them — right up front — and she stole the show. In what might be the most clever merchandising of the last few years, Lopez didn't even realize that Ashanti was using her records as a showcase.

Last summer Ashanti's mom Linda, who manages her, told me that the two voices were blended on "I'm Real." But now Ashanti need never worry again about playing second fiddle. A star is born! As for Gotti — whose interview in XXL magazine may have severed his great friendship with Tommy Mottola — he's sitting pretty now. Murder Inc. just re-upped with Ja Rule, and the hits should just keep on coming.

Pal Says Liza's Marriage Is Real

OK, I know it's hard to believe, but here's what an insider tells me about the Liza Minnelli-David Gest marriage.

"It's real. He really loves her and is amorous in all the normal ways." I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the point.

"David always wanted to meet Liza. He worshipped her from afar. He kept asking Michael Jackson to introduce them, but it never happened. When he finally got his chance, he came with roses. He told her, 'I will do anything to make you happy.' From the roses he started pulling out jewelry. He had all this gold jewelry made for her, and he just kept giving her a piece of it every day."

The couple's friend says the couple almost had a falling out over their different styles. For example, Minnelli's Thanksgiving dinner was such a success she decided to have another party, on the Sunday night of that weekend last year. "Usually if Liza gives a party, it's just her friends, and her maid takes care of the catering whatever. This time, David insisted on getting involved. He got the caterer, and a valet to park cars — which no one in New York does."

Apparently Gest invited and invited, swelling Liza's guest list beyond her inner circle. Tony Bennett even performed. "She was so freaked out about having so many strangers in her house, she and a few close friends went into the bedroom and watched TV all night."

Obviously, the couple worked out their problems. Now the word is Minnelli and Gest are eyeing a place in Paris as their permanent residence.

Will it last? Who knows? But it's a heckuva story, you have to admit.

By the way, I'm told the "green room" at Marble Arch church was the place to be back on March 16. While the guests waited for Liz Taylor to retrieve her missing shoes so the ceremony could start, Diana Ross' 12-year-old son moonwalked for Michael Jackson.

Michael Jackson's Charity Woes

And speaking of Jackson, at last we have some answers about what happened to the infamous charity started in the fall of 2000 by the King of Pop and Shmuley Boteach (pronounced Boh-tay-ach).

The charity, called Time for Kids, was supposed to be part of Jackson's Heal the World Foundation. But, as this column reported Feb. 18, Heal the World had been almost completely shut down at the same time Jackson was announcing this new effort with Boteach. Jackson's personal accountant, Barry Siegel, wasn't even sure the charity still existed.

Now, the 2000 IRS filings for Boteach's Oxford L'Chaim Society have been made available by guidestar.org, and they tell an interesting story.

The filing was signed on Sept. 26, 2001, by Deborah Boteach, Shmuley's wife and the mother of his seven children. It was received by the IRS on Oct. 22, 2001, indicating it includes the money raised by Jackson and Boteach at an event at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 14, 2001.

That event, a panel on child welfare that included TV talk show host Chuck Woolery and lawyer to the stars Johnnie Cochran, was supposed to be raising money for the Jackson/Boteach charity.

But the subsequent tax filing shows no money was given to children or any charitable causes at all. What it does show is a total of $203,185 collected from direct public support. At the same time, the charity's expenses totaled $259,432. All but $20,000 of that was spent on staff salaries and office expenses.

Listed on the IRS filing are an organization president, secretary and treasurer. The latter two, this reporter discovered after making some calls, are Boteach's sister and mother. The sister, Ateret Diveroli, repeated exactly what the mother had: "I'm not part of that anymore."

Mrs. Diveroli insisted to me that her brother was "very honest" and had stopped working with Michael Jackson "because nothing was happening. He wasn't doing anything."

Nevertheless, Mrs. Diveroli could not explain what the Oxford L'Chaim Society was supposed to be doing with their tax-free bundle of money.

From the Heal the World Foundation Web site: What is Heal the Kids? "Heal the Kids is the latest charitable initiative of Michael Jackson. It is dedicated to promoting nurturing relationships between adults and children, and to fostering programs that help children gain the love, attention and quality time they need to prosper and flourish."

Boteach had a good time with the money collected from sympathetic contributors. He lists $19,028 for "promotional" costs, and another $13,480 on unspecified "outside services."

The main difference between the 1999 filing and this new one is that at least in the previous instance, Boteach claimed to send money to the real L’Chaim Society in Oxford, Cambridge, U.K. Not only are no charitable donations listed this time, but Boteach also failed even to fill in the line on the form explaining the purpose of his charity.

Boteach does list 10 separate anonymous donations from individuals, with most of them in the $5,000 range. One, however, was for $100,000.

The Carnegie Hall event was sponsored by the Seminar Center of New York City, which no longer seems to be in business. Their Web site has been disabled and their phone numbers no longer work. Looking back, the people who attended this thing and gave their money included a middle-aged woman wearing a fire-engine red T-shirt that red on one side "Michael Let Me Hug You" and on the other "Leave Him Alone — Stop Filthy Press."

Last year this column reported that Boteach — who is famous for lecturing around the world on the subject of "Kosher Sex" — had been prohibited from having his own pulpit in the United Kingdom after the British Charitable Commission investigated him for fraud. The commission accused Boteach of using funds for the Oxford L'Chaim Society there for an expensive home. The L'Chaim Society of Oxford has since changed its name and disassociated itself with Boteach.

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