Studdard's Success   | Bootlegged Hulk   | Martha Is a Hillary Fan   | LaBelle Flakes Out 

Ruben 'Can't Even Process' Success

American Idol star Ruben Studdard is here in New York!

On Saturday night Ruben and his brother, who should tag team as the Gentle Giants, made a surprise appearance at real American idol Isaac Hayes' triumphant sold-out late show at B.B. King's. (This is the great venue where the security continues to act as if the customers are the enemy.)

But amid ovations and call-outs, bad news: Ruben is not allowed to jump on stage and sing if he so desires. Why? The American Idol contract forbids unauthorized warbling in public. Yikes! He can't even be part of an audience sing-a-long!

I talked with Ruben and his bro after the show: They are indeed nice young men. But the big news is that Ruben is halfway through recording his first album, for J Records. When I asked him what he thought of his first single going to the top of the charts this week, he kind of shook his head and whispered: "I don't even know. It doesn't even make sense."

To be fair, I responded, "It's hard to process, right?"

Ruben whispered back — he speaks in kind of a whispery, oxygen-less voice, "That's right, sir." He called me sir a lot, which made me nervous. But he was trying to be respectful.

His brother said that when they met Clive Davis the record mogul told them, "Welcome to the family."

The Hulk? It's Already Out on Video

Waiting to see The Incredible Hulk? The Universal Pictures blockbuster doesn't open until Friday but a family I know watched the whole thing at home on Saturday night.

This was not an authorized private screening.

It seems that Hulk bootleg tapes are circulating faster than Pokemon cards among the young set. The quality was reported as "good" and the family, Universal should be happy to note, "really liked the movie."

Maybe this accounts for another scene I witnessed at 47th and Broadway on Saturday morning after leaving the Fox studios: a man dragging a large Hefty-type trash bag of tapes stopped to sell his wares to a 35-ish guy and his two little boys. Did he take credit cards? I don't think so. Does he offer a punch card for return visits? Unlikely. Are the tapes rewound properly? You don't ask.

This is a mini-drama going on in several locations all over the city, perhaps taking the place of the old drug dealers Rudy Giuliani drove out of town.

Martha Stewart Is a Hillary Fan

Martha Stewart is such a fan of Hillary Clinton, she's thinking of going to the senator's book party Monday night.

At least, that was the word over the weekend when Stewart was still planning to take Clinton up on her invitation. The question is: Will she really do it? And another question is: Will someone from Sen. Clinton's camp dissuade her? We won't know until the party's over.

Stewart would create a paparazzi gridlock at the party considering she is New York's No. 1 most-wanted picture right now. She follows such colleagues as Lizzie Grubman, Leona Helmsley and Bess Myerson as Manhattan's most notorious female celebrity.

Clinton's party should be a joyous one for Simon & Schuster, which is banking on continued heat to keep sales booming. The book business has been in the doldrums for some time; Clinton's book has become an event.

Patti LaBelle Flakes Out

Patti LaBelle's strange behavior at Thursday night's Songwriters Hall of Fame dinner was attributed to a diabetic malfeasance — not by publicists, but just by those who took a wild guess. (She's written a lot about her diabetes and its side effects in her cookbook, that's how we knew.)

LaBelle made a grand late entrance to the dinner, which was already in progress, dressed in a gorgeous gold gown. She looked regal. She did not misbehave at the table. At the conclusion of many of the extraordinary performances on stage LaBelle was the first to jump up and applaud. Everything seemed copacetic.

But when LaBelle took the stage to get her own award, all hell broke loose. Following a well-meant but long-winded speech by Alicia Keys introducing her, LaBelle launched into an incoherent filibuster.

"Alicia Keys, many people criticized her for not being the real thing," LaBelle declared, which prompted more than a few people around us to reply in a murmur: "NO they didn't. What's she talking about?"

LaBelle then rambled on for several minutes, telling the audience that Denise Rich's father had died (sad, but irrelevant at that moment), and that Rich was a great songwriter (this met with kind of a buzzing silence), and so on and so forth. Names escaped her memory, especially Luther Vandross', whom she couldn't recall at all. Finally, Wynonna Judd, who had wowed the crowd singing lead with Queen on "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," jumped up from her seat.

"Patti!" she yelled in a commanding voice. "Sing!"

Thanks so much, Wynonna. You are a brave and wise woman.

LaBelle proceeded to sing one of those unconstructed late '80s R&B anthems that has no chorus but a lot of roller-coaster vocal tricks. She had to read the lyrics off the TelePrompter. It was a mess, but it ended, thankfully. LaBelle then took the mike and said: "Can I sing another song? Let's do 'Over the Rainbow'? The band knows it."

Well, the band knew it because Michael Amante, a very capable singer, had performed it 30 minutes earlier. But LaBelle didn't seem to mind that she was about to "Celebrity Deathmatch" Amante right out of the room. So she sang it, and didn't need the TelePrompter because it was written in her heart. The equally legendary Arif Mardin, who has produced many LaBelle albums (as well as those of every other major female singer including Norah Jones ), led the standing ovation with a big grin.

But someone please, with all due respect, get the woman a chocolate bar or a glass of orange juice.

Otherwise the Songwriters Awards was a phenomenal success. The group's chief, Hal David, lyricist for all the great Bacharach-David songs and many others, continues to be a youthful presence. He and Linda Moran put together a memorable evening. People are still talking about Ray Charles and Van Morrison's duet on "Crazy Love." Charles, on piano, stopped singing a few bars in. Later he said, "I stopped because I wanted to hear Van's voice." Cool, man.

And Billy Joel. Billy was there to present an award to Jimmy Webb. I'll tell you more about that tomorrow. That's my Monday cliff-hanger. Cue organ music.