Idol Dropout
MARIO VAZQUEZ VOTES HIMSELF OUT OF THE NATION'S TOP TALENT CONTEST

With his boyish good looks and soulful singing, Mario Vazquez had established himself as an early favorite among the 12 American Idol finalists. So it was a shock when Vazquez, citing undisclosed personal reasons, abruptly announced March 11 that he was quitting the show. "It's a little disturbing to all of us," says Idol judge Paula Abdul.

Not only did Vazquez's move reshuffle the lineup of finalists (see story on page 123, which went to press before Vazquez's announcement), it also prompted intense speculation about why he left. Most common were rumors that the 27-year-old Bronx native had signed another recording contract. Vazquez refuses to confirm or deny another deal, saying only that his decision "was something I contemplated throughout the whole competition. There were personal areas in my life I needed to focus on that I would like to keep private."

Vazquez's pal Hanna Shin says he simply needed a breather. "He wants to make sure his mental and physical state are both in the same place," says Shin, "and to take a step back and revisit his reasons [for being a singer]." For his part, Vazquez vows that his musical career will continue. "My intuition really told me that it wasn't the right time," he says. "But I've been doing this since I was 13, and I'll keep pushing on."

TELL SCOOP
Who will be the next American Idol?

Let us know who you think is the best performer by texting the word VOTE followed by the letter of your favorite contestant to 72667 ("Scoop"). Example: VOTE G

A) Anthony Fedorov
B) Anwar Robinson
C) Bo Bice
D) Carrie Underwood
E) Constantine Maroulis
F) Jessica Sierra
G) Lindsey Cardinale
H) Mikalah Gordon
I) Nadia Turner
J) Nikko Smith
K) Scott Savol
L) Vonzell Solomon

We'll confirm your submission and print results next week. Your local carrier's standard messaging rates apply to all SMS correspondence. Available on participating carriers. For full details, go to people.com/mobileterms

THE REPLACEMENT
On March 12, just over two days after getting booted from Idol—and two hours after a night out with pals in St. Louis—Nikko Smith awoke to a 2:30 a.m. call telling him to hop on a 7 a.m. plane back to L.A. Mario Vazquez's withdrawal gave Smith, 22, son of baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, the last Top 12 spot. (Nikko had received more votes than fellow reject Travis Tucker.)

Quick, Guess Who
She might have taken a career break, but Britney Spears and her husband, Kevin Federline, are certainly keeping their stylists busy. While the singer ditched her blonde locks for a new—yet familiar—brunette look, the man marked "the Pimp" at their wedding is once again dressed (and cornrowed) for the part in a fashion-magazine shoot by celebrity photographer Steven Klein. The couple who coif together stay together.

FIGHTING FAT
Kirstie Alley faces criticism from eating-disorder groups and Rosie O'Donnell

Not everyone thinks Kirstie Alley's new Showtime comedy Fat Actress is funny. The National Eating Disorders Association is unhappy with a scene from the March 7 episode in which a diet coach suggests that Alley induce vomiting to help lose weight. Says the organization's president, Doug Bunnell: "The show reinforces the myth that eating disorders are faddish behaviors rather than serious illnesses." Alley hasn't responded, but a Showtime rep says the show "is fictitious. It is in no way intended to ridicule those who suffer from eating disorders."

As if that weren't enough, Alley has some celebrity detractors as well. In a poem posted online, Rosie O'Donnell openly scoffs at Alley's claim that she topped out at just over 200 lbs. The former talk show host challenges Alley to come clean about her true weight, but Alley would not comment about O'Donnell's allegation.

"Earlier this evening Kirstie Alley told Matt Lauer that her fattest was 201
I almost choked on my yodel
I am 220
fess up Kirstie—201 my ass I started to fume
Rosie O'Donnell, from her poem "Fat Celebs," which is posted on her blog (onceadored.blogspot.com/2005/02/fat-celebs.html)

ROCK'S MISSING OSCAR JOKES
Want to know what Chris Rock left out of his monologue during his hosting gig at the Oscars last month? At a March 10 sneak preview of his upcoming animated comedy Madagascar in L.A., Rock gave the audience a taste of what it had missed—more jabs at Hollywood's finest. "Morgan Freeman hadn't won his Oscar yet, so I was going, to say, 'Morgan hasn't won, but Ben Affleck has one [for writing Good Will Hunting]?' " Rock told the preview crowd." And Martin Scorsese doesn't have an Oscar, but Kevin Costner has two [for directing and producing Dances with Wolves]?' " According to a witness, the crowd ate it up.

Martha's Must-Have Poncho

The country's hottest fashion item? Martha Stewart's "Coming Home" poncho, the gray garment that she proudly wore as she walked out of West Virginia's Alderson Federal Prison Camp on March 4.The original was crocheted for Stewart by inmate Xiomaro Hernandez, 45, who is serving time for a drug-related conviction, but yarn company Lion Brand Yarn recreated the pattern from photos and posted it on their Web site for free a week after her release. The company's design director Nancy J. Thomas says more than 167,000 patterns were downloaded in the first four days. Said Stewart of the hot poncho: "It looked very chic, and everyone was surprised at how graceful it appeared."

Martha Stewart Chat Line

On March 14, Stewart praised the poncho and fielded fans' questions during a live Web chat on marthastewart.com. Some highlights:

ON WHAT SHE MISSED WHILE IN PRISON
My daughter, of course, but she was able to visit often.... I really did not miss material things—maybe fresh lemons—but certainly not wine or ice cream.

ON HER ANKLE BRACELET
The rigid, rubber and wire band is approximately 1-in. wide; the transmitter is somewhat uncomfortable and irritating. It also makes exercise difficult.... I hope none of you ever have to wear one.

ON THE FIRST MEAL SHE COOKED AFTER HER RELEASE
It wasn't pierogi [one of her mother's special dishes], I'm sad to say. Instead I cooked up a batch of scrambled eggs and cottage cheese for my doggies.

Separate Ways for Oh and Payne
They'll always have the Oscars. Just two weeks after director Alexander Payne won a Best Screenplay Academy Award for Sideways, he and his actress wife, Sandra Oh, who costarred in the comedy, told PEOPLE they're separating. While the couple, who wed in 2003, were together at the Oscars, a friend of both says that Payne and Oh attended many of the other awards season events separately, "or she would bring a friend, not him. It was weird." A rep calls the decision mutual, adding that the Canadian actress and the director, whose films include 2002's About Schmidt, "will remain friends."

POP QUIZ

Andre 3000
Back in the day, the band Tower of Power posed the musical question: What Is Hip? Still tirelessly searching for answers, Scoop spoke with OutKast's Andre 3000 (a.k.a. Andre Benjamin), 29, currently onscreen in Be Cool and working on four other film projects. His take:

Was Be Cool cool?
Yeah, but I was terrified. It's my first big movie role, and you have John Travolta and Uma Thurman, and all I tried to do was not make any mistakes. I had to learn a lot.

What was not cool?
I hated my wardrobe. Well, I should say, Andre Benjamin hated it. It felt crazy to have my pants sagging down to my knees. I did that in high school, but it worked for my character, and I had to keep telling myself that. It's not my style, but it's the right style for [my character] Dabu.

If you were still Andre 3000 in the year 3000, what would he the coolest thing about life in the future?
I think by then the coolest thing is we wouldn't have to talk anymore. We would all be able to communicate over signals, like computer signals. You could just send messages to people through two-ways.

Would it be cool to live in that time?
No, I think I would rather live in the Victorian era, or maybe in the 1930s.

Why so?
Because the people and the culture during that time seemed so defined by respect and by honor.

Are you cool?
I don't think I'm that cool. I think TV makes me look cool. I was never in the in crowd in high school or anything like that. I sat in the back of class, drawing most of the time. That's the power of entertainment. Anyone can be cool.

Who's the coolest person you know?
Jay-Z.

The least cool?
I couldn't tell you that. It wouldn't be cool.

What's the coolest thing coming up for you?
I'm starting a clothing label. It'll be clothes for people who love clothes. But nothing too crazy.

ON THE BLOCK

HERC'S HAVEN
PRICE: $7.9 million
PLACE: Long Island, N.Y.

Actor Kevin Sorbo, now starring in TV's Andromeda and still known for his 1990s series Hercules, is selling a Hamptons home fit for a Greek god. On five acres, the house tops out at 12,500 sq. ft. and features 8 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, 4 fireplaces, a screening room and a gym, along with a pool, a deck and a pond.

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