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ARTIST NEWS: INXS Searches For New Lead Singer Via TV Reality Route

(CelebrityAccess MediaWire) INXS is reforming and searching for a new lead vocalist to replace Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997. The Australian band has used Terence Trent D'Arby and Jon Stevens (from the Aussie band Noiseworks) in the past. However, this time they are going the reality TV show route with "Rock Star," a Mark Burnett production. Mark Burnett Productions is the creator of Survivor, The Apprentice and The Contender. The series will air on a major US television network next year. Rock Star is a collaboration between Mark Burnett Productions and INXS Productions and will follow the band on its journey to find a lead singer.

With worldwide auditions on five continents, Rock Star is one of the most ambitious unscripted drama series ever conceived. INXS members – Andrew, Tim and Jon Farriss, Kirk Pengilly and Garry Beers–will work with leading entertainment industry specialists to assess contestants as they undertake a series of comprehensive workshops covering everything from songwriting and performance to image and production–all aspects of what it takes to be a Rock Star.

The winner–either male or female–will record an album with INXS – the first since the death of Hutchence and will embark on a world tour of major concert arenas. One significant difference between Rock Star and other programs will be that the winner of the competition will not be entirely decided by the viewers.

"I am a long-time fan of INXS," said Burnett "and feel very fortunate that INXS approached us with this idea and have entrusted us with their future. I feel there's room on TV for more than one great music-based show, and I feel that rock music has been totally left out of that mix. Rock Star is the perfect aspirational show and is a great fit with the MBP brand."

"After Michael died, we wanted to search the world for a new singer but didn’t know how we could effectively do that," Tim Farriss said. "By having Mark and everyone at MBP embrace the concept, we've now found a fantastic way to make that happen."

"Times have changed and television is now a valued medium to reach people all over the world," Andrew Farriss said. "Mark's record speaks for itself – he is an amazing producer and we are confident that together we are going to create something very different and very special."

Rock Star has begun pre-production and will begin casting later this year. Supervising producer will be David Goffin, who is returning to Mark Burnett Productions after three years as supervising producer of American Idol. Conrad Riggs, Mark Burnett's producing partner, made the deal with INXS Productions and will serve as co-executive producer. –Bob Grossweiner and Jane Cohen

If It's Not Pro-War, It's Not On US Country Music Radio

NASHVILLE (Tennessee) (AP) – Country music artists are hardly united in their support of the war in Iraq – but you'd never know it from listening to country radio stations in the United States.

While Toby Keith, Darryl Worley and Charlie Daniels have scored hits with patriotic, war-themed songs, others such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Nanci Griffith released anti-war, or at least questioning, songs that went nowhere.

“Country radio does enough research that they understand listeners are supportive of the military in Iraq and just don't want to get involved with those songs,” said John Hart, president of Nashville-based Bullseye Marketing Research.

“I work with 32 stations, and I have not seen one test any of these anti-war songs.”

But the patriotic tunes that were everywhere at the beginning of the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq have slowed. John Michael Montgomery's touching “Letters from Home” is the only current chart hit with a war theme, and it is neither an angry call to arms nor a love letter to America.

Hart believes the flag-waving songs reached a saturation point. He also says the continuing hostilities in Iraq and recent prison abuse scandal may have tempered the enthusiasm expressed early in the conflict.

“I think right now the labels and radio feel they have come to a line in the sand where they need to slow down,” Hart said. “And the artists are hesitant to release anything right now that they think might be overkill.”

Patriotism is a strong undercurrent to this week's Country Music Association Music Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday in Nashville.

In addition to donating tickets to soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, CMA will also hold a reunion of entertainers who performed for troops in Iraq last December. Guests at the Friday event include Worley, whose “Have You Forgotten” remains a conservative rallying cry, as well as liberal comedian and author Al Franken and “JAG” actress Karri Turner.

Franken said the backlash against the Dixie Chicks after lead singer Natalie Maines criticized President George W. Bush on a London stage last year had “a chilling effect on what people felt they could or couldn't say” in country music.

“And that's too bad,” Franken said. “I think people should be free to express their politics.”

Worley, too, cited the Dixie Chicks' incident.

“They made a pretty strong statement about the president, and we haven't heard much of them on country radio either. There is a silent majority in this country, and it is a whole lot stronger than people might think.”

Country artists are regarded as more conservative than those in other genres, but there are exceptions. Alt-country icons Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle, Rosanne Cash and Lucinda Williams lent their names to a petition by the protest group Musicians United to Win Without War. Respected songwriters Rodney Crowell and The Mavericks' Raul Malo have been frank about their opposition to the president. A new group called the Music Row Democrats formed this year to give a political voice to country songwriters, musicians, producers and record executives.

Still, the few country songs that have express reservations about Iraq have failed to click.

Worley believes some of that has to do with the artists releasing them, noting that veteran singers such as Nelson and Haggard have had trouble cracking the charts with any kind of song in recent years.

But market researcher Hart thinks it is more than that. He says an anti-war song by a hot contemporary artist would fizzle as well because of the conservative tilt of country audiences.

“I've been in country music since 1972, and I think every conflict is that way,” said Hart, a Vietnam veteran. “Every time we bomb somebody it's 'Hell yeah!' Let's kick their … ' That's where country music is coming from.”

Singer Kenny Rogers, whose group The First Edition had one of the most poignant hits of the Vietnam era with “Ruby,” a dark tale about a crippled Vietnam veteran whose woman is cheating on him, says the political climate today is much different than in the 1960s and '70s.

“People are afraid to write about it, and people are afraid to play it,” Rogers said. “Everybody is so afraid now to be politically correct.

“I don't know of a successful song that has said 'We need to stop this,”' he said. “But I do think if one were written well and had an honest thought process behind it and was not strictly politically driven, radio would play it.”

Johnny Ramone Is Fighting Cancer

Johnny Ramone, guitarist for the legendary punk band The Ramones, was hospitalized with an infection related to prostate cancer, his publicist said Thursday.

"He is receiving the medication he needs and will be leaving the hospital next week to continue his recovery," spokesman Paul Bloch said.

Ramone, 55, whose birth name is John Cummings, was at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

He and his wife, Linda, released the statement in response to recent, conflicting reports about his health, Bloch said.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, drummer Marky Ramone said the guitarist's health was declining.

"He went through many chemotherapy treatments," Marky Ramone told the magazine. "Some of it worked better than others. At this point (the cancer) has started to go into other areas of the body."

Bloch said he was unaware of the Rolling Stone report.

"If someone says anything contrary, I don't know anything about that," Bloch said. "I got a call from Linda and Johnny last night and they asked me to put out the statement."

Johnny Ramone was one of the original four members of the Ramones, whose memorable three-chord anthems like "I Wanna Be Sedated" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

The band formed in Queens in the mid-1970s, eventually becoming mainstays of the Bowery nightclub CBGB's where Blondie and the Talking Heads both emerged.

The band's singer, Joey Ramone, whose real name is Jeff Hyman, died in 2001 of lymphatic cancer. Bassist Dee Dee Ramone, whose real name was Douglas Colvin, died from a drug overdose in 2002.

Jack White Still Baffled By Band's Success

NEW YORK (AP) — Even after selling million of records and winning Grammy awards, Jack White says that he still isn't sure what makes The White Stripes work. After all, there are only two members in the band and their music is boiled down to its essentials.

"I don't know why it works on the radio or on MTV or on a stage in front of 80,000 people," White said in an interview with AP Radio. "It seems like there should be more going on, there should be these anthems."

However, having only two people in the band has its advantages. After all, he said, there isn't a third person to take sides and cause discord within the group.

"The whole idea of the band, if it has a concept to it, it's all about what not to do," White said. "Why be repetitive? Why have two guitars? Why have a bassist playing the same thing the guitars are playing? Let's break this down and still have it be rock and roll. Let's show what two people can do."

White's idea of simplicity has earned him much musical credibility, including the respect of country legend Loretta Lynn. The White Stripes dedicated their third album, 2003's "Elephant" to her. When she heard about it, she invited them over for a dinner of chicken and dumplings. Then they played a show together in New York City. When White heard that Lynn was planning to do a new album, he said he would love to produce it. He got the job.

Duran Duran Regrouping For A New Album

NEW YORK (AP) — Duran Duran, who regrouped last year for a successful tour, are reuniting again — this time, for a new album on a new record label.

Lead singer Simon LeBon told The Associated Press that the band has almost finished working on the untitled disc, which will be released in the fall on Epic Records. It will mark the first time the original band members — LeBon, John Taylor, Nick Rhodes, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor — have recorded an album together since 1983's "Seven & the Ragged Tiger."

Working together again has been seamless, LeBon said. "It's very similar to how it worked 20 years ago. Everybody's a little bit more open to how they feel about stuff."

The British pop quintet was among the biggest rock acts in the world in the early '80s, with hits including "Girls On Film," "Rio," "Hungry Like the Wolf" and "The Reflex."

But they started going their own ways with side projects in 1985. Guitarist Andy Taylor and bassist John Taylor formed The Power Station with Robert Palmer; their hits included "Some Like It Hot" and "Get It On." LeBon, keyboardist Rhodes and drummer Roger Taylor recorded an album under the name Arcadia.

By the late '80s, Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor had left Duran Duran entirely.

The men reunited and starting recording new music in 2001, but only recently got a record deal.

They're working with producers Rich Harrison, who has worked with superstars including Usher, Alicia Keys and Beyonce, as well as Don Gilmore, who's produced tracks for multiplatinum acts like Good Charlotte and Linkin Park.

LeBon says the band is not trying to copy the Europop sound that sold them millions of records.

"I don't think it would work if we tried to repeat that," he said.

Yet at the same time, he said it was important for Duran Duran to keep enough of their own musical heritage so that their old fans could relate to their new music.

"We wouldn't want to lose them by trying too hard by trying to connect with a new audience," he said.

Whether or not the album clicks with listeners remains to be seen. But judging from the sold-out performances Duran Duran gave at venues last year — where shrieking fans sang along with every word — LeBon says he has "no doubt that we will get the attention when we release our stuff because I know there's a huge, huge demand for (new music)."

And LeBon says the group is closer than ever — even though they still have their disagreements.

"We're like any people who get very close. Sometimes you argue with each other. But the fact is we inspire each other musically," he said. "Nobody else does it for me. It's just very special."


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Madonna Chooses 'Esther' As New Name

Call her Esther: That's the Hebrew name Madonna has chosen for herself as a follower of Kabbalah.

"I was named after my mother. My mother died when she was very young, of cancer, and … I wanted to attach myself to another name," the singer says in an interview on ABC's "20/20," airing at 10 p.m. EDT Friday. "This is in no way a negation of who my mother is … I wanted to attach myself to the energy of a different name."

During the interview, Madonna wears the red string around her wrist that's a symbol of the Jewish mysticism, though she wears it beneath her watch. She says she's sensitive when critics suggest her interest in Kabbalah is just a trend.

"I'm a little bit irritated that people think that it's like some celebrity band wagon that I've jumped on, or that, say, somebody like Demi (Moore) has jumped on," the 45-year-old says. "We don't take it lightly. …

"Paris Hilton did come to the Kabbalah Centre once, because her parents brought her … and they wanted to help her and they were desperate and they brought her there and she had a meeting and she left and she never came back and suddenly, Paris Hilton studies Kabbalah. I mean that's what happens and people … they don't know the whole story."

U2's Bono Joining Venture Capital Firm

MENLO PARK (AP) — Bono, lead singer for rock band U2, has joined a Silicon Valley venture capital firm that plans to invest in media and entertainment projects, according to a published report.

The 44-year-old singer is joining the newly created Elevation Partners, based in Menlo Park, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. The new venture aims to raise $1 billion.

The venture fund was launched by technology investor Roger McNamee and John Riccitiello, former president of videogame maker Electronic Arts Inc. The venture also includes Fred Anderson, who retired this month as Apple Computer Inc.'s finance chief.

Elevation Partners declined to comment, citing Securities and Exchange Commission rules for venture capital firms in the midst of fundraising, according to the newspaper.

The Ireland-based U2 has been one of the most popular rock bands in the world since its founding in the late 1970s.

With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, George Soro's Open Society Institute and the Enter for Global Development, Bono co-founded Debt AIDS Trade Africa, which works with religious groups concerned with global disease and hunger issues.

Minnie Driver Cuts First Recording Deal

NEW YORK (AP) — Rounder Records has signed Oscar-nominated actress Minnie Driver to her first U.S. recording contract.

"Everything I've Got in My Pocket" will be released on the label's rock/pop imprint, Zoe Records, in September, the Cambridge, Mass.- based company said Monday.

She will be backed by a group that includes members of the Wallflowers and Pete Yorn's band. The album is described as "sparse, atmospheric pop and a hint of contemporary folk."

Driver had been signed to Island Records in London when she was offered her breakthrough role in the 1995 film "Circle of Friends."

She was nominated for a best-supporting actress Oscar for 1997's "Good Will Hunting." Her new movie, "The Phantom of the Opera," is scheduled for release in December.


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Illness Keeps Combs Out Of 'Raisin' Again

NEW YORK (AP) — Understudy Billy Eugene Jones stood in again Sunday for Sean Combs, the hip-hop mogul who stars in the hit Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry's "A Raisin in the Sun."

Combs left the production during intermission of the Saturday matinee because of a stomach ailment, said Bob Fennell, a spokesman for the play. Jones finished the performance and did the Saturday evening show as well.

Jones, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, has a small role in "Raisin" which also stars Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald. The women recently won Tony Awards for their performances in the play about a working-class black family in Chicago in the 1950s.

Combs, 34, hopes to return Tuesday to "Raisin," in which he portrays a frustrated limousine driver, Fennell said.

The production has been doing strong business at the Royale Theatre, where it has broken the house record several times since opening April 26. Its limited engagement ends July 11.