These Also-Rans Aren't Playing Second Fiddle

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Friday, May 11, 2007

Runners-up definitely have more fun: Jennifer Hudson, the "American Idol" also-ran turned Oscar winner, got into an unexpected diva showdown with Miss America also-ran Shilah Phillips at the Lupus Foundation gala Wednesday night.

Hudson, working the gala circuit before her first album drops, was the much-anticipated star performer at the Mandarin Oriental dinner, which was hosted by Malcolm-Jamal Warner and raised $1 million. Taking the stage at the end of the night (long loose curls, a black-and-gray patterned frock), she raised goose bumps with "Easy to Be Hard" and "I Am Changing." But the big crowd-pleaser came as her pianist plinked the chords to "A Natural Woman" and Hudson stepped out in the room to look for backup.

"I gotta find me somebody to sing with," she purred.

She amassed a few glittery volunteers to croon "ah-woo" behind her: Miss America Lauren Nelson and VIP lupus sufferers Leslie Hunt (an "Idol" semifinalist this year) and Mercedes Yvette (an "America's Next Top Model" runner-up in '04) -- and Phillips, the Miss Texas who came in as Nelson's first runner-up but also, as it happens, got bumped off "Idol" a few years back.

After a few rounds of "ah-woo"-ing, Miss Texas somehow commandeered the mike and took it to the bridge: "Ohhhhhhhh, baby, what you done to me!" Hudson stared, wryly amused. Later, they hugged. " Simon was wrong about you, and he was wrong about me, and you're my idol!" Phillips told Hudson. And then she slinked her sparkly sea-foam-green evening gown back to her seat.

"Look at her strut to the table," Hudson said, shaking her head, "like she ain't done nothing."

Cato at the Bat: Without Titanium, There's Less Joy in Wonkville

Well, wouldn't you expect the libertarians to subvert the regulations? So it appeared to some suspicious Commerce Department staffers Tuesday night as they met the Cato Institute on the softball field.

The outlook wasn't brilliant for Commerce's Notorious DoC team in the early innings, as it watched Cato's Running Dogs hammer ball after ball into the distant outfield of West Potomac Park. "Five of them were just like rockets," said Salim Bhabhrawala, a senior international trade analyst. "We were just getting shelled. We thought, 'No way that bat is regulation.' " Bhabhrawala thinks their suspicions were confirmed when his teammates pulled out the rule book, and the Cato folks suddenly hid away a super-light titanium bat. "They never hit like that the rest of the game," he told us.

But Cato policy analyst Tom Firey -- who is also commissioner of the newly organized D.C. Think Tank League -- insists there was no intentional cheating. "There was a bat retired because I could not find out if it was ASA-certified." Nor does Cato have a problem with the regs. "I was the one who came up with that rule" about Amateur Softball Association-approved bats, said Firey. "I'm a pitcher, and I'm 37. It's to protect people like me from getting line-drived." Commerce won, 18-17.


In the midst of tragedy, the local arts community comes together. Yesterday, we told you about the mysterious ransom note we received here demanding $10,000 in Monopoly money for the glass sculpture by D.C. artist Tim Tate that went missing from the Artomatic show. Now, a noble offer: The show's organizers pledge that "for every REAL dollar donated at Artomatic," they will "match with Monopoly money."

Oh, jeez. Are we totally getting played? The Artomatic folks insist they're not behind the heist.

HEY, ISN'T THAT . . . ?

Drew Barrymore drinking pinot grigio by the glass on the patio of Dupont's gloriously divey Fox & Hounds bar until the patio closed around midnight Wednesday. The movie star -- a newly named U.N. "ambassador against hunger," in town for a World Food Program rally yesterday on Capitol Hill -- bravely escaped the usual visiting-VIP matrix (the Palm/Milano/Ritz/Four Seasons) for the mellower pleasures of 17th Street. Barrymore (jeans, brown-and-white rugby shirt) dined on fish tacos and shrimp at Hank's Oyster Bar with a male friend before they walked around the corner to F&H.

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