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The Last Word: Ashanti’s Back, Beyonce Turns Country, and the Jacksons Have Officially Reunited

What’s good? The holiday season has arrived, and I just got through polishing all the leftovers from Thanksgiving. It’s been an active week to report on as Vice President Dick Cheney suffers an irregular heartbeat, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney take the gloves off in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination and Brazilian race-car driver Helio Castroneves wins Dancing With the Stars but loses his fiancé Aliette Vazquez after she calls off their engagement. Condolences go out to the family of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who died this week. Congratulations to Timbaland and his fiancé Monique Idlett for the birth of their new baby girl and Usher and his wife Tameka Foster for the birth of their son. Shout out to Michael, Faith, Bill and the Rev. and Mrs. Anderson for a pleasant extended weekend in Maryland. Thank you for the story of the leaves.  And last but not least, shout out to my 11th hour sounding boards, Joan and Stevie Nicks (the T-Dot Q.O.N.) for keeping my swagger at an international and universal level.  And now ladies and gents…The Last Word for the week ending Nov. 30, 2007.1. Ne-Yo’s Heroic Alliance with Hayden Panettiere  It looks like Ne-Yo has found a way to stay busy after being booted from the R. Kelly tour. The singer, along with Heroes star Hayden Panettiere, was on hand for McDonald’s World Children’s Day at McDonald’s, a worldwide program that raises millions of dollars for Ronald McDonald House Charities and other children’s causes.  The pair were part of a recent 48-hour, multi-city U.S. tour of Ronald McDonald Houses in Dallas, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York. “I’m a fan of Hayden’s show Heroes, so I was excited to know she was going to do this with me,”Ne-Yo said. “Hayden is cool people. She’s a little silly. But silly is good.”  Although they were down for a good a cause, rumors began to surface that Ne-Yo and Panettiere are dating. Nothing could be further from the truth, according to Ne-Yo, who has been featured in pictures holding the 18-year-old actress’ hand during a night out at a New York City nightclub. “We’ve only known each other for one day,” the 28-year-old crooner told People.com. “She was hanging out with some friends and invited me to come out.” So why was Ne-Yo hold hands with Hayden? I’ll let him tell it. “I was helping her out of the car!” he explained. “She had these shoes – they were cute – but they were torture devices, so I had to help her.” Now that they’re chummy, it’s only a matter of time before the duo start working together on a professional level. “We talked about me possibly writing a song or two,” Ne-Yo mentioned about contributing for Panettiere’s long-delayed album. “I’d do it if she needed me to.” And you know if they get in the studio together, chances are we may see Ne-Yo show up sometime on Heroes in some form or fashion.  Anybody care to guess what his power may be? 2. Ashanti Grows Up for New Album Fresh off of singing the National Anthem last week, Ashanti is gearing up for a musical return with her fourth studio album, The Declaration.  According to the song bird, fans will hear a mature Ashanti this go round.  “It’s been about three years in between albums,” the singer told Access Hollywood. “I’ve done a lot of growing up. It’s very deep and a little bit edgier than my previous [records], so I’m excited.” Among the people lined up for the album are producers Pharrell Williams, Jermaine Dupri, LT Hutton and Babyface. Guests on the project include Robin Thicke and Williams, who will also sing on the album.  Look for The Declaration to arrive in  stores early next year.  3. Janet Jackson Plans February Return With New Album Ashanti and Mariah won’t be the only divas coming back in 2008. Look for Janet Jackson to come back to her day job with a new album in February.  The as-yet-untitled release will be the singer/actress’ first project for her new recording home, Island Def Jam. If you’re looking for contributions from Jackson’s boyfriend Jermaine Dupri, think again. The album will be executive produced by Def Jam CEO CEO Antonio “L.A.” Reid, according to The Hollywood Reporter.  But don’t cry for JD. He’s got his hand in the other big 2008 release, Mariah Carey’s follow up to her multi-platinum The Emancipation of Mimi. “We’re going to make it seem like we’re in competition to see who’s going to have the biggest album of the year,” Dupri told Billboard in July.  Seems like they could make this into the female version of Kanye vs. 50 Cent if they play their cards right. I’m sure Janet and Mariah could think up a bunch of crazy publicity stunts to get people to the stores.  I guess we’ll have to wait and see.  4. Pretty Ricky Break Up Is Official This may not be worth much to the grown and sexy, but you gotta have something for everyone.  Sources tell AllHipHop.com Alternatives that rumors surrounding a break up of popular boy band Pretty Ricky are true. According to representatives for the group, Pleasure P has left the group to pursue a solo career. The news comes as Pretty Ricky were enjoying the success of their latest album Late Night Special.  For those of you upset over the breakup, here’s a snippet of an interview Pretty Ricky did for AHHA earlier this year.  AHHA: What made you choose your group name to be Pretty Ricky? Pleasure P: Well actually, the name Pretty Ricky came from a sitcom, Martin…Martin Lawrence had a sitcom back in the day. The following day we went to school dressed alike and the girls teased us a little bit callin’ us Pretty Ricky. So I mean when we decided for our career we thought what would be a better name for a group of four, [than] Pretty Ricky. We wanted to make people think that Pretty Ricky is one individual, so when they do find out that it’s four individuals they become more drawn to the group, they become more focused on the individuals in the group and the group name. So far it worked real, real good because we’re one of the few groups where they know each and every last of our names. It’s been groups that been in the game for years and you don’t know every member in the group name. That’s the good thing about naming our group Pretty Ricky. United we stand…..you know the rest.  5. Cassie Readies New Album and Movie With Beyonce, Mariah and Alicia Keys dominating the female R&B scene it’s hard to picture another singer in the mix. Let alone returning after a long hiatus.  But Cassie is getting set to deliver a double dose of herself for fans as she puts the finishing touches on her forthcoming album. As well as a starring role in the new movie Step Up 2 – Ready to Dance.  In a new interview with AllHipHop.com Alternatives, the singer revealed that her big screen role came after she turned down the lead role in the feature.  “It was totally unexpected. I’ve always wanted to get into movies but I wanted to make my time with it, make sure I did it right and then the way this came about was that I was offered to audition for the lead and I just didn’t have a connection with that character and so then they found someone else but they were like “look we have this other really cool part that we want you to read for” said Cassie, who described her character as “kind of like the cool girl in the school, she’s a triple threat and she won’t let anyone get in her way and I have that mentality but I’ve never been the b*tch so I thought let me try out for this role.” Although she labeled her stint in Step Up 2 as “an amazing experience” and is going on more movie audition, Cassie is focused on delivering a completed album for fans. “…my main focus is really too get this album finished for the first quarter release next year and then getting on the road,” she said. “In January me and Lauren [London] are shooting the second Sean John campaign, we are actually shooting it in Miami and that will be for the Spring range. I just really, really hope people like the new album. I’m excited.” 6. The Jacksons Officially Reunite for 2008 I may not be able to predict the future, but I do know two things. The Jackson 5 are going to hit the road next year for a reunion tour and I’m going to the poorhouse in order to get great seats for the show. Jermaine Jackson made it official this week as he told BBC 6 Music’s This Music Week that concert dates have been discussed for the outing, which could go down “sometime in 2008.  And for those of you wondering. Yes “Michael will be involved,” Jermaine confirmed. “We feel we have to do it one more time. “He has to be,” he continued. “He is a Jackson. He was at the meetings. Michael will be involved.” Although reunion rumors have been consistent over the years, Jermaine revealed that Michaels 2005 trial was the cause of the delay.  “There’s been so much going on, getting over all the hurdles that we all were faced with during Michael’s trial. But we are stronger than ever,” said the singer/guitarist, who hinted that the group may have new music on the horizon by saying the band was “in the studio at the moment.” I can’t say no more. Just look for me frequeting the dollar menu at your local fast food joint. I may go broke, but I’ll be just fine.  7. Beyonce Ponders Country and Western Sound OK. This whole country thing with R&B singers is getting serious as Beyonce is reportedly getting set to do a country music. Nothing has been set in stone, but the Word is that the songstress is recruiting the person behind the James Blunt hit “You’re Beautiful,” award-winning singer/songwriter Amanda Ghost, for the project.  And this all all came about after Beyonce performed that country remix of “Irreplaceable” with Sugarland at the American Music Awards.  While it may catch folks off guard, once source reveals that Beyonce is a certified country music fan.  “Beyonce wants to try something completely different,” a sounce told The Sun newspaper. “She’s a fan of country music and thought that would be an interesting and exciting way to go. She contacted Amanda early this week and she is going over to work with her on it.” Whether this happens or not remains to be seen. Like I said last week, is no one in R&B safe from the country music virus? Next thing you know, it will spread to rap as Jay-Z and Garth Brooks give you what he and R. Kelly should have guaranteed on tour, the best of both worlds. Or as I like to call it, the American Redneck In Low Places Tour.  Bonus brief: Usher Becomes a New Father  Congratulations go out to Usher and his wife Tameka Foster. The couple welcomed the arrival of their son, Usher Raymond V on Monday (Oct. 26), People.com reports. Ushers mother Jonnetta Patton expressed her joy for the couple on Wednesday (Nov. 28) as she told People that her new grandson is God’s gift to her son and his wife, just in time for the holidays. “I’m extremely excited and filled with joy about the birth of my grandson, Usher Raymond V,” she said. “He is beautiful, precious, healthy and such a blessing. I’m very happy for my son and his wife. God has truly blessed them with a special gift. This will be an amazing holiday season for all of us.”

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