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The Last Word: Mariah Is Tennessee Bound, R. Kelly Speaks On Child Porn Acquittal, Ne-Yo Calls Out the Phonies, and VIBE Responds to Ciara’s Nude Cover

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How’s the life everybody? This week proved to be nothing to write home about as Texans deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, a tainted milk powder scandal results in thousands of babies being sick in China and a YouTube video surfaces that features Dallas Mavericks forward Josh Howard disrespecting the national anthem at a charity football game. Condolences go out to the family of influential Motown Records songwriter/producer Norman Whitfield, who leaves behind a string of classic songs he co-wrote and/or produced “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Cloud Nine,” “Ball of Confusion,” “Just My Imagination,” “War,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” before dying Tuesday at the age of 65. Congratulations to Jennifer Hudson, who became engaged to her boyfriend David Otunga (aka Punk from I Love New York 2). Shout out to the sounding boards for making some days go by so fast. Read it and weep…the Last Word for the week ending Sept. 19, 2008.1. Mariah Carey is Tennessee Bound for New Film Looks like Beyonce won’t be the only diva coming to a local picture show near you. Word on the street is that Mariah Carey will star in Tennessee, a drama involving two lower-middle class brothers (Adam Rothenberg, Ethan Peck) who take a road trip to find their estranged father with the hope of saving one of the brothers who has been diagnosed with terminal leukemia. Carey will play Krystal, a waitress the pair meets whose dreams of a singing career were ruined by a bad marriage. Although her acting will be the main focus of the Lee Daniels- directed film, Carey will sing an original ballad she co-wrote with Willie Nelson titled “Right to Dream.” The singer’s return to the big screen comes seven years after her starring role in the box office flop Glitter. Look for Tennessee to arrive in theaters on Dec. 19. Now that he has worked with Snoop Dogg and Mrs. Cannon, look for Willie Nelson to increase the value of his country ghetto pass when he stars alongside Lil Wayne in the long-awaited feature Country Boyz on da Range.2. R. Kelly Speaks on Child Porn Trial Acquittal Like many folks, my curiosity got the best of me, and I tuned in Tuesday (Sept. 16) to hear R. Kelly reflect on his acquittal of child pornography charges after a lengthy trial. And it was interesting, to say the least, as Kelly seemed to look and come off like a changed man who is grateful to be on the opposite side of a jail cell and around his kids. But the crooner seemed to slip a bit into perv mode when asked point blank if he liked teenage girls. “When you say teenage, how — how old are we talkin’… 19?” Kells said. “I have some 19-year-old friends, but I don’t like anybody illegal, if that’s what we’re talking about, underage.” With all the talk going on about his case, Kelly urged people to look at the facts surrounding him rather than take the word of people who no longer work for him. That included his own brother Carey, whom the singer admits to firing “1,000 times and I rehired him.” Job security for days. Must be real nice. Makes you wonder if he was terminated with pay. Nevertheless, the Grammy winner vowed to steer clear of negative forces while trying to move forward with his life and career. So with that in mind, will we get a toned down R. Kelly with less bumping and grinding? I’ll let him tell it. “I’m not going to let this affect my gift,” said Kells, who doesn’t seem to be above revisiting what made him a household name. “I’ve done vintage R. Kelly songs during the trial because I said no matter what, I’m not going to let this make me run under a rock and not do my job. Some people fall off and I chose not to do that.” In other words, the freak train may slow down, but it won’t stop. There it is. I could devote a whole Word to this half-hour sit down, but I’ll just keep my piece and wait and see. Something tells me Kelly may have more things in his closet to clean out before it’s all said and done. Keep watching…3. Toni Braxton Does Not Want Your DWTS Sympathy As she gears up to compete on the new season of Dancing With the Stars, Toni Braxton is clear about letting viewers know that she is not looking for sympathy votes. In fact, the singer has a stronger competitor in mind to beat when she hits the floor. “I’m competing with myself because I don’t want to be the victim because people will be like, ‘Toni has heart disease, oh she is a victim,’” Braxton told Access Hollywood. For those that don’t know, Braxton’s physical well-being has been a topic of discussion since she had a health scare last April after being diagnosed with heart disease five years ago. The scare didn’t deter the songbird from signing up to do Dancing With the Stars in an effort to overcome the fear and anxiety she had about being able to do things like walk a flight of stairs without worrying about having tightness in her chest.”To be honest, I am a little nervous. Just because when I perform, the adrenaline gets pumping,” said Braxton, who was advised by her doctor to check her blood pressure during rehearsals. “I am a little nervous how my heart is going to feel. And second, am I going to remember my steps because I am so worried about my heart?”Look for Toni to compete against All My Children star Susan Lucci; actress/model Brooke Burke; celebutante Kim Kardashian, 82-year-old actress Cloris Leachman, Hannah Montana star Cody Linley, Olympic gold medalists Misty May-Treanor and Maurice Greene, comedian Jeffrey Ross; former ‘N Sync member Lance Bass, actor Ted McGinley, retired NFL player Warren Sapp and celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito when the new Dancing with the Stars season premieres Monday (Sept. 22) on ABC.4. Ne-Yo Remembers Phony R&B Era Question: Are there any real R&B singers left? You know the ones that just sing without trying to live out their desire to become an MC on the side. Ask Ne-Yo and it seems as though R&B got caught up in a period of fakeness that was far removed from the hey day of realness displayed by ‘90s groups like Jodeci, Shai and Silk. “I definitely had a respect for that kind of R&B. That was an era when I thought R&B was real. ‘Cause for a minute R&B was very phony,” the hitmaker told The Associated Press. “I don’t wanna name any names right now. You’re gonna get me in trouble. But you know what I’m talking about. There was an era when R&B wasn’t hot. The whole Hip-Hop/R&B era just kinda threw me for a loop. Around early 2000 when every song kinda sounded like [one note repeated]. Like for real, one note the whole song? That never made sense to me. ‘Cause like, if you’re gonna rap — rap. If you’re gonna sing — sing. Don’t try to do this combination hybrid of the two of them that sounds like [garbage]. I didn’t dig it. I just never got into it.”That may explain why Ne-Yo prefers to be himself rather than some Frankenstein creation of the music business. “Everybody wants me to be the [guy] who’s [sleeping with] every celebrity woman in the industry. Everybody wants me to be this [guy] in the club, popping 17 bottles just because,” he said.  “Everybody wants me to be Diddy, and that’s not me.” You’re right Ne-Yo. That whole sleeping with women, popping bottles, being Diddy thing is way overrated. Not that I know anything about all that [I can only afford to pop bottles of water], but could you see Shaffer becoming tabloid fodder with his nightly episodes with all types of women [and a few guys, if you believe those gay rumors]? Makes you wonder what the year of the gentleman would be like if Ne-Yo was allowed to step outside the box and get closer to who he really is. Do we really want to know?5. Vibe Editor Stands By Nude Ciara Photo Shoot Did she or didn’t she? That seems to be the question as Ciara and Vibe magazine are not seeing eye to eye on whether the songbird actually bared all for the publication’s October cover and photos that appear inside the magazine. Media sources report that Ciara was wearing underwear during her photo shoot and did not pose in the nude. Despite rumors of the singer being furious with Vibe over “misleading” photos that “misrepresented” her and threatening legal action, the magazine’s editor-in-chief Danyel Smith aired her employer’s side of the story recently during an interview with New York’s KISS-FM radio station. According to Smith, Ciara was the one behind the idea to do the photo spread. “I have so much respect for Ciara and Ciara was so happy when she pitched this idea to us, and the photos are actually striking and beautiful,” said Smith, who was not present at the shoot but got word from staffers that “it was love and kisses and nakedness.” “…It was pitched to me in a way that it was time [for her] to grow up and be beautiful and be free and be all the things she wanted to be.” And while it looks like Ciara is mad, Smith believes the singer may not be as upset about the pictures “as it’s been made to seem.” As it stands now, Vibe has not been sued by Ciara or anyone representing her, Smith added.Once again we have back and forth amongst two opposing sides. I guess the moral of the story could be that if you don’t want your goodies on display, keep em tucked away for a rainy day or whatever lucky guy that has unlimited access to the candy shop. In Other Words… * Gwen Stefani is expanding her influence in the world of fashion by designing an exclusive line of work wear for W Hotels. The custom L.A.M.B. creations will be comprised of wash-and-wear black jersey minidresses with a fitted, ’80s-chic silhouette and asymmetrical styling with ’60s seam detailing and side vents. For Stefani, the new line will allow workers to do what they do while looking good. “I wanted to design a super cute dress that I would be excited to have in my own closet and approached it in the same way I think about my clothing for a tour,” she said. “We’ve designed a sexy and comfortable outfit for these women to wear out on their own stage every night.”Stefani’s new workwear line is slated to come out in December or early next year, according to WWD.com.

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