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SHOWBIZ Ndegeocello, Meryl Streep, James Franco, Dolly Parton
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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Meshell Ndegeocello has announced her new album of cover songs, Ventriloquism, Broadway World noted. The album, out March 16, features versions of songs by TLC, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner and more. In anticipation, she has released the album track "Tender Love" ( originally by Force MDs ). Additionally, she has released her version of Prince's "Sometimes It Snows In April" via Rolling Stone.

Meryl Streep, the most Oscar-nominated actress in history, is joining the second installment of HBO's Emmy-winning limited series Big Little Lies, Deadline reported. Streep will play Mary Louise Wright, the mother of Perry ( played by Alexander Skarsgard in season one ). Concerned for the well-being of her grandchildren following her son Perry's death, Mary Louise arrives in Monterey searching for answers.

James Franco was digitally removed from the Vanity Fair Hollywood Issue cover, according to Page Six. "We made a decision not to include James Franco on the Hollywood cover once we learned of the misconduct allegations against him," a spokesperson for the magazine told The Hollywood Reporter. It's only the latest in a series of setbacks for the actor since five women accused him of sexual misconduct earlier this month. Franco, 39, was criticized for attending the SAG Awards and didn't receive an Oscar nod for his otherwise acclaimed performance as The Disaster Artist's Tommy Wiseau—a role that earned him both a Critics' Choice Award and a Golden Globe.

Dolly Parton said her Tennessee amusement park "has hogged the spotlight long enough" and she's stepping aside as grand marshal of the Pigeon Forge spring parade after 32 years, The Berkshire Eagle noted. A news release from Dollywood and the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism said the grand marshal this year will be baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. Parton, who grew up in the area, started a fund after deadly wildfires tore through the area in 2016. The Dollywood Foundation has stated its My People Fund helped 900 families with roughly $9 million in the first six months after the fires.

Janet Jackson is returning to the stage at the Essence Festival for the first time in eight years, Page Six noted. Organizers announced the 2018 lineup Thursday for the July 5-8 festival in New Orleans. Among other headliners are fan favorite Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, with special guest Snoop Dogg and appearances by others including The Roots, Xscape, Fantasia and Miguel. There will also be a unique DJ-curated experience with offerings by actor/DJ Idris Elba and MC Lyte, among other events.

On Sunday, Jan. 21, at SF Sketchfest, advice columnist Dan Savage hosted a live episode of his Audible show Hot Mic, which showcases sex and relationship stories from all around the country, per a media release. Bay Area songstress Rachel Lark performed and got the audience to sing along, and the storyteller lineup featured Esther Povitsky from the new show Alone Together, Cedric Yarbrough from Speechless, and Maria Bamford from Lady Dynamite. The performers told hilarious stories, read out sexual confessions from anonymous crowd members, and played Truth or Dare with Savage.

Demi Lovato is helping her fans as she travels across the country for her upcoming "Tell Me You Love Me" tour, noted. The singer, 25, revealed on Good Morning America that she would be offering free mental health counseling to her fans in partnership with CAST Centers, the mental health and wellness program she co-owns. She previously offered similar services while on tour with Nick Jonas for their "Future Now" tour in 2016.

The night before the Grammys took place, music mogul Clive Davis introduced Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson to sing a couple songs at his annual show—and then told the audience that Hudson will be playing Aretha Franklin in an upcoming biopic about the life of the Queen of Soul, Deadline noted. Hudson was, in fact, hand-picked by Franklin to play the role. The party began with performances by Barry Manilow, Luis Fonsi, Ben Platt, Alicia Keys, Khalid and Logic.

One of the many highlights at the Los Angeles Women's March on Jan. 20 was the performance of "Uprising of Love" by Melissa Etheridge and the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, noted. After being introduced by Allison Janney, Etheridge took the stage to sustained applause, to which she responded, "Thank you, brothers and sisters and everyone in between." She later noted that some people find the LGBT community scary because of the gender duality they embody.

Laura Linney will make her London theater debut in June in My Name Is Lucy Barton, the stage play adapted from the Elizabeth Strout novel of the same name, Page Six noted. Richard Eyre will direct, having previously worked with Linney on a Broadway adaptation of The Crucible and in the 2008 movie The Other Man. Film/TV star Linney, who can currently be seen in Netflix series Ozark, will star in a limited three-week run of the play at the new 900-seat Bridge Theater.

Another '80s comedy series is coming back for a new installment on its original network, according to Deadline. CBS has given a 13-episode series order to Murphy Brown, a revival of the 1988 sitcom with its creator Diane English and star Candice Bergen both set to return. Warner Bros. TV, which was behind the original series, is the sole studio. Talks are reportedly underway with other original cast members to return.

Justin Timberlake tweeted, "Can someone please explain the saying, 'You just want your cake and to eat it too.' What else am I about to do with a cake??"—and Dylan Farrow responded, according to Billboard. She responded with, "The saying means, for example, you can't support #TIMESUP and praise sexual predators at the same time. You can't retain your credibility as an activist ( i.e. - retain the cake ) and, at the same time, praise a sexual predator ( i.e. - eating the cake )." Farrow was referencing the fact that Timberlake starred in a Woody Allen film last year, despite the fact that Farrow has accused Allen of sexual abuse in the past.

Lizzie, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, features Chloe Sevigny as Lizzie Borden, the young woman who famously, allegedly murdered her father and stepmother with a hatchet in 1892, noted. ( Kristen Stewart plays her lover. ) Among the things she told the website was that people connected with the movie held a seance in Borden's house ( now a bed-and-breakfast ). Talking about the experience, she said, "The frigid air came in. There was some communicating with [Lizzie Borden's father, Andrew Jennings]. It was terrifying."

Rapper Cardi B and her fiance—Offset, of the rap group Migos—are currently on the outs with members of the LGBTQ community, the Huffington Post noted. Apparently the pair didn't know that writing and rapping a line like "I cannot vibe with queers," which Offset recently did during a guest spot on YFN Lucci's track "Boss Life," could be interpreted as homophobic. Offset defended the line and himself via Instagram by referencing the dictionary definition of the word; Cardi B came to her fiancé's defense with her own assertion about there being "a different vocabulary on the dictionary." She then blamed the LGBTQ community for not educating people about "what's wrong or right in the LGBTQ community."

Josh Feldman is a queer actor, writer and producer from Los Angeles whose new series, This Close, follows two deaf friends as they navigate through their late 20s and early 30s, according to Queerty, citing Out. Feldman created the dramedy with best friend Shoshanah Stern, who is also deaf. ( Feldman plays Michael, a young gay man going through a turbulent time in his personal life. ) It will be the first TV show created by and starring deaf people, who are usually portrayed on-screen by non-deaf actors. This Close will premiere on Sundance Now on Feb. 14.

Sir Elton John and David Furnish will host the Elton John AIDS Foundation ( EJAF )'s 26th annual Academy Awards Viewing Party on Sunday, March 4, at West Hollywood Park in Los Angeles, per a press release. ( BVLGARI is the gala event's presenting sponsor. ) Over the past quarter-century, this annual event has raised more than $62 million because of EJAF's supporters.

Casey Affleck has withdrawn from presenting the Best Actress Award at the upcoming Oscars, Deadline reported. Affleck reportedly did not want to become a distraction from the focus on the performances of the actresses in the category. There has been outcry over a settlement and non-disclosure agreements that followed allegations of inappropriate behavior toward two women who worked on I'm Still Here, the film Affleck directed that starred Joaquin Phoenix.

Still riding high on Wonder Woman's success, actress Gal Gadot has insisted she's not bothered by what many are calling an Oscars snub, Page Six noted. "I was very moved and touched by the people who were disappointed that Wonder Woman wasn't nominated, but we certainly never did the movie for that," she explained. The movie received critical acclaim and grossed $770 million worldwide.

The family home of former American Idol finalist Crystal Bowersox burned down, The Toledo Blade reported. The Ohio home—a two-story rustic farmhouse built more than a century ago that was a significant part of Bowersox's childhood—is a total loss. Bowersox created a GoFundMe page ( ), setting a goal of $5,000 ( including $1,000 from herself ); however, more than $11,000 were raised.

Magician David Copperfield pre-emptively released a statement saying he supports the #MeToo movement but cautioned against rushing to judgment about false allegations—and, shortly after, a new, decades-old sexual assault claim broke against the famed illusionist, USA Today reported. According to TheWrap, Copperfield, then 32, allegedly drugged and sexually assaulted aspiring model Brittney Lewis, then 17, in 1988.

Rose McGowan has finally gone public with the graphic details of Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual assault—writing in her new book, Brave, that he cornered her next to a Jacuzzi and performed oral sex on her while pleasuring himself, Page Six revealed. McGowan—one of dozens of women to accuse the movie mogul of sexual harassment or assault—says Weinstein, who she only refers to in the book as "the monster," first lured to his hotel in Park City, Utah, in 1997 under the guise of a meeting. Weinstein reportedly paid McGowan a $100,000 settlement in 1997, but didn't admit guilt.

As more a stars have started to denounce Woody Allen, his longtime friend and Annie Hall co-star is sticking by his side, according to Page Six. "Woody Allen is my friend and I continue to believe him," Diane Keaton, 72, tweeted. "It might be of interest to take a look at the 60 Minute interview from 1992 [in which Allen denies molesting adopted daughter Dylan Farrow] and see what you think." Alec Baldwin has also come to Allen's defense, while actors such as Mira Sorvino, Rebecca Hall and Colin Firth have all apologized for working with Allen.

Kate Winslet expressed regret at working with someone in light of the anti-sexual abuse and harassment movements in Hollywood—but didn't mention Woody Allen by name, Page Six detailed. "I wouldn't be able to stand here this evening, and keep to myself some bitter regrets that I have at poor decisions to work with individuals with whom I wish I had not," Winslet said while accepting the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film at the London Critics' Circle Film Awards. "It has become clear to me that by not saying anything, I might be adding to the anguish of many courageous women and men. Sexual abuse is a crime," she continued.

Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow set off an uproar when he said female artists and executives need to "step up" after being asked about the low number of women Grammy winners in 2018—but he has now backtracked, Variety revealed. A statement sent to Variety read, "I was asked a question about the lack of female artist representation in certain categories of this year's Grammy Awards. Regrettably, I used two words, 'step up,' that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make. Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music."

Singer Erykah Badu suggested in an interview that maybe Hitler wasn't all bad, in part because he was a "wonderful painter," USA Today noted. She said this in a long interview with Vulture in which she talked about many subjects, including her 2008 visit to Israel where she said she supported the Palestinian cause and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, despite his alleged anti-Semitism. After getting a lot of blowback on Twitter, Badu posted, "Say what u must. Dialogue is cool."

Original Charmed star Holly Marie Combs took to Twitter to express her skepticism about The CW remaking the show without any input from the original cast and creators, noted. Her tweets implied she thinks that the reboot would just be cashing in on the Charmed name and concept, while "capitalizing" on the hard work of the people who made it great in the first place.

Storm Chasers star Joel Taylor has passed away at 38, Extra noted, citing The Blast. Taylor died while vacationing on a gay cruise ship sailing to Puerto Rico, where an autopsy was performed. TMZ reported that Taylor died from a suspected overdose because "drugs on the party boat were plentiful." A passenger told the site that Taylor was rendered unconscious and removed from the dance floor after consuming GHB. He was then taken to his cabin.

A group led by Maria Contreras-Sweet is in exclusive negotiations to purchase The Weinstein Company, TheWrap confirmed with an individual close to the bidding process. The bid, which counts Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Enterprises and Lantern Capital as minority partners, is close to ( but less than ) $500 million.

Real Housewives of New York star Luann de Lesseps is back on the scene after a stint in rehab, according to Page Six. Her update to fans came shortly after co-star Ramona Singer shared and then deleted a cast photo at dinner. In late December, de Lesseps announced she was seeking treatment after she was arrested for disorderly intoxication, battery of an officer, resisting arrest and making threats against a public servant in Palm Beach.

KFC announced that it selected the first-ever woman and globally known music superstar to play the role of Colonel Harland Sanders, per a press release. Beginning Jan. 28, ads featuring multiple Grammy-Award winning entertainer Reba McEntire aired on television and computer screens nationwide to promote KFC's new Smoky Mountain BBQ fried chicken.

Porn legend Ron Jeremy—facing allegations of rape and sexual assault—has been banned from this year's AVN Adult Entertainment Expo and Awards, Fox News noted. Jeremy told Rolling Stone, after the magazine reported on his behavior, "I have never and would never rape anyone," but admitted he's groped women in the context of, "I get paid to show up to these shows, events, and photo shoots and touch the people and they touch me."

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