Saturday, August 30, 2008

Diddy halts private jet flights over fuel prices


Sean "Diddy" Combs complained about the "... too high" price of gas and pleaded for free oil from his "Saudi Arabia brothers and sisters" in a YouTube video posted Wednesday. The hip-hop mogul said he is now flying on commercial airlines instead of in private jets, which Combs said had previously cost him $200,000 and up for a roundtrip between New York and Los Angeles.

"I'm actually flying commercial," Diddy said before walking onto an airplane, sitting in a first-class seat and flashing his boarding pass to the camera. "That's how high gas prices are. I'm at the gate right now. This is really happening, proof gas prices are too high. Tell whoever the next president is we need to bring gas prices down."


On the Net:


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Cuban punk rocker fined for disobedience

Gorki Aguila, 39, was ordered to pay 600 Cuban pesos, or
about $30, for playing his music too loud during rehearsal, his
father Luis Aguila said.

The bushy-haired rocker was arrested on Monday as his band,
Porno para (for) Ricardo, was recording its latest album.

News of the arrest quickly spread through the blogosphere
and on Friday a crowd of foreign diplomats, foreign
correspondents, government press officials and Aquila
supporters waited in the street outside the court.

His songs have fiercely criticized Cuba's communist
government and its leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, which band
members blamed for his arrest.

The Cuban government has said nothing about the case.

The group's CDs are banned in Cuba but copies are
circulated underground.

Aquila, who was led into court in handcuffs, was freed
after the hearing, which was closed to the press.

The original charge of social dangerousness pertains to
people who authorities believe are likely to commit crimes, and
can include such things as habitual drunkenness, drug addiction
and anti-social behavior.

Aguila went to prison previously on drug charges he said
were the result of entrapment by the Cuban government.

The illegal but tolerated Cuban Human Rights Commission
said its preliminary investigation of the latest charge found
Aguila committed no crime and called for the case to be

The human rights commission recently issued a report saying
the Cuban government had 219 political prisoners behind bars
and that short-term detentions of government opponents had
increased dramatically in the first half of 2008.

Cuban officials view dissidents as mercenaries working with
the United States to subvert its government. The United States
has had a trade embargo against Cuba for 46 years and its
diplomats in Havana openly work with the opposition.

(Reporting by Jeff Franks and Esteban Israel; editing by
Michael Christie and Eric Beech)

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Winehouse falls ill, misses Paris concert

Amy WinehouseParis concertLondon

The 24-year-old, whose battle against drug addiction has
overshadowed her recording successes, had been due to appear at
the Rock En Seine festival in Paris.

"Amy Winehouse was regrettably unable to perform at the
Rock En Seine show in Paris due to illness," her spokesman said
in a statement late on Friday.

"She was taken ill at her house and wasn't able to travel
to France for the concert."

During the last three months Winehouse has twice been
rushed to hospital, most recently after suffering a reaction to
her medication.

Her father has said Winehouse is suffering from the lung
disease emphysema.

Winehouse's husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, was jailed
recently after pleading guilty to beating up a pub landlord in
2006 and conspiring to cover up the crime.

The singer is due to appear at the Bestival festival on the
Isle of Wight next weekend.

(Reporting by John Joseph; editing by Tim Pearce)

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Amy Winehouse Too Sick for Paris Gig

Jovie Baclayon

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Johnny Depp Plays Like a Kid Again

Jovie Baclayon

Johnny Depp

With his girlfriend, Vanessa Paradis, and their 9-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose, screaming in the crowd of 2,500, the Oscar-nominated actor strapped on a guitar and sang backup vocals during the power-pop group's 90-minute set.

The second annual Sheila Witkin Memorial Reunion Concert honors The Kids' late manager, who was well-known in South Florida's music scene. All proceeds from the benefit go to the Dan Marino Foundation, which funds programs for children with special needs. The band also reunited in January 2007 for the same cause.

The 45-year-old actor joined The Kids when he was a high school student in Miramar, Florida, and moved to Los Angeles with them in search of a record deal. After the band broke up, Depp decided to pursue a career in acting.

Johnny and the boys are scheduled to rock out again tonight on day two of the benefit.

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Hollywood asks: who needs Harry Potter?

By Bob Tourtellotte

The Dark Knight

Two weeks ago, Warner Bros. yanked "Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince" from a November release and pushed it to
next July, which could spell trouble at box offices because the
previous four "Potter" films averaged $920 million in worldwide
ticket sales. That is a lot of movie magic.

But a range of films from broad comedies such as "Beverly
Hills Chihuahua" to thrillers like "Eagle Eye" and art house
fare including "Flash of Genius" could sustain the summer
upswing, studio executives and box office watchers said.

"You've got it all," said Paul Dergarabedian of box office
tracker Media By Numbers, when assessing the outlook from
September through mid-November, when the new James Bond flick,
"Quantum of Solace," kicks off holiday season moviegoing.

Last year, Hollywood also came off a strong summer after
raking in a record $4.18 billion in North American receipts,
but then came a slate filled with war films such as "In the
Valley of Elah" and dark dramas that tanked at box offices.

When the summer movie season officially ends on Monday's
U.S. Labor Day holiday, box office watchers again expect a
summer tally of over $4 billion. A good chunk of that comes
from the blockbuster Batman sequel "The Dark Knight."

This fall Hollywood seems to have learned a lesson from its
bleak 2007 as it dishes up such light-hearted entries as Joel
and Ethan Coen's wacky new comedy "Burn After Reading" starring
Brad Pitt and George Clooney; the animated sequel "Madagascar:
Escape 2 Africa"; and Disney's latest teen confection, "High
School Musical 3: Senior Year."

On a more serious note, Clint Eastwood provocative
thriller, "Changeling," starring Angelina Jolie and John
Malkovich, will also make its commercial debut.


"Part of the reason the summer was successful is that most
studios made a lot of films people really loved, and it is a
great comment on the power of films that even in bad economic
times, audiences come to theaters for good movies," said Adam
Fogelson, marketing chief for Universal Pictures.

Of course, the question for movie fans is: "what is good?,"
and that question has as many answers as there are films.

Last year, the Coen brothers went into Telluride with clips
from "No Country for Old Men," and came out with good buzz that
propelled the movie to Oscars for best picture, best director
and best adapted screenplay. Teenage pregnancy comedy "Juno"
was a hit at Toronto in 2007, and three years ago gay cowboy
drama "Brokeback Mountain" won the top prize at Venice.

This year the Coen comedy "Burn After Reading," which stars
Pitt as hyperactive gym teacher who attempts to extort money
from a former CIA analyst, divided some critics at Venice but
will have a chance to wow a new group of reviewers at Toronto.

Other September and October releases winning early buzz are
director Spike Lee's "Miracle at St. Anna," about four black
American soldiers caught behind enemy lines during World War
II, and "Appaloosa," a crime thriller set in the Old West
directed by Ed Harris, starring Viggo Mortensen and Harris.

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino have paired up as a couple of
New York City cops in "Righteous Kill," and Leonardo DiCaprio
and Russell Crowe appear together in "Body of Lies."

Finally, there is the drama "Tyler Perry's The Family That
Preys," and on the lighter side, "Ghost Town," starring British
comedian Ricky Gervais as a man who can see ghosts, and "Nick &
Norah's Infinite Playlist," about two teenagers who find love.


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Iranian film explores transsexual world

By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press Writer

Venice Film FestivalIranian director

The struggles of seven transsexuals depicted in the film are made more complicated by Iran's strict gender codes and cultural obstacles. But Motamedian, who is best known in Iran for theater work, insists the problems they face are universal to transsexuals anywhere in the world: finding their identity and seeking acceptance from their families.

"We know that throughout the world this problems exists," Motamedian said. "The idea was to raise awareness among families especially, because this is the first layer of barrier, and to help people to realize they are not alone and be able to face the problem."

Motamedian said he was inspired by the Italian neo-realists in his filmmaking, and for the movie he cast transsexuals, not professional actors, to act a role that he created.

"The cast I worked with had no cinematic training, which I thought would be useful to access things that a professional actor wouldn't be capable," Motamedian said.

"Usually an actor is trained to show things. I thought it was important to show what a person was hiding," he told a news conference Friday.

"Tedium," which is being shown out of competition, delves into the lives of seven transsexuals as they struggle with the question of whether they can find true romantic love, whether to go through with a sex change operation, how to tell their families — and in one case, a wife — and whether to remain in Iran.

Motamedian said the most difficult casting was for Shiva, the one female-to-male transsexual in the film.

"Right up to the day of shooting I hadn't found a suitable character to play that role ... and I even thought about cutting her out," Motamedian said. "As it is a very masculine and male-oriented society, the thought of really coming out and revealing that fact they wanted to come out and revealing they are not a 'real' male ... has real problems. All of the women I met who wanted to be male didn't want this to be known, for them it was a real problem coming out."

Motamedian said the movie was made without going through official channels to get permission — meaning without government financial support. But it also means the film won't be shown in Iran.

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Theron attends `Burning Plain' debut in Venice

By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press Writer

Guillermo Arriagadirectorial debutThe Burning Plain

"The Burning Plain," written and directed by the "21 Grams" and "Babel" screenwriter, stars Charlize Theron as a troubled Oregon restaurant manager who is forced to confront her past when a mysterious visitor arrives from Mexico. Kim Basinger appears in flashbacks as Sylvia's mother, Gina, at a pivotal moment in her young life.

The film, which debuts at the Venice Film Festival on Friday, is one of 21 movies competing for the Golden Lion, which will be awarded Sept. 6. Directed by Mexico-born Arriaga, it is one of five U.S. pictures in competition.

Landscape is central to the movie — which Arriaga initially had titled, "The Four Elements." Water, earth, wind and fire are present as the story moves back and forth from the searing dryness of New Mexico to the nonstop rain in Portland, Ore.

"I have always been driven to the desert. I think the landscape itself influences people in a certain way," Arriaga told a news conference. "We experienced the desert and the sun and the extreme cold in the desert to the nonstop rain in Oregon. I think the weather and the landscape also influences the character."

Cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar for "There Will Be Blood," was lauded by Arriaga for stunning shots of the New Mexico desert and Oregon coastline.

The movie is told through four converging plot lines, and cuts back and forth through time to reveal Sylvia's story.

"This is the exploration of the mystery of a woman called Sylvia who has an emotional journey that takes her to the extremes. It explores what makes her so damaged," Arriaga said.

No stranger to flawed characters, Theron said she loved the role of Sylvia.

"You should ask people that question. Why are people so flawed? Because that's who we are," Theron said. "Why is it when you watch a film and something happens that moves you — it either moves you to tears or gives a chill down your spine — it's because we can see ourselves in that moment."

Theron, who also worked as a producer on the film, said there was a list of actresses to play the role of Gina, but they were thrilled to get Basinger.

"She's amazing," Theron said. "There is something about Kim. There's a strength with her leftover vulnerability from her 20s that's just unbelievably beautiful to watch. There are moments on the screen when she's shaking, her entire body is shaking for real. You couldn't act that."

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Frank film looks at daily life in troubled Kashmir

By Mike Collett-White

"Zero Bridge," by U.S.-born Tariq Tapa in his directorial
debut, is a low-key, partly-improvised drama about a rebellious
Kashmiri teenager who turns to petty crime in Srinagar, the
summer capital of the Indian part of the divided region.

Dilawar, who lives with an illiterate uncle after his
mother abandoned him, meets an attractive older woman Bani, and
is faced with a dilemma when he realizes that in stealing her
passport he has jeopardized her freedom and future happiness.

The film maker, whose father is a Kashmiri Muslim, believes
that in portraying the day-to-day challenges and frustrations
of people living in Srinagar, his film could prove more
political than any documentary or news bulletin.

"If you could come to care about them by the end of the
film then I think that that was in a way a more political act
than (what) a well-meaning documentary could achieve," Tapa
told reporters on Saturday in Venice, where "Zero Bridge"
screened outside the main film festival competition.

"You are just humanizing people who for so long have been
marginalized to an issue or to an exotic location."

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in full but rule in
parts, and two of three wars between them were sparked by the
dispute. Tens of thousands have also been killed there since
armed revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out in 1989.

India accuses Pakistan of sponsoring militant groups based
in Pakistan fighting for Muslim-majority Kashmir's independence
or merger with Pakistan. Pakistan denies the charge, but says
it provides moral support for groups it sees as "freedom


This month has seen some of the largest pro-independence
demonstrations in Kashmir in almost 20 years, and although
"Zero Bridge" does not directly portray any unrest, it shows
how years of violence and poverty can affect the local

Security is intrusive, the wheels of justice turn painfully
slowly and many young people dream of leaving Kashmir for a
better life. The film also addresses the issue of how many
unmarried women are denied basic rights by their families.

"The violence is what makes the headlines, but most
people's daily lives have to do with being frustrated and
terribly inconvenienced to the point that it just wears on
them," Tapa said. "They come to expect as a matter of routine
that they are going to be detained."

His own experiences shooting "Zero Bridge" in 2006 and 2007
reflect the level of suspicion in Kashmir.

One of the offices he set up in Srinagar during the making
of the film was attacked by an angry mob, incensed when they
heard rumors that a foreigner was making a pornographic movie.

He fled one attack on the back of a stranger's motorcycle,
and was later detained by police investigating the claims about
his project. Tapa spent weeks trying to iron out the

The director, who first visited Kashmir as a boy when his
father took him to see relatives there before the visits
stopped in 1989, cast his cousin in the main role of Dilawar
and based Bani's tragic tale on another relative's real

(To read more about our entertainment news, visit our blog
"Fan Fare" online at http://blogs.reuters/fanfare)

(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Documentary shows tough reality of doctors in war

By Silvia Aloisi


Shot in 2005-2006 and presented at the Venice film
festival, "Living in Emergency" follows four Western volunteers
working in Africa for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the
French-based aid agency which won the Nobel Peace Prize in

Two are new recruits and two are experienced field workers
in Liberia after its brutal civil war and in the lawless
northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All struggle to cope with a crushing work load, the lack of
adequate supplies, and the chaos and carnage around them.

Using graphic footage of emergency surgery and frank
interviews with aid workers, the documentary gives a powerful
sense of what life in the field is really like for MSF doctors,
and stays away from the sanitized images which are sometimes
used to make humanitarian work easier for audiences to watch.

"It was very clear from the beginning that we did not want
to make some kind of 'cause documentary'. That's a genre like
'everything is going to be okay and here are the heroes',"
director Mark Hopkins, who is a dual U.S. and British national,
told Reuters in an interview.

"They (MSF doctors) don't view themselves like that, they
are humans. They are doing quite extraordinary stuff in crazy
situations but ... it would be disingenuous to the actual
reality of the situation to turn it into one of those standard

It also explores how their ideals, perspectives and motives
are transformed over time by what they witness in the field,
and how difficult it is too keep morale high amid the tension
and frustrations.

"This is low-grade medicine. The things that we do are not
as good as they could be," one of the volunteers says in the

While most describe their work as a highly enriching
experience, the stress and the exposure to the horrors of war
can take a heavy toll.

Chris Brasher, an Australian anesthetist who worked with
MSF for nine years and is one of the doctors at the centre of
the documentary, has now left the agency for a Paris hospital.

"I was completely burnt out .... dreaming about burned
bodies and dying people. I had trouble in my personal life
maintaining my relationships. I was becoming aggressive," he
said, adding it was very hard to readjust to normal life.

He offered this advice to the thousands of people who every
year apply to become an MSF volunteer: "To all those who think
they are doing this for other persons and not for themselves,
think again."

(Editing by Caroline Drees)

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Obama's Ratings Touchdown

Joal Ryan

football stadiumBarack Obama

An Oscars-esque 38.4 million watched Obama's speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination, Nielsen Media Research said today.

Actually, the Oscar ceremony hasn't averaged 38 million-plus viewers since 2006.

Obama's Thursday speech, delivered before about 75,000 at the football home of the Denver Broncos, not only topped this past year's Oscars (32 million), but every night of the just-concluded Beijing Games (which, at its best, scored 34.9 million), and last spring's American Idol finale (31.7 million).

The speech drew more viewers than President Bush's last State of the Union address (37.5 million) and was easily the most-watched hour of this week's Democratic convention.

Nielsen stopped short of outright declaring it the most-watched convention event ever as its data for night-by-night, convention viewership only goes back to 2000.

Also unknown is exactly how many people watched the Obama speech live on TV.

Nielsen counted everybody who caught the speech on one of 10 broadcast or cable channels, but, as is its way, did not count those who watched it on a noncommercial outlet, à la PBS or CSPAN.

Nielsen stats definitively show the Obama speech was the most-watched, nonsports program in African-American households since a Michael Jackson anniversary concert broadcast on CBS in 2001. Obama, the junior U.S. senator from Illinois, is the first African-American to serve as a major party's presidential nominee.

Combined with the convention's first three nights, the Democratic convention averaged 27.7 million, making it the most-watched convention, Democratic or Republican, on record. (Again, Nielsen's records only go back to 2000. Also, more networks than ever provided live coverage of this past week's convention.)

After Obama, the week's next-biggest draw was the senator's top rival in the primaries: Hillary Clinton.Tuesday's prime-time coverage, featuring a speech by Clinton, averaged 26 million. Wednesday night, featuring a speech by former President Bill Clinton, averaged 24 million.

The Republican convention is set to kick off Monday.

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Kevin Connolly Humbled by the Michael Phelps Phenomenon

Natalie Finn

When Michael Phelps shot an impromptu cameo for the new season of Entourage this week, the HBO comedy's fab four got a taste of what hanging out with the original Fab Four might have been like.

"It was like being in New York City with one of the Beatles," Kevin Connolly told E! News Friday about shooting a scene with the 14-time Olympic gold medalist, who's been the toast of seemingly every town since returning to the U.S. from Beijing.

"People were stopping in the streets and climbing up things to see him. They were going nuts. He's like a superstar."

"It was fun," albeit "pretty humbling," added the actor, whose hit HBO show has its fifth-season premiere Sept. 7.

The Entourage spot, of course, was only the tip of the iceberg for Phelps, who has also lined up a Sept. 13 hosting gig on Saturday Night Live, presenting duty at the MTV Video Music Awards Sept. 7 and, now, the season premiere of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

He'll appear with about 150 other members of the U.S. Olympic team, including NBA star Kobe Bryant, gymnast Nastia Liukin, beach volleyball champs Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh and swimmer Dara Torres.

The episode is set to tape Wednesday at Millennium Park in Chicago, which is hoping to be the home of the 2016 Summer Olympics, and will air Sept. 8.

So, the America's Homecoming Parade that Disney World held for the star swimmer today in Orlando was really more like the unofficial launch party for Michael Phelps Month, aka September.

And yet, through it all, the 23-year-old Baltimore native still seems to be most comfortable in his old splashing grounds of Any Pool U.S.A.

After a whirlwind Thursday that included the Entourage shoot, an appearance on Good Morning America and a bunch of other interviews, Phelps looked most at ease when he slipped into the pool at the McBurney YMCA in Manhattan to present a $20,000 check on behalf of megasponsor Visa to the Partnership for Play Every Day, which promotes the importance of regular recreation time for kids.

"For America's kids, the time to play and swim is today," Phelps said. "We need everyone's help in providing all kids with safe and well-equipped spaces where they can exercise, have fun and maybe even begin to pursue their own Olympic dreams."

"He was a trooper," an event rep told E! News. "From the look on his face, being in that pool was the highlight of his day. All the stress just melted away."

—Additional reporting by Matt Donnelly and Whitney English

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Johnny Depp Plays Like a Kid Again

Jovie Baclayon

Johnny Depp

With his girlfriend, Vanessa Paradis, and their 9-year-old daughter, Lily-Rose, screaming in the crowd of 2,500, the Oscar-nominated actor strapped on a guitar and sang backup vocals during the power-pop group's 90-minute set.

The second annual Sheila Witkin Memorial Reunion Concert honors The Kids' late manager, who was well-known in South Florida's music scene. All proceeds from the benefit go to the Dan Marino Foundation, which funds programs for children with special needs. The band also reunited in January 2007 for the same cause.

The 45-year-old actor joined The Kids when he was a high school student in Miramar, Florida, and moved to Los Angeles with them in search of a record deal. After the band broke up, Depp decided to pursue a career in acting.

Johnny and the boys are scheduled to rock out again tonight on day two of the benefit.

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Fans queue to snag tickets to see Oprah, Olympians

By DANIEL J. YOVICH, Associated Press Writer

season premiere

By noon, the line of Winfrey fans and U.S. Olympic supporters stretched nearly six city blocks in Chicago's Millennium Park. The show will air Sept. 8 and include appearances by gold medalists Michael Phelps, Nastia Liukin and Kobe Bryant.

Tickets for the Winfrey's tapings are usually available only by phone and nearly impossible to get, so fans were itching for the 2,000 seats up for grabs for Wednesday's taping.

"We do love Oprah," said 20-year-old Loyola University student Grace Sutherland, who left her apartment at 4 a.m. to wait in line. "But the Olympic athletes, they are real role models. This is the America we like to see."

Jeanne Kaspar, 40, of Naperville, Ill., said that although the Olympians are inspiring, Winfrey's accomplishments will resonate long after the athletes' successes are forgotten.

"Oprah shattered the glass ceiling for women," Kaspar said. "She's shown a woman can run companies, can lead philanthropic organizations, can do really anything."

Organizers began passing out tickets at noon Saturday.

For those unable to get tickets Saturday, approximately 7,000 festival-style lawn seats would be available Wednesday, said Monica Cebula, special events coordinator for Millennium Park. Another 2,000 seats have been set aside for the Olympians' families and friends.

Winfrey's Harpo Productions said the show is a "welcome home celebration" for the athletes and a chance to feature Chicago in the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Chicago is a finalist for the 2016 games along with Tokyo; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Madrid, Spain. The International Olympic Committee will choose the 2016 host next year.

(This version CORRECTS Corrects date show will air to Sept 8.)

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Dust storm causes some to leave Burning Man early

By MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Writer

dust stormBurning Man festival

Roger Farschon, incident commander for the federal Bureau of Land Management, said the dust storm on the Black Rock Desert about 110 miles north of Reno began early Saturday afternoon and continued into the evening.

"We are in (a) total whiteout," he wrote by e-mail. "A similar cold front caused a major dust event on Monday. The rest of the event has been relatively dust-free."

The annual celebration of radical self-expression was scheduled to climax Saturday night with the torching of its 40-foot signature effigy.

The crowd on Saturday morning reached a record 49,599, up from 47,097 last year, authorities reported.

Farschon said he was unaware of any fatalities or major arrests during the weeklong event leading up to Labor Day.

"Overall, the event is going smoothly with no major problems," he wrote. "Medical cases are very consistent with last year with daily patient loads of 0.5 to 0.7 percent of the population."

The BLM had made six arrests and issued 129 citations to participants through early Saturday morning, many for drug violations.

Burning Man, an eclectic art, music and performance festival, began in 1986 at San Francisco's Baker Beach and was moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Rapper Da Brat was sentenced to three years behind bars, seven years of probation and 200 hours of community service Friday morning (August 22) for striking a woman in the face with a rum bottle. The October 2007 incident at an Atlanta-area nightclub left the victim's face permanently scarred.

According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Gail Flake handed down the punishment, while about six members of the rapper's family quietly wept inside the courtroom. Da Brat (born Shawntae Harris) told her relatives "I love y'all" as she was led out of the courtroom by sheriff's deputies. "We love you too," they replied.

Harris had pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault, a charge stemming from a serious physical altercation that happened last Halloween during a party at Jermaine Dupri's Studio 72 nightclub just outside Atlanta. According to reports, Da Brat got into a heated confrontation with one of the club's waitresses and was accused of striking the woman in the face with a bottle of rum, causing numerous cuts on her face.

The waitress was taken to a hospital for treatment. Police said the Halloween attack wasn't the first time Da Brat and the victim were involved in a physical altercation.

This is also not Da Brat's first brush with the law. In 2000 she faced charges that she beat a woman with a gun during a dispute over VIP seating in a Buckhead, Georgia, nightclub. The victim in that incident received six stitches for a head wound. That case did not make it to trial, however. Instead, in 2001 the rapper agreed to perform 80 hours of community service, serve a year's probation and pay a $1,000 fine after pleading guilty to misdemeanor reckless conduct.

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You may not know who John Stephens is, but you're probably familiar with his superstar persona: John Legend. While he may now have the stuff that, uh, legends are made of, his struggle for success has taken the R&B singer through a long trek of trials and tribulations.

John Legend was in a reflective mood when he sat down with MTV News, recalling his early days. "I would play ... all these small places in New York where a lot of young musicians get their start," Legend said of his music career after moving to NYC in 2000. "[I would do] whatever I could do to get people talking about my music. A couple of years into it, we could get, like, 300 or 400 people to show up at [New York music venue] S.O.B.'s, but at first we were happy to get, like, 50 or 60 or 70 people to show up.

"But that whole grind is just part of how you get discovered, how you develop yourself as a performer," he added. "I think it makes everything I do now more worth it, because I put in all that time and all that effort."

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania and working as a management consultant, Legend made his rounds through the nightclub circuit in New York, performing under his real name before gaining the moniker John Legend from his peers.

"John Legend is a nickname that some friends started calling me, and it kind of grew into my stage name," the singer said. " 'Legend' is something that I never would have chosen for myself originally. It grew to the point where more people in my circle would know me by that name than by my real name. I had to make a decision.

"I was just like, 'You know what? Let's just go for it. People are going to pay attention and I'm going to either live up to my name or I'm not,' " he continued. "My bet was on me trying to live up to the name."

Despite being a solo artist, Legend said, he never went through the grind alone and acknowledged some of his fellow artists who struggled with him during his early beginnings, including Jazmine Sullivan, Jill Scott, Bilal and Kanye West.

"Kanye was still grinding it out when I was grinding it out," Legend recalled. "We did shows together. He actually opened for me at one point. It was weird, 'cause people didn't know him at all. He was really well-known in the [music] business because he was producing for everybody, but no one kind of in the general public knew who he was as a rapper.

"We did a show at S.O.B.'s, and the crowd was definitely getting restless while he was performing," he added. "It's hard to play a live show when people have no idea who you are. I knew he was going to be great and was going to be a big star, but at the time, no one knew. Little did they know who he was going to be."

Two multiplatinum albums and five Grammys later, Legend is prepping to release Evolver in October, with "Green Light" as the first single, and the singer agreed that his hard work has undoubtedly paid off.

"You will not make it in this business and succeed over a long period of time unless you work really hard," Legend explained. "I had to learn as I went when I was grinding. And it does make you appreciate your success. It makes you realize that it's really about the work. It's really about making the best music you can make. It's really about working hard.

"At the end of the day, there's only a few major stars in the music business, and then there's all these people that are aspiring to be that."

Make sure to watch the premiere of John Legend's "Green Light" video on "FNMTV" Friday (August 22).

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NEW YORK — Both UniverSoul and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey can fold up their tents, cage their tigers, shave their bearded ladies and tell their clowns to wash the paint from their happy little faces. They've been upstaged: T-Pain has the flyest circus in town.

On Thursday night, the new king of hip-hop and R&B guest hooks brought his Southern sideshow swagger to Manhattan, unveiling his third LP, Thr33 Ringz.

(Check out photos from T-Pain's Thr33 Ringz party right here!)

Popcorn and hot dogs were served while a big-top announcer urged everyone to "step right up" outside the venue, Swing 46. A colorfully dressed midget greeted patrons at the door, and a few feet from the open bar, cotton candy was served. Before Pain made his entrance, Lil Jon arrived looking as joyful as ever, now that his long-labored label problems were solved with a new deal several days back (a "content partnership" deal with the Orchard).

But on to the star attraction: Pain arrived and hugged the King of Crunk while making light of the fact that they looked alike, with their dreads and Oakley sunglasses. The head of Jive Records, Barry Weiss, took the stage to introduce one of the new cornerstones of his label.

"We're gonna f--- people up with this album. We're gonna shift the paragon. ... October 28, muthaf---ers!" he proudly predicted of the album's release.

Teddy P. (not to be confused with his baby-blue, six-and-half-foot mascot, Teddy Penderazdoun) later grabbed the mic and joked, "All the people that don't drink that's leavin' early, to hell with y'all."

As the album began to play, a skit commenced: two disgruntled funnymen griping about the job. "Two clowns that work for my circus that have never worked for a more f---ed-up circus than mine," T-Pain explained.

"I'm bringing new elephants, new tigers, new tat men, new strong men," he said later. "I'm bringing color."

The LP's first actual song was "Ringleader Man," which he performed a portion of on the BET Awards. Shortly after was "Therapy," a record that re-teams Pain and his "Good Life" co-star Kanye West. The song is about "all the crazy b----s that just don't have no sense," he told the crowd. He gave an example of meeting a stripper at her place of business. The girl was so nutty, he offered her $20 to shut up.

"This ain't the way I wanted it to end, but I gotta go," he sings on the track. "You still gotta your sh-- together, girl/ Shawty, you ain't gotta be scared of me/ All we need is therapy."

Kanye brings satire and current events to the song, making a naughty Obama reference by saying that the girl he rhymes about wanted to "[emasculate him] like Jesse Jackson."

"You too much pressure, dog," he adds. "You about to raise my cholesterol."

"Freeze" features Chris Brown and basically tells the ladies that if they can dance like Pain and his teenage buddy, they have a great chance of getting with the guys. Pain made a sexual reference while describing the record that elicited gasps from some crowd members.

"Chopped and Screwed" has a cameo from Ludacris. It's about going messed-up in the head after somebody breaks up with you. 'Cris does bring his patented lightheartedness, though: "Have you praising the lord like, 'Thank you! Thank you! I really wanna thank you!"

"Karaoke" takes aim at all the rappers and singers who have started using the Auto-Tune effect on their voices since Pain gave it its resurgence. DJ Khaled comes on to cheer him on: "Y'all a bunch of karaoke-f----in' n---as," The Miami DJ yells. Pain actually raps most of the record.

Other guests on the album include Bow Wow, Rick Ross and the singing symphony of Musiq Soulchild, Anthony Hamilton and Raheem DeVaughn on "Super Soul Song (Reality Show)."

Pain wrote and produced the entire LP, and he's still recording. Most of the tracks are around the mid-tempo range and play nicely to Teddy's mastery of vocal melody. The video for the first single, "Can't Believe It," also debuted at the party. It's a colorful, imaginative buffet of eye candy that focuses on performances and special effects. Lil Wayne co-stars.

Thr33 Ringz drops this fall. Prior to releasing it, T-Pain is putting out a mixtape called Pr33 Ringz.

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Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has chosen Delaware Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate, according to a text message sent to supporters at 3 a.m. on Saturday (August 23) morning and a message posted on Obama's campaign Web site.

"Joe Biden brings extensive foreign policy experience, an impressive record of collaborating across party lines and a direct approach to getting the job done," read the message about one of the best kept secrets in Washington until the news leaked out unexpectedly two hours before the text went out. "We have our team, but we also have our work cut out for us. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are the leaders who will bring the change our country needs."

Most expected to receive the news sometime later Saturday morning, before the two running mates' scheduled appearance at a rally in Springfield, Illinois, the site where Obama kicked off his bid for the presidency more than 19 months ago. Biden will be taking the stage at the Democratic National Convention next week as part of a history-making ticket looking to take on Republican Senator John McCain and his soon-to-be-announced running mate in November.

The 65-year-old Biden has long been considered a top contender for a job. As chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, with close to six terms in the Senate under his belt, Biden has experience Obama lacks in foreign policy and defense issues. He's also a Catholic with a blue-collar background, which could help Obama with that demographic.

On the other hand, the Washington veteran (who ran for president himself in 1988 and 2008) represents a state that is already in Obama's column, and he has a history of putting his foot in his mouth. On the campaign trail earlier this year, Biden received flak for calling Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." He quickly apologized for the statement.

In the days leading up to the announcement the speculation ramped up, with every media outlet digging for every kernel of information that might suggest who Obama was going to choose, staking out those on the short list and practically begging them for any hints. As of earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the short list had gotten down to a trio of potential VPs that included Biden, Indiana's Senator Evan Bayh and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine.

As the time ticked down on Obama's announcement, supporters of the senator's one-time rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton, began to lose hope that Obama would choose the former first lady, even as the buzz about her joining the ticket picked up again. Fox News even reported on Friday that there was a move afoot by some delegates to force Clinton onto the ticket. Another long-shot candidate, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, was also said to be in the running. On Friday, a true dark-horse candidate emerged in Texas Representative Chet Edwards, a big supporter of veterans' issues who confirmed to CNN that he had been vetted by the campaign.

For a time, former Senator John Edwards was also rumored to be on the list, but the 2004 Democratic VP nominee's second chance at the #2 slot, or a potential spot in an Obama cabinet, imploded when he recently admitted to an extramarital affair.

The Times had predicted that Obama would likely choose a "relatively safe" running mate to avoid taking any chances with a selection that might change voters' minds on the candidate or alienate a significant portion of his base. Then again, with his lead over McCain slipping away over the past few weeks, Obama was in need of a buzz-worthy pick that could re-energize the campaign.

Obama reached his final decision while on his recent vacation in Hawaii in what was an "unexpectedly intense process" that the paper said was squeezed into a shorter period to avoid actively vetting potential running mates' backgrounds before Clinton quit the race in June. The candidate confirmed on Thursday that he had made his decision but wasn't ready to reveal it yet.

Obama was faced with the decision of filling out the ticket with someone who could make up for his perceived lack of experience, someone who would reinforce his message of change, a running mate who could help him win an important toss-up state or a candidate who could boost his appeal to white, working class voters, whom he had trouble reaching in some states during the primaries.

Biden fits some of those categories, though his long tenure in the Senate and some harsh criticism of Obama earlier in the campaign quickly turned into fodder for the McCain camp shortly after the pick was announced.

"There has been no harsher critic of Barack Obama's lack of experience than Joe Biden," McCain spokesman Ben Porritt said in a written statement, according to CNN. "Biden has denounced Barack Obama's poor foreign policy judgment and has strongly argued in his own words what Americans are quickly realizing — that Barack Obama is not ready to be president."

Biden frequently raised questions about Obama's lack of foreign policy experience during the primaries. "I think he can be ready, but right now, I don't believe he is," Biden said during one debate. "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training."

McCain will also more than likely bring up the fact that Biden dropped out of the 1988 Democratic presidential race after charges that he plagiarized a stump speech.

Despite all the attention, there's one thing political pundits typically agree on: While the hoopla surrounding the VP pick always provide a momentary bump in the polls, it rarely has much of an impact on winning states or regions of the country come November.

Don't worry about missing out on the action: MTV News and our Street Team '08 will be on the ground at both conventions to sort through all the speeches, streamers and ceremony to find the information you need to choose our next president. Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election. And after history is made in Denver, MTV News will help you make sense of it all in "Obama Decoded," premiering Friday, August 29 at 7:30.

[This story was originally published at 2:35 am E.T. on 8.23.2008]

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He's on fire in the streets. Kids and adults alike are wearing bootleg T-shirts emblazoned with his face and phrases. Approximately 95 percent of the hip-hop community is singing his praises. And yet his appeal is just as strong in other parts of the country and the world: His remarks resonate from Chicago to Compton, from Brooklyn's Marcy projects to Marseille, France.

In a scenario that would have been nearly impossible to imagine four years ago, we're talking about the Democratic candidate for president of the United States.

"He's gonna win," LL Cool J told MTV News matter of factly, as if the outcome of this fall's presidential election were already a foregone conclusion. "We need to support Barack Obama and his quest for the Oval Office."

"What [Obama] represents is, we as a people are a part of the American Dream," Jay-Z — who displayed a giant photo of Obama onstage during his recent Heart of the City Tour with Mary J. Blige — told Vibe recently. "The message is for a kid from in Marcy projects right now to say, 'Maybe I can be the president.' "

"I think Barack can help cure the country," Nas, who recently released a song called "Black President," told MTV News earlier this year. "Not just [for] us blacks, but also with all Americans. I think there's so much our president can do. [Obama] seems like a human being — I say that because a lot of presidents don't seem like human beings, they seem like straight-up businessmen who care about nothing but the business."

LL Cool J, Jay and Nas are just three members of what may be Obama's most vocal group of cheerleaders: the hip-hop community. Outkast's Big Boi recently released a video for his song "Sumthin's Gotta Give" that depicts himself, Mary J. Blige and John Legend working in an Obama campaign office. Kanye West recently teamed up with Jay — who calls himself "the 'hood's Barack" on his "A Billi" freestyle — for an Obama-boosting track called "Jockin' Jay-Z."

Rappers from T.I. to Common to Young Jeezy to first-time voter Soulja Boy Tell'em have spoken out for him. We've heard a myriad of pro-Barack songs, we've seen the release of Obama-themed mixtapes, and Ludacris — one of the few major rappers who has met Obama — recently did a mixtape freestyle about the candidate that probably had more impact than he'd intended (more on that in a minute).

For once, there's something that virtually everyone in rap agrees on. Yes, there is excitement about the possibility of seeing the first African-American take the Oval Office, but their collective co-signs are about much more than race. Many feel he's the best man to lead the country through the deep challenges we face.

"We're a small part of it, but we're showing our support to show that we are aware of what's going on and where it's going," said Young Jeezy, whose forthcoming LP features a duet with Nas called "My President." (Check out a clip of the song right here.) "We really want change. We really need it. It's not the same no more.

"I'm not endorsing the dude because he's black," he continued. "Listen to what he's saying: He's saying what I wanna hear, just like my favorite rapper. If [an MC] is saying what I wanna hear, I'mma go buy his album. If [a candidate] is saying what I wanna hear, I'mma go vote for him. I can vote, by the way. Watch me, I'm going to register to vote."

Yet hip-hop's embrace is a mixed blessing — politically, anyway — for the candidate, as the media firestorm over Ludacris' mixtape freestyle about Obama showed dramatically. Luda's lyrical jabs at Hillary Clinton, John McCain and George Bush were vilified by some media outlets, leading Obama's camp to issue a statement saying Luda "should be ashamed" of his words. (Ludacris had no comment on the situation when contacted by MTV News.)

The controversy put a long-simmering question into bold relief: Can hip-hop support Obama without hurting his campaign?

Cleaner-cut entertainers such as Oprah Winfrey and Usher have not only publicly expressed their support for Obama, but have appeared by his side to shake hands, take photos and/or address large crowds. Yet edgier artists, especially most current rappers, haven't been seen anywhere near him. (Ironically, presumptive Republican candidate John McCain appeared onstage next to Jeezy on national television and shook his hand).

In fact, the most prominent acknowledgement of hip-hop's involvement in the Obama campaign came via the statement Obama's press rep sent out in answer to the Ludacris episode — although he has given some carefully measured props to Jay-Z and Kanye West, saying he likes their music, and of course made a subtle Jay-Z reference about treating haters' comments like "dirt off your shoulder" in a speech during the primaries.

"I think the first thing [the hip-hop community has to] do is let the man become president," Ice Cube opined. "They gotta work in other ways to get him in the White House. It's not really about doing a song right now. He has to separate himself from that stuff; he's in a political race. Everybody should kick back for a minute, see what happens in November. If he becomes president, he wouldn't have to separate himself as much from some of these statements. Because Obama can't come as hard-core as Ludacris as far as his message right now — he can't do that. Us rappers might have to hold our tongues for a few months."

"[Rappers] need to be quiet, super quiet on Barack," Scarface agreed. "All it takes is for a mutha----er getting out there being real [ghetto] and people will be like, 'We don't wanna f--- with Obama'; they'll wanna smash on him because of what somebody else said. [Someone] speaks for himself and its Barack's fault? What did Luda say — that's Barack's fault? Is it Barack's fault what I'm saying? I don't wanna be the reason he don't get [the presidency]!"

Indeed, Craig Werner, a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison who teaches courses on black music and hip-hop culture, said a potential pitfall for Obama is the often "horribly distorted" depiction of hip-hop in the mainstream media. "The most problematic hip-hop gets 90 percent of the coverage in the non-music press," Werner said. "Hip-hop is associated in so many people's minds with crime, drugs and misogyny, so Obama's faced with a constellation of problematic images. The question is: How do you send a message that doesn't wind up demonizing somebody?"

Chamillionaire took a slightly softer stance on the situation. "It's cool to make a couple comments, but be careful about what you say because they're gonna try to pin it towards him," he said. "We know it's so much tension around politics right now, they're trying to take him down. Maybe everybody needs to chill out a little bit. I'm not sure how much Barack mixtapes are helping him. I don't think no person is doing a mixtape [addressing] Barack's [political] views.

"As far as the Ludacris situation," he continued, "I don't think Luda or anybody ever thought it would be that big. I heard the freestyle the minute it came out and, in his defense, that's what people do on the mixtape circuit: I've put out multiple mixtapes where I might not [actually] feel a certain way about somebody but I'll say a punch line to give them that shock value. It's nothing new to the mixtape circuit. I don't think he really wants McCain in a wheelchair [the lyric reads: 'McCain don't belong in any chair unless he's paralyzed'], it's just a freestyle thing. It was crazy they took it that big."

For its part, the Obama camp says it embraces the support of the hip-hop community. "During this election, young people from all walks of life have responded to Senator Obama's message of hope and change for the future with great enthusiasm," Corey Ealons, director of African-American media for the campaign, told MTV News. "And that includes those in the hip-hop community: individuals who are talented, intelligent, and entrepreneurial in spirit, but who in the past have felt that government and politics don't really work for them.

"Senator Obama wants to engage the hip-hop community more in the political process because issues including education, jobs and health care are as important to this generation as any other. We will be talking to the hip-hop community more throughout this campaign and letting them know they have reason to put their trust in Senator Obama because he will work to fundamentally change their lives."

Ealons stressed that while Obama "absolutely" appreciates the musical innovation and creativity of hip-hop, he's made it very clear that he would like to see a more conscious attempt to include positive portrayals of women and the community in the music.

"The hip-hop experience is [for some] the black experience, and the campaign has been very inclusive and has been one that has welcomed voices from all over the country," Ealons said. "With the hip-hop community it's been an interesting conversation because, on the one hand, we know the hip-hop community has reflected a great deal of what's been happening in our inner-cities for a long time, and the systemic challenges that face that community. Senator Obama has a plan as part of his overall call for change that will address those challenges. The voice of the hip-hop community will be reflected in this campaign with Senator Obama's plan for inner city communities."

While encouraging hip-hop to continue its efforts to get out the vote this fall, Ealons said it remains to be seen if the senator would literally embrace the culture by appearing on a stage with, say, Jay-Z or Kanye West. "These situations are a case-by-case basis, when and where and timing," he said, pointing to recent shout-outs from Jay-Z during his concerts and the multiple shout-outs from Alicia Keys and others at the recent BET Awards as evidence of the support for the Obama campaign. "The hip-hop community has clearly embraced Senator Obama and they see him as someone who can effect change in a dramatic way. The key with us as we go through the next few months is identifying opportunities where we can work together to communicate the senator's message."

Despite the calls for calm from Cube, Jeezy and others, asking MCs to button up is futile — but making sure they're more cognizant of their words, especially in the wake of the Luda freestyle, might be a more realistic goal.

"I thought about [hip-hop associations harming Obama's chances], I really did." Jay-Z said to Vibe recently. "So in the concert, I always say, 'This is not sponsored by Obama.' I make it very clear to say that, 'cause I know — 'Obama associated with this guy from f---in' Marcy projects?!' I know that's coming any day. I think about that often. I mean, what do you do? What do I do? I have to support the guy. ... But I don't wanna hurt him. I ain't like the preachers and all those guys. I don't wanna make the inappropriate statements and keep going. I'm the guy that will fall back."

"You gotta speak what you feel — you gotta be respectful, though," said Young Jeezy. "Like anything you do, you can't come to anybody's show and be disrespectful if you're supporting them. So you don't speak on nobody and act a fool."

Werner said the situation goes both ways. "In some ways, you have to assume most of the hip-hop community will be behind him because they don't have a choice, because their vote ain't going to McCain," he said. "But if he uses this kind of secret code, the dirt off the shoulder, saying, 'You and I both know it, but I can't afford to say so,' it could work for him."

Oakland, California, MC Mistah F.A.B. agreed, but said more recognition from the candidate is in order. "[Rappers] have to realize that [supporting Obama publicly] is like a corporate meeting: 'Come support us, but dress for the occasion. Put on your attitude for the occasion,' " he said. "It's hard. You wanna see him be a part of it more, but you know the powers that be are going to make it such a big deal. They'll be like, 'Obama was with dude [who] was smoking weed.' I would love to see Obama go on 'Mixtape Monday' and show his involvement, show he's not trying to distance himself.

"If a king goes out and fights wars with his people, his people will do anything for him," he added. "If you're just a king in your castle and you calling shots, then the respect from the people will never be there. We don't see our leaders with us in our situations on a heavy, heavy level."

South Carolina mixtape master Chuck T has a harsher view: He said, in no uncertain terms, that he feels betrayed by Obama's lack of overt reciprocation for the hip-hop community's affections.

"A lot of people may not feel me on this, but you gotta feel me if you real: I'm not voting for Obama," the DJ said. "I don't like Obama. Obama is a traitor. He turned his back on everybody. He turned his back on Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright — Reverend Wright has been with him since the beginning. Ludacris has done stuff in his support, he speaks the truth, but Obama feels that a certain demographic may not vote for him [because of it], so he turns his back on Luda. Bernie Mac, he invited Bernie Mac to come in and do his roast or whatever it was called. Bernie Mac said some things that were offensive, that's what Bernie Mac is known for. What does he do? Turn his back on Bernie Mac. Who's he gonna denounce next? I'm not even voting this year. If I did vote, it would be for McCain. I like to know the enemy. Barack, I don't know."

Despite the passion of Chuck T's statements, political reality dictates that standing arm-in-arm with the hip-hop community may not be the best way to advance Obama's presidential aspirations, at least for now. There may never be a time when he, as a politician, can openly embrace it without coming under fire.

And while it seems fairly certain that we'll never see Obama doing the "Weezy Wee" at a Lil Wayne concert, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, chairman of the nonpartisan Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, noted that there may be a more simple reason why Obama's acknowledgment of his hip-hop co-signs hasn't been trumpeted more loudly.

"Having a young person like Obama run for president has inspired many in the hip-hop community," Chavis said. "But he's running for president, so he's not going to endorse any one genre of music or any one aspect of a cultural phenomenon like hip-hop — because he's going to be the president of all Americans."

Get informed! Head to Choose or Lose for nonstop coverage of the 2008 presidential election, including everything from the latest news on the candidates to on-the-ground multimedia reports from our 51 citizen journalists, MTV and MySpace's Presidential Dialogues, and much more.

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After Rihanna, Paramore and Pink were announced early Thursday afternoon (August 21) as performers at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards, you might have thought that was enough star power for one day. You might have thought wrong!

T.I. — one of the most successful rappers in the business and a top-10 finalist in MTV News' "Hottest MCs in the Game" competition earlier this year — has also been announced as a performer on the show. He'll be performing a track from his forthcoming LP, Paper Trail.

Earlier Thursday, MTV revealed that Paramore (nominated in the Best Art Direction in a Video and Best Rock Video categories) will rock the crowd with a performance of their hit "Misery Business," while Pink is set to perform her new single, "So What," and Rihanna (who could walk away with the Moonman for Best Female Video) will deliver her latest smash, "Disturbia."

Over the past few weeks, Lil Wayne, the Jonas Brothers and Kid Rock were all confirmed to take the 2008 Video Music Awards stage.

A list of presenters and additional acts gracing the VMA stage will be announced in the coming weeks. This year's awards show, which airs live September 7 at 9 p.m. from the legendary Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood, will be hosted by British comic and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" co-star Russell Brand.

Want to attend this year's VMAs? Well, here's your chance. One lucky viewer will be honored at this year's awards for the good work they've done. Think.MTV, MTV's online community for youth activism, is hooking up one young activist and shipping them off to Los Angeles to attend the VMAs, and it could be you. From now until August 22, all Think.MTV members who join the "Do Good. Go to the VMAs" group can enter to win two tickets to the VMAs, along with travel and hotel accommodations.

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For almost 25 years now, there's been no better place for the famous to "Step and Repeat" than the MTV Video Music Awards — and they've rarely disappointed, whether their finery is triumphant or tragic.

We're sure to see plenty of both at this year's VMAs — which take place on Sunday, September 7. But we took a look back with the help of Tim Gunn, Tyson Beckford, Lauren Conrad and others, at some of the best and, er, less best moments on "Step & Repeat: The Best & Worst of VMA Fashion." Hang on tight! Here's who we think holds it down when they hit that carpet ...

At #10 is "Transformers" megawatt hottie Megan Fox, who sure lived up to her last name when she showed up in a hot-pink mini bandeau dress by Harve Leger at the 2007 VMAs in Las Vegas. In fact, we'd even bet that this appearance played no small role in taking Ms. Fox from action-movie eye candy to red-carpet starlet.

Outkast may be at #9, but they've proved time and time again that they know how to stand out in the crowd — especially with Andre at the helm of this fashion ship. From his orange overalls in 2003 to his classy pink and green golfer combination in 2001, he and Big Boi turn it out for every carpet under the sun. As Big Boi himself said, "We coolin'!"

RuPaul, who comes in at #8, worked it hard in 1993, proving that stunning style can come in very large packages. In a sequined, black, floor-length Pamela Dennis gown, the nearly 7-foot-tall drag queen brought some old-Hollywood glamour to the ceremony. She was quick to point out that despite the fabulous exterior, "Underneath it all, I'm just a simple girl!"

Seven is a lucky number for Justin Timberlake, who hit the 2006 VMAs in New York in a snappy three-piece suit, showing the world that the man wasn't just singing about bringing sexy back.

Coming in at #6 is 50 Cent, who surprised everyone in 2003 by looking more gangster than gangsta in a pinstripe suit. Nuzzling in at #5 is Jessica Simpson, who makes the grade for her white-hot Miami-heat dress and short, windblown tresses in 2004. Kanye West, who went for classic glamour in a tuxedo in 2007, slides in with style at #4.

Never one to shy away from taking a risk, Rihanna rocked the carpet last year in a hot-pink, low-cut bodice gown that finds her sashaying into our #3 spot.

At #2 is the Bad Boy himself, Diddy, who made a grand entrance and looked hot doing it in 2004 in Miami. He said, "You know we gotta make a grand entrance" — and he certainly did that, disembarking from a giant yacht in a white tuxedo (with Bruce Willis rather inexplicably in tow).

And shining at #1 is the queen of style herself — and the newly minted mother of two — Gwen Stefani, who has transformed herself from SoCal ska siren to full-on pop goddess. This hot momma has described getting ready for these events as being "so exciting, still!" But really how can anyone doubt the woman who started the hip L.A.M.B. line and has said, "It's like playing Barbie, but with giant, huge, full-grown models!"

OK, those were the triumphs. And now, the moment we know you've all really been waiting for: the non-triumphs ...

At #10, Chris Brown went for McDonald's chic in 2006, wearing what appeared to be a uniform for the hamburger chain. On the carpet he said, "You know, I'mma let 'em have that right quick, right?" Maybe he meant fries?

In at #9 is Paris Hilton, who decided that rocker chicken would be a hot look for the 2006 VMAs. It had too much of everything: too much fluff, too much black, too much white — and she even rocked ankle boots and gloves. Eighties prom queen, anyone?

A love triangle (har har!) of questionable fashion choices comes up next. At #8 is Kid Rock, whose fringed cowboy style left many stylists singing the blues. He is followed by 2007 sparring partner Tommy Lee, whose flasher getup in 1999 earns him the #7 spot. It's always more appropriate to wear clothes under your trench coat, Tommy.

But it's their shared former flame Pamela Anderson (in at #6) who tops off this unholy trinity with her 1998 getup, especially her peculiar accessory: a top hat that puts both of those guys' looks to shame. She said the look was "so off the hook," but really the look was more, well, off.

Former "House of Style" host Rebecca Romijn comes in at #5 with her animalistic 1998 outfit: a hairy black gown that screamed "Mortia" more than style icon. "It's horse hair," she said. "Somewhere there's a bald horse running around in a field." All we have to say is, it looked better on the horse.

In 1997, our #4 choice Busta Rhymes opted for a Far East superhero look, and then topped himself two years later with what can only be described as a yellow halter onesie.

At #3 is reformed fashion offender Christina Aguilera, who in 2003 was nearing the end of her bad-girl phase — but that pink Cavalli dress she wore that year still leaves a bad taste. "I just loved the pink off-setting the black," Christina said — too bad nobody else did.

Lil Mama probably had a case of the terrible twos before getting ready for last year's VMAs — which makes her a fitting #2 on our countdown. The rapper showed up in one of the most bizarre outfits ever to hit the red carpet: She was dressed like a baby, pacifier and all.

And finally, is anyone who remembers her 1999 getup surprised to see that Lil' Kim tops our list? Let's just say that the rest of her shirt wasn't the only thing missing from that outfit. Kim said she "just wanted to do something that would say, 'Look at her!' " She accomplished that many times over.

Will these looks be topped at the 2008 VMAs? Bet on it — and tune in to find out on September 7!

Want to attend this year's VMAs? Well, here's your chance. One lucky viewer will be honored at this year's awards for the good work they've done. Think.MTV, MTV's online community for youth activism, is hooking up one young activist and shipping them off to Los Angeles to attend the VMAs, and it could be you. From now until August 22, all Think.MTV members who join the "Do Good. Go to the VMAs" group can enter to win two tickets to the VMAs, along with travel and hotel accommodations.

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When the eighth season of "American Idol" premieres in January, a fourth judge will be joining vets Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson: Grammy-nominated songwriter Kara DioGuardi.

"We are turning the heat up on 'Idol' this year and are thrilled to welcome Kara to the judges' table," said show creator and executive producer Simon Fuller in a statement on the show's Web site. "She is a smart, sassy lady, and one of America's most successful songwriters. We know she will bring a new level of energy and excitement to the show."

Other incarnations of the show throughout the world include four judges, and executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz said that even "American Idol" had been intended to have a fourth judge. "We've seen from our international series that having a fourth judge creates a dynamic that benefits both the contestants and the viewers," she said.

Mike Darnell, president of Fox's alternative programming, added: "For the past seven seasons, Paula has had to endure the experience of being the only woman at the judges' table. She's been as an island of consideration and gentle criticism between Randy and Simon, offering her invaluable expertise as a performer and #1 artist to the thousands who have competed on 'American Idol.' With Kara by her side, Paula finally has some back-up, and now there is going to be a lot more 'girl power' on the show."

DioGuardi-written or co-written hits include Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man," Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl," Kylie Minogue's "Spinning Round," Celine Dion's "Taking Chances" and the Pussycat Dolls' "Beep" and "I Don't Need a Man." Her songs have also been recorded by Pink, Hillary Duff, Paris Hilton, Ashlee Simpson, Marc Anthony and several "Idol" alums, including Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Katharine McPhee, Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice and Clay Aiken.

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Punk-rock princess Avril Lavigne has just added clothing designer to her résumé. She's teamed up with Kohl's to launch her mall-punk-inspired line called Abbey Dawn.

"Every eight weeks I have new pieces coming into the store," she told MTV News. "So we're designing like crazy — like, tons of stuff — and it's so much fun."

The line of skinny jeans, skirts, hoodies and T-shirts features a lot of skulls, stars, checkers and zebra print, according to Lavigne, who was almost banned from playing an upcoming show in Malaysia after the government deemed her "too sexy." She eventually plans to add bags and sunglasses to the line, which is available in stores now.

Finding the inspiration to start the line wasn't very difficult: She saw so many of her fans emulating her style that becoming a clothing designer was the logical next step.

"It was a great opportunity for me to do this, and now that I'm older and more into fashion and stuff, I've put together a cute little line. It's totally my style and everything I would wear. It's absolutely my wardrobe."

But it's the origin of the line's moniker that really holds a special place in the singer's heart.

"My dad gave me the nickname Abbey Dawn when I was a little girl," she said. "It was a street he saw. And all my friends in high school called me Abbey. I always really liked the name. I didn't know if maybe I would name my girl Abbey if I had a girl one day, or a song name. So I had a clothing line first, so I named it Abbey Dawn."

Being a designer does have one perk that she's especially excited about: "Free clothes," Lavigne said. "I never have to shop again!"

The 23-year-old is stoked to finally see her threads on fans and doesn't even mind when they show up to her concerts in the same thing she's wearing.

"I've seen some of the fans at my shows wearing my shirts, and sometimes I've been onstage wearing [one of the shirts]," she said, "and they have the same one on, and I'm like, 'Hey, nice shirt,' and I get really excited.

"[I'm looking forward to] seeing people walk around with it," she added. "It will be really cool."

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Nearly two weeks after he was taken off life support, producer Jerry Finn, who had worked with the likes of Blink-182, Morrissey, AFI, Rancid and Green Day, died last week at the age of 39, about a month after suffering a massive brain hemorrhage. According to Billboard, Finn passed away on August 21.

Finn got his start in the business as an engineer during the early 1990s and eventually made the transition to producer, helming records by Pennywise, Jawbreaker, Madness, Alkaline Trio and Sum 41. He produced Rancid's 1995 LP ...And Out Come the Wolves, Blink-182's 1999 offering Enema of the State and 2000's The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show (The Enema Strikes Back!), and AFI's 2003 breakthrough Sing the Sorrow and its follow-up, 2006's Decemberunderground. Most recently, Finn produced ex-Smiths frontman Morrissey's upcoming Years of Refusal, which is slated for a February release.

Billboard reports that a family friend claims a scholarship fund is in the works, as well as a memorial for friends and family.

Last week, former Blink-182 member Mark Hoppus spoke out about Finn's death on his blog.

"One of my best friends passed away," he wrote. "Jerry Finn was one of the most talented, funniest, coolest, smartest and honest people I've ever known. He was true in every sense of the word. True in his love of music, true in his friendships; Jerry loved life. He was happiest when quietly making music he loved, and loudly making fun of everything he didn't. When I think of times spent with Jerry, all I can think of is us laughing. ... He's just one of those guys with the quickest wit in the room. He also knows more about music than anyone. ... I feel blessed to have worked with and learned so much from him. But most of all, I am honored to call him my dear friend. Jerry, I miss you already."

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Five superhero movies, four animated films, three $300 million blockbusters, two Brendan Fraser movies and one partridge in a pear tree later, summer 2008 is finally winding down.

What was the best of the summer season? Forget rankings or official lists — we decided instead to hand out a whole slew of crazy awards to our favorite moments, performances and movies from the past three months.

Summer's Biggest Hero, Inanimate Object Division

The refrigerator. Not only does a fridge shield Indiana Jones from a nuclear blast, thereby saving his life, but a fridge also protects a plant in "Wall-E," signaling to humans that the planet is ready for mankind's return.

Summer's Biggest Villain, Inanimate Object Division

The pencil. Used by the Joker in "The Dark Knight" for his "magic trick," and by an extra to commit suicide in "The Happening," the writing utensil has more confirmed kills than "Hulk" villain Emil Blonsky and "Iron Man" villain Obadiah Stane combined.

Best Performance, Comedy

James Franco, for his stoner-turned-action-hero Saul in "Pineapple Express."

Best Robert Downey Jr.-Assisted Cameo, "Tropic Thunder" Division

In a movie chock full of cameos, Tobey Maguire gets the biggest laughs alongside Robert Downey Jr.'s Kirk Lazarus as a gay medieval monk in a trailer for the fake movie "Satan's Alley."

Best Robert Downey Jr.-Assisted Cameo, Non-"Tropic Thunder" Division

Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark at the end of "The Incredible Hulk." This scene (which director Louis Leterrier called "the first shot of 'The Avengers' ") also doubles as the best setup in recent memory.

Most Inexplicable Trend

Sending animals to space in animated movies, seen twice within a month with the releases of "Space Chimps" and "Fly Me to the Moon."

Idea That You Thought Was Going to Be Lame, But Turned Out to Be Awesome

The Joker explaining his backstory in "The Dark Knight."

Idea That You Thought Was Going to Be Awesome, But Turned Out to Be Lame

Karen Allen returning as Marion Ravenwood in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

The "I Bet You Didn't Know I Was a Box-Office Record Breaker" Award

"Mamma Mia," which will soon surpass "Grease" as the highest grossing musical in history.

Most Intentionally Funny Cultural Stereotype

John Turturro's deliciously over-the-top performance as Palestinian terrorist the Phantom in "You Don't Mess With the Zohan."

Most Unintentionally Funny Cultural Stereotype

The ambiguously gay Hutt, Ziro, in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."

Best Dismissive Attitude Toward a Character's History

Agent Scully, whose child is done away with in one line of dialogue from "The X-Files: I Want to Believe."

Biggest Fall for a 2007 Oscar Nominee in the Category of Best Supporting Actor (Runner Up)

Mark Wahlberg, for talking to a plant, realizing he's talking to a plant, and then continuing to talk to a plant in "The Happening."

Biggest Fall for a 2007 Oscar Nominee in the Category of Best Supporting Actor

Eddie Murphy, for all of "Meet Dave."

Best Two Minutes of the Summer

A drunken Hellboy joining a heartbroken Abe Sapien to sing Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" in "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."

Worst Two Minutes of the Summer

Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) swinging through the jungle like Tarzan in "Indiana Jones."

Most Human Romance

The love between Wall-E and Eve — two robots — in "Wall-E."

Funniest Quote of the Summer

Seth Rogen's Dale, about a particularly pungent batch of weed: "It smells like God's vagina" from "Pineapple Express."

Most Unexpected, But Much Welcome, Comeback

Woody Allen, who is receiving strong reviews and even Oscar talk for "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," his first really great movie in years.

Most Unexpected, But Much Welcome, Failure

Mike Myers, who had a massive misfire with "The Love Guru."

Best Movie Not Yet Mentioned

"Kung Fu Panda"

The Poochiest, Most Unnecessary Character Added to an Already Beloved Franchise For No Sane Reason Other Than to Appeal to Younger Viewers Only to be Universally Hated — Bronze Medal

Jennifer Hudson's character, Louise, in "Sex and the City."

The Poochiest, Most Unnecessary Character Added to an Already Beloved Franchise For No Sane Reason Other Than to Appeal to Younger Viewers Only to be Universally Hated — Silver Medal

Shia LaBeouf's character, Mutt Williams, in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

The Poochiest, Most Unnecessary Character Added to an Already Beloved Franchise For No Sane Reason Other Than to Appeal to Younger Viewers Only to be Universally Hated Award — Gold Medal

Ahsoka Tana, Anakin Skywalker's spunky Padawan learner in "Star Wars: The Clone Wars."

Best Performance, Drama

Heath Ledger, for his definitive portrayal of the Joker in "The Dark Knight."

The "I Guess I Picked the Wrong Week to Quit Acid" Award

"Speed Racer," which assaulted the senses with video game visuals, quick cuts, cartoon colors and clunky dialogue.

The Most Unnecessary Romantic Subplot (Runner Up)

The non-canonical relationship between Prince Caspian and Susie in "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian."

The Most Unnecessary Romantic Subplot

Charlize Theron and Will Smith in "Hancock," who are revealed to be ancient, immortal lovers.

Best Superhero Beatdown

When Iron Man, using his suit for the first time, raids a terrorist camp, killing several shooters with his computerized targeting system before leaving the last one for the villagers to take care of themselves.

Best Movie Nobody Saw

"Man on Wire," a documentary about tightrope walker Philippe Petit's high-wire routine performed between the Twin Towers.

Best Movie Everybody Saw

"The Dark Knight"

Best Movie Some People Saw, Brendan Fraser Division

"The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," slightly above "Journey to the Center of the Earth."

Agree or disagree with our choices? Got some of your own? Sound off below.

For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.

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The VMAs are synonymous with wacky and controversial moments. And those particularly unpredictable opening acts have made the show stand out from all those stuffy Hollywood kudosfests. That's why, in preparation for this year's big show on September 7, we dug into the MTV vaults to bring you the top 10 most memorable show starters in VMA history.

10. The year was 1984. It was the inaugural Video Music Awards in New York City, and it was the opening performance to define all subsequent opening performances: Madonna singing "Like a Virgin." Between the now-infamous wedding dress, which included a belt that read "Boy Toy," and the rolling and writhing around onstage, Madonna pretty much set herself up for success ... and inspired a quarter-century's worth of artists to try to beat her.

9. In 2005, MTV enlisted Sean "Diddy" Combs to host the show, and the honor of opening the ceremony also fell on his shoulders. Since Diddy thinks he can do anything, he decided that he would have a dance-off against himself. Spoiler alert: Diddy won.

8. In 2006, Jay-Z, never one to shy away from the attention, opened the show's return to NYC with a dramatic kickoff on the Top of the Rock observation deck at Rockefeller Center. It all went down just blocks away from the show's home base of Radio City Music Hall and set the tone for what would be one very exciting evening hosted by Jack Black.

7. Diddy, back in his Puffy days, once again graces our list with his 1997 star-powered and very stirring tribute to his late friend, the Notorious B.I.G. Biggie's widow, Faith Evans, 112 and Sting joined him singing his hit "I'll Be Missing You." It was a very serious moment from a performer who sometimes borders on the ridiculous.

6. In 1991, there was only one comeback that could really set the tone for the event. Paul Reubens, who shortly after his arrest at a Florida adult movie theater, put on his famous skinny gray Pee-Wee Herman suit and asked everyone: "Heard any good jokes lately?" The crowd loved it.

5. Jersey boy Bruce Springsteen proves that not even a force of nature could stop him. In 2002, he played his song "The Rising" in the rain, and like a phoenix rising from the ashes, he ascended from the drenched night as the evening's clear winner.

4. No host in VMA history set the gold standard for opening monologues like Chris Rock did in his three stints as emcee. In 1997, 1999 and 2003, no one was safe from Chris' biting, foul-mouthed jokes. In Chris' world no one was safe. He took jabs at everyone from rappers like Diddy to pop tarts like the Spice Girls. He didn't even let the infamous Madge/ Britney/ Christina kiss upstage him. Yeah, he's that good.

3. Although it wasn't exactly the peak of Britney's great VMA performances, this was the one that had people talking for months after the show aired from Las Vegas. Her 2007 train wreck, in which she lazily "danced" and lip-synched her way through "Gimme More" in an ill-fitting bikini, left people wanting less.

2. It was 1994's kiss seen around the world. In an effort to prove their love for each other, bizarre couple Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley performed some PDA that made everyone squirm in their seats. "And just think, nobody thought this would last," Michael proclaimed. Lucky for us, it didn't, but unfortunately that image of them kissing did.

1. What else could top our list than the VMAs' ultimate girlie-action moment? Bringing our list full-circle back to "Like a Virgin," Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, both dressed as brides, entered the stage together. They were soon joined by Madge herself, dressed as a groom, who then locked lips with each of the pop tarts. Britney later told CNN, "I didn't know it was going to be that long and everything." But are we sure glad it was!

Want to attend this year's VMAs? Well, here's your chance. One lucky viewer will be honored at this year's awards for the good work they've done. Think.MTV, MTV's online community for youth activism, is hooking up one young activist and shipping them off to Los Angeles to attend the VMAs, and it could be you. From now until August 22, all Think.MTV members who join the "Do Good. Go to the VMAs" group can enter to win two tickets to the VMAs, along with travel and hotel accommodations.

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