Ramin Setoodeh

Stories by Ramin Setoodeh

  • Hey, Dude. Pick Me!

    Chip McAllister and his wife, Kim, wanted a spot on "The Amazing Race." When the couple auditioned for the reality show in 2003, they dressed in funky costumes and pretended to travel from Australia to Hawaii. "It was the hokiest, craziest audition tape you could imagine," McAllister says.It worked. The two landed on the show and even won the grand prize of $1 million. Now McAllister is the spokesperson for a site that will help other reality-TV wanna-bes make their dreams come true. RTVStar .com, which launches on Aug. 22, is like Friendster for people who want to connect with the next Richard Hatch. For an annual $24.99, members post their photos, fill out a questionnaire ("When was the last time you hit... something in anger?") and sit tight. The site then asks casting professionals--it's signed on 80--to comb through profiles and look for matches.Which shows need the help? Founder Brian Ostrovsky says not everyone gets flooded with applicants like "American Idol." Just ask Marla...
  • Technology: Throw The Books At 'Em

    When Johnine Dugan started teaching grade school 29 years ago, she was the star of story time. But these days, she lets a computer do the work. A Web site, tumblebooks.com, reads--and displays--animated books like "50 Below Zero" by Robert Munsch, which Dugan shows on a TV screen. "It's just a better way for them to appreciate literature," says the second-grade teacher from Palos Park, Ill.For kids who are learning how to read, nothing can replace an old-fashioned page turner. But now more book companies are trying to put the fun back in phonics with gadgets. This fall's lineup includes more books that are wired with sound chips or DVDs, and experts say some of the devices help kids improve reading comprehension by asking questions that prompt them to pay better attention. But they're not meant to replace regular reading, just to supplement it. "Every family library should have a mix to keep the kids involved," says Rosanne McManus, associate publisher at Reader's Digest Children's...
  • Dolls: Give Her A Razzie

    Who said Lindsay Lohan couldn't get any smaller? The teen starlet's new doll, part of Mattel's My Scene line, is now arriving in a slinky red-carpet gown. Also sold separately: a limo, a dressing room and an... animated DVD?Girls used to be able to get a doll's backstory from the back of its box. But that's changing, as more retailers release straight-to-video productions that help introduce new characters--and sell more dolls. "There's definitely more simultaneous development upfront," says Michelle Field, director of marketing for girls' toys at Hasbro. In addition to My Scene, new DVDs in the fall lineup include a My Little Pony release to coincide with a new plush named Minty and a 3-D Barbie title that drops with her new princess line. Parents might see the movies as underhanded advertising. But Mattel, which has sold nearly 27 million Barbie films worldwide since 2001, doesn't agree. "Kids see through that," says Rob Hudnut, vice president of entertainment development. "We're...

    Coming soon to a toy store near you: digital video cameras for kids. You can shoot a movie, download it onto a laptop and edit away like a young Spielberg. How do these new gadgets compare? We asked kids to try them.UPSHOT CHILD'S PLAY VCAM NOWPrice: $801.5-inch color screen; 4x zoom; doubles as a Web camera; two batteriesThis pocket-size cam got more props.'Oh, so cute!' said our 8-year-old tester. 'I love this one.' Mom agreed.VIDSTERPrice: $801.1-inch color viewfinder; 2x zoom; connects to TV; tripod mount; four batteries'It has better picture quality,' says an 11-year-old. Editing software lets you add songs to your flicks.

    Jennifer Foley of Annapolis, Md., knows her days of summer are numbered. This week she and her 8-year-old daughter Jacqueline are taking a trip to Houston. A few days later her entire family--three kids, one husband--will drive to New York. On the itinerary: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and dinner in Chinatown. "It's great to travel this time of year," says Foley, a 40-year-old lawyer, citing lower airfare. "Like many mothers, I'm thinking: 'Where did summer go?' "And where have you gone? If your children have yet to collect enough stories about the latest museums and monuments, there's still time to book one last family getaway. The travel industry is certainly doing its part by rolling out a new batch of deals on hotels and flights. "Since there's a lag in the market after the kids go back to school, pricing gets aggressive at the end of summer," says Nathan Van Prooyen, director of e-commerce at lastminutetravel.com. Here's what to do to cash in:Set your sites...

    Q&A: Rachel McAdamsRachel McAdams is America's new sweetheart. She made us laugh in "Wedding Crashers" and cry in "The Notebook." Next she'll try to spook us in Wes Craven's "Red Eye." But first, she spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh.We're doing this interview on a Saturday night. Shouldn't you be out on a date or something?No, I think I'm going to go back to the hotel and take a swim in the pool. I don't have a pool at home, just a sprinkler.Think they'll ever show "Red Eye" on a plane?I hope not. I don't want to be responsible for any in-flight panic attacks.Are you scared of flying at all?I used to love flying. But I've taken so many flights and they've all gone so seamlessly, I'm starting to get nervous. You know when you do that you kind of jinx yourself.You used to work at McDonald's, right?Yes, I was the drive-through girl. You're dealing with starving people, so they're bound to get a little bit violent sometimes. They'd throw change at me.But aren't you a vegetarian...

    Enjoy the fruits of summer while you can. We asked James Parker, a Whole Foods Market produce expert, for help.Apricots: Their season is virtually over. "We did not have a good year."Top pick: "Some small varieties" are still tasty. But you'd do better with another fruit.Strawberries: Look for a deep red, without white coloring around the stem.Top pick: Camarosa strawberries are widely available and "have a good flavor."Plums: Take a whiff. "If you can get a scent," you're in for a treat.Top pick: The pluot, a hybrid of the plum and apricot, "concentrates sugar a lot better."Peaches: In late summer, they should be firmer and smell peachy.Top pick: Find out where it was grown and "stay close to your geographic area." Watermelon: Hit the melon. It should sound like you're thumping your chest.Top pick: Yellow doll, a watermelon with yellow flesh, "retains its texture very well."

    Now you can watch "Napoleon Dynamite" and share your bed with him, too. Sheets based on last summer's sleeper are about to hit stores, along with lamps, energy drinks and a talking pen ("You guys are retarded"). Most movie booty is released at the same time as the film. But Fox says it never planned for "Napoleon" to be such a hit. "We've been working hard to keep up," says Virginia King, executive director of licensing and merchandising. The "Napoleon" product frenzy began last October at the teen store Hot Topic, which carried the vote for pedro T shirt. The movie's fans made it "our best-selling shirt in the last year," says Cindy Levitt, the chain's vice president of merchandising. (Fox says it now has 500,000 of them in the marketplace.) By the summer--with new followers of the DVD--Hot Topic was selling 200 different products. Now "Napoleon" is part of back-to-school at Target, which stocked up in July. "It's the strongest-selling license on the young men's floor," says chain...

    Travel web sites can help you find great bargains on hotel rooms. But when using one, you'll want to take a few steps to make sure you're not getting shortchanged. Some sites, like hotels.com and expedia.com, have fine print that says they can't guarantee requests for a nonsmoking room or two beds for two people. When booking, specify in the comments box why you need what you're asking for. A good example: "I suffer from allergies and my health is going to be affected by a smoking room." It's also a good idea to call the hotel a few days before you arrive, especially if you plan on checking in later in the day when fewer rooms are available. If your room doesn't look right, take the key back to the lobby and call your travel site's customer-service number. "We've gone to lengths to accommodate people," says an Expedia rep, including moving disgruntled customers to another hotel. Keep in mind that the cancellation policies on most of these sites come with nasty fees. Our tip: look...
  • Everyone's Favorite Frog

    It's not easy being green--or is it? Kermit the Frog is now pushing 50, from the day Jim Henson created him out of fabric from his mother's coat. Everyone's favorite frog made his debut on "The Tonight Show" in 1958, co-hosted "The Mike Douglas Show" in 1966 and saw the premiere of "The Muppet Show" in 1976. The star of six feature-length movies, with a voice that doesn't croak, Kermit spoke with NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: What are you up to these days, Kermie?Kermit the Frog: I am just living my life as a frog. At the moment I'm at home at the swamp, where I like to spend my spare time. I always go back to my roots when I'm not working. It keeps me centered.Does the smell prevent visitors?Well, it's not so much the smell. It's the mud and the mosquitoes. There's not a lot of traffic through here.Do you get mosquito bites?No. For me, it's a food source. They have to worry about the biting part.The first season of "The Muppet Show" is coming out on DVD. I remember...
  • The Ingenue

    If you still can't match the name to the face, by year's end you will. Wood, who was as hard to miss as she was to watch in 2003's gritty coming-of-age drama "Thirteen," played one of Joan Allen's daughters in this spring's "The Upside of Anger." Next week, she'll star alongside James Woods in the independent film "Pretty Persuasion." Then she teams up with Edward Norton as his much younger girlfriend in "Down in the Valley" before appearing with Annette Bening in "Running with Scissors." "There are plenty of movies about teens and proms," she says, sporting black heels and a raspy voice from a cold she caught rehearsing. "That's what I want to shy away from, to show there's many more levels."Mission accomplished. Wood got her start on the heartbreakingly good and short-lived TV series "Once and Again." As Jessie, an anorexic teen from a broken family, she hit notes of angst that we hadn't seen since Claire Danes in "My So-Called Life." (Both shows were coproduced by Marshall...

    Keri Russell sure had a tough time in college. We polled school officials on how our fave undergrad should've solved these jams.PROBLEM As a frosh: Couldn't find the textbook. FELICITY'S SOLUTION Tells prof. He ridicules her in front of class. REAL-WORLD SOLUTIONCheck library, Xerox chapters from a pal.PROBLEM Sophomore: Oops! Just missed the final. FELICITY'S SOLUTION Ben finds the teacher, begs for a makeup. REAL-WORLD SOLUTION Right idea. But don't send your boyfriend.PROBLEM Junior: Thought she'd dropped class; hadn't. FELICITY'S SOLUTION Stays up all night with Noel (wink) studying. REAL-WORLD SOLUTION Double-check schedule before drop deadline.PROBLEM Senior: Denied financial aid; late with forms. FELICITY'S SOLUTION Enters beauty pageant to win some $$$. REAL-WORLD SOLUTION Lose the tiara. Talk to a financial-aid counselor.

    Could it be? Americans are spending less time at the movies because they're too busy--reading. In May (as "Kingdom of Heaven" bombed), sales of adult hardcovers jumped 29.6 percent, adult paperbacks 18.4 percent and children's hardcovers 21.2 percent over the same period in 2004, reports the Association of American Publishers. So how will these novels-to-movies do? Even if they're not all B.O. hits, expect them to sell... more books.'SHOPGIRL' (OCT. 21) The story: Claire Danes, as the so-called girl, falls for an older man (Steve Martin, not Billy Crudup).New release: 150,000 tie-in copies.'THE GOBLET OF FIRE' (NOV. 18) The story: Ralph Fiennes joins the series as You-Know-Who (OK, Voldemort).New release: Four tie-ins--for coloring, tracing, posters and stickers.'MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA' (DEC. 9) The story: Dir. Rob Marshall moves from 'Chicago' to Japan. Ziyi Zhang stars.New release: 1.25 million copies, including a Spanish edition.'BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN' (DEC. 9) The story: Jake...

    Coming soon to a toy store near you: digital video cameras for kids. You can shoot a movie, download it onto a laptop and edit away like a young Spielberg. How do these new gadgets compare? We asked kids to try them.VCAM NOWPrice: $801.5-inch color screen; 4x zoom; doubles as a Web camera; two batteriesThis pocket-size cam got more props."Oh, so cute!," says our 8-year-old tester. "I love this one." Mom agreed.VIDSTERPrice: $801.1-inch color viewfinder; 2x zoom; connects to TV; tripod mount; four batteries"It has better picture quality," says an 11-year-old. Editing software lets you add songs to your flicks.

    Who needs an arcade down the block when you can set up one in your home? Old-school machines from the'80s are hot again among collectors. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't play something," says Pete Wanko, 36, who keeps 17 big arcade games like Centipede in his basement. Ready to join? Start your search at klov.com, the IMDb for players, with titles, photos and dates. Then you'll need to pull a Mario and start collecting your coins. A new reissue includes Galaga and Ms. Pac-Man in a single cabinet (from $2,875; bmigaming.com). But used is the way most collectors go. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game (above) from 1989 sells for $1,695 at vintagearcade.net. A few caveats: If you buy sight unseen, don't forget the warranty. Arcade games drop in value if they've been dented. And even if you find a great deal, add a few hundred more to cover shipping. Too bad Donkey Kong won't help with the lifting.

    Ruby is 14, with a star-shaped gem on her belly. She listens to hip-hop, carries a yellow cell phone and loves sushi. In her online journal, she puts this on her to-do list: "Practice looking flirty in the mirror." We're talking, of course, about a troll. This fall, the short, ugly dolls that collectors have been after since the 1960s are about to be reborn. DIC Entertainment is bringing them back as skinny, purse-carrying, teenage girls with crushes on boy trolls (they wear jeans and sneakers and don't look like the old trolls, either). Andy Heyward, CEO of DIC, says the new line of Trollz will be arriving "like the Normandy invasion." In addition to their doll incarnation, the characters will appear in direct-to-video movies, videogames and books and as part of a fast-food promotion. Online, 'tween fans can create their own trolls and mix potions that cause (and cure) zits. The Trollz are different from other vintage brands--like the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake--in that a...

    Designers known for women's scarves are putting their prints on men's pocket squares. Below, a yellow one with hearts (Salvatore Ferragamo; $70 at Bloomingdale's), Pucci's pretty shapes ($68; Bloomingdale's) and Gucci butterflies on a brown background ($90; Saks Fifth Avenue). How do you wear them? Stylists say dump the tie or wear a plain color that brings out the hankie. But stay away from stripes. To tone down the effect, look for a square with smaller patterns and tuck more of it in (see folding guide, below). Women can play along, too. Bloomingdale's reports some female shoppers are buying them to tie on their wrists and purses. How's that for pocket change?

    Men's briefs are borrowing an old trick from the Wonderbra: companies are engineering their latest styles to provide more of a lift. Why? Guys who wear tighter pants are demanding undies with snugger cuts. Plus, these supportive pouches build confidence--or at least that's how the lines are marketed. TIP SHEET's Ramin Setoodeh recruited volunteers to test out the newest styles. Here's how they shaped up.1. ADAM PLUS EVE ($25; adam pluseve.com). A center seam in the pouch holds everything up; less fabric at the hips prevents bunching under tight jeans. How it feels: "Like wearing your mother's underwear." Watch out for a wedgie.2. UNICO ($15; freshpair.com). This pair is cup-shaped to enhance what nature gave you. Comes with a strip of mesh, if you prefer to walk on the wild side. How it feels: "Too tight. I don't think I could wear them for more than an hour."3. C-IN2 ($15; freshpair.com). A microfiber sling is sewn into the pouch. Slip it on for a lift-and-separate effect (not...

    What's showing on your next flight? Who cares. These days, more travelers are taking off with portable DVD players--8 million units were sold worldwide last year, up from 3 million in 2003, reports the market-research firm In-Stat. As prices drop way below laptops, the latest gadgets are wired with more extras. So what should a newbie carry on? TIP SHEET tested a handful of players. Here's what looked the best:Audiovox D2010 ($450)Target.com This 10.2-inch unit will play DVDs, music and Kodak Picture CDs. Thumbs up: It transmits an infrared signal to wireless headphones or you can plug in and listen. Screen options like contrast and color are a cinch to adjust, even if you accidentally leave the remote control at home. Thumbs down: The battery, which lasts 2.5 hours, crashes before "The Aviator." Our testers weren't crazy about its hefty weight or price. ***Philips PET 1000 ($400)Circuitcity.com A 10.2-inch LCD, with car adapter. Thumbs up: It has the best-looking screen (whoa, not...

    Spiderman is about to look years younger, no thanks to Botox. Until now, the Peter Parker series, like most comics, was targeted at teen and adult readers. This week Marvel debuts its first line for the 10-and-under crowd. Spidey and the Fantastic 4 will star in less-violent story lines with panels that move in a gridlike pattern, instead of at angles, so they're easier to read. Another difference: Parker (the boy behind the suit) looks like he stepped out of a cartoon, the result of Marvel focus grouping, says supervising editor MacKenzie Cadenhead. "There's a more vibrant style. Kids will respond to that."Marvel wants the series to convert younger readers into comic fans for life. The new line isn't wholly sanitized--Spidey's Uncle Ben still dies--but stories aren't sagas: each issue is self-contained, so there are no "to be continued" plot twists. Editor in chief Joe Quesada says he has "high hopes" that the "X-Men" and "Captain America" will follow. If so, a battle may play out...

    Attendance is back up at amusement parks, so look out for some new twists. Here are the coming attractions:

    The Boy From Oz," a Broadway show starring Hugh Jackman, closed last fall. But the play's fans are scheming to keep it alive. This spring the devotees formed Ozalot Productions to get the play made into a movie. "Hugh Jackman could end up the biggest star in the world," says Ozalot prez Barbara Whittaker. His turn as songwriter Peter Allen, she says, "has to be committed to film."Of course, the Ozalots have a few casting ideas. In an online debate that stretched for months, they settled on Mike Nichols as director, Anne Hathaway as Liza Minnelli and Eric McCormack as Jackman's lover (chart).Earlier this month a group of fans tracked down Jackman at a Broadway event in New York, introduced themselves and handed him a cast list. They hope that he'll produce the movie and then hire them as extras. Jackman, who's hosting the Tony Awards June 5, isn't ruling it out. "My fans are terrific," he tells NEWSWEEK. "We'll see."
  • Hugh Jackman Talks Tony

    On Sunday, Hugh Jackman returns for the third consecutive year to host the Tony Awards (CBS, 8 p.m. ET). Last year, the boy from Oz embarrassed Sarah Jessica Parker by pulling her on stage for a shimmy. Who's his next victim? Jackman won't say. But in a recent conversation with NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh, he discussed his plans to return to Broadway, whether he'll be cast as the next James Bond and why he keeps his own Tony in storage.NEWSWEEK: You're becoming the Billy Crystal of the Tony Awards?Hugh Jackman: Ironically, he will be there this year. He got nominated [for "700 Sundays"].Are you going to call him on stage if he loses?You never know. People presume Sarah Jessica Parker last year was a plant. But I think if I asked her to do it, she might have conveniently found herself in the bathroom.Where do you keep the Tony you won last year for "The Boy from Oz?"Right now, it's in storage.Why?Well, because my whole life is in storage. I'm homeless at the moment. We're still looking...

    No one wants to lose an expensive camera at the beach. Why not shoot your next trip with a disposable? Here are the latest upgrades: the CVS Digital One-Time-Use Camera ($19.99). It comes with a 1.4-inch LCD screen that lets you preview pictures and delete bad ones. The big downside is that you have to find a CVS store to develop your pictures. The first one we visited said the technician who knew how to work the machine was out of town. Kodak Zoom ($11.99). You can snap shots from where you stand, or zoom in to get 35 percent closer. Take this with you to the amusement park--the crowds might not let you get that close to Buzz Lightyear. Fujifilm QuickSnap True Definition ($15.99). This camera comes with high-end film, the company says, that captures colors better with sharper details. To our untrained eyes, the photos we developed didn't seem any different. But it's the easiest to operate.

    Is walt whitman about to make a comeback? He takes center stage in Michael Cunningham's latest novel, "Specimen Days" (June 7)-- and you remember what happened when Cunningham put Virginia Woolf in "The Hours." (Everyone rushed to read, or reread, "Mrs. Dalloway.") Stay ahead of the pack: Whitman is best known for "Leaves of Grass"--his collection of poems, first published in 1855, about nature and mankind. You might want to brush up, because excerpts appear in Cunningham's novel. To learn more about the poet's life, try "Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography" by David S. Reynolds. The Walt Whitman Archive (whitmanarchive.org) includes manuscripts, criticism and even an audio recording. And the Library of Congress (loc.gov) has opened a new exhibit called "Revising Himself," devoted to Whitman and "Leaves of Grass." Emerson would be proud.

    Chocolaty brews are suddenly big, but so are their calorie counts. Our tip: pass the Snickers!Dunkin' Donuts: Iced lattes come in chocolate-dipped banana or strawberry flavor. Is that a fruit serving?Calories: 300 (90 from fat).Chocometer: Like a bite of fudge.Starbucks: The Chantico is a mixture of cocoa butter and cocoa powder, with steamed milk.Calories: 390 (190 from fat).Chocometer: Melted truffles.Godiva: The Chocolixir. Pieces of chocolate are blended up with caramel or chocolate sauce.Calories: 700 (270 from fat).Chocometer: Might as well eat a box.

    If getting dressed is just too much trouble, consider Lisa Crawford's approach: the 37-year-old billing clerk from Johnstown, Ohio, wanders around in her pajamas at the mall, the movies, work--even when she picks up her daughter at school. "They look awesome," she says. Apparently, other women agree. SBH Intimates has launched Scanty, a brand of public-use PJs. They come in the snug cuts associated with women's jeans and sit lower on the waistline. "It gives the butt more of a curve," says Scanty creator Mickey Sills. Instead of moon-and-cloud patterns, he uses vintage T-shirt designs with peace signs or a pirate's skull-and-crossbones. Could this be a sleeper hit? The $3.8 billion women's sleepwear industry is facing "quite a bit of competition for shelf space," says Julia Cardis, an analyst for market-research group Mintel. The next front in the what-to-wear-to-bed battle may have its roots in the gym: the brand Karen Neuburger recently started using the fabric from workout...

    These days, amusement parks need the $$$, so they're even making grub into an attraction. Line up, grab a seat and hold on... to your fork.UNIVERSAL STUDIOS ...