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  • Book Excerpt: Elmore Leonard's 'Up in Honey's Room'

    Honey phoned her sister-in-law Muriel, still living in Harlan County, Kentucky, to tell her she’d left Walter Schoen, calling him Valter, and was on her way to being Honey Deal again. She said to Muriel, “I honestly thought I could turn him around, but the man still acts like a Nazi. I couldn’t budge him.”“You walked out,” Muriel said, “just like that?”“I valked out,” Honey said. “I’m free as a bird. You know what else? I won’t have to do my roots every two weeks. Dumb me, I spent a whole year wanting him to think I’m a natural blonde.”“He couldn’t tell other ways you aren’t?”“Anytime Walter wanted some, he’d turn out the light before taking off his pajamas. He was self-conscious about being skinny, his ribs showing, so it was always pitch-dark when we did it. He said American food, all it did was give him gas. I had to learn to cook German, big heavy dinners, sauerbraten with red cabbage, bratwurst. For the ?rst time in my life I had to watch my weight.Walter didn’t gain at all. He...
  • Inside Roswell's Competing UFO Festivals

    This is what happens when a flying saucer crashes in your town: the little green men are, well, little and green, but also purple, blue, yellow and black. Some wear dark capes and rubbery masks. Some hold Super Soakers in lieu of death rays. Others wear diapers instead of pants. One is dressed like a ballerina. Another just turned his Halloween costume inside out.These extraterrestrials are children participating in an "alien costume contest” inside a McDonald’s in Roswell, N.M., as part of the city’s 2007 Amazing Roswell UFO Festival. “Everybody," says George Byrne, a longtime Roswell resident, as he watches his grandchildren prance around the McDonald’s playground in their alien costumes, “needs a gimmick.”This city has a good one. This year’s edition of the city’s annual four-day festival, which began July 5, commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Roswell Incident, in which military officials from nearby Roswell Army Air Field announced that a “flying disc” had crashed into a...
  • Cleaning Up the Tour de France

    This year's Tour de France is going to be different. At least, that's the line professional cycling is pushing. Two weeks ago, the International Cycling Union (UCI) asked riders to sign an antidoping charter before the start of this year's three-week stage race, which begins Saturday. If found guilty of doping, riders agree to pay the ICU the equivalent of a year's salary in addition to serving the standard two-year suspension from cycling. Tour organizers insist that any rider who does not sign cannot start the race.You can almost hear cycling fans the world over breathing a resounding sigh of "So what?” Doping has long been as inextricable a part of the culture as shaven legs and skinny tires. But Lance Armstrong’s domination of the Tour attracted a worldwide audience, and with that audience came more money—and increased scrutiny. Now, with sponsors threatening to defect to less volatile (if less dramatic) sports, cycling’s governing bodies have been forced to react publicly. And...
  • New Book Celebrates America's Show Tunes

    Let’s begin with a few things that critic and novelist Wilfrid Sheed leaves out of his book about the American popular song circa mid-20th century: “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” “Miss the Mississippi and You,” “Right or Wrong,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Stormy Monday,” “Smokestack Lightning,” “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” “I Can’t Help It if I’m Still in Love With You,” “Hey, Good Lookin’,” “Crazy” and “Stagger Lee.” All of those songs were written or sung to wide acclaim in the period that Sheed covers, roughly the time between the two world wars with a 10-year slop over either way. Sheed makes a point of saying that he’s not trying to be encyclopedic, that he’s writing specifically about something he calls the jazz song, a concept that he never really pins down. To speed things along, let’s just say show tunes, which to Sheed are pretty much the end all and be all of American songs. It’s what he grew up listening to, and don’t we all love what we loved when we were young?...
  • Auditioning for 'Big Brother'

    Of all the nice people I meet at the "Big Brother" auditions last spring, my favorite contestant is a woman named Emillan. She arrives for her big date with Hollywood dressed from head to toe in black lingerie, which she purchased for $200 from Frederick's of Hollywood. "I work in the sex industry," Emillan tells me. Really? How? Actually, Emillan holds three different jobs. "I'm a stripper. I'm a foot-fetish model—that's where I make money—and I specialize in domination." Really? How? OK, I'll spare you the details. I ask Emillan if she has any reality TV experience. "I auditioned for 'Coyote Ugly,' where they were looking for a bartender/singer, but I didn't make that. My friend told me I was sneaky and conniving and I'd be perfect for this." It's settled. If I make it into the "Big Brother" house and so does Emillan, we're definitely forming an alliance.Tonight marks the eighth season of what I think is the greatest reality TV show of all time. "Survivor" has its rats and ...
  • Q&A With Enrique Iglesias

    The world's best-selling Spanish music artist, on his way to Live Earth, holds forth on Al Gore, performing in a gay club, 'Insomnia'—his new album and the real thing—and sleeping pills.
  • Ornish: Stop Stress-Related Weight Gain

    New studies show that stress not only makes you gain weight, but it affects what you eat and even where you pack on those extra pounds. What you can do to stop it.
  • Autism: Earliest Diagnosis Ever

    A new study finds that autism can be identified at around 14 months, much earlier than previously thought. How early diagnosis can improve outcomes.
  • Remembering Beverly Sills

    The late Beverly Sills, a peerless soprano, did everything she could—and there wasn't much she couldn't do—to make people fall in love with opera
  • Q&A: Hugh Dancy on 'Evening', Clare Danes

    Is Hugh Dancy the next Hugh Grant? The 32-year-old British actor has been pegged as the next big thing in Hollywood. He just completed a successful run on Broadway in "Journey's End," as the lead, Capt. Stanhope (a role that Laurence Olivier originated). He has four movies out this year, including "The Jane Austen Book Club," based on the recent book. In his latest drama, "Evening," Dancy plays Buddy Wittenborn, a rich New Englander who is dating the film's heroine, Ann. In real life, Dancy is now dating the actress who played Ann, Claire Danes. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh. ...
  • Bird Cinema: YouTube, with Feathers

    The most-viewed video of all time on YouTube is "Evolution of Dance," six minutes of shake-your-tailfeather action recapping the American way of getting down. The most-viewed video of all time on  birdcinema.com? "Great Horned Owl Fledgling," 59 seconds of, well, just what you might think. Except with a lot less tailfeather shaking.For the millions of birdwatchers in the United States, though, that kind of footage is pure gold. The brainchild of Doug Myers, CEO of ACR International, an electronic database company, Birdcinema.com launched in June with the ambition of becoming YouTube for the bird set, hosting videos uploaded by some of the 46 million Americans for whom bird watching is a cherished pursuit. The site currently offers video file sharing for bird enthusiasts, but Myers and his colleagues want to expand it to become the primary source for bird video. "Our goal is to obtain footage of every species in the world and offer information on these birds, how to find them and...
  • How to Think Like a Scientist

    Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes containing about 20,000 genes, DNA is the molecule that carries hereditary information in every living cell, matter is made of atoms that are built of protons and neutrons and electrons and ... Alan Leshner isn't buying it. CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science and promotes science literacy, he agrees that people "need, at minimum, a rough understanding of the core concepts of science—the more the better." That would keep people from rejecting genetically modified food because, as they tell pollsters, it "contains genes" (all living cells do).The real problem today, however, is not ignorance of the fact that Earth revolves around the sun once a year (something 25 percent of adult Americans do not know). "It's that people don't understand what is and isn't science," says Leshner.Science observes and measures the natural world. From those data it infers the empirical laws that govern...
  • Feeling Thick As a BRIC? We Can Help.

    At least you can talk the talk with the following list of the most relevant lingo in global business today. BRIC: Shorthand for Brazil, Russia, India, China. The label signifies their growing economic might. By 2050, Goldman Sachs projects that the four BRIC countries will represent 45 percent of global GDP, up from 8 percent in 2000. IPO: The initial public offering of a firm's stock to the investing public. In 2006, 196 IPOs for U.S. firms totaled $45 billion. HEDGE FUNDS: Investment pools exempted from strict government regulation because each has a small number (usually fewer than 100) of wealthy investors (often having at least $5 million of total investments). In early 2007, there were 9,550 hedge funds worth $1.5 trillion. PRIVATE EQUITY: Similar pools that, aided by loans, buy all the shares of public companies. The hope: resell later at a big markup. In 2006, such buyouts of U.S. firms totaled $374 billion.
  • Refugees: Who's Fled for Life?

    Worldwide, 32.9 million people have been driven from home by war, persecution and poverty, with 9.9 million officially listed as refugees by the U.N. Top nations:
  • Literature: What's the Good Word?

    Which words appear most often in the titles of best-selling books? Hint: it's not "Jesus," who has never been named in the title of a best seller.
  • Going Postal, Literary Style

    For most people the post office is the irksome home to long lines, lost checks and slow service. But for American writers—and who else could be so perverse? —the post office is a godsend. If not exactly a font of stimulation, it's at least a well-lighted place to earn a paycheck until one's belles lettres can support a writing career.Just don't expect any hymns to the pony express. Two of the most notable ex-mailmen in American letters, Richard Wright and Charles Bukowski, attacked their former employers in early novels. In "Cesspool"—later retitled "Lawd Today!"—Wright poured his experience as a Chicago mail clerk into the bleak story of a Windy City postman who brutalizes his wife. (Fortunately, Wright was single.)Three decades later, Bukowski channeled 12 years as a mail carrier to write "Post Office," described by one critic as "the ultimate I-hate-my-job story." But it was William Faulkner who expressed his unhappiness while still on the job. In 1924, the future author of "The...
  • Paula Abdul’s Reality

    Paula Abdul is TV's most famous cry baby. She tears up when contestants are voted off "American Idol." She bawls when they win the grand prize. At one point last season, Abdul even started wailing when one finalist—Melinda Dolittle—sang really well, because she was just so happy for her. So it's no surprise that the tears flow in Abdul's new reality show, "Hey, Paula," airing on Bravo tonight.The shocker is how quickly Paula Abdul blows up—for the strangest reasons. In the premiere episode, the former pop singer is on her way to Philadelphia to film a QVC spot for her jewelry line when she realizes her two assistants have forgotten to pack her sweat pants, and she'll need to squeeze into a pair of jeans instead. "Why these pants?!" she asks. "I could kill you guys ... it's supposed to be a comfortable trip ... take your foot and shove it down your throat." By the end of the scolding, it's not just Paula who's crying but her two intern-like assistants as well.Train-wreck reality TV...
  • Ansen on 'Ratatouille'

    It would seem that Pixar's newest animated movie, "Ratatouille," has a few obstacles to overcome. The title isn't in English, and a good percentage of the audience has probably never tasted it, let alone heard of it. The hero, Remy, is a rat. Not only that, a rat who spends most of his time just where we don't want to see one—in a kitchen. The setting is Paris, and the movie is a love letter to a romantic notion of France that is not currently in fashion, at least in certain political quarters. And who would ever think of making a family movie aimed at foodies?Has Pixar lost its pixilated mind? Pas du tout. Brad Bird, the unconventional creator of "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles," has come up with a film as rich as a sauce béarnaise, as refreshing as a raspberry sorbet, and a lot less predictable than the damn food metaphors and adjectives all us critics will churn out to describe it. OK, one more and then I'll be done: it's yummy.Bird seems to relish the challenge, and even...
  • Isaiah Washington Speaks His Mind

    It’s a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, and Isaiah Washington is on the set of the independent film "The Least of These.’’ Washington plays a priest in the movie, and he’s dressed in full-on black on black with a sliver of white at his collar. He greets his guests with a gentle smile and an extended hand. Sitting in his small trailer filled with the scent of myrrh incense, he seems at peace—until he starts talking. Washington can’t stop himself from doing what he’s been doing a lot lately: explaining away a situation that has already cost him a beloved job and could ultimately cost him much more.Last fall, Washington, by his own admission, picked a fight with Patrick Dempsey, one his costars on the ABC hospital drama "Grey’s Anatomy." Fighting with a co-worker is never smart, but Washington took it even further by using an offensive term to refer to a gay cast member during the altercation. "Patrick and I had a philosophical disagreement that got out of hand and that I regret a great...
  • A Werner Herzog Action Movie

    Dieter Dengler (Christian Bale), an American Navy pilot in the Vietnam War, is shot down over Laos, captured, tortured and held in a POW camp in the Laotian jungle, where he immediately begins plotting his escape, though no one has flown the coop before. He is, in many respects, a classic action-movie hero—courageous, clever, indomitable. But "Rescue Dawn" is a Werner Herzog movie (and a true story), and though it's as taut and exciting as many edge-of-your-seat Hollywood escape movies, there's a mania about Dieter that sets him apart, a wild-eyed bravado that suggests the line between bravery and complete lunacy is a thin one. Who better than Bale, who is scarily good at macho obsessiveness, to take on the challenge?Herzog, always at his best working in insufferable jungle conditions ("Aguirre, the Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo") is fascinated by stories of extreme will. He's told this one before, in his 1997 documentary "Little Dieter Needs to Fly," and it clearly has its hooks in...
  • Why Doesn't Evolution Get Rid of Ugly People?

    Why isn’t everyone beautiful, smart and healthy? Or, in a less-polite formulation, why haven’t ugly, stupid, unhealthy people been bred out of the population—ugly people because no one will have them as mates, meaning they don’t get the chance to pass their ugliness to the next generation; stupid people because they’re outgunned in the race to financial success (that is, acquiring resources needed to survive and reproduce); unhealthy people because they die before they get a chance to reproduce? ...
  • Ansen on 'Live Free or Die Harder'

    The last time we saw John McClane (Bruce Willis) he was ... who can remember?  It's been 12 years since "Die Hard with a Vengeance," and while the first "Die Hard" is now properly thought of as an action-movie classic, nobody's been sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the return of New York's toughest, most put-upon detective.  Would anyone care that he was back?  The good news is, "Live Free or Die Hard" makes you care.  Of all the overproduced sequels promising mindless summer fun, this one actually delivers.I looked up my review of the 1990 "Die Hard 2" and what I wrote then still applies: "The 'Die Hard' movies have many of the same virtues as the James Bond movies: first-rate production values, an endless supply of escalating cliffhangers and a fine sense of their own preposterousness."  "Live Free or Die Harder" may pretend to take place in the real world of terrorist threats, but any movie in which the hero brings down a chopper by catapulting a speeding car into...
  • Rachel Hunter's Strange Diet Campaign

    Rachel Hunter is promoting a diet company's 'Find Your Slim' campaign. The problem(s): she's already slim—and she hasn't tried the weight-reducing drink.
  • Steve Perry on 'Don't Stop Believin'

    Who knew back in 1981, when Journey released its inspirational, lighter-in-the-air anthem “Don't Stop Believin',” that it would be embraced by gangsters and presidential hopefuls alike? But this month alone the song set the final scene for the final episode of “The Sopranos” and served as the soundtrack for a high-profile spoof on that HBO series finale starring none other than Bill and Hillary Clinton. The latter production, on hillaryclinton.com, was part of a campaign song contest where voters cast online ballots to decide which pop hit should become Hillary's song for the 2008 presidential race. Journey's ubiquitous hit was not chosen, or even nominated, but the band's former lead singer Steve Perry is not complaining. Perry explains to NEWSWEEK's Lorraine Ali why music and politics don't mix, but Journey, baseball, serial killers and the mafia do. ...
  • Sharapova on Wimbledon, Sponsors and Celebs

    Maria Sharapova is said to be the highest-paid female athlete in the world. The 6-feet-2 tennis champion—she’s so tall she instinctively prepares to duck when she walks through a doorway—is estimated to make $20 million a year in sponsorship deals. Right now she’s at Wimbledon, hoping to win back the title she won there three years ago, at a mere 17.Can she do it? Sharapova has fresh confidence after her victory at last year’s U.S. Open silenced detractors who suggested that she was spending more time marketing herself than perfecting her backhand. But she certainly faces stiff competition. Aside from a shoulder injury, the No. 1 seed Justine Henin, who won the French Open last month, is said to be especially hungry to win Wimbledon—a title which has thus far eluded her. American sisters Venus and Serena Williams and Serbians Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic could also stop Sharapova’s return to center court.As the tournament got under way in London, NEWSWEEK's Ginanne Brownell...
  • Work It Out

    1. What “rather savvy tactic” is Iran’s president using with the Iranian people? What relationships does the tactic imply exist among politics, economics, and culture (which includes fashion)? Make a graphic that shows the relationships. Come up with an analogy between the Iranian government’s tactic and something in your own experience. Remember that the analogy should clarify the Iranian government’s strategy.2. What program did George W. Bush implement in Iran over a year ago? What does Michael Hirsh say the Bush administration hasn’t considered? Write a letter to Bush giving your opinion of his program.
  • The Champ, Winning by Knockout

    He was the greatest "Greatest." Of last century's dominant American athletes, none can match the myth of Muhammad Ali, the champ of tumultuous times. His impact, hardly limited to the ring, makes the largest of today's stars look small. Race and Politics: The unapologetic Ali was a powerful symbol of black pride. For resisting the draft in 1967—"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong"—Ali was vilified, sentenced to prison and stripped of his title. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction and public opinion came around, but Ali was inactive for three of his prime boxing years. Religion: Perhaps the most high-profile convert to the Nation of Islam, Cassius Clay was reborn Muhammad Ali shortly after he bested Sonny Liston for the heavyweight title in 1964. Marketing: A rhyming, taunting showboat, he built the Ali "brand" before there was such a term, and promoted it across the globe.
  • BeliefWatch: Paris Hilton Finds God

    Three weeks ago, while preparing to go to jail, Paris Hilton sauntered out her front door with a Bible tucked under her arm—facing outward so the cover would be clearly visible. So it wasn't a shock that it took just three days in prison before Hilton found God. She told Barbara Walters that she had "become more spiritual" and that God had given her a second chance.There's a long tradition of jailhouse conversions; many are temporary, aimed at gaining leniency from judges, while others seem genuine. Malcolm X discovered Islam while in a Massachusetts state prison. Oklahoma-bombing conspirator Terry Nichols claimed to have worn out four Bibles during his trial, and serial killer David Berkowitz—Son of Sam—converted from Judaism after an inmate told him Jesus Christ loved him and wanted to forgive him. Chuck Colson, special counsel to President Richard Nixon, once described as the "evil genius of an evil administration," was facing arrest over Watergate charges when he read C. S....
  • New Diet Drug: Accidents May Happen

    GlaxoSmithKline has a tip for people who decide to try Alli, the over-the-counter weight-loss drug it is launching with a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz—keep an extra pair of pants handy. That's because Alli, a lower-dose version of the prescription drug Xenical, could (cue the late-night talk-show hosts) make you soil your pants. But while Alli's most troublesome side effect, anal leakage, is sure to be good for a few laughs, millions of people who are desperate to take off weight may still decide the threat of an accident is worth it.Unlike traditional diet pills, Alli, the first over-the-counter weight-loss product approved by the FDA, is not an appetite suppressant. Instead, it prevents the gastrointestinal system from absorbing about 25 percent of the fat a person consumes. If you eat more than the recommended 15 grams of fat at a meal, you may experience cramps and the uncontrollable escape of those extra fat grams. For New Jersey native Paula Miguel, 35, however, that...
  • Talk Transcript: Sean Smith on Angelina Jolie

    Like old-time Hollywood movie stars, Angelina Jolie has always seemed larger than life. Not one to disappear into a role, she makes the character fit her fiercely glamorous persona. "A Mighty Heart" changes all that. Playing Mariane Pearl, the wife of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and murdered by Islamic militants in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2002, Jolie does a miraculous vanishing act, down to her complex French accent, inflected with the Cuban and Dutch of her parents. Smart, prickly, courageous, her terror often covered over with steely flashes of anger, Pearl—as anyone who saw her on TV after her loss—refused the public role of victim that the touchy-feely American media tried to impose on her. Jolie honors her fortitude with a performance of meticulous honesty. Every flicker of Mariane's conflicting emotions passes like quicksilver over Jolie's face, but nothing is milked for pathos.This is in keeping with the tone of director Michael Winterbottom's...
  • My Turn: Reaching My Goal of Having No Life Plan

    Where do you see yourself in 10 years?" The woman inquiring was beautiful, interesting and ambitious. We were on a blind date, and this was her 20th such question (I suspect she had memorized the list from a women's magazine). Still, it wasn't the interrogation that left me speechless. It was that one question."Ten years?" I pondered, poking at a wayward carrot with my fork. "I sort of like the idea of living on an abandoned farm in North Carolina, maybe."I could tell from her expression I didn't score any points. No solid goals. He's a loser, her magazine would proclaim. I suspect much of society would agree. The funny part is, I once was a goals junkie who could have written those same questions.My romance with goalmaking began in high school when I read an article claiming the real key to success was detailed goals. I embraced the concept. By the time I graduated, I had very specific plans for my future (few of which happened). When I entered college, my first essay for freshman...
  • Quindlen: Dissenters In Uniform

    The men and women in the field are the ones best able to judge whether the mission is working. They are the ultimate embeds.
  • The Other Jamestown Party

    Fifteen miles from Williamsburg, Va., in Charles City County, on a country road dominated by plantations turned bed-and-breakfasts, 4,000 ultra-conservative, largely home-schooling Christians gathered to correct a month-old mistake: to do Jamestown right. The women wore hoop skirts, bustles, bonnets and mob hats. The men wore tricorn, feathered "Musketeer" or top hats; they carried swords. "Maidens," that is, girls, wore aprons, while "heroes"—boys—donned armor or coonskin caps.
  • The Spaces in Between

    American sculptor Richard Serra takes over MoMA with a retrospective of his heavy-metal works.
  • Mail Call: Helping Loved Ones Battle a Cruel Disease

    Readers underscored the heartbreak and emotional toll experienced by Alzheimer's family caregivers and the hard lessons learned. One described his mother's painful ordeal as "a flickering light bulb, sometimes on and often off." Another said, "Life and living comes with its hard parts. As a family, we are changed and will bring a new level of compassion to this world, one learned from caring for my mom." Another daughter added, "What I've learned most in the past eight years is the value of family, the importance of commitment and the true meaning of love." Others considered the soaring financial costs. "If a cure isn't found soon, Alzheimer's will break our Medicare system," one said. And a woman who lost a grandmother and father to this disease pleaded, "Please help us find a cure for this horror before my siblings and our children have to take our turn in the Alzheimer's lottery." ...
  • True or False: We Are Losing The War Against Radical Islam

    Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, are strangely united on one point: the threat from global jihad is growing dangerously. Republicans use that belief as a way to remind the American people that we live in a fearsome world—and need tough leaders to protect us. For Democrats, the same idea fortifies their claim that the Bush administration has failed to deal with a crucial threat—and that we need a new national-security team. Terrorism experts and the media add to this chorus, consciously or not, because they have an incentive to paint a grim picture: bad news sells. Amid the clamor, it is difficult to figure out what is actually going on.In the two decades before 9/11, Islamic radicalism flourished, while most governments treated it as a minor annoyance rather than a major security threat. September 11 changed all that, and subsequent bombings in Bali, Casablanca, Riyadh, Madrid and London forced countries everywhere to rethink their basic attitude. Now most...
  • True or False: Jane Austen Outsells Alice Walker and Ann Coulter

    Jane Austen probably can't compete yet with Shakespeare or Dickens—and certainly not with the Bible—for the greatest number of adaptations, tie-ins, tchotchkes and other epiphenomena. Dickens has a theme park in Chatham, England, while the Austen-themed resort called Pembrook Park exists so far only in "Austenland," a just-published chick-lit novel by Shannon Hale, whose author's note describes her as "an avid Austen fan and admirer of men in britches." Hale's heroine is a "Sex and the City" career gal who can't keep a boyfriend and who has a crush on Mr. Darcy. Oh, not the "real" one—the one played by Colin Firth in the BBC "Pride and Prejudice."Later this summer, a British actress named Emma Campbell Webster will publish "Lost in Austen: Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure," an interactive fiction game with you as the main character ("Difficult as it is, you give up Colonel Brandon and return home to Longbourne ..."). Your mission is "to marry both prudently and for love." And...
  • True or False: 'Idol' Airs in Every Continent But Antarctica

    They're bungling ballads in Kazakhstan, mauling Bollywood favorites in India and shout-singing Beyoncé numbers in Bolivia. Most every country—even those that lack running water and free elections—has its own version of "American Idol." This is not necessarily a bad thing. The very American idea that anyone can be a star has helped break down rigid class barriers in several countries. In places where the concept of democracy is still shaky, "Idol" lets viewers have the vote—last year alone, the global number of votes cast for contestants within the "Idol" franchise exceeded 2 billion. But as for "Idol" 's influence on music? Let's just say now that regional productions of the show have infiltrated 39 countries, "Idol" has lowered the artistic bar so drastically that Britney and 'N Sync sound like creative geniuses by comparison.Listen to singing amateurs from Argentina to Afghanistan, and you'll discover that they all sound the same, down to the Céline Dion melodrama in their voices...