Saturday, June 12, 2004

Fan Fair rookie has grueling, productive day - Saturday, 06/12/04

Fan Fair rookie has grueling, productive day

Rachel Proctor performs at the Riverfront stages Thursday at the CMA Music Festival.

Rachel Proctor gets her hair and makeup done by Gwen Ankenbauer and Valorie Cole in the dressing room at The Coliseum. Proctor sang harmony vocals on Drift Away with Uncle Kracker on Thursday night, one of many stops during her 15-hour workday at the CMA Music Festival.

Staff Writer

15 hours prove to Rachel Proctor 'we're finally getting somewhere'

It wasn't even 7 a.m., and someone already was hollering at Rachel Proctor.

''Hey, Rachel, will you take a picture with us?'' shouted a man who stood outside the gate at Emerald Sound Studios on Music Row on Thursday.

Assuredly, she would. To Proctor — who was experiencing the CMA Music Festival as an artist for the first time — the shrill request sounded a lot like progress.

''When I heard that, I thought, 'Oh, my God, someone knows who I am,' '' she said.

Inside the Nashville music industry, people have known about Proctor for some time. Now 29, she's been pitching her songs and voice here for 11 years. She co-wrote Where Would You Be, a hit for Martina McBride, and she began working on her major label debut album three years ago.

Since then, the album has been delayed and reconfigured several times, and Proctor has been left to write, record and wait.

''The album got pushed back and pushed back, and I was beginning to think, 'We're gonna lose you,' '' syndicated radio personality Danny Wright said to Proctor during her interview with him at Emerald.

They haven't lost her, though. Proctor's Days Like This album is slated for an August release on BNA Records, and her Me and Emily single is among the 20 most-played songs on country radio. On Thursday, her 15-hour workday was packed with radio and television interviews, performances and autograph sessions, making for a tired singer and a palpable sense of ''we're finally getting somewhere.''

After posing with fans outside the studio gate, Proctor walked into a bustling building filled with publicists, microphones, broadcast personalities and country performers. Proctor was there for nine interviews, each one lasting between five and eight minutes.

Most of her inquisitors were male and middle-aged, most commented on her appearance (''You don't look 29,'' remarked an Asheville, N.C., disc jockey, as if to be 29 was to be way up there in years), and only two got her name wrong (she became ''Julie'' in Rochester, N.Y., and ''Emily'' in Colorado Springs). For each station, she recorded up to 12 ''liners,'' or brief station advertisements.

''Whenever I'm in the beautiful Big Sky country of Montana, I listen to …'' enthused Proctor, who has never been to Montana.

The nine interviews offered Proctor a chance to make a virtual tour of the country, hitting country markets all over in a short time. Other performers, including Joe Nichols, Darryl Worley and Tracy Lawrence, were at Emerald to do the same thing. Worley, who sang with Proctor on one of her album's songs, hugged her and said, ''We were just talking about you yesterday. Everyone just wants you to kick butt, 'cause you're talented.''

At 9:30 a.m., Proctor left the studio with publicist Wes Vause and regional radio promotions manager Jean Williams. She signed a few more autographs at the gate, and then it was on to the Doubletree hotel downtown, to be interviewed on Milwaukee station WMIL and sign autographs for a roomful of Wisconsin fans who were part of a tour group.

''Wash your hands after you touch these people,'' advised Williams, who views germs as detriments to career building.

Proctor made small talk with fans, signed autographs and remained amiable. She'd recently played a casino show in Milwaukee, so many fans were already familiar with her.

''She's a talented gal,'' said Connie Janssen of Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., who stretched a T-shirt with an embroidery hoop to make it easier for Proctor to sign. ''After they sign it, I first of all Scotchgard it and then you can wash it without the signatures coming off.''

The next stop was the convention center, where Proctor settled in to the Country Weekly booth to pose for photos and sign her name some more. Fans had just filed past John Arthur Martinez and Steve Azar, and some weren't familiar with Proctor. Others, such as John ''Duke'' Smith of Charleston, W. Va., were longtime listeners. Smith used to watch Proctor play local clubs in her native Mountain State.

''We always told her she'd make it,'' Smith said, autograph in hand. ''She's gonna keep going and going now.''

At least for one day, Smith's prediction was on the money. Proctor kept going, in this case on to an interview with Harry Chapman's Talk of the Town show on WTVF. With stylist Michael McCall there to offer makeup touch-ups in stifling heat, Proctor chatted amiably about her day, her single and her career. Lunch followed, at Merchant's Restaurant, and then Proctor received another makeup job from McCall before heading to the Riverfront Park stage for a midafternoon performance.

In front of roughly 2,500 people, she sang as if it wasn't unbelievably hot, as if she hadn't been up since 6 a.m., as if she hadn't signed her name hundreds of times and smiled enough to make a beauty queen look glum. She played a five-song set, drawing considerable applause on Where Would You Be and Me and Emily, and on material unfamiliar to the fans, such as the slinky, twanging Shame On Me. RCA Label Group President Joe Galante, the man in charge of deciding whether Proctor stays on BNA and how much money is pumped into her career, looked on approvingly.

With the afternoon performance over, the pace eased somewhat. All Proctor did from 4 p.m. on was: fight rush hour and CMA Music Festival traffic; go home to pick up her luggage for a two-day trip to Minnesota; drive to the record company office; ride with Vause to The Coliseum; rehearse with Uncle Kracker; sing harmony vocals on Drift Away at Kracker's Coliseum show; ride back to the record company office; and drive to 100 Oaks Mall, where she caught the tour bus to Minneapolis.

Such a day is unique to the country genre. It's hard to imagine Bruce Springsteen, Norah Jones or the guys in OutKast signing photos at a pop music trade show or Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit reading copy about the Big Sky country into a microphone. Proctor knew about such obligations long before she signed her record deal, though, and there are enough invigorating moments to offset the grind.

Thursday, one of those moments came at the convention center, when a 16-year-old fan named Emily Mueller, from Delray Beach, Fla., approached with a handmade booklet, decorated with colored pencil and bound with pink ribbon.

In the booklet were notes Mueller had collected from fans who frequent Proctor's message board on CMT.com. The board has been active since CMT began playing the video for Me and Emily, a song about a mother leaving an abusive relationship and taking her daughter with her.

''When I hear Me and Emily, I cry,'' said one note in the booklet. ''It's the story of my life.''

The booklet closed with a sweet, handwritten page of thoughts from Mueller — who was so happy about meeting her favorite singer that she could barely make conversation. In the middle of all the pages was a simply worded note that caused Proctor's eyes to mist a little, even as she signed her name for friendly strangers:

''Rachel, from your biggest fan. I love you. MOM.''

Friday, June 11, 2004

Mail call still highlight for players, fans

Mail call still highlight for players, fans
Bob McManaman
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Diamondbacks beat writer Bob McManaman collected suggestions on the etiquette of sending fan mail, as advised by Diamondbacks players:


''Ask for one at a time. Try not to cram so many cards into one envelope."

- Roberto Alomar

''Make sure you include a self-addressed stamped envelope. Sometimes, people forget."

- Mike Koplove

''Make it a little more personal and you'll probably get it back a lot quicker."

- Richie Sexson


''Stay away from sending envelopes you have to lick shut. Try to get the return envelopes that you can peel back. It's a lot easier, plus, yech! You don't get that awful taste in your mouth."

- Randy Choate

''Sometimes, people ask you for a jersey or a glove or a pair of spikes. I'm sorry, but we just can't do that. It's not like we've got tons of them stashed away someplace."

- Matt Mantei

''Don't get upset if it takes a while. We get a lot of mail every day and it builds up and it takes time to answer them all. We'll get to it, honest, but try to be as patient as you can."

- Luis Gonzalez

SEND IT TO . . .

Player's name

c/o Arizona Diamondbacks

Bank One Ballpark

401 E. Jefferson St.

Phoenix, Az., 85004

Robby Hammock's jaw just about dropped when he opened up that letter during spring training workouts in Tucson earlier this year. It was from a teenage boy somewhere in Asia, who kept gushing on and on in broken penmanship about how fascinated he was with the Diamondbacks' second-year catcher.

"How does he know so much about me?" Hammock wondered. "What have I done in this game to warrant such a touching letter from a kid a million miles away who probably has never even seen me play?"

Hammock, recovering from knee surgery at the time, couldn't help but pass the note around to some of his teammates inside the Diamondbacks' clubhouse at Tucson Electric Park. Some of them just glanced at the smallish piece of yellow notebook paper. Others intently read it over Hammock's shoulder, word for word.

"This is what it's all about," Hammock turned and said, holding up the letter. "This. This is why we don't mind going through all that fan mail and signing all those baseball cards they send. It's because of special, personalized letters like this."

For every tear-jerking request from an innocent, young face, the Diamondbacks receive a multitude of soulless, form-letter, fill-in-the-blank demands that come into the clubhouse at Bank One Ballpark in mail bags so big, Santa Claus would be jealous.

Unit's haul

Randy Johnson's yearly fan mail alone could likely fill a U-Haul truck. Luis Gonzalez gets so much every week, he has a clubhouse attendant sort through the piles and spread them out on a table in a back room, where the popular slugger then signs as many autographs as he can before his arm falls off.

"All I have to do is sign and seal 'em up," Gonzalez said. "There's just so much, you don't always have time to read every single one yourself, although I try. The neat letters, if it's something personal or has to do with charities, those are set aside so I can read them first.

"Those are always the best, like the ones when people say they met you and you were nice to them. That makes you feel good, people appreciating you treating them like normal people. We're no different than anybody else."

But who among us receives 10 letters a day from perfect strangers that not only send baseball cards and 8x10s, but sometimes, everything from explicit photographs of themselves to marriage proposals in a self-addressed, stamped envelope?

"If it's something ridiculous, those letters get tossed right into the trash," Gonzalez said, adding he, personally, hasn't run across anything inappropriate. "I've heard about some strange ones over the years, though."

Relief pitcher Mike Koplove said the strangest fan mail he ever opened was from a man in Poland who wrote "almost in gibberish."

"I have no idea how he found me or whatever, and the letter didn't make any sense, but I signed the card and sent it back. He didn't have the self-addressed stamped envelope, but if figured, 'Hey, if a guy takes the time to mail something to the United States all the way from Poland . . .

"I'd say most of what we get, though, are form-letter requests. Probably 85 percent of them."

Richie Sexson, the Diamondbacks' slugging first baseman who is out for the season following shoulder surgery, recently proved that point while opening up some mail in front of his locker back at the BOB.

"Look at this one, for example," Sexson said, showing a typed request. "It's from this guy who says you're his favorite player and would you please sign these baseball cards he sent. But the same guy sends the same note to Gonzo, telling him that he's their favorite player.

"We've compared them before and it's obvious. Everybody's sitting here, we're signing at the table, and you look over and the next guy will have the same letter as you. It's the same note, different name."

And yet they still sign them all. Over and over.

Some take the letters home, and sign them there. Some wait until they land on the disabled list, and take care of the signatures then.

"I try to pound them all out in one day so they don't pile up too much," relief pitcher Matt Mantei said, adding with a grin, "And so far, every piece of fan mail I get, everybody thinks I'm the best pitcher in baseball, so that's nice.

"You wonder, though, have they seen my ERA lately?"

Alomar allegiance

Second baseman Roberto Alomar has played in only 13 games this season, having been out since April 21 when he suffered a broken bone in his right hand. But Alomar remains as popular as ever, as witnessed by the fact he ranks fifth among National League second basemen in balloting for the All-Star Game next month in Houston.

The letters, just like the votes, keep pouring in for the 36-year-old who is 313 hits shy of 3,000.

Have a question for your favorite Suns, Cardinals, Coyotes, D-Backs player? Click here to submit the question for one of our reporters to take it to the source. Look for the answers on Page 2 of Saturday's Arizona Republic.

"I do the best I can answering them all," Alomar said. "I know a lot of the fans think, 'Why is it taking so long?' But sometimes, people send you three, four, five, six cards in the same envelope. I wish people would only send one card so we could take care of everybody, but there's so many, you can't take care of it all right away."

Sometimes, it isn't always friendly mail, either. It can be hateful and racist. Alomar still gets letters not asking him for an autograph, but telling him what a jerk he was for once spitting in the face of an umpire.

"Some real nasty ones over the years," Alomar said, shaking his head. "People cursing you, wishing you bad things. It even happens when you leave a team and go somewhere else. They get mad at you and blame you."

Alomar remembers stories his father, Sandy Alomar Sr., would tell him about fan mail. Sandy Sr. once roomed with Henry Aaron and saw first-hand some of the ugly letters baseball's home run king received as he was chasing the great Babe Ruth.

"I couldn't imagine some of the things Aaron went through," Roberto said. "You wonder why people are the way they are. But I think it's getting better in society. At least, I hope it is."

All it takes is an innocent request from a boy in Japan or an old man from Poland or a friendly note of appreciation.

"When they stop coming altogether, you'll miss it," Mantei said. "I'm sure of that."

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Hamilton, Billups pull Pistons toward another finals win

06-10) 20:20 PDT AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) --

Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups -- and a whole lot of tough defense -- had the Detroit Pistons on the verge of another surprising victory Thursday night.

They took a 63-51 lead into the fourth quarter of Game 3 in the NBA Finals.

Hamilton, the Pistons' leading playoff scorer, had 21 points, and Billups added 17 as Detroit jumped to a 16-point lead in the third.

Billups was the Pistons' leading scorer in both regular-season meetings with Los Angeles and both of the first two finals games. After scoring eight points in the first half, he scored nine in the first 31/2 minutes of the third quarter, keying Detroit's 15-8 run.

After a first half dominated by defense, Detroit led 39-32 -- but Billups and Kobe Bryant got going in the third quarter. The Lakers rallied late in the quarter with a lineup consisting of Bryant and four reserves.

Both teams flirted with NBA-record scoring lows for a finals first half before a flurry of baskets shortly before the break. The Pistons shook off their Game 2 collapse with a stiff defensive performance back home at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Hamilton scored 12 points in the first half for the Pistons, who were relaxed and comfortable in front of a raucous home crowd.

Bryant, the Lakers' Game 2 hero, scored just one point in the first half, missing all four of his shots. His first field goal was a long jumper with 7:35 left in the third quarter, and he finished the third quarter with seven points on 2-for-9 shooting.

Shaquille O'Neal had 12 points and six rebounds in the first half, but picked up his fourth personal foul midway through the third. He had just one basket in the quarter.

But O'Neal's layup with 57 seconds left in the second quarter prevented the teams from matching the NBA Finals record for fewest combined points in the first half, set last season. Derek Fisher's basket with 24 seconds left prevented the Lakers from matching the record-low 30 points scored previously by three teams.

Karl Malone overcame his serious knee injury to start for the Lakers, though the 19-year veteran wore a brace on his right knee. Malone has disdained any sort of brace during his career, but he believes he's playing on a torn ligament.

San Mateo County Times Online - Local & Regional News

Teen autograph seeker became a Reagan follower

San Carlos youth inspired by her 1977 meeting became
a dedicated Republican

By Mike Meenan, STAFF WRITER

In 1977, Ronald Reagan, then ex-governor of California, received a letter from a San Carlos High School junior, inviting him to dinner at her house.
Carol Bledsoe really didn't expect him to come. One of her hobbies was collecting celebrity autographs. An invitation to dinner often prompted the target celebrity to write back, if only to say no. Instant autograph.

She didn't get a written response from Reagan, but what she did receive was a call a while later from his Los Angeles office, saying that her letter had just been found and apologizing for the delay in responding. No, Mr. Reagan couldn't come to dinner, but he would be happy to meet with Bledsoe at the office.

"I tried to be calm on the phone," Bledsoe recalled Sunday, "but I screamed and told my parents I needed to fly to L.A."

On the appointed day, Bledsoe arrived at Reagan's office on Wilshire Boulevard. "It was a small office," Bledsoe said. "There was a woman at a desk who said, 'The governor is expecting you.'"

A short time later, Reagan came out and invited Bledsoe to his inner office.

"I guess he spent about half an hour with me, Bledsoe said. "He talked about his days in Hollywood and his terms as governor. He was struggling with a decision about running for president again. He asked me about my political convictions -- which weren't very strong at the time, since I was really trying to get his autograph."

Reagan, she said, went on to tell her why he believed so strongly in America.

"He spoke to me about our great privilege of being born into freedom, and that we ought to ensure that every individual is as privileged as ourselves. He told me of de Tocqueville and his vision of the 'shining city on a hill,' an image we all later heard Mr. Reagan use on many occasions." It was a very clear day, she remembers, and they both could see the Channel Islands from his office window.

The meeting was inspirational in the political life of the spunky teenage

autograph seeker.

"I really credit him with giving me my conservative base," Bledsoe said. I became a registered Republican and started working for the party."

Bledsoe's original wish was granted, as she and Reagan exchanged about a dozen letters over the years that followed that meeting.

"At first, they were just about day-to-day things, what was going on, but after he was elected president, they were less personal and more businesslike." She especially appreciated Reagan's use of "unfussy language."

Reagan saw to it personally that Bledsoe was named an at-large California delegate to the Republican National Convention in Detroit in 1980. She was just turning 19 that summer, which made her the youngest delegate there. In November, she cast her first vote in a presidential election for Ronald Reagan.

She went on to attend balls and special events at both of Reagan's presidential inaugurations and earned an invitation to the White House.

Bledsoe also ran for office herself, serving 10 years on the San Mateo County Republican Central Committee. What was it like to be a Republican in San Mateo County in the 1980s? "Without Ronald Reagan in the White House," Bledsoe said, "it would have been a much harder position to be in."

Watching the television coverage since his death, she said Sunday, was like seeing a "scrapbook of my life in the '80s. The scenes of the conventions and the balls and the many familiar faces brought back fond memories. He had an impact on both my political and personal life."

Asked about what she considered to be Reagan's greatest accomplishments, Bledsoe mentioned the end of the Cold War, but she will remember him most, she said, for "the pride that he brought back to America.

"His humor, the twinkle in his eye, and his infectious optimism brought out the best in me," she said. "As I watch the coverage on television, it confirms what I already knew: He brought out the best in all of us."

Bledsoe, an executive at a San Carlos air conditioning company, is traveling to the East Coast on business this week, and plans to visit the Capitol rotunda in Washington, where Reagan will lie in state before making his final journey back to California.

"I certainly plan to stand in line with his other supporters," Bledsoe said, "to say good

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

E! Online News - MTV Bans Eminem's Butt

MTV Bans Eminem's Butt

by Josh Grossberg
Jun 8, 2004, 10:00 AM PT

Normally, at the MTV Movie Awards they hand out a golden popcorn tub to the winners. This year, they unexpectedly got a moon man.

MTV has confirmed it has edited out a shot of Eminem's tuchis from Thursday's broadcast of its annual cinematic showdown.

a d v e r t i s e m e n t

In what many in attendance called the musical highlight of the ceremony, which was taped Saturday in Santa Monica, the superstar rapper, dressed in a parody of Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose (complete with red wig, blue jeans and codpiece), was performing with his band D12 when he dropped trou and mooned the audience.

Fresh off a political scolding over Janet Jackson's boob job at the Super Bowl halftime show, which MTV produced, the cable network decided to, in the words of one official, "edit around" Eminem's ass.

The network had initially considered simply blurring Eminem's backside, but then opted to excise the moment altogether. Now, viewers will get to see the performance sans the full moon.

(Guess we'll have to settle for the Venus transit).

Eminem's camp declined to comment. MTV had no official statement, either, but one rep said fans would have to tune in to see how the butt-baring is handled.

MTV is no stranger to pushing boundaries, be it Madonna's crotch-grabbing rendition of "Like a Virgin" 20 years ago at the Music Video Awards (in which winners receive the Moon Man trophy), the Material Girl's smooches with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at last year's VMAs, or Gollum's foul-mouthed acceptance speech at last year's Movie Awards.

Even without Eminem's exposure, the Lindsay Lohan-hosted 2004 MTV Movie Awards will retain some shock value. Among the bits not winding up on the cutting room floor: a spoof of The Passion of the Christ, a titillating liplock between Carmen Electra and Paris Hilton and the Wayans brothers grabbing Brittany Murphy's booty.

The ass-free version of the MTV Movie Awards airs Thursday at 9 p.m.

Welcome to Music City's 33rd Annual Fan Fair

Main Events
There are four basic daily main official event happenings during Fan Fair.

Wrangler Exhibit Hall at the Nashville Convention Center 10:00am-4:00 pm
The Autograph signings by various artists are scheduled in the Nashville Convention Center at the Wrangler Exhibit Hall.

Greased Lightning Riverfront Park Concert Stages 11:00am-6:00 pm
The Daily Concert events will take place on two stages at Greased Lightening Riverfront Park concert stages.

CMA Music Festival Midway, located on the Coliseum grounds, is open from 5:00pm to midnight June 4, 7-9; and from noon to midnight June 5-6, 10-13.

Nightly Concerts at the Coliseum (gates open at 5:30) 7:00pm-10:30 pm
The Nightly Concerts are largest events take place at The Coliseum (home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans)

Fan Fair After Hours 11:00pm- 3:00am
The Late-night parties, known as Fan Fair After Hours, are set at various clubs in the downtown Area.

Welcome to Music City's 33rd Annual Fan Fair

Main Events
There are four basic daily main official event happenings during Fan Fair.

Wrangler Exhibit Hall at the Nashville Convention Center 10:00am-4:00 pm
The Autograph signings by various artists are scheduled in the Nashville Convention Center at the Wrangler Exhibit Hall.

Greased Lightning Riverfront Park Concert Stages 11:00am-6:00 pm
The Daily Concert events will take place on two stages at Greased Lightening Riverfront Park concert stages.

CMA Music Festival Midway, located on the Coliseum grounds, is open from 5:00pm to midnight June 4, 7-9; and from noon to midnight June 5-6, 10-13.

Nightly Concerts at the Coliseum (gates open at 5:30) 7:00pm-10:30 pm
The Nightly Concerts are largest events take place at The Coliseum (home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans)

Fan Fair After Hours 11:00pm- 3:00am
The Late-night parties, known as Fan Fair After Hours, are set at various clubs in the downtown Area.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Gacy Paintings on Display at Antique Store (phillyBurbs.com)
Gacy Paintings on Display at Antique Store
The Associated Press

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Some paintings by executed serial killer John Wayne Gacy are on display at a South Florida antiques store despite objections from some who say profits from selling the art is "blood money."

Nineteen paintings - including a $195 image of a bird and a $9,500 depiction of dwarfs playing baseball against the Chicago Cubs - are for sale.

The collection represents about one-tenth of the Gacy paintings collected by Steve Koschal, a celebrity autograph expert who corresponded with Gacy during the final four years of his incarceration in Illinois.

"You'd be surprised who buys these paintings," Koschal said. "You might think some tough motorcycle gang off the street, but it's doctors, lawyers, professional people, Hollywood and media types."

Gacy, a building contractor and amateur clown, was convicted of luring 33 young men and boys to his home in the Chicago area for sex and then strangling them between 1972 and 1978.

Blithe SPIRIT - JUNE 7, 2004

Despite her talk of spiritual gurus and goddesses, Jolin Tsai is still pretty much the pop princess with the teenybopper clothes and bubblegum appeal

By Jill Alphonso

SINCE appearing on the Mandarin pop scene five years ago, Taiwanese pop star Jolin Tsai has gone through a couple of incarnations.

Photos -- STEVEN LEE
She first made her name on her girl-next-door image, and became the poster girl of many an NSman.

Two years ago, she ditched that for a hipper J-pop look, dying her hair blonde and donning clothes bought in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya and Harajuku districts.

But here's one side to her you may not know about - she takes stock in spirits and gurus, and even believes that she is an incarnation of Hi'iaka, the younger sister of Pele, a Hawaiian goddess of fire.

In an interview in a suite at the Hyatt Hotel last Saturday, Tsai, 24, revealed that a year ago, during a performance in Taiwan, part of the set behind her caught fire.

'I didn't know about the fire till later because it happened as I sang the last song. It happened just as I was walking off the stage,' said Tsai, who was in town for four days to promote her latest album.

She later consulted her 'spiritual guru', a psychic whom she looked up on a friend's recommendation, and whom she has been seeing for several years, about the accident.

He told her that the fire could have been related to the spirit of fire, which apparently protects Tsai, shielding her from the bad intentions of evil spirits.

She had visited Hawaii in her teens, and had been struck by how comfortable she had felt on the islands.

'It just seems to make sense,' she says, when asked why she thinks she is an incarnation of Hi'iaka.

If that seems a loose conjecture, she adds that the deity is also known to love dancing and singing, and is the patron goddess of hula dancing.

Although one is tempted to think that she is about to go down the road that performers like Jewel and Prince have, going all gung-ho spiritual on their fans, know that Tsai is more down-to-earth than that.

She wears the teenybopper clothes that one has come to expect from her - a pink, floaty creation paired with green patent leather heels.

But her attitude is business-like at first when choosing clothes for an earlier photo shoot. She quickly dismisses several pieces as being 'to sedate' or 'too short'.

But she banters easily with her make-up artist in Mandarin, laughing at inside jokes.

During the 25-minute interview with Life!, she speaks in Mandarin although questions are posed to her in English, relying on her manager to translate her answers.

And if she looked tired earlier during the photo shoot, hiding the occasional yawn behind her hands, she is alert when you speak to her.


Cool fizz

'It was cool to work with nine other artists. There were no egos involved, and everyone was very committed to doing their best. But we didn't hang out that much as a group'
- On filming a Pepsi commercial with artists like Jay Chou (above left) and Edison Chen (centre)

My princess past

'In each life, we learn new skills and get more and more educated on life. I believe I was an Indian princess in my past life'
- On reincarnation

Me Ayumi?

'I can't be compared to her. She's incomparable'
- On J-pop queen Ayumi Hamasaki, after whom she is reportedly styled

She listens intently to questions and faces you with her large-eyed, earnest look, registering your reactions as her manager translates for her.

When asked for more details about her guru, she reveals that she first began consulting him several years ago, when her career was flagging. She now sees him for psychological and mental support.

While she believes in reincarnation, she says she does not put all her faith in any one religion.

'But everyone should have something to believe in,' she says. 'Otherwise, you feel a little lost.'

The younger daughter of a human resource consultant and a housewife, she entered the Mandopop scene at the age of 18 after winning an MTV singing competition in Taiwan.

Her debut album, 1019, was released in 1999, a year after she was discovered. Her girl-next-door appeal won her many a teenage fan, and led to her being called a 'teenage boy-killer'.

But she has gone through her dark periods - weathering everything from a career nosedive as her initial appeal began to wear off, to tabloid scandals and legal squabbles with her ex-manager over alleged misappropriation of her income.

She has also been romantically linked to singer Jay Chou, with whom she shot a Pepsi commercial last month, along with seven other artists.

Chou, 25, wrote and produced two songs on Castle, her latest album. Both have denied all rumours of a romance, saying that they are just 'very close friends'.

There are no plans yet for him to collaborate with her on her next album. 'We'll work together again if the melodies he comes up with are good,' she says cheekily.

She adds that he was easy and pleasant to work with, given that they are good friends.

While rumours of her romantic connection with Chou amuse her, stories of her having plastic surgery to trim fat off her previously round face are not quite as funny.

'False reports can be hurtful,' she says, her tone carefully neutral.

She has denied all rumours of going under the knife, attributing her new look to naturally shedding teenage puppy-fat.

Despite the scandals, life has picked up for her since her record label switch from Universal Music to Sony two years ago.

Her look was revamped under Sony, which hired stylists to turn her into an Ayumi Hamasaki lookalike.

Magic, her sixth album which was released last year, was her first under Sony. It sold over 300,000 copies in Taiwan, and about 45,000 copies in Singapore.

Her current album, Castle, stayed at the No. 1 spot on Taiwan's pop charts for four consecutive weeks in February, and has sold 40,000 copies since its release here in April.

Around 8,000 fans flocked to each of her autograph signing sessions at Funan IT Mall on Friday and at Faber House on Saturday.

Tsai, an English literature graduate from Taiwan's Fu Jen University, also translated three out of five of Madonna's children's books into Chinese last year.

This may lead to her writing a book in the future, she says, perhaps even in English.

Although there are no concrete plans, she says she is currently working on the structure for a short novel for teenagers.

For now, she will stick to penning lyrics, and is working on songs for her next album.

When asked if she is dating, she lets out a laugh and says: 'I wish I had someone. My schedule is too hectic.'

She plans to visit Japan on holiday with friends at the end of the year.

She says with a wink: 'I intend to shop, and maybe meet some handsome Japanese guys while I'm there.'

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