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For Idina Menzel, new CD is 'a new beginning' after tumult

It's only five letters — just her first name, unadorned. All in lowercase, with a period at the end.

"Frozen" and Broadway star Idina Menzel has a new introspective album out this month after a tumultuous few years and its simple title — "idina." — is as stripped-down as it gets.

"I guess I want people to feel like they really get to know me on a first-name basis," she says. "The period says some kind of confidence but the lowercase is like not completely arrogant."

In the eight years since her last original studio CD, Menzel has shot to global fame singing "Let It Go," had her name mangled by John Travolta at the Oscars, given birth to a son, poured her heart into a new Broadway show and seen her marriage to Taye Diggs collapse. She's come out the other end with a mature pop album and a new engagement to actor Aaron Lohr.

"It's a new beginning — personally, in my life," she says. "The music was written and is about things that I was experiencing in the last couple of years, sort of putting an end to one era of my life and figuring out how to start again."

The new album is strong and incredibly personal, with storm clouds seemingly everywhere. "Heaven knows, I went through hell," she sings on "Show Me." On "I See You," she says: "Here's to the hopeless/The almost forgotten/To those who got lost along the way/I see you." The woman who once sang "Defying Gravity" is now singing "goodbye gravity" on one song.

Menzel leaned on two producers — Eric Rosse and Greg Wells — and she had a hand in writing virtually every song, from "I Do," with its clear dig at Diggs ("Remember you told me/You're my one and only"), to the upbeat, hear-me-roar "Queen of Swords " ("Don't go asking me for apologies").

The 45-year-old singer and actress says her personal turmoil came at the same time as career success, spinning her head. She'd go into the studio angry at the world and yet emerge with hopeful songs.

"I was going through a divorce and, simultaneously, my career was taking off in a bigger way than ever, with 'Frozen' and all of that. And so here I am singing at the Oscars and then dealing with mediation and visitation agreements," she says. "The dichotomy of that, the contradictions and the guilt and regret that I was feeling all at this wonderful time professionally, was very dynamic for me."

Dan McCarroll, president of Warner Bros. Records, signed Menzel three years ago while she was starring in the Broadway musical "If/Then." The two met over dinner and talked about what kind of album she wanted to make.

"She was very clear that night about what she wanted to do. For me, the album represents exactly what we talked about," he says. "She was true to who she is and said what she needed to say." He added: "There's some really deep stuff on this record."

Menzel also recently finished shooting a Lifetime remake of the 1988 film weepie "Beaches," taking on the role originated by Bette Midler. That's quite a change for an actress who likes original roles.

"People think I'm so cool because I'm in all these original musicals but it's also because I don't want to be compared to Barbra Streisand or Bette Midler. I'm too scared. So it was a hard decision for me to do it. But then I learned there's a whole generation of women that have never seen 'Beaches' or heard of it," she says.

The remake has her singing some classic Midler songs like "Wind Beneath My Wings" and "The Glory of Love" but Menzel is used to belting out big tunes. Her Oscar-winning "Let It Go" remains a monster hit.

"People ask if I get sick of it. I really don't. Often when I'm singing onstage 'Let It Go,' there's these beautiful young faces in front of me that maybe have never seen a concert before," she says.

"It changed my life. It's afforded me new opportunities in my professional life and also it came at a time in my life when I was going through some crappy stuff so it's like this beacon, out in the distance, that saved me a little bit."

There's only one critic of the tune — and he lives with her. Her son, Walker, 7, is like any kid: He gets easily embarrassed by mom and he often asks her to remain silent.

"If he hears 'Let It Go' or anything 'Frozen,' it means someone's around trying to take mommy from him," she says. "But he likes to use it to flirt with the girls. I overheard him, when I was volunteering in his class, try to offer one of the cute girls an autograph. Did she know that his mom was Elsa from 'Frozen'?"

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Online: http://idinamenzel.com

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Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits

Jean Shepard's Funeral Arrangements to Include Public Visitation

Jean Shepard passed away on Sunday (Sept. 25) at the age of 82. She will be honored this week with a funeral and visitation, which will be open for fans to attend and mourn.

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Jennifer Lopez is back in judge's chair for dance show

Jennifer Lopez is stepping in front of the camera for NBC's new "World of Dance" competition series.

The network said Wednesday that Lopez will be a judge, a role she had on "American Idol." She was previously announced as an executive producer for "World of Dance."

The 10-episode series will challenge contestants to demonstrate their skills in an unlimited range of dance, including hip-hop, krumping, ballet and ballroom. The winner gets $1 million.

Would-be competitors can register online at www.worldofdancecasting.com. Qualifying events will be held nationwide.

An airdate for "World of Dance" was not announced.

Jennifer Lopez is back in judge's chair for dance show

Jennifer Lopez is stepping in front of the camera for NBC's new "World of Dance" competition series.

The network said Wednesday that Lopez will be a judge, a role she had on "American Idol." She was previously announced as an executive producer for "World of Dance."

The 10-episode series will challenge contestants to demonstrate their skills in an unlimited range of dance, including hip-hop, krumping, ballet and ballroom. The winner gets $1 million.

Would-be competitors can register online at www.worldofdancecasting.com. Qualifying events will be held nationwide.

An airdate for "World of Dance" was not announced.

Jason Michael Carroll's Father Dies

Jason Michael Carroll's father Jim has passed away.

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Tim Tebow homers in first professional at-bat

Football star turned baseball player Tim Tebow homered Wednesday in his first at-bat in the instructional league in Port St. Lucie, Florida. 

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Tebow, who signed a pro contract with the New York Mets organization, homered to left-center off left-hander John Kilichowski. Kilichowski is a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization. 

ESPN posted a video of the home run. 

Tebow, 29, is a 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback. 

The 255-pound outfielder received a $100,000 bonus when he signed with the Mets in an arrangement that allows him to maintain his commitment as an analyst for the ESPN-owned SEC Network.

Before signing with the Mets, Tebow hadn't played organized baseball since 2005 during his junior year at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, USA Today reported.

Jason Michael Carroll's Father Dies After Stomach Aneurysm

Singer Jason Michael Carroll's father, Jim, died Tuesday night (Sept. 27) after suffering an aneurysm in his stomach on Friday (Sept. 23).

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Review: Grateful Dead's Bob Weir delivers earthy solo effort

The Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, showing more than a little touch of grey at age 68, delivers a heartfelt and earthy solo record with "Blue Mountain."

It's Weir's first solo effort in a decade and the first of entirely original material in 30 years.

Weir, who sang with the Dead that he may be going to hell in a bucket but at least he's enjoying the ride, strikes a more reflective pose on "Blue Mountain." It's a deeply personal collection of cowboy songs drawn on his memories working as a teenager on a Wyoming farm.

Say "cowboy songs" to many Grateful Dead fans and they will go running for the skip button. And, to be sure, songs like "Ki-Yi Bossie" on "Blue Mountain" aren't likely to convert those who can do without tales from the dust-covered trails.

Still, Weir's collaboration here with Josh Ritter and The National's Bryce and Aaron Dessner results in a moody, dense record unlike anything he's done before. The production, and subject matter, fits his road-weary vocals.

The closer, "One More River to Cross," feels as heartfelt as anything Weir has ever written and should resonate with fans who have been along for any part of the long, strange trip of his unparalleled career.

Playboy features woman wearing hijab for first time

The magazine's October issue includes an interview with 22-year-old journalist Noor Tagouri, who's a reporter for online news outlet, Newsy. The accompanying photo shows a fully-clothed Tagouri wearing the traditional Muslim head scarf in front of a red, white and blue backdrop. Playboy stopped publishing nude photos earlier this year.

Tagouri says the hijab has helped her create trust with her interview subjects as a reporter. She says as a Muslim woman, she knows "what it's like to be misrepresented in the media."

Tagouri aspires to become the first anchor wearing a hijab on a commercial TV station in the U.S.

Parents of Trayvon Martin have book coming in January 2017

The parents of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen fatally shot in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, have a book coming out on Jan. 31.

Spiegel & Grau announced Wednesday that it will release "Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin," by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. The book, narrated alternately by the mother and father, will tell of Trayvon's "life and struggles, his tragic death, and the transformative movement for justice" that he inspired, according to Spiegel & Grau, a Penguin Random House imprint. Martin's parents also will share the "grief and confusion" they have endured and how they contended with an "indifferent system" as they struggled to make sense of what happened.

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