By People Staff
March 14, 2005 12:00 PM

Rose DUD

BACHELORETTE JEN SCHEFFT FAILS AGAIN TO FIND LOVE ON REALITY TV. BUT IS SHE NOW DATING HER BOSS?

SCOOP CONTRIBUTORS

Olivia Abel, Marisa Wong, Bryan Alexander, Andrea Billups, Dede Gallagher, Courtney Hazlett, Oliver Jones, Marisa Laudadio Tiffany McGee, Josh Mitnick, Gail Nussbaum, Simon Perry, Monica Rizzo

So many roses, and in the end…wilted petals. That sums up the two chapters of Jen Schefft’s reality-TV matchmaking experiment, which resulted in a bittersweet finale Feb. 28. After her first go-round—as the fiancée of Bachelor Andrew Firestone—ended in 2003, she seized the chance to rebound as The Bachelorette. But ultimately she turned down not one but two men. In the finale, taped before Thanksgiving, she first gave a gentle but firm no to John Paul Merritt, 25, an entrepreneur from Oklahoma City, and then a tentative yes to L.A. art-gallery director Jerry Ferris, 29, saying she wanted time to see how their feelings matured. They didn’t. In the live, hour-long coda, she gave Jerry a no too, saying they were meant to be friends, not lovers. “From the beginning I didn’t think she was going to get hitched,” says a friend of Schefft’s. “She wasn’t really into any of the guys.”

In the weeks leading up to the finale, there were rumors that Schefft, 28, who works in events promotion in Chicago, was dating her boss, wealthy lawyer-nightclub owner Billy Dec, 32. Not so, say both Schefft and Dec. “We’re friends who work together,” says Dec. “She’s married to ABC.”

Actually, she seemed freaked by the whole prospect of marriage by the finale. She was so conscious of making a mistake, she became “traumatized,” says co-executive producer Lisa Levenson. “She told us, ‘I need more time.’ We said, Fine. Tell Jerry how you feel, we’ll make it work.’ I want her to make the right decision for her, not America.”

What of the guys? On the finale Merritt accepted his fate: “I was dealt my cards,” he said, “and I played them.” Friends say he’s happily engrossed in opening his own restaurant, JP’s, in Oklahoma City. As for Ferris, “friends is cool,” he told Schefft, somewhat unconvincingly. Now “he needs to take his time and look for other ladies who are right for him,” says his mom, Paula Ferris. Schefft’s life will go on as well. But will the Bachelor franchise, whose ratings and buzz are hardly what they used to be? Charlie O’Connell, 29, actor Jerry O’Connell’s younger brother, is due to dispense the roses in the eighth installment, premiering March 28. That, says a network source, “is probably the last one.”

  • Fallen Idols Whack Back
  • Rejection isn’t easy. So when the first four American Idol semifinalists were eliminated Feb. 23, Melinda Lira, 19, and fellow loser Jared Yates, 18, complained that other contestants had an advantage—more exposure during the audition shows. “They’ve already built up a fan base,” says Yates. Judge Simon Cowell—surprise!—disagrees. “You have to create a reason why people should vote for you.” Adds Judd Harris, 27, also voted off (along with Sarah Mather, 22): “There were people that had less camera time than me who made it through.”

Annoying TV Suckers

Realty TV bites—just ask “Downtown” Julie Brown, who is suing ABC TV and Granada U.S. Productions for more than $500,000 for leech bites she received during a stunt on 2003’s I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. The former MTV veejay contends that producers purposely misled her into believing she would be safe in a bathtub full of leeches but that she suffered “numerous bites and scarring” as well as emotional distress. The network and production company did not return calls for comment.

  • + LINDSAY: LIVING IT UP
  • After a brief break and a shopping spree in New York, Lindsay Lohan returned to New Orleans (and its party circuit) for production of her upcoming comedy Just My Luck. On Feb. 27, accompanied by an entourage of some 10 friends, the star hit the Living Room bar at the W hotel, where she chatted with pals until about 1:30 a.m.
  • Penguin Flap
  • Guests at a Miami Beach hotel bash hosted by Sean “P. Diddy” Combs got puffed up watching six penguins placed on a Plexiglas platform in a pool. “Those poor penguins were all huddled up in a corner,” says one partyer. Wildlife experts say the birds, social with their own kind, do not enjoy human company. A rep for the Hotel Victor said they were “warm-weather” animals raised for this work, an idea branded “dumb” by an animal rights group. Combs’s rep said he had nothing to do with the birds.
  • Together Again?
  • Was January’s announcement that Kate Bosworth and Orlando Bloom have called it quits premature? The two attended a Feb. 24 Global Green USA benefit in Los Angeles and, says one observer, “They stood next to each other the whole night.”
  • SEEN AT THE WESTERN WALL
  • Natalie Portman got into trouble Feb. 22 at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, a holy site for prayer, by kissing costar Aki Avni in a scene for their film Free Zone. Dozens of Orthodox Jewish worshippers objected to the casual contact between a man and a woman at the wall. Last year Madonna earned taunts; other celebs have fared better.

Q+A

USHER

Looks like 2005 is becoming the Year of Usher—hit CDs, a spectacular Grammy appearance and, on March 5, his biggest concert: “One Night One Star Usher Live,” at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan, airing live on Showtime. Usher, 26, spoke with Scoop while en route to a rehearsal.

What are you planning for the big show?

This is going to be a night to remember. I am going to take you on a musical journey from my first hit record to my most recent.

Where do you find the time? Aren’t you busy trying to buy a piece of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers?

No comment.

All right, tell us about your basketball skills.

I am okay on the court, man. I wouldn’t say I pride myself on my jump shot. I am more of an assist guy. But if I go one-on-one with the right cat, I might shake and bake him.

Ever hang out with LeBron James?

I have no comment on my relationship with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

So what’s the most difficult part of being a sex symbol?

I guess just being one, man. It is all popular opinion, based on pictures people take of you.

Do you feel pressure to always look good—even at the supermarket?

My fashion sense is part of who I am as an entertainer. It is part of my passion. I love fashion. I am a passionate fashion icon.

And every designer on earth sends you fabulous suits.

And luckily, this body of mine can fit into them.

Best pickup line you’ve ever used?

Pickup line? I don’t have one.

You’re saying that when you’re Usher you don’t need one?

I didn’t say that, man. I said I didn’t have one. I just say hello to her. The best thing to do—the only thing to do—is have a conversation and try to entertain her. If you keep a woman laughing, then you got it.

What do you fear?

Nothing.

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