January 17, 2005 12:00 PM

LOVE IN THE NEW YEAR

ENGAGED

Nicollette Sheridan & Niklas Soderblom

When Desperate Housewives star Nicollette Sheridan got a golden retriever, Oliver, from her actor boyfriend Niklas Soderblom for her 41st birthday Nov. 21, she thought she had it made. “Oliver is my new love,” Sheridan told PEOPLE. Soderblom followed up with an even bigger surprise: a wedding proposal, sprung while the couple were vacationing in Aspen over the holidays. “They were holding hands and talking to people,” says an onlooker who attended a Dec. 30 party with the pair. “It was obvious that they were very much in love. He never left her sight.” It will be the second marriage for Sheridan, who wed L.A. Law actor Harry Hamlin in 1991 while she was starring in Knots Landing. The couple separated the following year.

ENGAGED

Heidi Klum & Seal

Does it get any more romantic than this? “I proposed on Dec. 23 at 14,000 feet in Whistler, B.C., in uncharted terrain on a glacier, in a natural snow cave, in an igloo built just for the moment,” says Seal of his engagement to model Heidi Klum. The pair began dating last year after Klum, 31, split from Italian businessman Flavio Briatore, 55, the father of her 8-month-old daughter Leni. Since then Seal, 41, has been happily playing Papa, even making a dedication to “my daughter Leni,” on his latest CD. And how did he and Klum wind up on ice? “Seal chartered a helicopter and had a beautiful spot picked out,” says a friend.

CELEBS Help Out

“I know this in no way alleviates the pain and loss experienced by those who have suffered from the tsunami, but I hope it can help make a difference,” said Sandra Bullock, who donated $1 million to the Red Cross to help those affected by the disaster in southeast Asia. Bullock was one of many celebrities who stepped up to lend a hand: Steven Spielberg donated $1.5 million to three relief organizations. Jay Leno will auction off a Harley motorcycle autographed by assorted celebrities. Willie Nelson will sing at a benefit in Austin, Texas, on Jan. 9. Dustin Hoffman, Sarah Jessica Parker and Julianne Moore were set for a UNICEF fund-raiser Jan. 5. Among the more unusual efforts: The L.A. Kabbalah center, spiritual home of many stars, will ship Kabbalah water to the crisis area.

+ BRING ME THE HEAD OF VAL KILMER

Val Kilmer’s face has been mysteriously popping up all over Toronto, plastered on the sides of buildings. Police speculate the culprit is either a fan of Kilmer’s or someone looking for publicity. “Either way, it is a criminal offense,” says Staff Sgt. Heinz: Kuck of Toronto’s graffiti task force. Other theories that have surfaced: A) the images were created to win Kilmer back the role of Batman; B) an artist is spoofing celebrity; or C) Kilmer put them up in an attempt to raise his profile (but why Toronto?). Kilmer’s rep insists the actor has “nothing to do with the graffiti.”

ROMANCE IN THE

House of Usher

Usher’s short-lived romance with Naomi Campbell burned out recently, and the singer doesn’t seem to have had any trouble moving on. Dancer Karrine Steffans, 26, who has appeared in videos for Usher, Jay-Z and Ja Rule, says they’ve had a close encounter or two. “Yes, we’ve been together,” says Steffans. “We had an intimate adult relationship.” However, Steffans doesn’t call herself Usher’s sweetheart, saying theirs is just “a friendship.” A rep for the 26-year-old singer will only say, “Usher is single. Usher does not have a girlfriend.”

New Rules

American Idol is singing a slightly different tune. Producers of the hit talent competition have decided to tweak their winning formula for the upcoming fourth season, which premieres Jan. 18. Among the changes:

•Instead of 32 semifinalists, only 24 contestants—12 men, 12 women—will advance out of the initial audition rounds.

•Guys will then compete on live broadcasts one night, women on another. The elimination episode will be on Wednesday. Yes, that means three nights of Idol a week for three weeks.

•There probably won’t be any celebrity judges during the finals, although LL Cool J and Brandy will offer their two cents during the auditions. “It’s their show; I’m sure they know what they’re doing,” says Neil Sedaka, a former celeb judge. “It doesn’t hamper my being a fan of the show.”

+ DOES SPIDEY KNOW?

Did Scrubs star Zach Braff and Spider-Man’s Kirsten Dunst hit it off over the holidays on the Caribbean isle of St. Bart’s? According to New York’s Daily News, the pair connected at a private party aboard a yacht belonging to an L.A. real estate mogul and headed to a local bar, where they hugged and kissed. Reps for Braff, 29, who has recently been linked to singer Mandy Moore, and Dunst, 22, had no comment.

POP QUIZ

Star Jones Reynolds

Newlywed Star Jones Reynolds, 42, returns to the red carpet Jan. 16 to chat with the stars as part of E!’s Golden Globe coverage. “It’s their night to shine,” she says. “I want to shine the light on them.” She called Scoop from the beach on St. Bart’s to dish about the job, her favorite shows and married life.

Did we really drag you in from the beach?

You did. I just left my husband, who said, “Where are you going?”

Your first red-carpet job was at the Emmys last fall. Learn anything from that?

Everybody expects me to say, “Not to be as gushy with the stars.” But I like being gushy. I like the stars to know I’m a fan. People work really hard to get to that day. They deserve to have somebody jump up and down and go, “Hercules, Hercules, Hercules!”

How are you preparing?

I’m cramming. I see each and every film, each and every television program that’s nominated.

You must be pretty busy.

Oh yeah, but it’s not like you’re asking me to punch data into a computer. You’re asking me to watch my favorite shows and the most honored movies. I can do that in my sleep.

So which nominees are you rooting for and why?

I am rooting for anything having to do with Sex and the City. I miss those girls. It was an original, with some of the greatest single-woman angst in the history of television.

Is your dress set?

I know one. I’ll be wearing Reem Acra, who did my wedding. That was a no-brainer. She made me look like a dream come true on that one day.

How’s married life?

Happier than I even deserve to be. I love this man so much and it’s so nice to be loved by him.

Written thank-you notes for the wedding gifts yet?

Oh honey, I’m almost half through. Not for nothing I’m trained by Barbara Walters. You’re not allowed to be rude and tacky. Thank-you notes—handwritten—no preprinted crap. If people are nice enough to give you a gift, you have time enough to write a note.

ON THE BLOCK

MURPHY’S MANSON

PRICE: $30 million

PLACE: Englewood, N.J.

After 18 years on Bubble Hill—named after a slang term for party—Eddie Murphy is selling his 25,000-sq.-ft., 32-room home. The buyer will have many options, says Realtor Mary Lenk. Sleep in one of seven bedrooms! Freshen up in 13 bathrooms! For R&R, there’s tennis, racquetball, a pool, a gym—and bowling!

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