December 30, 2002 12:00 PM

american dreamers

After altering the pop-culture landscape, American Idol’s 10 finalists toured nationally and mapped their next moves

JIM VERRAROS

Currently On the lookout for a talent agent to represent him, Verraros, l9, plans to audition for a Broadway production.

NIKKI MCKIBBIN

Several record labels have shown interest in signing McKibbin, 24, who appeared in Old Navy TV ads (along with Helton, Starr, Christian and Gray).

JUSTIN GUARINI

Taking a break from recording-his first single, Guarini, 24, performed in N.Y.C.’s nationally televised Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In January he begins work on a film with Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Look for a spring album.

A.J. GIL

Still intent on pursuing a singing career Gil, 18, says he is “working on demos with hot producers.”

KELLY CLARKSON
The victorious 20-year-old’s schedule was a whirlwind of public appearances. And contrary to reports, she had no pre-Idol contract; she merely recorded five tunes with a trio of songwriters. Her first single, “A Moment Like This,” topped the charts; her album is due in the spring.

RYAN STARR

Keeping busy pursuing both acting and modeling, Starr, 20, is also learning to play the guitar and hopes to launch a clothing line next year.

RJ HELTON

Apart from appearing in Old Navy ads, Helton, 21, sang the national anthem at the Women’s United Soccer Association Championship in Atlanta.

CHRISTINA CHRISTIAN

Her management company is looking to land her a record deal. Meanwhile, the 21-year-old will be a TV Guide Channel correspondent for Idol’s second installment, which begins in January.

TAMYRA GRAY

She’ll have a single out early next year, with an album to follow. Beginning in February, Gray, 23, will appear in four episodes of FOX’s Boston Public.

EJAY DAY

He’s at work on demo tapes and, says 21-year-old, “doing my own thing.”

moving on

With his wife behind bars for killing their five children, Rusty Yates struggles to forge his future

Last August, five months after a jury found Andrea Yates, 38, guilty of capital murder for methodically drowning her five children in a bathtub (PEOPLE, March 25), her husband, Rusty, 38, raised eyebrows when he vacated the couple’s Clear Lake, Texas, home. Some observers, recalling that Yates once housed his family in a converted Greyhound bus, questioned his choice of a. luxury apartment in a complex that boasts a stocked fishing pond, resort-style pool and gym. Others wondered how he could have remained for over a year in the house where the gruesome crime occurred. “I had to work through the memories before I could leave,” Yates explains, adding that he spent months combing through the clothes and toys of each child, photographing some before placing them in storage. “Living there was bittersweet. The house reminded me of the children, but it also reminded me that they are gone.” Now that the property is up for sale, the NASA shuttle engineer catalogs his memories at http://www.yateskids.org, a Web site of family snapshots and home videos.

As for his wife of nine years, Yates continues to stand by her and is planning her appeal. They are permitted contact when he sees her on alternate Saturdays at an East Texas prison medical facility. “I go in and we hug and have a quick kiss,” he says. Andrea’s health has improved with the help of antipsychotic medicine—she cleans, mops and works in the laundry. And she is painfully aware of what she did to her children. “She is sad, as I am sad for her,” he says. Contrary to reports that he is thinking of divorce and has joined a church singles group, Yates insists he has made no decisions about his marriage. Byron Fike, his minister at the Clear Lake Church of Christ, explains that on occasion the singles invite Yates to an event, simply “because they know how lonely he is.” Meanwhile Yates, who says, “I still long for Andrea and the children,” is developing a new Web site, http://www.yatescase.org, where experts can alert new parents to symptoms of postpartum depression.

copy cat

cc, the first cloned cat, celebrates a birthday and prepares for motherhood

Playing with her fuzzy mice, she doesn’t look like the center of controversy. But cc (for “carbon copy”) made headlines when Texas A & M researchers reported how she was conceived: They had injected the DNA of a lab tabby, Rainbow, into an egg with its nucleus removed, then implanted the embryo in another cat, Allie (PEOPLE, March 4). At one year, the first “animal companion” clone doesn’t look like her DNA donor either. Citing a common misconception, lead researcher Dr. Mark Westhusin says, “It’s a different and unique animal.” At 7.5 lbs., cc is free of health problems sometimes associated with clones, and now researchers are looking for an appropriate mate so they can study genetic patterns in her offspring. Meanwhile Westhusin still fends off critics, saying cloning is “so inefficient, it will never compete with natural reproduction.” So inefficient at this point that Genetic Savings & Clone, the Sausalito, Calif., company that originally financed Texas A & M’s research to help animal lovers regenerate lost pets, cut the lab’s funding in September. Still, the firm’s vice-president Ben Carlson suggests that pet cloning may be possible in the next three years (at a cost estimated in the tens of thousands per animal). As for cc, once she gives birth she will be placed in a permanent home, but Westhusin is reluctant to say goodbye: “She’s just too special.”

a living nightmare

shot by his ex-wife’s best friend while he slept, a father strives to reclaim a normal life for his boys

The windows have been barred for safety, but sleepless nights are common in. the Bethesda, Md,, home of Arien Slobodow, 51′, where in January he and his sons Lars, 6, and Herbie, 9, were awakened by predawn gunshots that shattered Slobodow’s right leg (PEOPLE, March 4). As it turned out, the attacker, Margery Landry, was the boys’ godmother and best friend of Slobodow’s ex-wife, Elsa Newman, who was battling him for child custody. With both women now imprisoned on charges stemming from the attack, Slobodow, a video producer, is researching a documentary on custody cases turned violent. And although, the former college distance runner can no longer jog or ski, his injured leg—a steel rod replaced his femur—is healing. Meanwhile the boys, who receive counseling with their dad, have visited their mother in jail and speak to her by phone each week. “I tell them it’s okay to love her,” he says. “I try to nurture that bond. But I know she can be poisonous.”

tribal counsel

what may be a lenghty fight over gasoline taxes has Winnebago activist Lance Morgan fuming

To many Native Americans, Lance Morgan, 34, is a hero—a Harvard Law School grad who is pulling Nebraska’s Winnebago reservation out of poverty with Ho-Chunk Inc. Under CEO Morgan, the tribal-owned company has become an economic powerhouse, with 300 employees and revenues of $80 million from such ventures as Internet marketing and selling gasoline to other tribes (PEOPLE, April 8). On April 9 the state of Kansas charged Ho-Chunk with failing to pay $1.2 million in state excise taxes on that gas. Morgan holds that the tribes are sovereign nations, exempt from state tax. Kansas says otherwise and is suing Ho-Chunk as well as Morgan and Winnebago tribal chairman John Blackhawk for $1.2 million each. “We believe these charges are warranted,” says Mark Ohlemeier, spokesman for Kansas Attorney General Carla J. Stovall. Morgan, who is countersuing, figures it could take five years to find out:. “My guess is that the case will go to the Supreme Court. That’s where you go to solve Indian issues.”

in brief

johnita dematteo

During divorce proceedings, a judge ruled that the inveterate smoker could not see her son Nicholas, 14, if she lit up in her home or car (PEOPLE, April 15). While DeMatteo, 40, pursues a civil rights argument, she is mending ties with Nicholas and smokes outside when he visits. “Sometimes we go one step forward and three back,” she says, “but I keep plugging away. I don’t want him to look back and say, ‘My mother didn’t care enough.’ ”

jessica hill

Born paralyzed from the chest down, Jessica, 5, was the youngest patient ever to undergo spinal-cord-regeneration therapy. She can now walk with leg braces and a walker (PEOPLE, Sept. 2). This fall the Troy, III., prekindergartner has been on a tear, thanks to a new hand-operated tricycle donated by AMBUCS, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping the disabled. Doctors remain optimistic about her chances of walking unaided.

angel in a strange land

Leslie Hawke, mom of actor Ethan, relishes her leading role in getting Romanian children off the streets

Three years after leaving a comfortable life in Manhattan to join the Peace Corps, Leslie Hawke hasn’t had time to look back (PEOPLE, June 17). “We’re busy!” says Hawke, who directs a program in Bacau, Romania, that provides training and jobs to poor Gypsy mothers so their children don’t have to beg in the streets. One of her proudest achievements is the recent completion of a new counseling center, which the women helped clean and paint. “We are expecting Architectural Digest to show up any day,” Hawke says with a laugh. The building also serves as a distribution center for donated goods, like $3,000 worth of new clothes from a factory where two of the mothers have also found work. Perhaps Hawke’s most gratifying accomplishment, though, has been the jump in the number of children enrolled in a remedial-education class she started. “So many of the kids out in these communities don’t go to school at all,” she says, “but given a little nudge and some shoes and interest on the part of a social worker, they come and they like it.” Now, spurred by the success of these projects (funded by private and corporate donations as well as grants from the United States Agency for International Development), Hawke, 50, is focusing on securing land and money to build housing. “Seventy-five percent of the women we work with live in mud huts without running water or sewage,” she says. “Most Americans would be appalled if their dog had to live in such conditions.” Meanwhile the twice-divorced Hawke has been an inspiration to son Ethan, 32, who says he is “exceedingly proud” of his mother and is helping to raise funds for her cause. “I hope to help in other ways,” he says, “when my kids are old enough to go with me and watch Granny in action—kickin’ butt and savin’ lives.”

a father and child reunion

After tending his flock of enemy prisoners in Cuba, a Navy chaplain celebrates a happy homecoming

In the months after 9/11, few American Muslims faced a more stirring challenge than Abuhena Saifulislam, 40. As one of three Islamic chaplains in the U.S. Navy, he was rushed to Camp X-Ray in Guan-tanamo Bay, Cuba, in January to lead a formidable flock: 300 al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners from Afghanistan—plus the nearly 1,700 Americans guarding them (PEOPLE, April 22). In late April, when his tour of duty ended, the Bangladesh-born lieutenant headed home to San Diego for a reunion with his wife, Kaniz Fatema, 32, and 2-year-old daughter Taharah Ibnat Islam. “She started jumping,” he says.

“She wouldn’t leave me.” His three-month absence required sacrifices, especially from Fatema, a doctor from Bangladesh, who missed taking an exam that would permit her to become a physician in the U.S. (she has since passed it). “It was tough,” says Fatema. “But I’m satisfied that he’s serving humanity and his country at the same time.” In August Saifulislam was transferred to Virginia’s Naval Base Norfolk, where he leads Friday prayers in a small mosque. Says his boss, Command Chaplain Ronald Meyer: “Saif provides a perspective we wouldn’t normally have.”

violation of a sacred trust

A community leader waits to pay for his gruesome crime

He was two months away from becoming a deacon in his church : when Tommy Ray-Brent Marsh,’ co-owner (with his parents, Ray and Clara) of Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., was arrested for illegally storing 339 bodies in the building’s vaults and on the surrounding property rather than cremating them (PEOPLE, March 11). Marsh, 29, reads his Bible at home now, under house arrest since August as he awaits trial, pending identification of all the bodies. “I feel bad for PEOPLE who were grieving and had the wounds reopened,” says Marsh, who faces hundreds of civil suits in addition to jail time. Victims’ families are unmoved. Says Rock Thomas, who created a committee to investigate the scandal after his mother’s remains were among the first found: “When you don’t cremate 339 bodies, you better expect that life will get a little hard.”

a brother’s love

After their mother died, Corey Bell took 8 of his 12 younger siblings home to a new life in Texas

When Mildred Bell succumbed to liver cancer in April 2001, she left behind 13 children who had lost their father, Charles, six years earlier to a heart attack. In June the eight youngest Bells left their Hopkins, S.C., home and went to live in Round Rock, Texas, with their eldest sibling, Corey, 30. Far from his parents’ chicken farm, Corey and his wife, Millicent, 29, both managers at Dell Computer, had a three-bedroom home in the Austin suburb and comfortable lives befitting two M.B.A.’s. (Corey also has a law degree.)

Their tranquil world was replaced by cheerful chaos in a new five-bedroom, four-bath house (PEOPLE, Feb. 18). “Now we really appreciate all that our parents did—they were absolute saints!” says Corey. To help keep order, the couple devised strict house rules—no TV or video games during the week—along with a budget and a system of chores and allowances. “I’m still getting used to the volume of responsibility,” admits Millicent of the endless chauffeur-ing duties and $2,000 monthly food bills! “And to the volume of noise!”

Amid the din the kids are thriving, making good grades and new friends at their respective schools. Cheryl, 9, is an avid reader; Christina, 11, plays soccer and the clarinet; Curtis, 12, made the football team; Cameron, 14, will go to Paris with his eighth-grade class; Cauretta, 15, sings in two choirs; Charles Jr., 16, plays the tuba; Candace, 18, runs track; and Catherine, 20, is studying criminal justice at a community college. Their four grown siblings—Marine lance corporal Carlton, 21; Carla, 22, a college student; aspiring singer Charlene, 24; and architect Catasha, 26—visit often. “We don’t think about loving one another,” says Corey, who joined the others in a Christmas TV ad for Wal-Mart. “We just do it.” By eating dinner together and going on church outings, the family honors Mildred. “It’s getting a little easier to talk about her,” says Cauretta. And Candace sees past grief to a future as a doctor: “I can truly appreciate the opportunities I have in this new life.”

in brief

amina lawal

When she had a child out of wedlock early this year, the Nigerian mother of four was sentenced to death by stoning. An Islamic high court upheld the ruling (PEOPLE, Sept. 2), set to be carried out once the baby is weaned. Lawal, 30, has several appeals left before her case reaches the Nigerian Supreme Court. Women’s rights groups around the world are pressuring the government to overturn the sentence.

michael scott speicher

The 33-year-old Navy pilot was shot down during the 1991 Gulf War and presumed killed. But new intelligence suggests that he may be alive, held captive in an Iraqi prison (PEOPLE, April 1). In October Speicher was declared Missing/ Captured, which indicates there is evidence he survived the crash. Speicher’s family has written to Iraqi officials requesting permission to visit the country in hopes of finding answers.

a home in Hawaii

Marooned at sea for three weeks, a feisty little mutt lives a dog’s life with her new family

Every dog has its day, and Hokget had hers on April 26. The 2½-year-old flea-infested terrier mix was rescued 680 miles southwest of Honolulu after spending 24 days alone on a derelict fuel tanker. Left behind on the Insiko 1907 by Capt. Chung Chin-po when a fire forced the crew onto a passing cruise ship (Chung didn’t think dogs were allowed), Hokget—Taiwanese for “good fortune”—lapped rainwater and ate rats to survive (PEOPLE, May 20). Upon arrival at the Kauai Humane Society, “she was so scared, the entire airline crate was shaking,” says executive director Rebecca Rhoades, who cared for the local celebrity during her 120-day quarantine. Then it was on to a new home: the Oahu condo of Chung’s childhood friend Michael Kuo, 58, a manufacturing representative, and his pastry cook wife, Helen. “I never realized how much dogs bond to PEOPLE,” says Kuo, who brings Hokget to a personal trainer (care of the Humane Society), lets her sleep in the air-conditioned study and sometimes hand-feeds her some of the lifetime supply of food donated by lams. “She is a little spoiled now,” he admits. “But she is Hokget Kuo and she is part of our family.”

poetry in motion

Bestselling author Mattie Stepanek doesn’t let muscular dystrophy stem his creativity

As Mattie Stepanek sees it, he has much to be happy about. Following an appearance on Oprah last year, the young poet found fans in Laura Bush and Jerry Lewis, now counts Larry King and Jimmy Carter among e-mail pals and has seen his four Heartsangs, collections hit the bestseller list. Not bad for a 12-year-old, especially one as ill as Stepanek. Born with a rare-form of muscular dystrophy (PEOPLE, Jan. 14), he needs a ventilator and frequent blood transfusions and is now confined to a wheelchair. That hasn’t stopped Stepanek, who lives in Maryland with mom Jeni (she split with dad Gregory six years ago), from going on a cross country speaking tour and writing his fifth book of poetry. “Mattie thrives off sharing his message,” says Jeni, 43, who suffers from the adult-onset form of Mattie’s illness and lost three other children to if. Her son refuses to be come discouraged. “Everything in life is a choice,” says Mattie. “Even if the only choice we have is the attitude in which we embrace each moment.”

a giver of life and a hero twice over

Thanks to a rare “domino” liver transplant involving a living donor, Jeff Cross and Lily Cheng cheated death and made medical history

In October, at a small stucco church in Los Angeles, a special service was held for Jeff Cross, 30, Doug Andrews, 33, and Lily Cheng, 44, to celebrate a medical milestone. One year earlier the trio had undergone a domino liver transplant at the UCLA Medical Center (PEOPLE, Jan. 14), a combination of surgeries which had never been attempted in the U.S. The three-stage operation hinged on Andrews, who donated part of his healthy liver to save his friend Cross. (The liver regenerates naturally.) Cross, who was suffering from familial amyloidosis, a genetic liver disease, in turn donated his defective organ to Cheng, a Beijing-born divorced mother who was battling liver cancer. Cheng was running out of time in her wait for a cadaver transplant, so her doctors, knowing it takes about 30 years for familial amyloidosis to manifest, determined that Cross’s liver could safely prolong her life into her 70s. “I am so very grateful to Doug and Jeff,” says Cheng. “I have a new life.” Cross, whose health is also improving, still downs 15 anti-rejection medications daily. But he has returned to his computer-support job and is planning a September wedding. “We want him to dance all night,” says fiancée JoAnna Poblete. As for Andrews, who made the life-saving surgeries possible, he points to his tighter stomach muscles and 20-lb. weight loss. “It was a minimum risk to me,” he says. “Besides, I think my golf swing has improved.”

twice blessed

Two years ago embryo adoption answered one family’s prayers; now they’re giving thanks again

Back in 1999, Southern California spirituality lecturer Wendy Strong, 43, and her teacher husband, Steve, 33, were longing for a second child, but secondary infertility prevented them from giving a sibling to son Matthew, now 7. Yet in November of 2000, after adopting a batch of frozen embryos from an anonymous couple, Wendy gave birth to Caleb (PEOPLE, Jan. 21). Now he’s a big brother himself. Knowing that their donor couple didn’t want any of their embryos to go to waste, the Strongs returned to the Huntington (Calif.) Reproductive Center to give six remaining embryos a chance at life. Five survived the thawing process, and after taking hormones to prepare her uterine lining, Wendy became pregnant again. Born a month early, Kylie Faith Strong “was so tiny, I was afraid to touch her,” says Wendy. But now, at 3 months old, “she’s a chunky monkey.” With Congress recently approving a million-dollar budget to promote embryo adoption, the practice is gaining popularity. “Our referrals have doubled,” says Huntington’s marketing VP Jackie Sharpe. These days the Strongs lack only the right words for a letter Huntington will give the donors. Says Wendy: “How do you say thank you for the gift of a family?”

in brief

Jeffrey sterling

The former CIA agent filed a racial discrimination suit against the agency last year. In April the CIA moved to have the suit dropped, claiming it would threaten national security (PEOPLE, May 20). Sterling, 35, who finished his memoirs—”a journey through ‘black’ and ‘white’ America”—continues to job-hunt. He had several interviews, he says, “but then the press started and [prospective employers] dropped me like a hot potato.”

Linda lay

The wife of disgraced Enron CEO Ken Lay launched her Jus’ Stuff resale shop to unload the couple’s bric-a-brac and raise cash (PEOPLE, June 10). Sold: just about everything, including the $5,000 pool table inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Now Lay, 57, who works in the store with daughter Robyn Lay Vermeil, 37, and another full-time employee, replenishes her inventory from outside markets. Still for sale: a $13,000 sculpture of Eve.

a lift in the ratings

I Since going public with her plastic surgery. Greta Van Susteren has cut a sympathetic swath through TV news

When she jumped from CNN to FOX News Channel early this year, TV journalist Greta Van Susteren, 48, stunned the broadcast world by unveiling her still swollen eye-lift on air—and then (gasp) proceeding to talk about it. “Why was I doing it if it wasn’t going to be noticeable?” she asked (PEOPLE, Feb. 18). Van Susteren’s candor did more than help erase the stigma of plastic surgery for TV news anchors. It helped her new show’s initial ratings as well. “I think there was tune-in value that first night,” the former trial lawyer admits. “You know the freak value.” Now that On the Record with Greta Van Susteren draws nearly 1.2 million viewers a night, making it the sixth-most-watched cable news show, the anchorwoman is bemused by all the fuss. “When I look in the mirror, I just see me,” says Van Susteren, who is also writing a book of original essays, to be published in fall 2003. As to rumors that she had more than just her eyes done, “I didn’t,” she insists. “Am I supposed to go out and lift my hairline to show I don’t have scars?” (She will say that her surgeon, whom she won’t name, used a needle to remove a small amount of fat from under her chin.) FOX newsman Major Garrett theorizes that owning up to her surgery may have actually enhanced Van Susteren’s credibility. “If you don’t cut it as a journalist, you can’t keep lifting your face,” he says. “She’s a cracker jack lawyer and a great interviewer.” Adds her husband, attorney John Coale, 56: “It was great for her career and the show, but it hasn’t changed her personality. She’s the least obsessive person about her looks of anyone I’ve ever met.” Though Van Susteren isn’t ruling out further surgery down the road, she is content at the moment. “My show is winning, I’m healthy and I have a book contract,” she says. “This is the best time of my life.”

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