June 28, 2004 06:00 AM

Talk about carrying a torch for your homeland. Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) recently celebrated her Hellenic heritage by toting the Athens-bound flame through the streets of New York City. “When I started to run, that’s when it really hit me that, Oh, my God, I’m wearing the official Olympic gear they gave me, I’m holding the Olympic torch,” she tells Insider. “As I ran, people were saying, ‘Go, Nia, go!’ I got so exhilarated and excited that I started to run faster and faster. (Only later) did I realize that from the minute I started until the minute I finished, I had been crying the entire time.” Of course, her experience couldn’t end without a true New York moment: “(At the finish line) my mom ran alongside me, and this cop said to her, ‘Move out of the way!’ And she said, ‘You move out of the way – that’s my daughter!’ ”

Model Behavior
Who says America’s Next Top Model is only about superficial beauty? Former contestant April Wilkner, for one. She says host Tyra Banks taught her lessons such as how to apply mascara and walk in high heels – plus, one tip Wilkner plans to ignore: “She told me to stop thinking so much, and just feel. But that’s one piece of advice I’m not going to take. I am going to keep using my head. It’s my best asset. And it doesn’t ever age or sag.”

Free Association
We asked Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay for her quick takes on a few hot topics.
J. Lo and Marc Anthony: “Ouch. Stop me”
Law & Order vs. CSI: “Oh puh-leeese!”
Tom Cruise, Ellen DeGeneres and P. Diddy carrying the Olympic torch: “God bless ’em. I love ’em all.”
Pam Anderson’s new novel: “I think Pam Anderson is one of the most beautiful women in the world. I wish she’d wear less makeup.”
Reality shows: “Over! Who cares? I mean we live life, we watch life – I didn’t think that’s why we watched TV.”
Harry Potter: “Love”
Courteney Cox as a mom: “Sheer perfection.”

Polished Off
Being a manicurist to the stars has its advantages – especially if doing nails is your day job while you’re trying to launch a music career. Case in point: Deborah Lippmann – whose clients include Renee Zellweger, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cher and Mary J. Blige – recently released a CD, Nightingale, with help from another celeb client: Mariah Carey. “One thing you never hear about Mariah Carey is that she is an absolute genius behind the scenes in the studio,” Lippmann tells us. “She works with engineers and producers on a daily basis, so she let me pick her brain a lot and advised me on how to get the sound I was looking to get.” Her best advice? “To go with my gut,” says Lippmann. “To take everybody’s advice and, at the end of the day, what’s deep inside you is what you have to be true to.”


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