September 10, 2004 06:00 AM

Making the transition from rock star to cohost of the nightly entertainment news show Extra isn’t easy: Just ask Sugar Ray frontman Mark McGrath. The singer has spent the last three weeks learning how it’s done in anticipation of his Sept. 13 debut. “They call it boot camp,” says McGrath, 36, of his training. “I come in about 8 o’clock in the morning, which in the rock and roll world is when you’re just getting home.” His biggest challenge thus far? “I tend to read too fast because I’m such a spaz,” says the singer, who has a communications degree from the University of Southern California. “I’m learning how to slow the pace down and accentuate words. I never knew how stupid I was until I started trying to pronounce certain names, like Chris Noth and Charlize Theron.

As for conducting interviews, McGrath says, “I’m going to start small and be looking for the Gary Colemans, and then hopefully a couple years from now I’ll move up to the Tom Cruises of the world.” Though Extra is daily, McGrath isn’t giving up music: He recently completed a sexy video with Shania Twain for the duet “Party for Two” on her greatest hits album (“I was shocked when they called,” he says. “They must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel”), and he tells us that Sugar Ray is working on a greatest-hits record of their own. “We’re still a band. We’re still playing. That’s still my first love.”

Love Is Always In Style
So now that the hubbub has died down a bit, how is married life treating Nicky Hilton? “I love being married. It’s great and really thrilling,” she told us at New York hotspot Marquee, where the 20-year-old hotel heiress was partying with her new husband, Todd Meister, 33, and sister Paris, 23, to fete Fashion Week. The biggest change in her life since tying the knot? “I’m not used to being a ‘Mrs.’ Mrs. Meister? It’s a little weird to get used to.” Dressed casually in a white polo shirt, cropped jeans and black ballet slippers, Nicky mingled in the main area of the club before heading into the VIP section. As for Fashion Week, “I loved, loved, loved the Heatherette show,” says Nicky, who designs handbags and accessories herself. “The clothes are so cute but they’re so innovative.” Other shows on her must-see list for the week: “I’m going to try to catch Tommy Hilfiger and definitely Marc Jacobs.” After Fashion Week winds down on Sept. 15, Nicky and Todd plan to take some time off. “We’re going to go to Paris in a few weeks,” she says. “We’re just going to relax, hang out and eat great food.”

Off the Boards
Sadly, Hugh Jackman is ending his Tony-winning run as Peter Allen in the Broadway show The Boy From Oz on Sunday. (Some tickets for his farewell performance, the show’s finale, are up to $350.) After nearly a year of performing the show eight times per week, we wondered, would he consider another shot at the Great White Way? “(Hugh has) no plans for Broadway anytime soon,” says his assistant, John Palermo. (“I am really, really tired,” Jackman told the New York Times this week. “I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard, and probably never will again.”) Instead, the X-Men star (who turns 36 Oct. 12) will go on safari in South Africa, then head home to Australia for a month. In November, he’s back to work, filming the $40 million sci-fi flick The Fountain in Montreal.

Still in the Game
Former President Bill Clinton isn’t one to sit still. So to keep him occupied during his hospital stay before he underwent bypass surgery, his wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and daughter Chelsea played cards with him – especially the game “Oh Hell.” “It’s one of his favorite card games, one that he’s often played during his travels over the past four years or so,” says press secretary Jim Kennedy, noting that it was Steven Spielberg who taught Clinton how to play.

Caught in the Act
Spotted recently:
Gwen Stefani, in line to go through customs at LAX.

Orlando Bloom and a female companion, enjoying drinks and Thai food at Hollywood eatery Buddha’s Belly.

Ja Rule, hanging out in the “red room” at New York club Marquee.

Paul McCartney and wife Heather Mills, taking their daughter, Beatrice (who turns 1 on Oct. 28), for a walk in her stroller in midtown Manhattan.


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