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Medium Cool

If you happened to be watching the April Fools' Day edition of the Fox reality show "American Idol," your eye might have snagged on the only member of the giddy audience wearing a suit and tie.

That formally dressed gentleman, it turns out, was none other than Eugene W. Hickok. We are not fooling. Among the rowdy crowd egging on their favorites to become (the producers fervently hope) America's next singing superstar— applauding on cue and seemingly having a grand time—was your U.S. undersecretary of education.

Mr. Hickok, who swears he's not a regular watcher of the hit show, was in the land of glitz and glamour to speak to a California charter school group. While he was out West, Mr. Hickok met with folks in the entertainment industry, including officials at Disney and Fox, which puts out the high-school-themed drama "Boston Public."

Mr. Hickok said those meetings were an exploration of ways to promote the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001 through Hollywood relationships. Presidential sideman Karl Rove made a similar Hollywood foray about a year ago looking to promote other aspects of the Bush administration agenda.

One of the people Mr. Hickok met with is a relative of Clay Aiken, who is among the seven surviving singers on "American Idol." The show winnows down its contestants by asking viewers to vote by phone for their favorites.

So Mr. Hickok and John P. Bailey, the director of the Education Department's office of educational technology, ended up in the "friends and family" section cheering for the spiky-haired Mr. Aiken during the disco-themed episode of the show. Clad in a silky, polka-dot shirt, the 24-year-old singer belted out "Everlasting Love."

Three of the four judges thought Mr. Aiken was fabulous: "That's how you do it, dawg," judge Randy Jackson opined, somewhat mysteriously. But the notoriously nasty Simon Cowell, a record executive, adjudged Mr. Aiken's efforts to be "terrible."

Mr. Hickok sided with the other three judges. He said the evening was fun. However, disco, he said, "is not my genre."

Mr. Hickok sat near the pop-folk singer Jewel—who was definitely not wearing a suit—and he said he got some autographs while he was there. He refused to say whose signatures he scored.

Mr. Hickok did earn bonus points with his 24-year-old daughter, who is a big fan of the show. "She went nuts," Mr. Hickok said. "At least for the moment, I was cool."

—Michelle R. Davis

Vol. 22, Issue 31, Page 21

Published in Print: April 16, 2003, as Federal File

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