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Idol Thoughts

For Spellings, TV time is a chance to put aside education policy debates.

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Education Week is no National Enquirer or People magazine, but here’s some gossip: Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings admits to having several clandestine obsessions.

On a train ride from Philadelphia to Washington late last month, Ms. Spellings acknowledged a secret addiction to exercise, saying she often arrives at the Department of Education’s offices by 5:45 a.m. to work out in the gym there.

Readers should note that the chief purpose of the interview with the secretary was to discuss more weighty education matters. ("Spellings Addresses Testing, NCLB Issues," May 3, 2006)

But it is a 90-minute train ride, and the conversation sometimes veered into pop culture.

Ms. Spellings confessed that earlier this year she tried to win the Home and Garden Television cable channel’s “Dream Home” contest by registering online for the competition nearly every day. She didn’t win.

But her most severe addiction appears to be to the Fox Television talent-contest show “American Idol,” which takes unknown wannabe singers and lets viewers vote for the next big star.

“I love that show,” she said.

Secretary Spellings is not the first Education Department official to be found out when it comes to an infatuation with “American Idol.” In 2003, then-Undersecretary Eugene W. Hickok was spotted in the audience of the show at a taping in Hollywood. He was the only one wearing a suit and tie among a screaming throng of fans.

And it turns out Ms. Spellings isn’t the only powerful person in Washington today who loves “American Idol.” During the chat on the train, the secretary explained that she and Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., were trading telephone messages recently. To get the busy lawmaker to call back, Ms. Spellings took an unusual tack.

“I told his staff to give him the following message from the secretary: If he’s not for Katharine McPhee, I don’t want to talk to him,” Ms. Spellings said in reference to a dark-haired, 21-year-old contestant on this season’s show who has performed songs such as “Against All Odds” and “Bringing Out the Elvis.”

“He is a huge ‘American Idol’ fan,” Ms. Spellings said of Sen. Lott.

They both are. Ms. Spellings admitted that she has been among the millions of viewers who call in to cast votes for their favorites each week.

Vol. 25, Issue 36, Page 25

Published in Print: May 10, 2006, as Idol Thoughts

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