Idol Chatter

Posted February 23, 2007 at 6:51pm

Even those too-cool Capitol Hill folks who are seemingly immune to the “American Idol” bug — the one that makes you love to hate Simon, to care about every teary-eyed contestant, and to think you’re on a first-name basis with Fantasia, Bo and Taylor — might have a reason to care, even just a tiny bit.

After all, the Hill can claim as one of its very own a contestant on the hit TV talent show: Antonella Barba, the cocktail waitress from popular Senate-side watering hole Lounge 201 who made it through last week’s whittling-down to the top 10 women. She will perform again Wednesday in the hopes of making it through another round. [IMGCAP(1)]

The folks back home at 201 have been pulling for their gal, holding “Idol”-watching parties for friends and fans and offering special “Idol-tinis” for the occasion.

But, in truth, even her most ardent admirers thought she was toast last week. “It wasn’t her best performance,” Lounge 201 owner Matt Weiss tells HOH of Barba’s nervous

rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” which drew some sniping from the judges.

“Idol” chatters have speculated that Barba’s looks, if not her pipes, may have kept her in the running. And now she’s dealing with the predictable accouterments of such quasi-fame: alleged topless photos surfacing on the Internet and Web sites devoted to her.

The brunette beauty, a 20-year-old Catholic University undergrad, has been slinging fancy cocktails to Hill denizens since September. Her good looks made her one of the customers’ favorites, regulars say. But still, they’re hoping not to see her back anytime soon.

“Everyone here’s gotten so into it, and we’re really hoping she goes all the way,” Weiss says.

Simon?

And a Free Toaster, Too. Roomies can be a real drag. They drink the last beer in the fridge, leave dishes in the sink and “forget” to give you your phone messages.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), though, found his former housemate’s quirks charming.

McCarthy spent his first few months in D.C. living in the basement of the house owned by his predecessor, ex-House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R). Thomas, a former professor who famously doled out mini-lectures to aides, reporters and even Members, oh-so-helpfully offered the freshman a spare bedroom — and some gratis tutoring in Being a Congressman 101. “I’d come home and there’d be this voice — ‘I saw you were speaking on the House floor this morning. We’ve got to talk,’” McCarthy tells HOH. “Then he’d give me a critique.”

Far from being annoyed, McCarthy said he was grateful. “He was so helpful and he has this amazing institutional knowledge,” he said. “I continue to try to soak up the lessons.”

Words of wisdom and a place to crash weren’t Thomas’ only gifts to his successor. When McCarthy finally secured a studio in the Hill House, a Capitol Hill apartment complex popular with Members of Congress, Thomas also donated a few hand-me-downs to feather McCarthy’s new nest. “He gave me a kitchen table and a used toaster he didn’t need,” McCarthy said.

Common Cause. Moments of bipartisanship on the Hill can be as rare as a steak at The Palm, and the debate over the Iraq War resolution before recess was only making things more tense.

But in the waning hours of the weekend session, at least a few GOP Senators found something that they could agree on with their Democratic opponents: Recess is a good thing.

Following a bitter round of debate over the war, GOP Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Craig Thomas (Wyo.) crossed party lines to vote to adjourn for the weeklong Presidents Day recess. Aides, lobbyists and doubtless a few Members were anxiously awaiting the final gavel after an uncommonly long stretch.

A Shelby spokeswoman said her boss’s desire to get out of town was motivated not by a looming tee time but by a yen to meet with constituents as part of his promise to visit every county back home every year.

“Until the Democrats allow for a fair and open debate on Iraq, the Senator believed that his time was better spent in Alabama listening to his constituents,” she said.

And heart-warming bipartisanship was in evidence, too, among the 20 Republican and Democratic Senators who didn’t even stick around long enough to vote for recess to start.

So Long, Vilsack. We figure staffers for woulda-been Democratic presidential contender Tom Vilsack had a lot on their minds Friday. That might explain why the e-mail alert his office sent out warning that the former Iowa governor was about to make a very important announcement identified him — not once but twice — as the “Democratic nominee for president.” Which caught our attention, since we were pretty sure the nomination hadn’t taken place yet. (Besides, there’s been a lot of buzz about some Senators named Obama and Clinton.)

The delusions-of-nomineeship e-mail was even funnier when it turned out that Vilsack’s big news was that he was dropping out of the race.

Nominee Vilsack, we hardly knew ye.

Please send your hot tips, juicy gossip or comments to hoh@rollcall.com.