Paula Abdul judges the Opera IdolO Say, She Can Sing: At 40, Michele E. Woods is too old to make the cut for American Idol. But on a recent Sunday, the stay-at-home mom auditioned for the Chicago knockoff Opera Idol, which pits hopeful singers against one another in front of a Paula Abdul stand-in: Felicity Jackson, of he Chicago Opera Theater. The contes-tants were all aiming for the Opera Idol finals, to be held May 11th during the city’s first-ever Looptopia, an up-all-night cultural extravaganza ( Would Woods make the cut? After the dramatic soprano finished to wild cheers from audience members, Jackson gushed, “I really didn’t want to cut you off.” Not surprisingly, Woods is in; look for her in the finals from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Chase Tower Auditorium (10 S. Dearborn St.).

artist CommonSome Common Sense: “I think the substance [side of hip-hop] is gonna see more light. People are tired of [hearing about] this booty over here or I got this dope over here . . . You can still be a real cat. You can still be amongst your people. You can still say the hip-hop phrases, but there’s gotta be something beneath that’s substance, that’s strong, that’s bigger than any material things you got.” –Chicago’s own Common, as quoted in Beats Rhymes & Life (Harlem Moon, $14), a new book by local filmmaker and journalist Ytasha Womack

Niki de Saint Phalle basketball player sculpture#23 Basketball Player, Explained: Bloum Cardenas is not only the granddaughter of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle but probably her most passionate fan. So when the Garfield Park Conservatory (300 N. Central Park Ave.; 312-746-5100) decided to show a summer-long installation of de Saint Phalle’s sculptures, Cardenas booked a flight to Chicago to explain the madness behind her massive mythical works. As for #23 Basketball Player, her grand-mother’s homage to Michael Jordan: “She really saw him as a dancer. There was such beauty in his movements, such grace and power.” Opening May 4th

Deal of the Month: The buy-in-bulk policy at the no-frills Chicago Touch (1121 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-342-3650). For $360, you buy 500 massage minutes, which breaks down to $36 per 50-minute massage. “You can split minutes with a friend and each pay $180 for five massages, or get ten friends to pitch in $36,” says manager Lee Posey. “We’re trying to make touch healing more affordable for people.”
Busby’s Betties

Our critics love: Brown butter Betties-melt-in-your-mouth morsels made in small, preservative-free (and margarine-free) batches by a one-woman operation called Busby Bakes. On a ski trip two and a half years ago, Christine Busby had an epiphany, quit her marketing job, and began baking at a rented space in Humboldt Park. “If I don’t bake every few days, I feel like something’s missing,” says Busby, 38, whose new variety, four-chocolate chocolate chip, will be out by Mother’s Day. Available at the Goddess and Grocer, Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park, and

You’re Invited to a panel discussion with Chicago’s Green Award honorees on Saturday, April 21st, at 1 p.m. at the Green Festival at McCormick Place. For info, go to

Illustration: John Ueland Photography: Common by Lester Cohen/Wireimage.Com, #23 Basketball Player by Niki De Saint Phalle, #23 Basketball Player, 1999. Photographed at Atlanta Botanical Garden 2006 © 2007 Niki Charitable Art Foundation. Photo © Kristin Alexander 2006, Cookies by Megan Lovejoy