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‘Bridgerton’ has cast a new leading lady: Meet Simone Ashley



'Bridgerton' has cast a new leading lady: Meet Simone Ashley

“Bridgerton” could be whipping up its very own Kate Middleton vs. Meghan Markle rivalry.

Stunning “Sex Education” actress Simone Ashley is the new leading lady in town, the hit Netflix show has announced.

The erotically charged period soap — based on Julia Quinn’s best-selling series of novels, created by Chris Van Dusen and produced by “Scandal” queen Shonda Rhimes — is set in the competitive world of frilly, high-style Regency London in the 1880s.

The first season of Shondaland’s smash mix of “Gossip Girl” and Jane Austen revolved around virginal socialite Daphne Bridgerton (Phoebe Dynevor, 25) and her steamy love affair with the sultry spoon-licking Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page, 31).

For Season 2 — based on Quinn’s second entry her book series, “The Viscount Who Loved Me” — sweet Daphne will have to share the spotlight a la Princess Kate and Duchess Meghan, as the new episodes will focus on the marital pursuits of Daphne’s eldest Bridgerton bro: Anthony (Jonathan Bailey, 32).

Ashley, 25, will assume the leading role of Anthony’s romantic interest: Kate Sharma, a fresh London transplant from India, who is described as an intelligent, “headstrong young woman who suffers no fools” — Anthony included, according to an announcement on Shondaland TV’s Twitter.

Season 2 of “Bridgerton” also will find the show’s producers continuing to break casting conventions in the vein of Broadway’s “Hamilton.”

Ashley’s Kate — originally christened Kate Sheffield in Quinn’s second novel — and her family are of Indian descent in a continuation of the reimagined, multiracial world of old-school high society created in Season 1, which included several major black characters, including the Duke (Page), Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) and Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) not featured in the original book series, Deadline first reported.

In addition to her role as Olivia Hanan in Netflix’s acclaimed “Sex Education,” Brit actress Ashley was also recently seen in the UK’s ITV mystery drama “The Sister.” She’s reportedly one of several fresh faces cast in “Bridgerton,” which is the most-watched series in the streaming giant’s history with 82 million households tuning in during the first four weeks of Season 1.

“We have a bunch of new characters we are going to be introducing,” Van Dusen, creator and showrunner, revealed during an interview on “Today with Hoda & Jenna” in Janurary. “Anthony is going to have a love interest next season, and I think it’s going to be as sweeping and moving and as beautiful as viewers of the first season have come to expect from the show.”

The Season 2 plot twist also was teased in the final minutes of the Season 1 finale, when Anthony declared his goal of “finding and promptly declaring my intentions to my new viscountess,” after the implosion of his illicit relationship with proudly bawdy opera singer Siena (Sabrina Bartlett).

However, Van Dusen stressed during the interview that he also hopes Page and Dynevor will reprise their roles.

Note: Ashley’s prior “Sex Education” experience could come in handy. Season 1 of “Bridgerton” featured nude love scenes so steamy they were infamously ripped for hardcore porn sites — much to Page and Dynevor’s dismay.

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Miss Mexico Andrea Meza crowned 2021 Miss Universe



Miss Mexico Andrea Meza crowned 2021 Miss Universe

For the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the world has a new Miss Universe. 

After Miss Universe 2019 Zozibini Tunzi got an extra year with the crown as a result of COVID-19 canceling the 2020 contest, the title was finally passed Sunday to Miss Mexico Andrea Meza. 

“I am so honored to have been selected among the 73 other amazing women I stood with tonight,” Meza, 26, said in a press release after the 69th annual pageant. “It is a dream come true to wear the Miss Universe crown, and I hope to serve the world through my advocacy for equality in the year to come and beyond.”

In addition to holding the title of the most beautiful woman in the world, Meza has a degree in software engineering and is a certified makeup artist, model, activist and vegan. She hails from Chihuahua City, Mexico, where she also is the official “Tourism Brand Ambassador.” When she’s not working with the Municipal Institute for Women, which advocates for ending gender-based violence, she enjoys sandboarding and rappelling. 

In the competition’s final statement round, Meza addressed the idea that beauty is not only about having a conventionally attractive external aesthetic — it’s also about one’s inner beliefs.

“We live in a society that more and more is more advanced and as we have advanced as a society, we have advanced with stereotypes,” she said, via a translator, E! reported. “Nowadays, beauty is not only the way we look. For me, beauty radiates not only in our spirits, but in our hearts and the way we conduct ourselves. Never permit someone to tell you that you are not valuable.”

“Mexico this is for you,” she wrote, in Spanish, in an Instagram post announcing her win. 

“Confidently beautiful,” she captioned a second image.

Maza took home the crown Sunday at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida. The event was co-hosted by Mario Lopez of “Access Hollywood” and 2012 Miss Universe winner Olivia Culpo, with a performance from Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi. 

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‘American Idol’ judges call Caleb Kennedy’s exit ‘unfortunate’



'American Idol' judges call Caleb Kennedy's exit 'unfortunate'

“American Idol” judges have weighed in on the abrupt departure of contestant Caleb Kennedy — calling his exit “unfortunate” — after a controversial video from his past resurfaced last week.

After Sunday’s Season 19 semifinal episode, judge Lionel Richie told People magazine that the decision to remove him from the competition “had to be made and we move on,” while also recognizing the 16-year-old singer’s talent.

“A lot of times, we think about it, we grow up and we make mistakes and we look at our life behind us many times and we say, ‘God, what was I thinking about when I did that?’ ” Richie said of the young singer, who left the program when a video surfaced depicting him next to someone wearing what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan hood. “This was one of those situations where we kind of give him a big hug from the three of us.

“He has definitely has a talent,” continued the “All Night Long” hitmaker. “The problem is, this is one of those unfortunate decisions that had to be made and we move on. But this will be remembered in his lifetime and he’ll know what it’s all about.”

Meanwhile, fellow judge Luke Bryan, 44, told the publication that the decision was an “upsetting” one and wished Kennedy well.

“First and foremost, as judges, we love these kids,” Bryan said. “We get emotionally involved in these kids. We want the best for Caleb. As far as the nuances on how ABC gets viewed, either way, decisions got made and it’s our job as judges to show up and do our best job and comment on the kids who are in front of us. But we wish nothing but the best for Caleb. It does make for a very, very challenging and upsetting week.”

Representatives for “American Idol” did not immediately respond to a request for further comment from The Post.

Last Wednesday, Kennedy headed to Instagram to apologize for the compromising clip — which was reportedly recorded when he was 12, according to his mother, Anita Guy — in which he acknowledged that being “younger” was no excuse for the video.

“Hey y’all, this is gonna be a bit of a surprise but I am no longer gonna be on ‘American Idol,’” he said on social media. “There was a video that surfaced on the internet and it displayed actions that were not meant to be taken in that way. I was younger and did not think about the actions, but that’s not an excuse. I wanna say sorry to all my fans and everyone who I have let down. I’ll be taking a little time off social media to better myself, but saying that, I know this has hurt and disappointed a lot of people and made people lose respect for me. I’m so sorry! I pray that I can one day regain your trust in who I am and have your respect! Thank you for supporting me.”

Kennedy’s mother further said that the offending video was taken after he and a friend watched a movie, “The Strangers: Prey at Night,” and that they were simply mimicking characters from the film. “It had nothing to do with the Ku Klux Klan, but I know that’s how it looks,” she said. “Caleb doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. He loves everyone and has friends of all races.”

With Sunday’s episode, three contestants remained — Willie Spence, Grace Kinstler and Chayce Beckham — after Casey Bishop was ousted from the competition. In a post-show tweet, judge Bryan called her “a true rockstar.”

Kennedy wasn’t the only contestant to make an unexpected exit this season. Wyatt Pike, 20, left the show while in the top 12, citing “personal reasons.”

The season finale of “American Idol” will be at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 23, on ABC.

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The best of the barbs traded at first NYC mayoral debate



The best of the barbs traded at first NYC mayoral debate

The Zoom forum for the first televised Democratic primary mayoral debate didn’t stop the rival candidates from slinging mud across their computer screens, prompting leading candidate Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to declare at one point, “Ohhh they’re feisty!”

Here are some of the sharpest barbs from the showdown for the June 22 election :

“Don’t get me involved in your daddy’s problems,” City Comptroller Scott Stringer told former Obama housing director Shaun Donovan, whose rich father has given millions to an outside group supporting his son’s long shot bid.


“With all due respect Ray, no one has that experience of really making sure we come back specifically from a crisis that you helped create in the Great Recession,” Donovan told former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, who shot back that he had “zero to do with anything involved in the mortgage crisis.”

McGuire then cited his 13 years as the head of Citi’s corporate and investment banking unit. “You know what they call that in my neighborhood? They call that receipts. He has blank checks,” McGuire blasted back at Donovan.


“Mr. Donovan, we would hate to use the mute function on anyone,” questioner Josefa Velazquez from the news outlet The City said when the candidate interrupted her.


“I helped swing those two races in Georgia that have helped deliver the Senate,” Andrew Yang boasted, attempting to make up for his lack of a voting record in local NYC elections.

“That is disrespectful and appalling to Stacey Abrams and those black women who organized on the ground. He needs to stop saying that. They won that fight,” Adams retorted.

“Given how close the race was let’s agree that anyone who spent a dollar or made one phone call helped contribute to the outcome there,” moderator Errol Louis interjected to stop the back-and-forth.

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