Three states aren't in harmony over Lakisha


March 14, 2007|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,Sun reporter


Lakisha Jones, say it ain't so!

The American Idol front-runner recently dashed the dreams of Free State residents everywhere eager to claim her as one of our own. On Feb. 19, the 27-year-old Jones was asked point-blank by The Enemy - otherwise known as the Detroit Free Press - why the American Idol Web site identifies Jones' hometown as Fort Meade when she spent the first 20 years of her life in the Midwest.

"It's not!" Jones - allegedly - replied. "It's really, Flint, Michigan. I've been there for over 20 years."

Then, adding insult to injury, Jones goes on: "When I auditioned, I had just moved ... [temporarily] ... to Maryland." (Italics added.)

On March 4, The Flint Journal got all smarty pants, noting that The Sun "follows Jones' every move" and characterizing Maryland's claim on Lakisha as "weak."

"She keeps in touch with friends she made at the local Provident Bank, where she was a teller," the article concludes. "Big deal."

Well, la-di-da.

OK, maybe those Flint-stones do have a teensy point. As best we can determine, Jones spent roughly six months in Eden on the Chesapeake, after multiyear stints in Michigan and Texas. And, if Jones continues to do well on Idol, she may never come back at all. But they were six extremely formative months.

"Where was she most recently?" asks Shirley Redd of the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce. "Maryland. We've got her, then. She's ours. What happened 20 years ago is yesterday's news."

True, most of Jones' family lives in Flint - including her mother, grandmother, 4-year-old daughter and scads of other relatives.

And Jones' religious faith apparently was strengthened by her long and close ties with Houston's Abundant Life Cathedral, which has produced three Grammy winners.

But family and faith will only get you so far. After consulting local tourism experts, we prepared a list of the factors that truly determine quality of life - and some of those attributes can be found only in Paradise Near the Potomac.

Snow days. Only Maryland has mastered the fine art of finding an upside to the White Death. Snow days are a cherished local tradition, a legitimate reason to take a day (OK, several days) off from work each winter and snuggle in bed with a good book and a mug of hot cocoa.

"We've only had measurable snow 14 times since 1939," Lindsey Brown says a trifle smugly. Brown is marketing director for the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau. So, no snow days. What fun is that?

Michigan goes to the opposite extreme, one involving lots of shoveling and cars stuck in drifts.

"We're up north, so we don't cancel school or stay home from work unless there's at least a foot of snow," Jerry Preston, president of the Flint Convention and Visitors Bureau, says. His implication is clear: Snow days are for wusses.

Again: What fun is that?

Local artifacts. Fairness compels us to admit that this category is pretty much a draw, with strong contenders from all three states.

Michigan has the Giant Tire. The 80-foot-tall tire, which initially was created as an attraction for the 1964-1965 World's Fair, has occupied a prominent place along the Interstate 94 corridor to Detroit for more than 40 years. Yep, as soon as visitors tooling along the expressway see that tire, they know what Michigan is all about.

Texas has the Beer Can House, a folk art and gallery consisting of more than 50,000 beer cans, with curtains made from pull tabs.

Construction on the house began in 1968 and lasted 18 years. According to a local story, the original owner, John Milkovisch, hated to throw anything away.

"After years of drinking, both his attic and garage were filled with empty beer cans," Brown says. "Then he got the bright idea that the cans would make good house siding."

Ummm, what did the neighbors think?

"We're the largest city in the country without a zoning ordinance," Brown says. "So you basically can build whatever you want in Houston, and no one can say anything about it."

Yep, as soon as visitors see all those beer cans glinting in the sun, they know what Texas is all about.

Meanwhile, Maryland has - drum roll, please - George Washington's teeth. The dentures, made from gold, ivory, lead and human and animal teeth, are housed in a glass case in the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore.

Our Founding Father apparently suffered all his life from abscessed, infected and rotting canines and molars.

"No wonder he looks so grim," says Nancy Hines, vice president of public affairs for the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Yep, as soon as visitors see those formidable snappers, they know what the Old Line State is all about. If nothing else, our case is buttressed by Wayne Kusy's 16-foot replica of the Lusitania, made entirely out of toothpicks, at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Fascinating figures. Here again, Maryland clearly has the edge.

Houston has Beyonce. Michigan can claim Michael Moore. "Sometimes, we'd rather not claim him," Preston says.

But Maryland has John Waters - not to mention William Donald Schaefer.

Enough said.

All kidding aside, there's a better reason why Jones might want to consider Maryland her home, and it's this: If she belongs to Maryland, she belongs to the nation.

"Maryland is America in miniature," Redd says.

"No other place in the country can say that. In Western Maryland are all the mountains. The Eastern Shore has the oceans. Southern Maryland has tobacco farms. There's a lot of diversity here in this relatively small state."

So, there.

Lakisha, choosing a home state is a very important decision. You don't want to make a mistake that will haunt you the rest of your livelong days.

So, please think it over carefully, hon.

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