Queen B 101: College Lessons in Stardom

ByBuck Wolf

Nov. 9, 2004 — -- You can spend a whole semester in college studying the stars and never learn a thing about astronomy. Entire classes are now offered on Lil' Kim, "American Idol" and Donald Trump.

Here's a look at some classes where the curriculum seems to have been ripped from the pages of Us magazine, which has not yet been added to "Norton's Anthology of American Literature" as required reading for freshmen.

1. Queen B 101: The Life and Times of Lil' Kim

Syracuse University students taking "Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B@#$H 101 -- The Life and Times of Lil' Kim" got the ultimate guest speaker last week -- Lil' Kim herself.

It's a good thing the school is in New York. The multiplatinum recording artist has been charged with lying under oath about a shooting incident three years ago involving her posse and rival rapper Foxy Brown's crew. (She has pleaded not guilty.)

Despite the controversy, the school welcomed her with open arms. And the singer, who often shows up at events with little clothing, even dressed for the occasion.

"I am honored and quite proud," the 29-year-old rapper said in a statement before meeting with 100 students and faculty, including English professor Greg Thomas, who invited her to discuss hip-hop culture as one of its leading female stars.

"Her lyrical artistry is nothing short of revolutionary," Thomas told ABC Radio. "It's the art with the most profound sexual politics I've ever seen anywhere."

At Syracuse, Thomas urges students to delve beyond the surface. He kicked off a class by having students transcribe the lyrics to "Get Money," one of the songs Lil' Kim did several years ago with her group Junior M*A*F*I*A.

"After they had basically been compelled to show respect to the song … then we did the video analysis," he said. "They got to see the way that that meaning was translated on video. They were blown away and we've been riding ever since."

2. Making the Grade on 'American Idol'

Calling William Hung: Have we got a class for you! The University of North Carolina is offering students "Examining American Idol Through Musical Critique." The class begins in January, when the fourth season of the show begins.

And, no, Simon Cowell will not be grading the papers.

"We have ready-made case studies for students who want to learn about critiquing music and performance," said assistant professor Jay Grymes, 31, a specialist in Hungarian classical composer Ernst von Dohnanyi -- a subject that's a bit more highbrow.

Each week, students will study the musical styles of contestants. The final project is a paper on who should win and why. The class will have its own voting system, and will choose a winner before the show's final episode.

"The judges give an industry perspective. It'll be interesting to see how students defend their choices," said Grymes. "Ultimately, it's the public who decides."

Former "American Idol' runner-up Clay Aiken is a UNC-Charlotte graduate and third-season winner Fantasia Barrino lives in Charlotte.

But Grymes has yet to receive word from any of the top contestants if they'll be willing to come to class. It's unclear if anyone has even seen Justin Guarini since his ill-fated movie "From Justin to Kelly: With Love."

3. Enter 'The Matrix' of Philosophy

Ready to save humanity? It takes more than a face like Keanu Reeves' to master Emerson College's class in "The Philosophy of 'The Matrix.' "

Professor Tracey Stark uses the blockbuster sci-fi movie series to explore the work of Plato, Descartes and other philosophers. "'The Matrix' is like a contemporary myth," said Stark, "and it can be useful as a good starting point to talk about ethics and responsibility."

As a springboard to existential questions, Stark's students are left asking themselves, "How do we know we're not living in the Matrix?"

Life has its unexplained mysteries. Little did Stark know, when she proposed the class last year, that "Matrix" co-writer and director Andy Wachowski is an Emerson alum -- or perhaps this is something evil machines have programmed into our collective memories.

4. Rich Lessons in Donald Trump

You can't be fired if you don't watch "The Apprentice," but you can flunk out of a class at the University of Washington.

"I was watching the show last year, and I was thinking, 'I wish I could get students talking about this in a constructive way,' " said professor Laura Schildkraut.

Getting people to talk about Donald Trump, however, is not so hard to do. "Management Lessons From 'The Apprentice' " filled up instantly last year, with 80 undergraduate students eager to look at the business school rationale behind the Trump boardroom.

Business schools all over the country are abuzz with Trump's show -- just as barber academies are debating his wacky hairdo -- but Schildkraut is the first to start a 10-week course devoted to the program.

Trump, who famously sought to copyright his "You're Fired" trademark, has yet to seek royalties from the Seattle school. In fact, George Ross, Trump's executive vice president, who oversees some of the tasks on the show, spoke to students last semester in a 60-minute teleconference.

As for the current season, Schildkraut thinks Kelly and Jennifer C. have qualities to win the show and make it in big business.

"Kelly stays clear-minded and doesn't get caught up in the intrigue," she says. "Jen isn't afraid to speak up, and she can do it without alienating herself or her manager."

Still, last season's "Apprentice" may have been a good argument to stay out of business school. Self-made contestant Bill Rancic beat out Ivy Leaguer Kwame Jackson to win the $250,000-a-year position as one of Trump's assistants.

Nevertheless, Schildkraut has a new crop of students this semester, and they're just as enthusiastic. Just before Thanksgiving vacation, she's already promised to let them watch their favorite episode from last season -- the one in which the conniving Omarosa gets the boot.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays.

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