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Gennifer Does Chelsea

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Gennifer Flowers doesn't like Bryant Gumbel one bit. "He is a pompous ass," hisses Flowers, wrapped in a faux-leopard-print coat with matching gloves. "No, he's a total pompous ass."

I'm driving in a black limo with Flowers and Bob Pontarelli and Stephen Heighton, co-owners of Leshko, the East Village restaurant where we've just had dinner. Flowers is pissed that Gumbel laughed off a report on CBS that she's looking for a record deal: "He's just mean -- and he's from New Orleans!"

New Orleans is where Flowers and her stockbroker husband of five years, Finis D. Shelnutt, live. They own a piano bar there, Gennifer Flowers' Kelsto Club, where the headlining act is Flowers herself. And the 52-year-old daughter of a crop duster is on a mission: She doesn't want to be remembered as the bleached-blonde babe who says she had a twelve-year affair with Bill Clinton; she wants fame as a singer.

Still, this is shaping up to be the season of the Clinton women, what with Monica Lewinsky's HBO special and Paula Jones boxing Tonya Harding on Fox. And Flowers's recent spate of publicity (the Times even ran a front-page article about her by Rick Bragg, whom she calls "an angel") coincides with a defamation suit she's filed against James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, and Hillary Clinton.

Pontarelli and Heighton have booked Flowers for one night at Barracuda, their gay bar in Chelsea, and I've agreed to do a Q&A at the show.

"I love playing gay bars," Flowers tells me over dinner. She says she's in talks to buy a gay watering hole in New Orleans, and dreams of building a franchise: "I could go from bar to bar. I could have six Gennifer Flowers impersonators -- you know, like drag queens -- be my backup singers."

When offered tuna tartare, she doesn't miss a beat: "I don't eat raw meat anymore." That's when (against my better judgment, but on the advice of many friends) I ask if I can ask her anything. "Yes," she says. "So how big is Bill?" Flowers just smiles -- but tells me to ask her again onstage.The next night, she starts off by teasing the crowd of about 300 with a snippet of Laura Nyro's "Wedding Bell Blues" -- ". . . marry me, Bill" -- and then answers the question, sort of. "Well, Arkansas is a small state."

Flowers is no Streisand, but the evening is a success. Spurred on by drag queen Flotilla DeBarge, fans line up for her $10 self-produced five-song CD. "I'm happier than a pig in shit," says Seth, a 23-year-old in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt. "I love Madonna, but Gennifer, Monica, Heidi Fleiss, they're so much better."


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