NBC's "The Sing-Off" has become a guilty pleasure at the Daily News (the semifinals are tonight at 8). And even though judge Shawn Stockman of Boyz II Men is a local guy, judge Ben Folds' "Lonely Avenue" is one of the best albums of the year, and one of our Human Resources bosses is obsessed with host Nick Lachey, Tattle decided to get the scoop on the show from judge Nicole Scherzinger. Why? because she was a TV talent-show winner on "Popstars" as a member of Eden's Crush, she got freaky as lead singer of the Pussycat Dolls, she dated a race-car driver, she has a role in the upcoming "Men in Black 3" (with Will Smith), she was a mirror-ball winner on "Dancing with the Stars" and, well, just because (see photo).

Nicole was born in Hawaii, grew up in Kentucky, and if you wonder why she looks so exotic, it's because she's part Filipino, Ukrainian, Russian and Hawaiian.

She's been performing since childhood, and even though she became famous fronting a group known more for their gyrations and g-strings than their a cappella vocal arrangements, she said by phone from New York that she enjoys judging because she really respects Folds and Stockman as artists and musicians, and "she went to school for voice and theater."

"The Pussycat Dolls was just part of the journey for me," she said. "It doesn't define me."

Nicole said that what she loves about "The Sing-Off" is that "it's a show about music that isn't processed. Thanks to 'Glee,' musical theater is coming back, and this show celebrates the voice as an instrument."

The competition has been extremely tough this year, with the terrific Seattle-based Manhattan Transfer-like Groove for Thought sent home Monday after a boppy version of Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True." (Other groups who've been dismissed include the amazing Ohio high-schoolers Eleventh Hour, Berklee College of Music's Pitch Slapped, Yale's Whiffenpoofs and Men of Note, from Cherry Hill.)

As a Louisville girl, Nicole said she's into the laid-back Southern vibe of Street Corner Symphony, but she also loves the church-flavored Committed and the soulful doo-wop sound of Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, with whom she's going to perform this season.

Tattle agrees that those three groups are the favorites to walk away with the $100,000 cash prize and a Sony recording contract, but the versatile Backbeats from Los Angeles are coming off a great performance of the B-52's "Love Shack," and the University of Oregon's On the Rocks always bring infectious energy, no matter the song.

"The hardest part is when people go home," Nicole said. "We don't want them to go home."

As for what's next for the hottest judge since Dyan Cannon donned robes on "Ally McBeal," Nicole said she's concentrating on her solo album, due next year, and improving her acting. Although she's been rumored as a possible judge on the American version of "X Factor," she said producer Simon Cowell hasn't asked her yet, and she would have to think very hard about it since the show is such a big time commitment.

Since we spoke with Nicole a few hours before the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, she had no comment on that, but she did have fond memories of Philadelphia from when she played clubs here as a singer in Days of the New.

"All my friends like the cheesesteaks," she said, "but I loved the great spaghetti."

Goodbye to Love

It's been a bad week for love.

Yesterday we reported on the Zac Efron-Vanessa Hudgens split. That was followed shortly after by non-news that "Dexter's" Jennifer Carpenter had filed for divorce from Michael C. Hall - the pair had been separated - and that was followed by word that the long-rumored breakup of Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds was official.

The movie-star pair said that "after long and careful consideration" they have decided to end their two-year marriage.

Their joint statement yesterday said that "while privacy isn't expected, it's certainly appreciated."

But love prevails. TMZ.com reports that Hulk Hogan's getting married.


* Since the charismatic Yannick Nezet-Seguin was announced last June as the Philadelphia Orchestra's music director-designate, audiences have responded with enormous enthusiasm - the classical equivalent of the Cliff Lee signing.

As his Jan. 6, 7 and 8 performances of the Mozart Requiem and the Debussy Nocturnes - his last appearances until next season - have been sold out for months, Daily News Classical Music Writer Tom Di Nardo wants readers to know that Nezet-Seguin has added a fourth performance on Sunday, Jan. 9, at 2 p.m. at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall.

* Funk pioneer George Clinton sued the Black Eyed Peas in Los Angeles on Friday, claiming the group used his music in remixes of the their song "Shut Up."

The song first appeared on the group's 2003 album "Elephunk," and it released "Shut Up Remix" the same year. Clinton's lawsuit states that he recently learned the remix included elements of his 1979 song, "(Not Just) Knee Deep."

The P-Funk mastermind says he never granted permission for the use of his music, and he's seeking damages and an injunction to block further sales of the remixes.

* Usher brought an ecstatic female fan onstage Monday night for a serenade of his sensual song "Trading Places" at Madison Square Garden.

Seated together on a couch, the overexcited fan tried to move her leg to get closer to Usher, and her stiletto boot heel knocked him in the nose.

The mortified fan tried to smooth things over by massaging Usher's face.

Daily News wire services contributed to this report.

E-mail gensleh@phillynews.com