“I know the trip’s gonna be stressful,” my wiser-than-I bride said before I left, “but try and have some fun.” With a newscast every few hours to somehow Idolize, there wasn’t a lot of time for horseplay. But around noon on Thursday I ran across a few minutes to kill, so I grabbed my digital and left my workstation, knowing that once I returned it would be ‘Game On’ until the fat man sang. Climbing the rickety steps of the affiliate dungeon, I grabbed a handful of free Cheese Nips and squinted as I materialized into daylight. I cupped the snapshot camera in one palm and melded into the crowded streets, feeling more like a tourist with every step.
The new home to the Oscars Ceremony, the Kodak Theater sits nestled in the massive Hollywood & Highland Center, a multi-level shopping mall slash upscale hotel slash showbiz Meca. It is at the very epicenter of Tinsel Town tourism. The Hollywood sign is a neck crane away, Grauman’s Chinese Theater is just next door and famous footprints sunk in shallow cement tattoo every square of available sidewalk. Cross the street and those etched scribbles turn to glossy stars emblazoned with the names of just about every pop culture icon imaginable. I’d visited this less than holy site briefly in 1996, during a boozy week of supposed convention attending with my dear bud Dustin Miller. I wish I remembered more...
This time however I had a clearer head, so I took a moment to stroll around in search of some meaningful names. I only found a few; William Shatner, an underrated raconteur I admire more for his recent recordings than his T.J. Hooker years. Then there was the star that simply said ‘Godzilla’, a movie monster whose name always takes me back to the days of The Attic, when some righteous dudes known as ‘The Stegmonds’ ripped through many a version of the jokey Blue Oyster Cult dirge. Finally I paused over the footprints of old school legend Jimmy Stewart, the man my mother points to whenever I asked her where my name came from.
Of course I didn’t visit these many shrines by myself. All around me, a sea of slack-jawed tourists, costumed characters and showbiz technicians heaved and swelled. With the Idol finale just hours away, the red carpet leading into the Kodak Theater was being readied with lighting rigs, camera platforms and mini-tents to keep all that lathered talent dry and shaded. Entertainment Tonight’s Nancy O’Dell, a vision of loveliness, stepped from her shelter long enough to shoot a frothy intro segment, sending a small herd of Korean Girl Scouts into uncontrollable spasms of joy. Weird thing, celebrity.
Amid the throng of grips and visitors, fellow lenslingers stalked the target rich environment. In town for Idol’s fifth coronation, they wandered the streets with professional farsightedness and earned detachment. I made note of each one without really think about it, my attention ramping up each time I caught a betacam’s profile. Lenses tilted, earphones dangling, each and every shooter sported the kind of thousand yard stare you only get from looking at life through a tube. Either that or they were all highly bored and a little constipated. You be the judge.
Peppered throughout the unwashed masses, a crack squad of costumed mercenaries worked the fevered crowd for tips. There was the schmuck with the “S” on his chest who looked a lot more like Clark Kent than Superman. His partner Supergirl loitered nearby, and according to her accent the folks on Krypton sound a lot like they’re from Sweden. Who knew? I especially enjoyed the axe murderers - a Jason and Freddy pair who strutted through the packed avenue with no small amount of menace. More disturbing to me was the sight of Darth Vader proposing to one of his Stormtroopers. Whatever happened to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’?
After a few more mind-bending moments, I decided to head back to the hype factory. Nancy O Del l had wrapped up her stand-ups and now a pale family of Goth Kids was snapping shots of a chain-smoking John Wayne. Walking slowly along the red carpet, I spotted El Ocho’s call letters on a white card about midway down. It would be my position in a few hours, a 12 inch swath of space requiring pop culture knowledge, a sharp eye and various feats of contortion. Wanting to triple-check my gear splayed out back in the hovel, I picked up the pace a little. That’s when I saw him and knew I had to stop for one last picture … Fat Elvis: The Original American Idol.