Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gauntlet of Adulation

Idling on the Red CarpetThe Pacific Design Center was buzzing before the first psuedo-celebrity ever arrived. Camera crews from Entertainment Tonight, E!, MTV and countless FOX affiliates flanked the long red carpet as publicists and stylists checked their look in each other's designer sunglasses. Amid this sea of gliteratti, Shannon Smith and I staked out our territory - a lowly strip of duct tape emblazoned with our station call letters. Unfolding a step-stool I'd carted cross-country, I planted it in the name of WGHP. On either side, other photogs jockeyed for their own spot, most avoiding eye contact as they too settled for a 12 inch swath of red carpet. Shoulder to sore shoulder we stood, our cameras locked and loaded. From behind, our well-coiffed better-halves slithered into place, filling in the tiny gap between the lenses and the velvet rope. A wall of flashbulbs erupted down the way and we craned our collective necks to see just what semi-famous face was making the still-cams go crazy. The velvet barrier strained as we leaned forward and I suddenly smelled onions. As something dug into the small of my back it occured to me why they call us the Press.

Randy Jackson and Simon CowellAt the top of the red carpet, Bo Bice bathed in the klieg lights. Last year's runner-up had just made a triumphant return to the American Idol stage, performing his new single while this year's contestants wondered if they were about to be voted off the show. With that now decided, only a gauntlet of adulation seperated the Final 12 from one mother of a private party. I too planned to toss back a few highballs before the night was through, but not before earning my keep with a disc or two full of giddy soundbites. With that in mind, I tweaked an audio channel dial by feel as Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell filled my viewfinder's one inch screen. "Kellie and Chris got a good shot..." Randy said without calling anyone 'Dawg'. Shannon asked Simon why he was so rough on Chris and I looked at my watch - itself a monumental effort under the crush of showbiz hounds around me. 7:05 - a half dozen minutes before we due to go live for out station's ten o clock news. As always, were serving two masters: the diety of E.N.G. and the angry live shot gods. Shannon and I had spent almost six hours wedged into a pressurized tube to get here. Chris, Kellie and Bucky were our primary targets - anything less than extended interviews would be a mission scrubbed. But for the moment we had to risk losing our spot for a satellite hit with the folks back home. As the guy in the muscle shirt yammered on, we extracted ourselves from the media pack and sought higher ground.

Shannon Smith & Stewart Pittman"This is your video connection, here's your IFB." The Fox News Channel truck technician looked bored and a little constipated. I had no time to offer him a laxative however, as back East a news desk full of colleagues was about to direct the Piedmont's attention to my lens. Huddled over my camera, I plugged in cables and wrestled with the headphones. A roar of approval rang out to the far left and I stood to see the Final 12 contestants posing at the top of the red carpet. Like a group of singing superheroes, they paused and glistened as shouts and flashbulbs burst all around them. They had arrived - beating out 93 thousand other auditioning hopefuls to secure a spot in America's imagination. Soundstages and teams of stylists would now be at their disposal, once they got through their first ever red carpet affair. 'That's gotta be a brain scrambler' I thought as I cranked the headset volume until I heard a very distant Neill McNeill. In front of the camera, Shannon gave me a longtime partner nod. It seemed we would be able to go live without missing our N.C three after all. With the magazine shows swarming the dynamic dozen, we'd be back manning our duct tape before they moved an inch. First though, there was a sat shot to be nailed. Knowing a guest would be best, Shannon reached out to a certain long-haired pedestrian.

"Can you chat with us?"

"Yes Ma'am," Bo said and stepped happily into frame. Pulling out to a wide shot, I feathered my focus as an expected refrain emanated from my earpiece.

"Shannon Smith now joins us live from Hollywood, where the American Idol contestants are celebrating. Shannon, who ya got with ya?"

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