"Nerd Prom" no longer: Celebrities steal spotlight from press, president, politicians, at White House Correspondents' Dinner and after-parties
It's time to concede that the White House Correspondents' Association dinner doesn't have much to do with the White House and its correspondents anymore. Forget about that cute, self-deprecating "nerd prom" image -- sorry, but nerds can't get into the parties anymore.
The quintessentially Washington party has morphed into a Washington-themed party, with the president and politicians playing decorative cameos for the sake of the corporate muckety-mucks and a parade of celebrities who've just jetted in.
Justin Bieber, the tiny tween idol with a big bow tie, was striding out of the dining room of the Hilton Washington Saturday night when a much larger man stopped him and asked to shake his hand.
"My daughter loves you," said Donovan McNabb.
Bieber, 16, with a swagger way beyond his years, turned and took the new Redskins quarterback's outstretched hand. "You might want to shake it before I go to the bathroom," the singer said. McNabb waited for Bieber to emerge from the men's room and asked for photo with him. "This is going to help me at home," he said.
Real Washington or reel Washington? Look, it's the Jonas Brothers! Scarlett Johansson. Jessica Alba. That actress from "Sex and the City"! Cynthia Nixon? Yes, but also Kristin Davis. Judd Apatow. Michael Douglas. Terrence Howard. The guy from "The Hangover." Bradley Cooper? Sure, he's here too, but that one's Zach Galifianakis.
"Who's that tall woman in the corner?" whispered one guest in our ear. "She looks so familiar, but I can't place her." There, near the entrance of the exclusive Vanity Fair/Bloomberg after party at the French ambassador's residence, stood Kathryn Bigelow, without her Best Director Oscar. "Of course!" sighed our new buddy. "I should have recognized her."
It was like that all night, that weird disconnect of seeing famous faces (you know them from somewhere) showing up out of context. That glowing brunette in the blue dress? Took all night to realize it was Katie Lee Joel, almost ex-wife of Billy Joel.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Celebrity stargazing, like bird-watching, is all about seeing the live creature -- which then grants you the firsthand knowledge to observe: "Donatella Versace's head is too big for her body." Another field note: "Kim Kardashian is unbelievably gorgeous in person -- better than all her pictures."
Out on the crammed balcony, Eric Holder lit up when he spotted actor Adrian Grenier. "Hey, it's Vince from 'Entourage'! One of my favorite shows!" The attorney general effusively introduced himself to the young heartthrob, then launched into a detailed discussion of last season's plot. "I'm going to work my way on the show," he told Grenier. "I might be able to do something about that," responded the startled actor.
A few feet away, Ryan Seacrest was swarmed by fans, who didn't really have much to say to him once in his vicinity; they just wanted a picture with him. (Whatever happened to autographs?) "No, no, not good," muttered one fan after snapping a photo, and Seacrest posed for another.
Used to be, names in the headlines were the big "get" guests for media organizations. This year there was only one zeitgeisty figure amid the showbiz cluster: Jenny Sanford, the former first lady of South Carolina -- there with her new boyfriend of about six weeks, Georgia businessman Clay Boardman. His arms were around her waist as they talked with another couple. And then they were holding hands. And then his arm was draped the length of her back, his hand gently grazing her behind.
Readers, if you assumed this sudden relationship was a rebound/revenge charade -- well, half of the professional thespians in that room would not be capable of such a good acting job. We're totally buying it.
We flashed back to other couples who first went public at WHCAD parties past: Jon Favreau and Rashida Jones; Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche. Sanford and Boardman seemed awfully happy and comfortable in their public bliss. Was this their coming-out party?
"We're happy to be here," she said. "And we're happy to be together."
There were, to be fair, a few administration and political insiders: Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Peter Orszag, Chris Dodd, John Dingell, Colin Powell, Kathleen Sebelius ("She used to be governor of Kansas," explained one guest to his date). Former White House social secretary Desireé Rogers whisked past her successor, Julianna Smoot. Michael Bloomberg attended Newsweek's pre-dinner party, but bolted back to New York for the Times Square bomb scare. But political insiders were outnumbered by showbizzers: Ashley Judd, in a white gown and antebellum hair orchids, in the role of Miss Scarlett, Policy Wonk. Angela Bassett. Jon Bon Jovi. Jessica Simpson, looking miserable -- because ex Tony Romo was there with his new girlfriend? (A Jessica 2.0 type, Candice Crawford.)
The whole night felt like an Escher print: Stars mingled with politicians who huddled with other stars, folding and twisting into some complicated version of fame and power. The night was flawless; the ambassador's residence looked like the set for a movie someone would build if they were filming an embassy party, complete with jewel-toned lights illuminating the trees and mist machines creating an ethereal cloud over the grounds.
It was Jimmy Fallon's first WHCAD weekend. "I was told that locals and press people would bother me," confided the late-night host, who was, in fact, having a great time. "Super fun. It's almost like being at a wedding."
Just then, GQ correspondent Ana Marie Cox bounded up. "We just had a shot of tequila," a breathless Cox told him. "Would you like to come meet my date?" Fallon politely demurred. Cox explained that she was really drunk and then repeated her request. He again said no, but softened the blow by reassuring her that she didn't seem that drunk. Then she wandered off.
An actual White House correspondent, Nicholas Johnston of Bloomberg, approached Johansson as the starlet chatted poolside with a few friends around 1:15 a.m. Could he please get a photo with her?
"I'm sorry," she sighed. "It's too late."
It went like that, more or less, until after 3 a.m. Near the entrance, Katie Couric had kicked off her high-heel gold sandals and settled into a settee. We plopped down next to her, also shoeless. Her date, actor Morgan Freeman, came over and started giving her a foot massage.
And yes, readers, we got one, too, which was kind of sweet and random and had nothing to do with politics or journalism. But no, we didn't ask for a picture.
'Healthy' relations on display at White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (photo gallery here)
White House Correspondents Dinner: The parade of celebrities begins with the pre-parties. (Kim Kardashian? Did we know she was supposed to be here?)
Washington's own Super Bowl: The incredible party sprawl of the White House Correspondents' Dinner (A fashionable fly-in for Hollywood types who need a red carpet to be photographed on between Coachella and Cannes)
The Reliable Source
May 2, 2010; 6:32 PM ET
Categories: Parties , Politics , White House Correspondents' Association Dinner
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