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Posted at 11:30 PM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Kennedy Center Honors after-show party: Guess who's coming to dinner?

By The Reliable Source

Nancy Shevell, Paul McCartney, James Taylor and Barbara Walters attempt to have a totally normal conversation and everyone else tries to get a photo of it. (Margo Shulman for the Kennedy Center) See a gallery of Kennedy Center Honors photos

Guess who's coming to dinner? No, really -- guess! Even before Sidney Poitier strode onto the stage giving off gravitas fumes Sunday night to pay tribute to Oprah Winfrey, that was the game we'd been playing with the Kennedy Center Honors lately.

Michelle Obama wore a gown by Naeem Khan, the same designer who created her dress for the India state dinner in 2009. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

It's one thing to get the amazing annual array of starpower up on the stage for a televised broadcast or into a box with the president -- it's another thing, as history has demonstrated, to get them into a seat in the Grand Foyer for the post-show supper. Bruce Springsteen bailed on the dinner last year; Oprah herself, then a presenter, played hooky with Tina Turner when the R&B goddess was honored in 2005.

Would she deign to join this year? Or what about fellow titan of the universe: Could Paul McCartney lower himself to sup with the elite rabble of $1,750-a-seat ticketholders?

Yes, readers, she did. And he did, too! There's a phrase for what happened next, a clinical diagnosis -- what is it again? Oh yeah: Beatlemania. Guests hovered, cameras raised high to grab a shot, any shot, of the trim and smiley music legend; a mob hovered around McCartney as he tried to make it to his table.

Is this what his beknighted life is like every day? LaShawn Pinkney had no idea what a coup she pulled off squeezing through the crowd to get a photo of herself with him; the Fab One is famous for refusing pictures. "I think he recognized me from the choir," said Pinkney, a young HUD bureaucrat still in her white-blouse-black-skirt uniform from singing with D.C.'s Joyce Garrett Chorus in the Macca tribute. "I wanted to get two, but he said, 'Aw, now you're being greedy.'"

Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and his wife Alma (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

"No pictures, no pictures!" pleaded a young man charged with shooing away the crowds pressing around McCartney's Table 51. Yeah, good luck with that: Even the stars were getting in on the act -- No Doubt's Tony Kanal, one of the tribute musicians with a prime seat at the next table, whipping out his camera to capture the historic cluster of McCartney, James Taylor and Barbara Walters. (The brocaded newswoman, officially doing Oprah tribute duties, spent much of the evening glued to Sir Paul's side. Turns out she's a cousin of his girlfriend Nancy Shevell; Walters walked the red carpet with McCartney's son James.)

At the same star-dusted table, Alec Baldwin's doe-eyed date glanced with quiet alarm at the encircling scrum that seemed, royal-court-style, mesmerized to simply watch them eat root vegetables. Uh, Alec, she looks mighty familiar. Is she. . .? Yes indeed, he confirmed for us: She's D.C.'s own Johanna Cox, the former Chinese linguist who won an Elle magazine job via the 2008 reality show "Stylista" and a "great friend of mine," said Baldwin. [See a photo of Alec Baldwin and Johanna Cox.] Cox, 30, who recently moved to back Washington for a PR job, told us the next day she's "still catching my breath" after her first Honors. But "I hope you understand I don't want to talk about Alec."

Well, we were going to move on, anyway. "That is not a dinner ticket!" a staffer was warning a mystery man inches equidistant from both ourselves and BabaWawa. "You're going to have to leave immediately or I'll have you arrested!" We found a friendlier face in House Majority Leader-to-be Eric Cantor, enjoying all the new friends and well-wishers surrounding him. He had brought along both his wife and his mother-in-law, Barbara Fine, who had a personal connection to one honoree: Jerry Herman, her friend and co-star in college musicals. Small world! Also surrounded by friends: Charlie Rangel in full, unaplogetic dandy regalia, with a silky white vest and jaunty bowtie. Emerging from the elite box seats: Nancy Pelosi (surprisingly va-va-voomy in a curvy black dress), Chief Justice John Roberts, Michelle Obama's outgoing chief of staff Susan Sher. U.S. Trade Rep Ron Kirk snagged seats with the president for himself and his wife Matrice -- a nice way to make up for that 23rd anniversary he'd missed working overtime on the South Korean trade deal.

Steven Tyler with Erin Brady (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

Interesting pairings all up and down the hall. Denyce Graves embraced David Axelrod warmly and murmured to him "to save your strength," like he was a wounded warrior or weary pilgrim. Forest Whitaker and Jamey Johnson exchanging cellphone numbers.

On the opposite end of the hall from McCartney, another gala gridlock around the table where Oprah was leaning in to listen, really listen, to Poitier in her Oprah full-body-listening way, and Julia Roberts nibbling away at dinner like it was no big deal. Look fast, though: it was like the bodyguards had bodyguards here, with stiff warnings for anyone who even tried to rubberneck from a 20-feet radius. If you wanted to greet honorees Merle Haggard or Bill T. Jones, well, no prob. Even Willie Nelson comfortably roamed the room, no handlers in sight -- maybe he doesn't have any? (Should he?) Dave Grohl played along with fans, talking into a white-chocolate lollipop like it was a microphone.

But now, alas, back into the throng. Because, Gwen Stefani, we need to talk about your pants! They were a sight: A riff on the early Beatles Edwardian suits, except. . .Skintight through the calves and thighs, and billowy baggy in the hips. Kind of like a pair of jodhpurs with enough room for a set of Depends. So controversial! And yet, will we all be wearing these next year? Gwen?

Gwen Stefani of No Doubt performs wearing -- well, what exactly? (CBS)

"Please wait until after dinner," the man sitting next to Stefani said to us when we tried to tap her on the shoulder, but here's what it sounded like to us: "How about never? How's never work for you?" Indeed, when dinner ended, another phalanx rose up to defend La Gwen. "She's talking," a handler protested to us. (Indeed, lips moving, making sound, telling Christine Baranski that her towering bondage platform stilettos "look way worse than they are.")

But Steven Tyler, the surprise superstar of a starry night -- didn't you just assume you were going to hate his "Abbey Road"? -- glowed in the room's love. On his way to his table, with a dark-haired beauty on his arm, the Aerosmith frontman (Honoree-aged at 62) rasped a few gracious words to a cheering table, listened kindly to a blonde doyenne's praise, those rubbery lips pursed in a humble smile, looking as happy as a Botoxed walnut can look. Then he graciously posed with a fan -- none other than Nancy Shevell, who got her boyfriend Paul McC to snap the pic.

Earlier: Kennedy Center Honors: Who shows for the show

Also earlier on The Reliable Source (though later that night): "Glee" star Matthew Morrison's impromptu concert

See a Kennedy Center Honors photo gallery

Lisa de Moraes wonders what will get cut from the Kennedy Center Honors broadcast

Full coverage of the Kennedy Center Honors

By The Reliable Source  | December 6, 2010; 11:30 PM ET
Categories:  Parties  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Kennedy Center Honors: Highlights of Chris Rock's Oprah tribute
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This sounds AWFUL! No wonder celebrities skip the dinner, they're harassed as they try to eat!

Are you sure people paid $1,750 per seat? Judging by their behavior it sounds more like $17.50 per seat.

I'm a nobody, but I've been in intimate house dinner settings with A list celebrities, alongside other nobodies, and no one ever dared harass them like this. It's just basic manners.

Shame on the Kennedy Center for putting on a circus.

Posted by: RL68 | December 7, 2010 4:44 AM | Report abuse

The seats ranged from $350 to $5,000 for show and dinner and yes Washingtonians get a bit excited to see the celebs whether they pay $17.50 or $1750 a seat. Most of the people there were not multi-millionaires. We are basically upper middle to upper class. I paid $1750 so my ability to get a picture with Sir Paul plus ask a question of Sir Paul and get another picture plus make a joke to Steven Tyler that was the reason I was willing to part with such a large sum (relative to my income and net worth).

Posted by: jimaleg1 | December 7, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

There's something pathetic about star-struck adults. Do these people have any self-respect? Is it worth making a total idiot out of yourself to get a photograph that'll get lost in a drawer soon enough? McCartney showed up to receive a well deserved honor and enjoy himself. Well, at least he got the honor. The gawking bootlickers ruined any enjoyment.

Posted by: randysbailin | December 7, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

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