Media Big-Shots Go Crazy for Sanjaya

Alexis Gentry and Pat Sue Gentry pose with South Park Co-creator Trey ParkerLast night was the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner in DC. This is the third year Trashwire has gone to the event and we always have a great time. The first time we went was in 2005 when one of my all-time heroes, South Park co-creator Trey Parker, was a guest of the Denver Post. My dream of all dreams came true and we were able to meet Parker and talk to him about Colorado, college, Trashwire, and more. Last year, we attended the event again and also went to a few of the parties before the big dinner. That was equally awesome because we were able to mingle with some big time celebrities, hang out with Ace Young and Mandisa from American Idol and even snap a couple pictures with George Clooney.

This year did not disappoint. Trashwire co-founder Pat Sue Gentry and I got down to the lobby, where we saw all the glamorous people running around in their evening gowns and tuxedoes. It was still a little early, so we sat down at the bar and checked out the scene. There were a bunch of Secret Service guys around us with earpieces in talking into their hands. Who was around? We weren’t sure, but then we noticed that, sipping a drink with a few friends in the table beside us was billionaire and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He was still in his casual clothes and looked totally unassuming. He blended in completely with the crowd. It was only when he got up and snapped a few pictures with some people in the lobby before heading off to get ready that we even realized it was him.

Time seemed to go by so slowly as we waited for things to really take off. Finally, it was time to go downstairs for all the cool parties. Just like last year, the Reuters party at the end of the hall was chilly inside both in terms of temperature and star power. I didn’t see any big names inside, and most people were just popping in and out. The CNN/Time/People Magazine party was pretty dead at first, but later it would be the place to be. For now, we settled in the Newsweek party, last year’s stunner with special guest Clooney.

Pat Sue Gentry with Jane FondaWe scoped the room to see if there was anyone major we wanted to talk to, but after seeing no big stars, we headed back into the hallway to go to the next party. As we walked down the hallway, we noticed an extremely beautiful older woman in a sleek and glamorous black gown. It was none other than Oscar winner Jane Fonda. Fonda had been a guest at the event two years ago, but we didn’t get the chance to meet her or take a picture with her. This time, we decided to talk to her. Pat Sue has been a huge fan of Fonda since her 1965 film Cat Ballou so she definitely wanted to get a picture with her. Fonda looked a little standoffish and generally annoyed at the entire event, but we approached politely. Pat Sue asked for a picture and she slightly smiled and nodded. Then she confessed to absolutely loving Cat Ballou and Fonda smiled wide and even chuckled. Clearly it had been quite some time since someone had made a Cat Ballou reference and she was very amused. She was very sweet after that and friendly with us before she headed into the CNN/Time/People party.

Pat Sue Gentry with Larry DavidAlready feeling really psyched about meeting Fonda, we decided to head back into the Newsweek party and see if someone else had arrived while we were in the hallway. Once again, we didn’t see any big names, so we went next door to the CNN/Time/People party. We stood near the door and scoped the room when there was a bit of a commotion near the entrance. Someone big was coming in, you could feel the buzz in the air and people started making their way to the doors. We were overjoyed when we spotted Larry David, looking exactly the same as he does on Curb Your Enthusiasm, coming in and joking around with the people beside him.

A crowd of men formed around David that was even larger than the crowd of swooning women surrounding Clooney last year. All the guys tried to joke around with him and act as cool and funny as they could. They all tried to impress him and think of clever one-liners to say when they got to him. He was like the Fonz and they all really wanted to be his BFF. We were two of only about four women in the crowd that were clamoring to meet him.

As he shook hands and took pictures, we noticed Wolf Blitzer beside us, also waiting to meet this comedic genius. Blitzer started chatting with us about the crowd and how he was a big fan of David. When his turn finally came, he shook his hand and said, “Hi Larry. Wolf Blitzer.” Before he could get another word out, David joked, “Hey Wolf. You know, how do you get your beard to stay that length? I watch you and it’s always the same length, how do you get it to do that? It’s really something.” Blitzer laughed and we couldn’t help but crack up too. They chatted for a few brief moments before a man approached to ask for a picture. David happily posed for the picture before joking that he wasn’t smiling and probably looked miserable. He added, “It’s like in my bar mitzvah picture, I look miserable, I’m so grim. I’m not smiling, it’s awful.” Everyone around laughed again and finally, it was our turn.

Larry King at the WHCAD 2007We talked to him a bit about how much we love Curb Your Enthusiasm and he joked around with us a little more before taking a picture with each of us. He then walked into the crowd to find his wife Laurie, who ditched him at the door and had been floating around the party with Sheryl Crow. About fifteen minutes passed as we saw Larry King and his Barbie doll wife. Sam Donaldson, Rupert Murdoch, Oprah‘s BFF Gayle King, Mayor of Newark Cory Booker, Reno 911! star Niecy Nash, two kids from High School Musical, Newt Gingrich, G. Gordon Liddy, and some other big media icons also came in and chatted with other guests.

Suddenly, across the room from us, flashbulbs started going off like crazy. We could see a camera crew with a big boom mic and bright spotlight over in the corner. People started murmuring, “He’s here! He’s here! Oh my god!” The entire crowd of accomplished journalists, publishers and heavy-hitters started gravitating over to the side of the room to see what was going on. I was behind Larry David in a line that snaked through the crowd and I heard him saying, “Jeez, who’s that?” as he made his way to the corner.

Alexis Gentry and Sanjaya MalakarWe followed, also anxious to see who had caused such a stir. Was it the President? Al Gore? Bill Clinton or another surprise guest? Maybe it was a big movie star like Leonardo DiCaprio who had decided to come at the last minute? We finally got through the dense crowd to take a peek at what everyone had been gawking at only to see a thin-framed, curly-haired, doe-eyed boy sitting at a table with three bulky bodyguards around him. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, people in this prestigious, mature, well-educated crowd were shoving each other out of the way to get to Sanjaya Malakar. To say it was bizarre would be putting it mildly.

I expected Sanjaya’s arrival to be somewhat of a spectacle given that DC’s FOX5 News had practically interrupted the regularly scheduled program the night before to announce that he would be attending the function, however I never expected anything like this. Last year, Pat Sue and I were practically the only two people that recognized Idol stand-outs Ace and Mandisa. This year even other Idol “stars” like Chris Sligh, whose name I had to look up just now because I didn’t even know it, were getting shoved to the side so people could get a glimpse of the 17-year-old phenomenon.

Everyone pulled out their own cameras and started snapping away along with the photographers that are always at the event. People were sending camera phone pictures to friends, calling up other people to say they had seen him, and whispering to each other that they were so amazed that it was really him. Though I’ve never been in the same room as Michael Jackson, I would imagine that he produces a similar level of hysteria. The entire Sanjaya situation was so reminiscent of Jackson that I couldn’t help but compare the two. The only major difference being that Jackson is one of the greatest-selling recording artists of all time and has been a superstar for over three decades and Sanjaya is a kid who was just kicked off a reality show. Why on earth are we all so obsessed with him?!

The reaction to Sanjaya’s arrival was the quintessential example of guilty pleasure. As each elegantly-dressed guest struggled to take a picture, they would get their shot and then laugh uncontrollably and scurry away like they stole something. One woman from a very respectable California paper even remarked to us, “I don’t know why I care so much!” before leaning over the velvet rope to get a picture. In fact, no one could explain why they cared so much.

The entire Sanjaya phenomenon is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. In a world where people like Paris Hilton are famous for being famous and the results of the Anna Nicole Smith paternity suit are breaking news on CNN, I guess it’s no surprise that a kid who has been called the worst contestant on American Idol was the most coveted guest at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Sanjaya mania is truly unexplainable.

Still, once we had the chance to meet him and take a picture with him, he was very sweet and seemed a little freaked out by the whole experience. You really can’t help but like him because, as you witness all the craziness going on around him, you want to pull him to the side and ask, “Are you ok?” He’s like a little brother and you can’t help but want to make sure no one is mean to him. Maybe that’s what’s created such a hysteria. Whether you think he’s talented or not, Sanjaya, unlike celebs like Hilton, has a quality that is very endearing.

Everyone knows Sanjaya. People who have never heard of Simon Cowell know who he is. People who have never watched Idol know who he is. People who don’t even own a tv know who he is. Yet, like the woman from the California paper, no one can explain why they care. Sanjaya fever has swept the nation and I’ll be anxious to see how long this candle burns.

Feeling wiped out, we headed back into the hallway to get ready to leave. We had managed to get pictures with some major stars and even with the prince of the party himself, Sanjaya. The night was already a success when, as we were leaving, we spotted comedian Eddie Izzard. I’ve been a huge fan of his for years, so I was completely psyched to get a picture with him. We took the picture and headed back down the hall where we got another bonus and bumped into Harry Shearer. He was incredibly friendly and we took a picture with him before succumbing to our aching feet and heading back to our hotel room for the night.

Pictures from this year are available right here.

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Alexis Gentry

Alexis Gentry is the creator and editor of Trashwire.com. She has been called a “dynamic, talented and unique voice in pop culture” by Ben Lyons of E! and, with her strong fascination with entertainment and penchant for writing, it’s not hard to see why.

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