We have a voyeuristic tendency in our society when it comes to celebrity. We want to know what they do, where they eat, what they wear, who does their hair, how they exercise, etc. We're obsessed. Frankly, our society as a whole, acts like a bunch of children who would be better off if we kept our eyes on our own papers...like we were told to do in elementary school.
I have not been above all this either. Aspiring to a career in anything to do with show business has exposed me to a lot of years that have amounted to pressing my face up against the glass window with a yearning not only to see what's on the other side, but to be on the other side.
Why do we put people on a pedestal sometimes seemingly just to take them down? Why do we always think that more is better, when sometimes it's just more? Why do we think that beauty is about appearances when we have seen some pretty attractive people do some pretty ugly things? And why oh why do we think there's intrinsic value in fame itself?
While I don't know all the answers to these questions, here's the night that changed all that for me for good, and I was reminded of it a few days ago when Stevie Wonder was on American Idol.
I don't know if you know this or not, but in show business, there's always another layer. I found this out the first time I went to an actual award show - The Grammys. They were in New York that year and for the week leading up to the show there were parties all over town each night. On the grand night itself there were also parties. Just having a Grammy ticket got you into one of them. And I thought (erroneously) that I was special. But there would be few, if any at all, "important" people at that party because that was the one for just your average Grammy ticket holders, which again, erroneously, I thought, was a big deal. So while I was dressed for the red carpet, I was painfully aware that I was not on the "inside" or even anywhere close to it. All the celebrities, I was told, were at the parties thrown by record labels.
So there I am a few years later about to go into one of the post-Grammy record label parties with a friend of mine who's a reporter. We go inside, past all the people hoping to get inside and I feel like I've "arrived." Here I am with all the young cool people at the record label bash. But "where are all the recording artists?" I'm wondering. I don't see them. I just see a lot of young cool people I don't know. It's then that I find out that they are in their own VIP room at the party. And I wonder what that inner sanctum must be like. It must be beyond cool. So my friend and I leave and I think, "Someday I'm gonna be in that VIP room." As we leave, I see the long line of people trying to talk their way inside the party, and I know that they don't know that all that will get them is some free drinks and appetizers because there is a party within the party that they will never see.
So, again, years go by and now I'm at a different awards show. A dinner, actually. And by now I know that there's a party afterward for the VIP's only. It's in the same hotel as the awards dinner was held, but by now I know enough "insiders" to get myself invited to tag along to the VIP shindig. "Wow, I'm finally going to see what it's like," I think to myself as we ride the elevators to the penthouse!
I am having an honest-to-goodness Carrie Bradshaw, Sex in the City moment, and I feel decidedly glamorous. We get to the door and there are two very large football player looking types standing guard there asking to see invitations. The person I'm tagging along with pulls out a tiny white card and then says, "These four are with me," and we go in. This is it. I'm in the "inner sanctum" with celebrities and record label execs. There's more expensive booze and appetizers at this party, not to mention a host of people to wait on your every need.
I think I'm going to feel special...different than my previous life up until that moment. But I don't. And the people I'm chatting with and nodding "hi" to in passing don't seem all that different either. In fact they mostly seem uncomfortable and not particularly happy. I think it's just a fluke because "insiders" have got to be happier and more comfortable in their own skin than the rest of us. They have to be.
Then Stevie Wonder shows up. We are all expecting the heavens to part and angels to sing when he walks in. I mean, God love the other singers, but this is STEVIE WONDER!!! The thing is that he has just lost his mother that week and his sadness is as palpable as that big, beautiful voice of his. So he doesn't stay long, and I find myself feeling his pain because I've recently lost my mother too, and I'm wishing I could stop the hurt that is overwhelming him at this moment in the same way I wish I could stop my own hurt.
A while later I overhear a friend giving Gavin DeGraw songwriting advice. I cringe because he's the one with the record deal and I think that it crosses a line that I personally wouldn't have, but that's just my opinion.
We leave the party around 4a.m. and I am still trying to process the whole evening. I feel sad... like I've just found out this awful secret - that we are all the same. Even the people in the VIP room, separated from the rest of us because our society has deemed that appropriate.
It is an illusion that has been shattered for good and it has freed me, though it hasn't lessened my admiration for the work that artists do, or the talent they have. In fact, it has increased my admiration, knowing that they are just like me. Even Stevie Wonder.
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