I just participated in my first Red Carpet Fan Experience thanks to People Magazine! I say first because I had such a good experience I hope to win seats again. Let me start from the beginning. Every fall since 2010 (when I became a Hollywood tour guide) I have been entering two different contests, one sponsored by The Gold Knight, the Academy Awards online newsletter, and the other sponsored by People Magazine. You can only enter your name one time with The Gold Knight but People Magazine lets you enter once daily until the contest deadline. Several of my tour guests over the past six years have won seats to the Red Carpet Fan Experience so I knew it was a real contest and eventually my name would come up. Imagine my surprise on January 16 when I saw an email with the subject line “People Red Carpet Fan Experience 2017 Notification”. My entry was chosen as a potential First Prize winner. They say potential because you have to get your paperwork in on time and pass the background check. I had exactly 48 hours to choose a guest and submit the paperwork. Let me say this was the most stressful part of the whole process as I didn’t expect to win AND I had a list of friends that I have shared Oscar experiences with over the years. My husband Matt checked his work schedule and it would have been too complicated for him to take that day off, so he encouraged me to invite someone who would really enjoy it. I invited my friend Becky who I have spent every Oscar Sunday with for so many years I’ve lost count.
Once we received notification of our background check passing, we were invited to join a private Facebook page called 2017 Oscar Fan Experience. I had such fun meeting new friends on this page, and learned that winners were coming to the Red Carpet Fan Experience from all around the world. A few of us from Southern California. Since I work in Hollywood several days a week I took it upon myself to learn Facebook Live so that I could not only post video to those people who lived afar but also get in some good practice for Oscar Sunday. This private Facebook page is also where I found a blog from an attendee in 2015 who referred to fellow winners as “bleacher creatures”. I have to say she didn’t paint the most luxurious picture of the day (think chicken fingers for dinner) but I would rather know exactly what I’m getting into. People Magazine sent details well in advance of the event and I learned our report time would be 9:30am. The Red Carpet Arrivals would begin at 2:00 with the Academy Awards starting at 5:30. After that, we, the “bleacher creatures” would be escorted to the El Capitan Theatre for a buffet dinner and a viewing party complete with popcorn and soda. We would be free to leave after the ceremony ended. The details included what to wear and what to bring and also where to park. As the days got closer, it was probable that rain would be upon us on Oscar Sunday. But as I had been in Hollywood watching every step of the event set-up I knew that rain tents were already in place.
I eagerly awoke on Oscar Sunday, February 26 and drove myself into Hollywood for my 9:30am check-in time. My friend Becky had decided not to attend the event after all and since it was too late in the process to get another friend through the background check, I went solo knowing that I would have new friends to meet and hang out with When I got in line at 9:15 they checked my name off the list and I stood between two ladies from Boston and twin sisters from Connecticut. What was interesting about them, one sister Katherine had won the Grand Prize two years ago and her twin Teresa was a First Prize winner this year! Ok, I knew right then and there that I was going to continue to enter in future years and the day had barely begun. Promptly at 9:30am we were escorted from the corner of Yucca and Highland (by Tinhorn Flats Saloon & Grill) to the behind the scenes set up at the corner of Hollywood and Highland. Our bags were placed through a security check and after showing identification we received our official Academy Awards credential badge. We then moved to another line where we received a swag bag. Everyone was so friendly, from the winners to the People Magazine employees who ushered us through the many posts. Right away I made a beeline for the Krispy Kreme donut stand where Starbucks coffee was also available. It was pointed out that the “facilities” were situated just behind a fake wall of greenery, making the best of the situation. There was a booth selling official Academy Awards memorabilia such as a coffee table book, hats, beanies, journals and a few other items. One can never have too many baseball hats, I still cherish my pink Kentucky Derby hat purchased with race winnings in 2006, so I got myself an official Oscars ball cap.
I of course had rummaged through the swag bag while waiting in line to make sure I didn’t duplicate anything. In the bag (which I will use a lot) was a pair of Eye Love sunglasses, a t-shirt, a phone charger (thanks People Entertainment Network), a foam seat cushion, the latest issue of People Magazine, a People Crossword Puzzle and enough snacks to get me through the day with items like granola bars, chips, popcorn and cookies. By then it was only 10:00am and I decided to plot out the timing of my Facebook Live videos, with the first one to come at 10:30am. I scoped out the activities People Magazine had lined up for us and mentally decided what I would do with my time. There were four stations: tarot card reading, hand massages, hair styling and videos. Oh and let me not forget the best station of all, the phone charging station! I opted to wait in line for my hair style first so that I would look good on my Facebook Live video feeds. You know even though there were approximately 735 people aka bleacher creatures, it never felt that crowded. All the lines looked long but went very quickly. I waited in line for my hair styling about 10 minutes. I was given a choice of flat iron, curls or braids. I opted for curls. Armed with my new “do” I found an open space, turned my camera to “go live” and greeted my friends who knew I would be reporting live throughout the day. I then made my way to the hand massage stations for my 3 minute massage and promptly met Linda G. from South Carolina. When we introduced ourselves, it turns out she had been watching my pre-Oscar videos the previous weeks, thanked me, and told me it added to her anticipation of the event. Wow what are the odds that we would meet each other in line among 700 others? We exchanged stories and hugs. I then decided perhaps I should take a seat in the bleachers to get a sense of where my seat was and how I was going to film the Red Carpet arrivals. So I found Section 1, Row F, Seat 22 and already the bleachers were about half full. I’m not sure why more people weren’t enjoying the free activities. So after doing a little practice video I went back and charged my phone some more and that’s when I noticed the box lunches were being passed out. This was about 12noon. I decided to multi-task and eat lunch while my phone was charging instead of sitting in the bleacher seats. Turkey wrap, potato chips, chocolate chip cookie and a red apple. Perfect.
At 1:30pm I visited the porta-potties and then decided to take my seat in the bleachers and wow were they jam-packed! We were instructed by the People Magazine team not to stand during the Red Carpet arrivals and there was no way anybody could have gotten in or out. Sitting in section 1 was really the only negative of the day, because it was where the biggest cluster of arrivals took place. Also I was behind a fairly wide (two foot) column so missed some good photo opportunities. I hear Mario Lopez did a lot of interviewing in front of it, but I could not see any of that. But if that’s my only complaint of the day, then so be it. The reporters and organizers (security too, though they were disguised in tuxedos) had been mingling along the Red Carpet all morning, getting themselves in place and cheers went up for Ryan Seacrest, Robin Roberts and Wolfgang Puck in particular. Promptly at 2:00pm the Red Carpet arrivals began and it was all somewhat of a blur after that. The red carpet was flooded with reporters, security (dressed up in their finest) support people, organizers and of course those we were there to see, the movie and TV stars, musicians and their guests walking the Red Carpet for the 89th Academy Awards. Being seated in the first section meant we were the first to catch a glimpse of the stars but some of them literally ran past blowing kisses to the crowd (Meryl Streep) while others paraded back and forth a few times (Leslie Mann trailed by hubby Judd Apatow). Others like Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling seemed to run past us, on their way to a scheduled interview perhaps? Some came back after their interviews (Dev Patel and Lin-Manuel Miranda both brought their mothers and were very proud to show them off) and others were busy being interviewed the whole time (Viola Davis and Denzel Washington, with their respective spouses). I was very much hoping to see Leonardo DiCaprio but alas he did not walk the red carpet. The adorable eight year old Sunny Pawar who played a young Saroo in the nominated movie Lion was too small to see amid the chaos; also acting like an eight year old was Jackie Chan who carried two stuffed panda bears on the red carpet, representing the fact that he was named a Panda Ambassador in 2009. One thing is certain, wearing a bright color on the Red Carpet is crucial if you want to stand out in the crowd. Kudos to the gentlemen, and there were several, who wore a pop of blue instead of the traditional black jacket. Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Terrence Howard all stood out in the crowd, as well as Stephen Henderson who was Denzel’s sidekick in Fences, not in blue but a white jacket! There was a lot of “ooh, who is that” going on among the bleacher creatures around me. If one of us didn’t recognize a face, someone else surely did. Right at 5pm, an announcer came on alerting those on the Red Carpet that they needed to exit immediately and make their way into the Dolby Theatre for the 5:30pm start time. You’ve never seen a place clear out so quickly. Once the reporters starting packing up their equipment, it was time for us to take our exit also.
Surprisingly, 700 people exiting the bleachers at the same time was more orderly than you’d imagine. Everyone was just happy to stand up after having to stay seated for 3 hours. I’m not kidding, not a single person stood or moved to use the restrooms during that time frame. We exited the bleacher seats the same way we entered, via the intersection of Hollywood and Highland and were escorted into the historic El Capitan movie theatre. Once inside I got a quick lay of the land, grabbed my free bucket of popcorn and found an aisle seat next to a nice guy named Ray from Texas. Then I made a beeline for the restrooms and got in line for a buffet dinner, which actually exceeded my expectations. There was a nice green salad, warm pasta salad, some kind of casserole, chicken breast and short rib. I took a bit of everything, and was in my seat while Jimmy Kimmel was still doing his opening monologue. The only thing I missed, I found out later, was Justin Timberlake’s opening performance to Can’t Stop The Feeling. Luckily my friend Brenda and her parents had me over for dinner on Monday to hear my personal account of the day, and they were able to show me his performance which they had recorded. So back to the show. We saw it on the big screen of the El Capitan Theatre just as you were viewing it at home, with all the commercial breaks included. I used those breaks to assemble my own ice cream sundae, and also to do my last bit of Facebook Live videos. I must say it was quite different watching the show on a big screen with a large group of people. At one point Ray said “that guy sure is wearing an ugly shirt” and it took me a minute to figure out he was referring to Ryan Gosling’s ruffled tuxedo shirt. All I could think of were the high school guys at my Junior and Senior prom (1982 and 1983) who wore those ruffled tuxedo shirts because they were IN STYLE then. As some of the online reports said, Ryan Gosling can make anything look cool, just as someone was tweeting about his “perfect bone structure and kind eyes”. I enjoyed the ceremony and all the extra touches this year like the movie candy falling from above, the Mean Tweets, the Inspirational pairing of presenters, the tourists (Gary and Vicky from Chicago) parading through the front row, and the like-ability of host Jimmy Kimmel. He was fun to watch. And at the end, all of us in the El Capitan Theatre were saying the same things you at home were saying…what the heck could have gone wrong with the Best Picture envelopes? A unique ending to my unique day. One that I will remember for a long time to come. Exiting the El Capitan Theatre around 9:30pm, I ran smack dab into the two ladies from Boston who I had stood in line with at 9:30am to start the day. We debriefed on the long walk to our cars, and along the way the traffic cops were asking us…did this really happen? Word was spreading fast. I was home by 10:30pm, exhausted but very happy to have spent my day at the People Magazine Red Carpet Oscar Fan Experience. For this Hollywood tour guide, a dream come true!