Watch how it's done, on the red carpet that really matters, the Academy Awards. Taraji P. Henson, Howard grad, former Washingtonian and first-time nominee, for Best Supporting Actress, is making her way down the line of reporters. Elegant posture, endless eyelashes, arms held out ever so slightly from her strapless white gown in that bulge-minimizing way. She leans in to charm a TV reporter: "Ooh, look at that dress, you are gorgeous."
When asked, she's got her lines perfect: "Roberto Cavalli gown, clutch by Mary Norton, Fred Leighton jewelry." And a good anecdote on hand about how to do the whole red carpet thing: "I had the best advice from Halle Barry -- hold your shoulders back and head high because you belong here!" So what's next for her? She pauses. "Finding a job. The whole industry's at a standstill."
How important is red carpet in this new economy? It's no longer just pre-show. It is the show. Covered live by E!, the TV Guide Channel, ABC, CNN and others, it runs almost as long as the Oscar ceremony itself, and may trump it in the number of eyeballs. This year, to bring attention back to its own ratings-slumping awards broadcast, the academy asked some presenters to take a secret side entrance -- avoiding the red-carpet cameras to preserve the who's-wearing-what suspense for the envelope-please moments.
The response? Panic exploding through the entire red carpet economy -- all the starlet pushers, fashion designers, handbag purveyors and assorted publicists whose business models are built on the flashbulb moments out front. And maybe no surprise: Some quiet cancellations by presenters, who apparently preferred a glorious front-door entrance to a spot at the podium, a writer for the show told the Associated Press last week. (While most stars are lent or given the couture and jewelry free in exchange for the red-carpet publicity, others reportedly are actually paid to wear the stuff.)
It starts slow -- who wants to arrive before prime time? -- so the fans who've won seats in the bleachers are left to scream over Mario Lopez, Joey Fatone -- the sort-of stars who, because no one makes money anymore singing or dancing, are now sort-of journalists (did no one tell them that journalism doesn't make money anymore either?) doing red-carpet reporting. Lisa Rinna, once a soap star, walks regally down the carpet, waving to the fans, then jumps the hip-high green hedge separating journos from stars, her purple gown parting to flash a beige panty. Nancy O'Dell makes a show of it, using a wooden box and two spotters to help her over, to the cheers of the bleacher people.