A fresh rhythm, more big-stage flair and a classic songbook were among the promises that accompanied the 85th Annual Academy Awards on Sunday night and it’s hard to imagine a better hook to catch the attention of the Federation – no, not the Star Trek thing, this one is the new celebrity super-group that gathered Sunday near Table No. 18 at Elton John’s annual Oscar viewing party.
The Federation’s membership includes Sir Elton, Bono, Steven Tyler, Quincy Jones, Dave Grohl, Chris Brown, Randy Jackson of American Idol and, oddly, Jim Carrey, an actor known for bending his faces, not music notes. (It should be noted, however, that 19 years later Carrey’s ditty in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective remains unmatched in the annals of ASCAP.) It was Jackson who came up with the Federation name – he announced it early in the show — although it didn’t seem to get traction beyond one page of one reporter’s notebook.
The Federation might have been too intent on the screens overhead where the moments of drama came sealed up in envelopes, but also behind the lips of famous singers and famous not-singers who performed on the global stage. “Go Russ go,” Bono bellowed at one point. “Go Russ go!” The Irish singer explained that it’s a call popular in Australian pubs where they love to see the scowling Russell Crowe march toward danger, like that live tiger he tangled with during the filming of an arena scene in Gladiator.
That Maximus moment of Bengal bravery seems like a piece of cake after Life of Pi, which might explain why Crowe took on a really crazy challenge Sunday by singing at the same show as Adele, Jennifer Hudson, and Barbra Streisand. Afterward, the U2 singer (who was sitting next to his 21-year-old daughter, actress Eve Hewson) sipped soup and chewed on Crowe’s feat. “Russell was very wise, he took the Marlon Brando approach, a walk-on role and don’t make too much noise,” Bono said with a wink behind tangerine-tint sunglasses. “Get in, get out. Look [intense].”
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At least Crowe tried to be a contender – some educated observers around Table No. 18 commented aloud that Catherine Zeta-Jones appeared to be lip-synching her Chicago number – a Windy City song-scam that is widely forgivable – except in Federation space. “That’s not a good thing,” said Ehrlich, producer of 33 editions of the Grammys show. (He pointed out that the broadcast as a whole seem to take a long time to find its first standing ovation. “Not that I’m counting,” he said, checking the time. The Sunday event was the 21st edition of the party and benefits the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has in that span surpassed $300 million for HIV prevention and treatment as well as advocacy and anti-stigma programs on all points of the compass.
The party attracts a lot of television stars as well (Jane Lynch led a Glee parade, while Anna Paquin, Ryan Kwanten, and Stephen Moyer represented True Blood), some reclamation projects (Chris Brown solo, Britney Spears de-blonded); and a rash of celebrity offspring who have dialed up on-air lives (Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus, Kelly Osbourne). The event was staged at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood (about four miles away from the Dolby Theatre), but the crowd cheered as if Ang Lee and Jennifer Lawrence were right there with them. There was no doubt which musical performance stirred the most anticipation. “Is that Adele?” It was Sir Elton that was craning his neck to see the screen where Halle Barry was sauntering to sound of a James Bond selection. “Oh no, that one is too skinny.”
Watch Catherine Zeta-Jones here:
There were sights and sounds off the screens, too, such as the gold lamé gown worn by Project Runway host Heidi Klum, which was clearly provocative and possibly dangerous – it inspired so many double-takes and craning necks that partygoers collided like bumper cars with bow ties. Only slightly more subtle was Jim Carrey, who arrived at the party wearing giant oversized plastic feet and wispy angel wings, which gave him the gait of a man wearing swim fins or the aura of a heavenly Hobbit dressed up (and pedi-waxed) for the Pearly Gates. “He’s says he’s a strangel – as in a strange-angel,” a woman sitting at Carrey’s table explained to a befuddled waiter.
When a partygoer praised the casting of Carrey in Kick-Ass 2, the sequel to the warped masked vigilante fantasy from 2010, the actor grinned. “It was a lot of fun and interesting. I’m done now. I’m not sure if they’re done, but my part is.” With that he turned his huge toenails toward his own table.
Also in attendance was Quincy Jones, who turns 80 next month and is scheduled to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. But it felt as if the fete had already begun on Sunday night when Bono sprung from his seat to pay his respects with head bowed to the man they call Q.
Watch Crowe here:
“One of a kind,” Bono said later when asked about Jones, who has won more Grammys (27) than any other living person and worked with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, and was the producer on Michael Jackson’s three biggest albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, and Bad). He laughed on Sunday night when it was pointed out that he was the rare soul who had worked on projects with both Tommy Dorsey and Justin Bieber.
“Oh damn, I’m the first name and last name on that list, I promise you that,” said Jones, punctuating the pledge with a raised palm. Jones said he’s got a lot history with the night’s host, too. “You know I’ve known Elton since he was teenager. I was in England with Lesley Gore [the “It’s My Party” singer] in 1962 before the Beatles or the Stones and he was playing [in a band called Bluesology]. And I was at his first show at the Troubador [in West Hollywood] in 1969. I took my whole family to that show, in the mid-afternoon. It was unbelievable. It was vinyl back then. Do you remember that?” The vintage grooves felt like foreshadowing for later.
After the trophies were all handed out, the party plugged in its own music with a performance by young Scottish singer Emeli Sandé, who was most decidedly not lip synching. (You may know her as the “the voice of the London Olympics” as she became known after her closing ceremony triumph. Earlier, Bono had introduced her to a reporter with an expected flourish of Bono-speak.)
“Do you know this girl? I’m a big fan. There was a moment in London in the 1990s when [music was] going one way – grunge was happening, Zoo TV was happening—and out of nowhere there was Massive Attack and Soul II Soul and a revolution, a renaissance, it was very important. And as it happens she is bringing that with her now, that same sort of confidence, openness – I think that’s what it is, an openness, an open-faced soul without mannerisms. The mannerisms are dripping with insincerity,” Bono said. Sandé was sitting right there but didn’t seem to hear any of it, she was watching the confluence of celebrities pass by her table. “This is such an amazing night I just want to take it all in,” the 25-year-old Aberdeen native said with a bit of a flutter. Any nerves were gone when she reached the stage however – she knew exactly how to act when the music played.