Tramps like us...

By Maureen Lee Lenker
September 19, 2020 at 10:00 AM EDT
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Ah, 2010, a simpler time...when Glee was one of the most popular shows on television, streaming platforms didn't yet produce original content, and Jimmy Fallon opened the Emmy Awards with a raucous rendition of Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run."

That aforementioned Glee cast joined Fallon on his last chance power drive, with the late Cory Monteith, Lea Michele, Chris Colfer, Amber Riley, and Jane Lynch taking part in the musical opening alongside the likes of Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, and Betty White. It resulted in a joyous musical opening that moves from pre-taped segments, which include Fallon getting made over by Tim Gunn into the Born in the U.S.A. album cover of Bruce, to an on-stage live finale.

"I always like those big song and dance openings of award shows," Fallon tells EW. "At the time, Glee was the number one show and they were doing glee [club] versions of songs. I thought, 'What's the most rocking song we could do that's fun? We want to show energy. What if we did a Glee version of 'Born to Run?'"

The idea required one major hurdle first: getting the rights to the song, something Springsteen rarely grants (and this was before Fallon had befriended Springsteen through a series of appearances on Late Night and The Tonight Show). Fallon had met Springsteen's manager Jon Landau several times and called him up to make his request.

"I explained to him what it is, [that] it's respectful. 'I love Bruce and if you guys don't feel like you want me to do it, I won't do it. But here's the idea of it,'" Fallon remembers, explaining how he walked Landau through the dance number and the bit where they rip off his sleeves and give him Springsteen's iconic bandana. "He was like, 'Let me talk to Bruce.' And then I heard back within an hour. He's like, 'Done, You have the rights. He's into it. He loves it.'"

Fallon then had to book talent for the number, beginning with calling on his SNL pal Tina Fey and working his way out from there.

The pre-taped segments required Fallon to record his vocals in advance, something that became particularly daunting when he went to lay down the tracks at the iconic Capitol Records building in Hollywood." I'm in the Sinatra room doing my recording. I'm looking at the producers and I think I see Steve Perry from Journey," he recalls. "I'm like 'This is high pressure now. What is going on with my life where I need more pressure?' But then [Steve] came out and gave me some vocal exercises. He was like, 'You gotta hit the note like a stack of plates.' He gave me some advice I didn't quite understand, but I got direction from Steve Perry."

The number darts around the Microsoft Theater (then the Nokia Theatre), in and out of backstage dressing rooms and up and down escalators. "There are so many great little Easter eggs," Fallon says. "We had so much fun doing it. I remember we were up until three in the morning in L.A. running around, going up escalators and things."

The real test came at the end when Fallon, the Glee cast, Fey, Hamm, and a host of ensemble performers took to the stage live in front of the Emmy nominees and their guests. Fallon led the group, strumming on a guitar that resembles Springsteen's from the Born to Run album cover. "I thought it'd be fun to come out and do the end live," he explains. "Because that shows that you can do it. That part wasn't recorded. You go, 'Okay, you could screw up the whole thing right here.' But we didn't."

10 years later, it still remains one of the most inventive and fun Emmys openings of the 21st century.

"A lot of the time people are just like, 'I can't believe Bruce Springsteen let you use his song and sing it,'" Fallon concludes. "We couldn't either, but I think he knew that it was coming from a good place. I love Bruce Springsteen, so I was nervous. I hope I did a good job for him."

The 2020 Primetime Emmys air this Sunday on ABC at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.

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