GUARDIANS AT THE GATE

I saw on CNN that today marked the 35th anniversary of the first American Music Awards. I got to sit in the audience in 1985 (most memorable moment: Prince played “Purple Rain” and at the climax, hundreds of flowers poured down from the ceiling), but I’ve worked at just about every show since then, often watching from a trailer outside the Shrine Auditorium and helping to identify the celebs in the audience so they could put their names on the screen. I’ve also had another job after each show, helping out at the celebrity entrance to the after-show party.

Its a tricky job because we’re not supposed to let anyone in without a ticket (the party tickets are quite costly with the money going to charity), yet just because a star doesn’t have a ticket doesn’t mean we shouldn’t let them in. I still feel bad about the year I didn’t get from the trailer to the party until it started at 9:00 and no one else was smart enough to let Rod Stewart go in early, so he left.

Perhaps the highlight of all the AMA parties I’ve been to the last twenty years was when Stevie Wonder got up to sing “Signed Sealed Delivered” with the band. But it almost didn’t happen… because of me! Early on a man came up to the party entrance without a ticket and said that he was Stevie Wonder’s brother. I asked him a few questions about Stevie’s many businesses, figuring if he knew the answers, it was a good bet he was who he said. Well, he knew that Black Bull was the name of Stevie’s music publishing company, so I let him through the turnstiles. I found out later that my grilling had upset him enough that he was about to tell Stevie not to perform until one of the show’s producers intervened and convinced him to let his brother go out onstage.

Then there was the time a few years later when a distinguished looking gentleman in his fifties arrived without a ticket and said he was the president of ABC Television. He had a business card that said just that, but after years of hearing people lie to get into the party, the guy in charge wasn’t about to let the man inside. I said why take the chance just in case he was the head of the network and I won the argument and let him into the party. As he was walking through the entrance, I spotted the show’s host Jimmy Kimmel standing nearby and asked him if the man was indeed president of ABC. Jimmy said he was and laughed when I told him we almost didn’t let him in.

Of course, standing backstage at the entrance to the party while the show was going on afforded me and my friends a great view of the stars walking on and off the stage. I was there the night Anna Nicole Smith made a scene, but most memorable of all was seeing Shaquille O’Neal walking down the hallway, surrounded by people who looked like ants next to him. Alas, those times are gone now that the awards have moved to the Nokia Theater in downtown L.A. and the party is outside the building on the roof of the neighboring parking structure.

There’s one moment at the AMA’s I wish I could do over. I once walked one of the biggest stars in music out to the parking lot to show him where he could meet his limo. Unfortunately, I had barely heard of him at the time and wasn’t the fan I soon would be. To think I had nothing at all to say to Garth Brooks…

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