People think it’s just so easy to run into a celebrity in New York. Everyone assumes that living here means that each trip to 7-Eleven results in rubbing elbows with elites. It seems like every out-of-towner has a tale about the time they rode the subway with Jake Gyllenhaal, or ran into Daniel Radcliffe on a bender.
Truth is, normals like myself aren’t that lucky. I’ve never stood behind Lena Dunham at the coffee counter, nor have I been verbally abused by Alec Baldwin while he texts-and-bikes. Celebrities don’t run the day-to-day errands that the rest of us do. They are famous; they pay people to do that shit for them. The only organic celeb-encounter I’ve had in my 25+ years in New York was with Chris Noth in Chipotle a decade ago. It was post-Law and Order, pre-Sex and the City-movie-reboot; it’s not even like he was really famous at the time.
So, it’s not simple to find famous people, okay? When circumstances come together in your favor, you have to act fast to make sure you score that introduction. Taking initiative allowed me to meet an R&B icon. Here’s how it went down, and how you can ensure that when your stars align, you grab the spotlight.
Step One: Put Yourself in the Right Place
Celebrity encounters are all about timing and location. There are a lot of TV shows that get filmed in New York, and those “live studio audiences” have to get populated somehow. While tickets to popular ones like The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live can be hard to come by, there’s a ton of daytime talk shows (The View, Maury, People’s Court) that offer up free tickets year round. They’re fun to attend, and you’re guaranteed to get free stuff out of it.
Wendy Williams hosts a fantastic talk show where she interviews celebrities, discusses social topics, and asks people, “How you doin’?” My friends and I watched The Wendy Williams Show whenever we were home sick from school as kids, and continued to while we slacked off from work as adults. Our lifelong fandom helped us figure out the best time of year to be in her audience: the holiday season. That’s when Wendy gives away the best stuff. We requested tickets for the first live taping in December and arrived in our finest camera-ready outfits.
While we were waiting to get inside, we found out that this would be a special episode of Wendy. Mary J. Blige, musical goddess and hero of my hometown, was co-hosting that day to promote her new album. The wheels turned in my head as I imagined ways to place myself in the presence of her genius.
Step Two: Fill Out the Required Paperwork
Once we were let inside the studio, we were given a survey to fill out. It was used for the “What Would Wendy Do?” segment, where the show’s host gives audience members advice about their problems. The survey had a couple of prompts, and you were supposed to pick the one that you felt most applied to your life and elaborate on it. They pretty exclusively dealt with relationship woes, which I do not have because I have been effectively single since my umbilical cord was cut.
We were repeatedly told that we had to do the survey. Not wanting to get kicked out for insubordination, I circled the first option, without reading it or adding personal details, and handed it in. One of us opted to submit someone else’s problem, asking for advice about her friend’s terrible relationship. No one else filled out the survey, because they thought it was stupid.
The two of us who completed it got called to talk to producers about our answers. Sometimes it pays to follow directions.
Step Three: Secure a Co-Conspirator
As my friend and I waited to talk to the people in charge, we decided to decline if they asked us to appear on the show. We were playing hooky from work. I didn’t think that my boss would believe my chatting with Wendy Williams constituted as the “family emergency” I needed to “attend to” “out of town”. I mean, what kind of moron goes on live television after they’ve called in sick?
Then a producer told us that since Mary J. Blige was co-hosting, she would be the one giving advice in the “What Would Wendy Do?” segment. “If your problem gets chosen by the producers, would you be willing to be live on-camera with Wendy and Mary?” she asked.
“Yes,” I answered without hesitation.
She gave me a release form to sign, and I freaked out about what the hell I was going to say to the producers. I reread the prompt I’d claimed to be “my problem”; apparently I was dating a “bad boy”. I didn’t know how I’d sell it, since I haven’t had a serious boyfriend since I dumped Brian Vaughn in the second grade because he gave his mom back her engagement ring after he’d stolen it for me.
“Hey, why don’t I say that you’re the person I wrote about in my survey?” my friend suggested. “Then it’ll be more believable, because I’ll be standing there like, ‘Yeah, he’s a dick and she’s crazy for him.’ Good plan, right?"
Good plan, indeed.
Step Four: Find Common Ground
When it was our turn to speak to a producer, my friend paved my path of deceit by detailing how much she hated my boyfriend. I’d been dating him for 5 years now and everyone in my life thought he was despicable. The producer loved it, and asked me what kind of stuff he did that was so awful.
“Well,” I said, wracking my brain. “He uh…you know, he just sucks."
“Does he cheat on you?” she asked. “Baby mama drama? Is he rude to your parents?"
“Yeah sure, all of that.” Struck with inspiration, I started listing horrible things he’d done: “He once made me drive three hours to meet him, then didn’t show up and made up an excuse about his brother’s leg being broken. Another time, he said that his dad was in a coma to avoid hanging out with me. Oh, and another time he broke up with me, then dated my friend for like two weeks just to piss me off. He totally destroyed our friendship! We’d known each other since kindergarten!"
“This is great stuff,” the producer said as she eagerly took notes. “Let me run this by the team. I think they’ll be really into it."
As we walked back to our group, my friend complimented me on creating a backstory so quickly. “It was easy,” I said. “I just told them what I’ve done to exes."
Step Five: Act Natural(ish)
Ten minutes later, the producer we’d spoken to approached me. “Everyone loved your story,” she said. “We definitely want to feature you in the segment. Come with me, I’ll prep you.” She looked at my friends, who were staring at me with mild outrage. “Are you guys with her? When they start calling everyone onto the sound stage, stay back here. We have special seating for you.” Their attitudes turned around real quick.
I was given an index card with talking points for Mary and Wendy. I was told to be as emotional on-screen as possible, what tone to use, when to smile, when to pout, and which details of my “problem” to harp on the most. After I performed this song-and-dance once for the producers, they deemed me worthy of being first in the segment.
My friends and I were given second-row seats, directly behind Wendy’s own family members. We were so close to the stage that we could see the sweat on Mary J. Blige’s brow as she opened the hour by belting out the first single off her album, “Therapy”. We played it up for the cameras if they panned in our direction. We looked invested in Wendy’s opinion on which winter boot she should purchase. We cheered when we found out we would be getting gift certificates for holiday lights from a show sponsor, even though none of us have a front yard to adorn with decorations. We nodded in consolation when Mary discussed the struggles of stardom. We grinned like idiots whenever we didn’t have something to react to.
During a break, a producer directed me to stand on an X marked in tape on the floor and not move. Wendy Williams strolled over, needing no direction. She glanced at me and said a quick, “How you doin’?” as a makeup artist dabbed at her nose. I didn’t answer, because suddenly Mary J. Blige was standing before me. She looked like an Amazonian warrior, in a white leather midi dress and stilettos that made her tower over me. I thought, This is it, my moment to tell her that “Real Love” will forever remain one of the best singles of all time, and that “No More Drama” got me through all my angsty pubescent feels, and that I helped my best friend learn and choreograph a performance of “Be Without You” in the talent show that took place at the same high school she herself attended, and that we’re basically soul sisters.
I opened my mouth as she made eye contact with me, and the sound guy said, “And we’re rolling in 3-2-1 - "
“Welcome back to the Wendy Show, how ya’ll doin’?” Wendy said. “Today we’re going to do something special, and have a segment called ‘What Would Mary Do?' So let’s see how she can help these poor people with their problems.” They both turned to me.
“Hi!” I said. “I’m Sam, and I’m dating a bad boy.” I gave my spiel about my fake boyfriend and all our fake drama, and Mary J. Blige told me to dump him. There was some witty back-and-forth between she and Wendy, and a moment where I gave my friends in the audience a shout-out for hating my boyfriend, too. In the second before I sat back down, I grabbed Mary’s hand and said, “I love you.” She looked a little alarmed, solidifying the fact that I shouldn’t be allowed in public.
The rest of the show was uneventful, save for when my friend Mel won the “Audience Eye Candy” award (given to the bitch who slays it best fashion-wise each day). We did end up going home with a ton of complimentary stuff, including Suave skin care products, a Ralph Lauren bathrobe, and a copy of MJB’s new album. But I left with something even more powerful – the knowledge that if I dream it, I can do it. I’d dreamed of meeting Mary J. Blige since my childhood, and through well-placed lies and manipulation, I achieved it. You truly can be all that you want to be if you work hard enough.
Or if, like Mel, you also resemble an Amazonian warrior and have a killer instinct for pairing neon colors before you’re about to appear on television. Then you just have to show up.
The Wendy Williams Show airs at 10 AM EST, Monday-Friday; check your local listings.