BETTY-IFUL: Tonight ABC will broadcast the last original episode of the U.S. version of a show that has many names all over the world, but in America goes by the name "Ugly Betty." I am really sad to see this show go. I got hooked on it because my partner, Juan, is a huge Vanessa Williams fan. And in this show, Williams had more than one chance to tear up the scenery as the diva bitch magazine editrix "Wilhelmina Slater." I would have watched the show anyway: it's funny, sweet, smart, super gay-friendly, fashionable and featured one of the most unique characters to ever cross our airwaves: Betty Suarez, aka "Ugly Betty," played to perfection by America Ferrera. When she popped up on the screen in the first episode, September, 2006, I had a weird deja vu feeling about her—like I had seen her before. It wasn't because I had seen the Latin versions such as Yo Soy Betty, la fea. No, I had seen this person in my real life. By the third episode, when Betty said something really smart/poignant/funny with her brace-filled grin, it hit me.
Betty was Christa.
Years ago, long before I contributed to The Oregonian and worked at Willamette Week, I was an ad sales rep/society columnist for The Downtowner. Like Ugly Betty's place of employment, MODE, it too was a fake fashion magazine. And I worked there. So did Christa. It had been over a decade since the publication had closed up shop in 1995, but when Betty appeared on screen it was like seeing Christa all over again. Like Betty, Christa was a whip-smart, courageous, good-hearted, and slightly naive young woman who could simply do it all. She was an ad assistant and my life-line, taking care of not only my clients but pretty much me after long nights trying to keep up with the hoi-polloi of Portland. When I would sneak a nap under my desk, she would cover my chair with her big coat so no one could see me sleeping. She allowed me to be me. And when I ran away to Europe for six weeks, she did all my work. I was grateful for her assistance, and if I remember right, never told her so.
Back then Christa also looked like Betty—it's actually uncanny how much they looked alike, as if they were identical twins right down to the Sally Jesse Raphael red-rimmed glasses.
Weird thing is, even though we both live in the same city, I've never run into Christa since we were all let go in 1995. I couldn't even remember her last name. Then a couple of days ago, after much digging through piles of crap, I was able to find an old copy of The Downtowner. That's when I found her name, and like any good social media-ist I went straight to Facebook. I found her immediately. She had a new hyphenated last name. And she didn't look like Betty anymore (see above right). But it was her. I sent her a message to double check if it indeed was her and this is what I got back:
"Yes, that be me! Hiya Byron! I'm still working in print, more on the design/production side (magazines and catalogs). Goodness but I was Ugly Betty's twin sister back at the Downtowner! Glad to "see" you after all these years!"
So she got the resemblance too. I was happy for that.
I will miss watching Ugly Betty for a lot of reasons, but one of the biggest is that it gave me a connection to my past. Thank you Ugly Betty for giving me that. And, if I never said it back in the day, thanks Christa for being such a great person. You were beautiful back then, and even more beautiful today.
STAR SPANGLED SYESHA: The "dreamgirl" seemed distracted. Here I was, sitting in the very back of a limo that I would find out, later in the evening, was longer than the width of my front yard. Toward the very front of the limo was Syesha Mercado, the American Idol contestant and one of the stars of Dreamgirls (itopens tonight at the Keller).Syesha was texting away on her Iphone. I didn't want to disturb her. We had just left a downtown Portland hotel and we were heading, along with Julia Sheridan, the publicist for Portland Opera's Broadway Across America, to the Rose Garden where Syesha was to sing the National Anthem prior to the Blazers game with The Thunder. None of us seemed to care who would win or loose (except our driver J.J.), even though it was a must-win game for the Blazers. And we all just kind of sat there watching the city whiz by, until I asked her a question. It was about how she's able to survive the constant singing, dancing and costume changing she has to do in Dreamgirls: "Syesha, how do you do it every night?" Her response was extremely honest. "I don't know," said Syesha. "I wonder how I do it myself."
Although she is only 23, Mercado has spent most of her life onstage. She is a trained professional. She works very hard, especially as the Diana Ross-ish "Deena Jones" in Dreamgirls. "I can't get distracted during the show...if I start to get in my head, or think about the words, then I'm not able to do my best. I have to stay in the moment." Speaking of moments, when I bring up American Idol Season #7, she sort of alludes that the show was a "step-back" for her and her musical career. And when I told her that I had watched some of her old Youtube clips from the show, she said: "It makes me sad to listen to the old stuff."
So much honesty from such a young girl.
That said, you could tell that Syesha was deep in thought, shyly holding back a bit of herself as we left the limo and ventured deep into the bowels of the Rose Garden. She needed to warm up. And then do a sound check. And, then, well, I just wanted to leave her alone. Here she was, on her only day off, having to sing in front of a packed stadium. She needed time alone.
That's when I went to the "media room" and chatted up some old friends near the complimentary buffet.
When I returned to her dressing room, just minutes before she was to go on, was the only time I saw her exhibit what might be considered "diva-ish" behavior. I could hear her warming up in the bathroom of the dressing room she was assigned for the night. Her version of the Star-Spangled Banner sounded amazing in that small space. It actually gave me chills. But when she came out of the bathroom she whispered under her breath: "I wish I didn't have to sing this song." She talked about how it was easier for her as a child to sing "that" song, but, as an adult, there seemed to be so much more pressure to get it just right.
After a knock on the door we were off to center court. It's when she handed me her Iphone that I noticed she was shaking, just a little bit. It wasn't diva behavior. She was nervous, and she was trying to hide it.
Her performance of the National Anthem was flawless. Simply flawless. The players knew it. The crowd knew it. She knew it.
When she came off court, it was like she was a different person. No longer distracted, distant or drowsy she was full of energy. This from a woman who performs one of the most demanding roles in musical theater. As we dropped her off back at the hotel she said: "Well, that was fun. We had a chance to talk about life, Dreamgirls and I was able to sing the national anthem. It was a good night."
PARTY REPORT: Friends, family and notable faces joined forces in hugging, kissing and generally wishing Stephen Cassell well at his fantabulous birthday bash, Cassell On Earth, held Saturday night at the Fez Ballroom. The lovely Nicolle Camarata held down the hosting duties while performances by the lanky Logan Lynn, the sweet and wholesome Holcombe Waller, and songbird diva Miss Tahoe Jackson lit up the room. Also lighting up the night were all the beautiful folks on the floor dancing to the tunes of DJ Moisti including Lisa Schroeder andRoey Thorpe(both above), Caryn Brooks, Lake Perriguey, Rene Field, Lisa Watson, Amanda Schurr, Peter Zuckerman, Tim Joyce, Daniel Borgen, Pennie Lane, Courtney Hameister, Andrew Collins, Jill Spitznass, Alicia Rose, John Breen, Davey Nipples, Wayne Bund, Fannie Mae Darling, and Carlee Smith who had the best line of the night when she whispered in my ear, "I can't believe the Mayor is dancing to Baby Daddy."
CIRQUE DU SO MUCH FUN: "I want to do a reality show that debunks the myth that clowns are bad," said Amy Roloff, mother of four, and one of the stars of her own hit reality show Little People, Big World (above with her son). "Cirque du Soleil and Kooza provesjust how fun clowns can be."
Roloff was speaking to me in the Tapis Rouge tent Thursday night, underneath the Grand Chapiteau, during intermission of Kooza, the latest show from Cirque to roll into Portland. It was the VIP night and the audience was packed to the ceiling with loads of local celebs including Roloff and her family, Dandy Warhol front-man Courtney Taylor-Taylor, The Shins James Mercer, Columbia Sportswear's grand dame Gert Boyle, Mother's chef Lisa Schroeder, Bluehour owner Bruce Carey, 105.1 radio dude Mitch Elliott, as well as tv talkers including KGW's Drew Carney, Stephanie Stricklen, Russ Lewis, and KATU's Anna Song alongside her bald-headed babe, Oregonian sports columnist John Canzano.
While the show allowed everyone in the audience to be a little kid (truly, there is nothing like a Cirque show to make you feel like you are only 9-years-old again, not matter what your age) inside the Tapis Rouge adult beverages flowed including flutes of champagne and bottles of fine wine. Patrons had the opportunity to graze on lamb shanks and flanks of beef prior to the show, but during intermission...omg...Cirque rolled out a candy bar (yes, a bar with a zany amount of candy on it) that rivaled anything Wonka could have imagined.
Perhaps it was the sugar high, but Kooza was the sweetest, and yet still, the most compelling Cirque show I've ever seen (and I've seen at least eight of them). The clowns, like Amy said, were amazing: gentle, funny, bawdy and kind. And the acts—including high wire work, teeteboard, and the incredible wheel of death—had the feel of an old time circus that had been catapulted into the 22nd Century. I liked the music too. It kind of reminded of the Brand New Heavies meets Bollywood, and I think, was the first time I'd ever heard English lyrics in a Cirque show. If you're looking to suspend reality for a few hours, Kooza is the place to do-za it.
PAGING DR. KILDARE: According to his IMDB profile here it has been a while since Richard Chamberlain has appeared on the small screen. But it looks like that is all about to change now that I've heard word that the star of The Towering Inferno and television classics The Thorn Birds and Dr. Kildare is arriving in town to shoot at least one episode of Leverage. So if you do see Richard hanging around town over the next few days please give him a warm Portland welcome and please, ladies (and gay gents) do control yourself.