12.18.08

Barack's Celebrity Smackdown

This year's inaugural festivities will see an unprecedented number of A-list stars come Washington, D.C. Inside the battle to get a Jennifer Aniston or Spike Lee to come to an inaugural party.

Back in November, politicians and their handlers were out to win the hearts of the common man. Now, as the inauguration approaches, it’s all about celebrities. On January 20, there are more than fifty inaugural balls, parties, concerts, and after-parties, and event planners are duking it out for the right to host a Jennifer Aniston or a Spike Lee. If Washington, D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people, as James Carville had it, then no one inaugural event wants to be left without at least one beautiful person.

The first step will making sure the celebrities even get to Washington. As it happens, Barack Obama will be sworn in during the middle Sundance Film Festival and right at the start of Hollywood’s high season that stretches from the Golden Globes on January 11 to the Oscars on February 22. No matter. Boldfaced names from both coasts are opting for the streets of Washington over the slopes at Park City.

"Celebrities and politicians are all going to recession-chic when it comes to the inauguration,” Stephenson said. “They don't want to look like they spent $20,000 on a dress. We are going to see a lot of black, very elegant and very simple.”

And while every designer covets the opportunity to dress Michelle Obama for the big night, stylists are also clamoring to outfit the likes of Beyonce, Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, Dionne Warwick, Jennifer Garner and Ashley Judd. "Everyone is looking for the perfect inauguration dress right now and designers are being inundated with requests for custom made one-of-a-kind items," celebrity stylist Mary Alice Stephenson tells The Daily Beast. "And for the designers out there who can't dress Michelle, they will settle for dressing all the other folks in D.C that night, but everyone wants to dress the big names."

It doesn't make it easier that all the party-attendees are looking for exactly the same style. "Celebrities and politicians are all going to recession-chic when it comes to the inauguration,” Stephenson said. “They don't want to look like they spent $20,000 on a dress. We are going to see a lot of black, very elegant and very simple.”

This inauguration is unique because it will include stars from the hip hop community. Rappers stayed out of the spotlight for much of the campaign, Will.I.Am excluded. But Ludacris and Outkast's Big Boi will host the Urban Ball in the Marriott Wardham Park Hotel on inauguration night and have reportedly locked down performers like Lil' John, T-Pain, Cedric the Entertainer and Fantasia. If Ludacris takes to the stage, sources say, he has been advised by his handlers to skip performing his song, "Politics: Obama is Here," in which he calls the incoming secretary of state a “bitch.”

On the other side of the Marriott from the Urban Ball, the Legends Ball will include performances by Warwick and Chaka Khan, neither of whom have managed to offend any future cabinet members in recent tunes.

MTV and the charity Service Nation are setting up shop three miles (aka, an hour of standstill traffic) away, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. The "Be the Change Inaugural Ball" has been rumored to feature everyone from Beyonce and Jay-Z to Shakira and Bruce Springsteen. When it comes to confirming who will actually grace the stage, MTV has done an impression of the discreetness of Obama press office. All MTV general manager Stephen Friedman will say is that the organization has been inundated with requests from performers who wish to participate.

The Recording Industry of America, who inarguably threw the best of the Democratic National Convention parties in Denver, has scored D.C. hotspot Ibiza for their party. The venue has 30,000 feet of club space, complete with waterfalls, an LED lit dance floor, and cameras that can broadcast events live onto the Internet. The RIAA's partnership with Feeding America, a favorite celebrity charity, guarantees them a solid guest list that could include Courteney Cox and David Arquette, Jennifer Aniston, John Mayer, Lance Bass, Mariah Carey, Matthew Perry and American Idol star David Archuleta.

But perhaps the most sought-after celebrity at inauguration week turns out to be … Rihanna. The Creative Coalition has been looking to book the singer for its Tuesday night gala at the Harman Center for the Arts, where she’d join singer Elvis Costello to perform in front of a crowd that includes (deep breath) Tim Daly, Tony Goldwyn, Anne Hathaway, Spike Lee, Tim Robbins, Kerry Washington, Susan Sarandon, Jane Krakowski, Alfre Woodard, Barry Levinson, Dana Delaney, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Peter Sarsgaard. (They eventually booked Sting instead.) But sources also say the official campaign event planners are also looking to get the Rihanna for the Obama ball. It’s good to be Rihanna.

Why all the clamoring for guest list confirmation? For a celebrity at the inauguration, choosing which party to attend is crucial. Wherever a star starts their night is where they’ll likely end it.

Washington is already on high alert and for an anticipated four million tourists who don't have VIP passes. A result will be increased security measures, meaning party-hopping from one bash to the next will not be an option. "It doesn't matter who you are at the Inauguration. You can't just take your stretch limo down Pennsylvania Avenue. No one will be in town cars that night," said Creative Coalition Executive Director Robin Bronk, who began plotting inaugural logistics for the Coalition's Ball mere minutes after the Obama presidency was called on election night. "The fact of the matter is that you have to figure out how to move the most significant people in show business and Washington all at once. Our crew is in a boot camp mentality. Everyone is going together, celebrities and politicians alike and we are all going on a bus. That's how we have to operate."

And while officially everyone is welcome, word around D.C. is that there are some boldfaced names who could leave a bad taste in people's mouths if they show. Event planners are loath to go on record to say just who might be blackballed from their parties on Inauguration night, but one of the names that has surfaced as an unwanted guest is Lindsay Lohan, who may or may not have called Obama "colored" in an interview with Access Hollywood’s. No one wants the administration’s first scandal to come from a celebrity.

But rest assured, celebrities know that there is little potential downside for turning out to raise the roof for Barack Obama. In 2001, Latin singer Ricky Martin played at George W. Bush's Inaugural Ball and even danced with the President in what was a cringe-worthy moment for everyone involved. Years later, Martin regretted his choice and raised his middle finger while saying Bush's name in a concert. Our guess is that no celebrities this year will experience similar disillusionment. Celebrating Obama in January is perhaps the best PR move a star can make.

Johanna Piazza wrote the Full Disclosure column for the New York Daily News. She has contributed to The New York Times, Glamour, Blender, and is a regular contributor to CNN.