Aside from the Ivy on Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood, Capitol Hill remains one of the best sites to stargaze. From film diva Julia Roberts to Elmo the Muppet to the singer known simply as Jewel, celebs have flooded Congress, lobbying their pet causes or speaking out on behalf of the entertainment industry.
Most recently, actor Robert Redford and singer John Legend appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee asking for more federal funding for arts programs. Even Justine Bateman (remember her?) testified before Senate staffers this week about the future of the Internet.
Though many welcome stars for bringing attention to serious issues, Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) once boycotted a hearing that found Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson testifying about Appalachian mountaintop removal mining. Voinovich was indignant over what he called the “sideshow.” And he’s not alone: Even the celebrities themselves are often surprised at the way politicians slobber over them.
When Jewel first testified before a Senate committee last year, she thought, “Gosh, they don’t want to talk to me — I’m a songwriter,” she said during a recent interview with Politico. “There are professionals who know the information and statistics. But I was just brought in.
“I had a naive belief that politicians were above being impressed by star status, and I was very disappointed,” she continued, laughing. “But I guess it makes sense. Everybody is just human. I was shocked — I thought they’d weigh things based on facts, not lobbying.”
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So how does it feel to be a celeb on the other side of the room?
Jewel (last name: Kilcher) has testified in Washington about youth homelessness — a situation she personally experienced — and delivered a petition with 12 million signatures to Capitol Hill, urging Congress to pass the Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act. (Neither Jewel nor any of her immediate family members have ever had the illness.)
Appearing before the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support last November, Jewel told the panel what it was like to grow up poor and, later, live in her car before finding success in the music industry. Her testimony came around the time Sens. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) introduced a resolution for National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. The day’s testimony was preceded by nearly a dozen cameramen swarming around the pop singer, and it also drew the attention of CNN and other media outlets that might have otherwise skipped a subcommittee hearing.
“Myself, being homeless, as well as a couple of other people, got up and testified,” the singer recalled. “It was actually a cathartic experience. I had never really reflected on that year [of being homeless] — I got signed to a record label and was successful, so I never looked back; I always had just thought about bettering myself. So I literally had to sit down and write about that time in my life to finally integrate and process it.”
Speaking before the committee was interesting, she added, because youth homelessness is a bipartisan issue, “so it wasn’t too contentious.” Still, one representative kept asking her about being a positive role model.
“I couldn’t figure out why, but he kept attacking me about lyrics,” she recalled. Later, someone told her that an aide had given him her debut album “Pieces of You,” and he didn’t understand that the title track — which uses some racially charged terms — was against hatred and prejudice. “It summed up so much,” she said now, laughing.
A hardcore political junke, Jewel begins her daily news intake at dawn, waking up early to do radio interviews and to catch MSNBC’S “Morning Joe.” She then watches campaign coverage whenever possible throughout the day.
The presidential campaign, she said, “has made me sick,” especially the tactics used by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination. After visiting the Clinton White House and campaigning for Hillary Clinton in her Senate race in New York, Jewel recently turned sour on the Clintons for what she feels is “transparent spin” and “the worst of what politics is.”
Though she hasn’t yet chosen a candidate to support, she’s “intrigued” by the “sincere” attributes of Sen. Barack Obama and is “interested in getting to know more” about Sen. John McCain.
And, if you’re interested, she has a country album out, and she still speaks out about homeless youth.
Odds and Ends:
In a Monday interview with British tabloid The Sun, former veep Al Gore said he wants to shoot a sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth,” his Oscar-winning documentary about global warming. In fact, he has already released a half-hour sequel (of sorts), and you can see it for free at the TED (for Technology Entertainment Design) conference website. The new Gore slideshow, filmed in March and debuting on TED’s site, was admittedly “cobbled together” to show “the pace of climate change may be even worse than scientists were recently predicting.” If you’re bored with Gore, check out other videos on the lively TED pages, where everyone from the innovative Google Guys and author Dave Eggers to entrepreneur Richard Branson and architect Frank Gehry give 15-to-30-minute presentations guaranteed to make you think. ...
... Because political conservatives working in showbiz are so rare, we always get a bit giddy when we read or hear anything about the subject. Last Sunday, for example, we were stoked when we saw an essay on the right-leaning PajamasMedia website titled “Conservatives Have It Rough in Hollywood.”
Upon further reading, however, it seems author Burt Prelutsky — who wrote for several top TV series, including “M*A*S*H” and “Diagnosis: Murder” — had his roughest run-in at a dinner party 10 years ago when he voiced his respect for Charlton Heston and was met with outrage. Surely there are more devastating or shocking anecdotes to be told by conservatives working in the entertainment business: arguments, fistfights, blacklisting, graylisting and the like. If anyone cares to share their experiences, please send them to Hollywood Politico, and we’ll run (verified) accounts in a future column. ...
... One political film on our must-see list is Ron Howard’s adaptation of “Frost/Nixon,” the play dramatizing the post-Watergate interviews of Richard Nixon by British talk show host David Frost. Though the flick is being held until December for maximum impact on Academy Awards voters, Howard screened a finished cut last week for USC film students. According to a campus spy who wrote in to the Aintitcoolnews website, Frank Langella’s portrayal of the disgraced president is not a Rich Little-type impersonation — the actor “does not look like Nixon and scarcely sounds like Nixon but plays the character of Nixon like the old master that he is. ... Langella understands this man, what he has been through and what he desires, and absolutely owns every scene that he is in.”