• Jennifer stole my heart
• Little Debbie invited me up to her room
• Call me “the Fourth Child” or “the Sixth Spice”
So there we were, on 52nd Street, outside the now-shuttered Roseland Ballroom. It was 1999 and budding movie star Jennifer Lopez was throwing a party for the launch of her first CD, “On the 6.”
It was a hot June night; she was hot, sweet, composed and super-friendly. We were there to do a live standup on CNN’s Showbiz Today. I had seen her co-starring with George Clooney in “Out of Sight” a year earlier and was impressed with her acting. As the producer back in the studio counted us down in my earpiece, I put my arm on her back to draw her closer. Thanks to her bare-midriff outfit, my hand landed on soft, warm skin. Her perfume was intoxicating. It was all I could do to concentrate on not turning the live shot into a fawning, stuttering on-air melt-down. She was an upbeat, engaging interviewee; she was a pro. And luckily, for those few minutes at least, so was I.
Then there was Mariah Carey. You’ll find no photos of me with her here. (Although, as you’ll see, it was a photogenic assignment.) I wasn’t a fan of her music. To be honest, the music of Jennifer Lopez didn’t do it for me, either. I’m old school; I like singers who can write songs, not pop artists who ally with teams of producers and songwriters to turn out chart hits. But, hey, my job at CNN’s Showbiz Today was to report on and interview all manner of musicians and music. Sometime in the late 1990s my crew and I went to Sam Goody’s record store on 6th Avenue to shoot video of Mariah Carey signing copies of whatever new CD she was releasing. From there, we followed her to La Guardia Airport, boarded a private jet she or her record company had chartered and interviewed her as she flew to Chicago for another in-store CD launch party there.
I don’t remember anything from the interview, although I imagine I did ask her about her recent separation or divorce from Tommy Mottola, her record label head. He was not a universally beloved figure in the music business – another reason I didn’t hold Mariah in the highest esteem. An interview with a huge pop star in her private jet – you’d think – would be something of a career highlight, but no, the starkest memory I have was when we landed after midnight at Chicago’s Midway airport. The afternoon in New York had been hot and humid and a line of thunderstorms blew through while we were shooting the in-store. Behind it was a cold front and in the Windy City we had to run a couple hundred yards to reach the private aviation terminal in a howling, frigid wind in the lightweight clothing we had been wearing in the afternoon.
The flip side of a pop star like Mariah Carey, in my mind, is Vanessa Williams. I interviewed her more than once and she was always friendly, vivacious and thoughtful. And of course the, “I’m sorry, I have to ask this” question with Vanessa was not about her being the first woman of African-American descent to win the Miss America pageant. It was about how she was forced to resign after Penthouse magazine bought and published some old nude photographs of her. Vanessa wouldn’t dodge the question, she was frank and forthcoming and obviously knew she’d be asked about it forever. She was a trouper.
I think my introduction to interviewing chanteuses came at Good Morning America, in the person of Debbie Gibson. Sometime around 1987-88, after she’d burst on the scene as a teen pop sensation, GMA sent me and a crew to her home on Long Island, where she still lived with her parents. We actually videotaped the interview in her bedroom. Her teenage-girl’s bedroom! Everything pink. Stuffed animals of all sizes in row after row on her pink-bedspread-bedecked bed. Hats hung everywhere. She collected hats. When we moved out to the living room and took a picture in front of the family piano, she loaned me a hat.
I ask you now: in this 21st century, do you think a morning show producer would send a 40-something male reporter to interview an 18-year-old girl in her bedroom? I’ve got to say that would be, well, creepy!
I mingled with Destiny’s Child at a Grammy Awards show or an MTV Video Music Awards show in the late ‘90s. I understand the young woman to my right in the picture below dissolved the group and went on to other things. With some success, apparently.
As a correspondent with an emphasis on covering pop music at CNN, I did my share of interviews with some of the biggest female stars and a raft of newcomers with bright futures. Janet Jackson was a quickie. Just a brief few questions backstage at an awards show.
My Madonna moment lasted a bit longer. She was promoting “The Next Best Thing,” a 2000 film in which she starred with Rupert Everett and Benjamin Bratt. Everett played a gay man who agreed to make a baby with Madonna’s character. Five years later, she falls in love with a straight guy, played by Bratt, and wants to move out of state. But the child’s father objects and there’s a nasty custody dispute. I talked with her about how the screenplay might have mirrored her breakup with real-life boyfriend Carlos Leon and the impact on their child, Lourdes. She was candid about it and was, on the whole, a pleasant interview.
I interviewed Barbra Streisand in a similar setting, a media junket for “Prince of Tides,” the film adaptation of the Pat Conroy novel that Streisand produced, directed and starred in. Having enjoyed most of Conroy’s work, I was pleased to get the assignment. I hope “Babs” was able to sense my enthusiasm; I was always afraid of embarrassingly fawning over artists and works I admired. I know I did it more than once. In this case, though, it was the Conroy connection, not Streisand, I was most excited about. In fact, I noticed in the days leading up to the junket, the talent bookers at Showbiz Today, my fellow correspondents, even my executive producer, all seemed more excited about my upcoming interview with the Funny Girl than I was.
At its conclusion, one of my takeaways was how great she looked. Since this two-camera shoot was run by Columbia Pictures, the camera on Streisand was set on a soft focus that was obvious when compared to the camera on the interviewer. She was just 48 at the time! Soft focus not necessary!
The 1990s were a golden age of teen idol creation. Think of the boy bands, several of which I had to report on. And there was a whole passel of teenage girls popping right out of puberty into pop stardom. I interviewed Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Mandy Moore and. . . more. Don’t ask me for details; they have faded like Teen Spirit. I do remember my producer learning from a publicist that Mandy Moore liked to bowl. So we shot her interview at a bowling alley in Chelsea and then rolled a few frames of us rolling a few frames. I don’t remember a thing about our match, but I’m sure I probably sucked. I could never convert spares to save my life.
The plethora of ‘90s boy bands prompted a pair of British music managers to conduct a search to find five girls for a girl band to balance the musical scale. The lucky birds plucked from auditions became The Spice Girls. With catchy hits, clever videos and felicitous nicknames, Posh, Scary, Ginger, Baby and Sporty Spice gave John, Paul, George and Ringo a brief run for their money. They generated a reported $75 million a year at the peak of their international success. Who didn’t wannabe a Spice Girl? Not me.