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"LIKE I NEVER LEFT..."

Call me a Wendy groupie, but my man Ant works for “The Wendy Williams Show” (www.wendywilliamstvshow.com/). I have a little time on my hands this summer. So, when he invited me to do an encore audience-seating at the “How-You-Doin’?”-fest, I obliged. The week prior, I attended the Al Roker show with Ern and Tata (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/7/22/in-a-world-of-fading-treasures-love-is-the-greatest-pleasure.html). This time, I came solo, but not for long. I met a host of great folks – including a handful of fun ladies from Connecticut and this Brazilian hottie Torez. He had the opportunity to dance with RuPaul during VH-1’s “DIVAS 2000: A Tribute to Diana Ross”. Of course, at that juncture, I found that exciting and hoped to share the YOU TUBE clip here. (But I did find the finale in which Ru joins Ross and others: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koL3sZzGT1A). With that, we clowned around backstage before show time and got ourselves revved up for the day’s extravaganza. Of course, everyone was abuzz about Omarosa’s antics the day prior (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUab1L8LdL4) and (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wndi5YKMVRM). Wendy – however – came out the victor/Victoria inside that organic TV feud, holding her own but maintaining a sense of grace since Omarosa was a “guest” (albeit a hostile one) on her show. I consider this a low moment for Omarosa (but that seems to be her trajectory, though I must say she was kind to me when I requested a photo-op of her in front of Radio City Music Hall at the “DIVAS WITH HEART” show - http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/5/11/divas-with-heart.html). On this ‘new day’, we were focusing on positive things. There was lots of dancing going on – including Torez who was thrust into the “Soul Train” line to drop it like it’s hot (and it was). But even hotter? My Ant who was busy prepping the guest announcer and collaborating with his fellow teammates on all things pre-production. Then, after all the hooping and hollering, Wendy came out to a less-controversial show (but no less entertaining). Vivica A. Fox shared openly, sassily, and pleasantly with Wendy – keeping us all satisfied. Afterwards, she changed out of her hot, red number into - simply - a sweat suit and she signed autographs with all of her fans. She even let me get a quick picture before she was carried away (for lunch with my friend Phillip Bloch who is her co-star on VH1’s “Glam God” - www.vh1.com/shows/dyn/glam_god/series.jhtml - the current project she was promoting on ‘Wendy’). Though I’m still chasing my photo-op (without Miss Wendy being pulled away), I did get the chance to introduce myself as Ant’s man. She received me warmly and assured me they all love working with him at the show. (I’d find out later that Wendy mentioned Ant on her radio show – pointing out that Ant, 2Pac (late rapper)... and Charlelmagne have the most beautiful, natural eyebrows she's ever seen!!!). I concur... HEY!!!! One more thing: Just as Wendy and some of her words and phrases have become household, I'm enjoying the new possibilities coming out of her mouth - like "SIT DOWN!" - something she declares from her stage-center perch when she feels her co-host (READ: audience member) has completed their moment (or perhaps when they've not finished their moment, but she's finished listening...). The context and rhythm in which she uses the oft-heard words (usually that come out of a Black mother's lips) is HILARIOUS! I laugh everytime! It's rude, crude, endearing, and about to be one of her latest, kitschy contributions to the pop culture tapestry that she is weaving herself from that creative mind of hers that won't... ahem... SIT DOWN!   

From there, I had to get home and prepped for a bright and early flight to Chicago for Unity ’08 (www.2008unity.org/) – a gathering of about 8,000 journalists from the National Association of Black Journalists (www.nabj.org); National Association of Hispanic Journalists; Asian American Journalists Association; and the Native American Journalists Association – the largest ever as professional journalism organizations go. It was quite the overwhelming affair, but always enjoyable to see my fellow journalists of color. We’re very much like family – so this is the ‘family reunion’. The old peeps – like my fellow co-workers in Chicago – were in the house. But also, my new “Amazing Grace” Mara Schiavocampo proved to be an appropriate running-mate for all things networking and partying – even folding me into yet another of her pieces that required my pop culture analysis. Click here to see more: http://dailynightly.msnbc.msn.com/archive/2008/07/25/1222169.aspx . Afterwards, we went and spent some time at the Sheraton hotel’s Chi-Bar ( www.Sheraton.com/Chicago ). Mara sold my mentoring spirit for a place on the chockfull line-up. After the ‘karaoke maestro’ convinced me to advise his friend Derik (who is finding his way in the industry), he placed me on the program. Mara selected Maxwell’s “This Woman’s Work” for me to perform as she knows it to be a staple when we karaoke in New York (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxu-i8on15Q). My good girlfriend Allison from NPR joined me for morale support, though there was so much love coming from the folks who were in the house that night. What can I say? Karaoke rules and rocks!!!! Oh! And my NABJ buddy and fellow independent producer Caleb led a searing, heartfelt (if a hair off-key) rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing”. Lots of fun to watch. But it wasn’t all play. My Morehouse brother Michael K. Watts and I had lots of work to do as co-producers of the NABJ Hall of Fame Banquet (www.nabj.org), which ultimately went off without a hitch. Well, there were a few hitches… but in the end, we got everyone in and out with 6 minutes to spare. It’s a new day, huh NABJ? It was a total honor to produce this event which featured presentations from a trio of our mentors (Condace Pressley; Sidmel Estes-Sumpter, and current NABJ President Barbara Ciara) who – along with two others (Vanessa Williams and Dorothy Butler Gilliam) – are credited as the ‘women’ who made it to the top of this association’s ranks. In addition to so many things, Barbara – by the way – has an awesome column in monthly entertainment magazine Mix Mag (www.mixmagweb.com). Check it out! It too was good to see one of the NABJ Babies who led the ranks of us ‘new kids on the block’ Roland Martin (www.rolandsmartin.com/) receive the President’s Award. In 1990 and 1991, Roland – along with my Spelman sister Jocelyn Coleman (now a Hollywood publicist at her own firm Favor PR) – and I (and many others – like my Candi Carter) were the student journalists placed in front of the camera and behind the scenes to present and produce daily newscasts at the convention. We’ve come a long way, baby!!!! With room to breathe, I got the chance to see (and pose with) new and old friends. There was my Dawn Kelly from Prudential and Miss Gail from North Carolina. April Woodard, who graciously was a part of my NABJ Arts & Entertainment Task Force panel in Vegas last year, was here at UNITY. She looks amazing as always. And it’s always great to spend time with one of my nearest and dearest friends (who I met at NABJ in Detroit – 1992) Miss Lisa Goodnight! And I hung out with my New York City peeps Miss Shelley Wade – Z100’s midday diva – and Michele Leone (of NBC Today Show producer-fame). And Mike and Angela and Rudy, oh my! Just so good to see and hang out with everybody!

During a sea of media receptions, I got the chance to make good on my word and mentor the young man Derik. I made sure he met some key folks who could support him in navigating his game to the next level. We ran into actor Nate Parker (of “Great Debaters” fame), who was there to promote his upcoming flick “The Secret Life of Bees” (More on that in a moment…). A quick costume change allowed me to saunter over to the New York Association of Black Journalists (www.nyabj.org) suite to reconnect with Caleb and Mara. Mara's "Big Willie” David Puente (www.blogs.abcnews.com/exclusiva/) joined us. I ran into Charlotte Doreen Small about whom I’ve blogged before (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/12/16/cat-on-a-hot-tin-roof.html). She was in the mix at the NYABJ suite. And my former fellow Board member Bonnie’s daughter Erin (now my nephew Herman’s Spelman sister) joined her mother for the weekend.

As Chair of the NABJ Arts & Entertainment Task Force, I helped co-present two films for the NABJ Film Festival and hosted a sneak-peek of 'Secret Life of Bees' (www.foxsearchlight.com). After the 10-minute featurette, I interviewed ‘Bees’ director Gina Prince-Blythewood (also of “Love & Basketball” and HBO’s “Disappearing Acts” fame) and Nate Parker (“Great Debaters”). They shared candidly and openly about their project which I think is going to be a big hit. In the wake of the girl power that "Sex & The City" and "Mamma Mia" have exhibited at the box office of late, hopefully that trend coupled with the Oscar-cache of the cast will translate into Hollywood gold (and Black). ROLL CALL: In addition to the critically-acclaimed Nate Parker, 'Bees' stars Oscar nominees Queen Latifah and Sophio Okonedo; Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson; Grammy darling Alicia Keys; and childstar wonder Dakota Fanning. Having met Gina Prince-Blythewood (and reconnecting to Nate), I'm wishing this project well. Next up: Spike Lee Joint 'Miracle at St. Anna' (www.miracleatstanna.movies.go.com/) screened (a snippet). Then, I interviewed 'Miracle' author/screenwriter James McBride who shared how he came to write this compelling story and subsequently how he came to write this screenplay for Spike over a year and a half without even addressing money. He trusted that eventually they would deal with the business. Most important - for James - was (and is) getting his story seen and appreciated by the masses. I appreciated his candor (and his cool). He's an award-winning jazz musician and composer as well. This event was a part of NABJ’s “On The Move” Campaign (www.nabj.org). In the tradition of solid, entertaining programs, we delivered yet again. My buddy and sometimes collaborator Keith Walker (www.mediaprocess.com) – along with his gorgeous wife Button – came to support. Afterwards, NABJ’s “Salute to Excellence” Awards took place. I’m so proud of my friends Angela Robinson and Greg Coy, who reigned supreme in this esteemed contest. Cheryl Burton (among many) too took home an award (for some of her international work) on this culminating night. After the pomp and circumstance, I was interviewed by my friend and A&E Task Force co-chair Greg Dunmore for a documentary project he’s supporting. The theme: ‘Blacks in Journalism Today’ (in the wake of so many buyouts, downsizings, layoffs, etc.). I must admit I was taken aback when invited to participate in this junket of Black journalism minds. This, after all, wasn't 'pop culture' exactly. My interview followed "Hall of Fame" inductee Les Payne; current NABJ President Barbara Ciara; and 1st woman NABJ President Sidmel Estes-Sumpter; and a host of other seasoned media professionals who I consider icons in the industry. I wasn't sure I was equipped, but Greg assured me they wanted my perspective (telling me later that they isolated a host of great soundbites from me when they played back). And I realize that I shouldn't sell my intellect short, even though my beat is one more pointedly aligned to levity and lighter fare. So in a nutshell, from politics to pop culture, once I get grounded, I can go on and on and on. (Translation: They couldn't shut me up. SMILE!). Stay tuned for more on this project.  From shoptalk to the dance floor, my Lisa Goodnight and I split our time between the Hispanic Journalists party and the Black Journalists party (quite reflective of how we have navigated our close friendship over the years). I ran into my good friends DeDe McGuire, Sheila Eldridge, and Tosha Whitten-Griggs, who is my Spelman sister. She - along with my Morehouse brother Darian Trotter - and I got to reflect on the good days and catch up on what's going on now in our lives.   Kevin Frazier of “Entertainment Tonight” fame (host of the awards program) promised to contribute to our program in anyway we want to use him next year (in Tampa).

A full night of hospitality suite-hopping, a visit from Obama, and the convention was a wrap. I didn’t get a photo op with him this time, but there’s always last year (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2007/8/13/audacity-of-hope-and-dreams-in-vegas.html).

Meanwhile, I’m back at home. The fellas were all in one piece – my nephew making sure I know about Whitney Houston’s leaked song with Akon. Not Whitney at her best, but – with some help from pro-tools technology – it sounds like much of what we hear on the radio today. She may still be able to compete. Of course, as her song requests, she wants us to love her ‘like she never left’. Well, I’m game. Let’s hear some more. Miracles happen everyday.

Today, I’m following up with many contacts from the convention. Though there’s a tangible fear around work in the business (as evidenced by much of the sharing at the convention), I’m feeling encouraged – as an independent – that there will continue to be lucrative opportunities to which I can tap… as personality/producer/writer in the pop culture/entertainment realm. Lots of things are already in progress and several checks are forthcoming for work already done. Plus, I can breathe (just a little bit in anticipation of that forthcoming slush fund from “Million Dollar Password” - http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/7/9/aint-no-mountain-high-enough.html).

I also found out that in the wake of CNN’s “Black In America” two-parter airing last week (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/7/22/in-a-world-of-fading-treasures-love-is-the-greatest-pleasure.html), my sister’s husband Vincent is getting his shine via an I-REPORT (http://www.ireport.com/docs/DOC-49574?ref=feeds%2Foncnn). Seen here with Savannah-hometown-Big-Boi-turned-even-bigger, Vincent's salient, concise, and passionate commentary spoke to the producers so much that it’s been used on CNN as well, but they left off the most impressive of his video-taped words: "... and one more thing! As a Black Man, nobody asked me a damn thing! Peace! "  WAY TO GO, BRUH-LAW!!!!

And in closing, you’ll recall I mentioned being a page in middle school at the Georgia Capital alongside my many friends and how Lori made us listen to Luther’s “Supserstar” again and again and again and again… (http://thelifeofriley.squarespace.com/rilys-blog/2008/7/22/in-a-world-of-fading-treasures-love-is-the-greatest-pleasure.html). Well, one of those best friends, Bernie, sent me a note, reminding me that we did get the chance to play Kool & The Gang’s “Joanna” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snzafal2nAw) – only my brainchild was that we replace the title name with “Atlanta”. This, as we eased restlessly yet excitedly down the road to our ‘Emerald City’!!! Thanks Bernie for the reminder. Warms this heart! For real…

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