I truly did not know what to expect from the Oscars this year. I wasn’t looking forward to them in the slightest, which was a first for me. They were better than I expected, but that’s not to say I don’t have notes.
Much of the fluff surrounding the awards ceremony was cancelled, like the Oscar luncheon and the Governor’s Ball. The Vanity Fair Ball was also cancelled, and rightfully so. But Sir Elton John wasn’t going to let a little thing like a pandemic rain on his party. He went forward with his Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation fundraiser only this year, it was virtual – and the whole world was invited. Elton and a few select friends were at Rosewood London while the rest of his guests called in from around the globe. They still managed to raise $3M for the cause.
“It’s a pain,” Elton John quipped to host Neil Patrick Harris during the early moments of the music legend’s first-ever virtual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party on Sunday night. John was describing how it felt to pivot the 29th annual affair from an in-person, glamour-drenched fundraiser to a streaming event due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s become an all too familiar sentiment over the past 13 months and one shared by many event producers but still, John was quick to walk back the comment and clarify.
“It’s not a pain. I wish we could be there. It’s more fun to be there,” he said in reference to typical plans that would’ve found him at center stage inside a custom structure built on West Hollywood Park grounds. “This is the only way we could do it.”
And how they did it was by partnering with sponsors Cisco Webex and Parx Casino along with Fulwell 73 to produce a 60-minute pre-show special that was co-hosted by John, partner David Furnish and the couple’s close friend Neil Patrick Harris, a one-time Oscar host. They drafted global pop superstar Dua Lipa to perform a set from her smash Future Nostalgia album and lined up a slew of special guests including Lady Gaga (who talked mental health), Cynthia Erivo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, comedian David Walliams, Elizabeth Hurley and the cast of It’s a Sin including Olly Alexander, Nathaniel Curtis, Omari Douglas, Callum Scott Howells and Lydia West.
Shortly thereafter, the Oscar telecast began and the event pivoted again to become an official watch party. During the commercial breaks, Will & Grace favorite Eric McCormack (a longtime friend of John and Furnish and a regular Oscar party attendee) relieved Harris to fill in as co-host. John and Furnish also filled the airtime by offering their reactions to the show, including the winners and the setting — not all of it positive.
“The Oscar ceremony looks like it’s coming from a Starbucks somewhere,” John said during the first commercial break of the Union Station location. Later, he added, “I still can’t get over the set, though.” He seemed much more pleased with the winners, calling best supporting acting winner Daniel Kaluuya “a lovely man.” “He was brilliant in Get Out.”
To each their own but I loved the Union Station venue, both inside and out. It is a gorgeous location any time, but it was marvelous seeing it dressed up and on display in its finest during the pre-show and ceremony. It has much more character than the generic Kodak Theater. I felt ABC did a wonderful job of showing Los Angeles at its best during the pre-show, especially filming the song numbers at sunset and night. It’s not an easy city to “show off” but it has its moments.
The article reported that the EJAF virtual event had some glitches with Eric McCormack’s audio, but they were able to sort it out. Shockingly, those were the only issues with the event, which is amazing for a first time, multi-location production. And Eric was broadcasting from his backyard. I am amazed that EJAF met its $3M goal. That’s fantastic. Considering AIDS is a plague we’ve been battling for decades, it’s fitting to continue this tradition even during COVID. Good for Sir Elton carrying on and to all who turned out for it. I love that Dr. Fauci was there. It also sent the right message, letting all the celebrities get glammed up and do their spiel, but from the safety of their own space. It’s good messaging and it’s a great cause. I am shocked they were able to stay up after the pre-party in London and watch the Oscars, though. Good on them.
Photo credit Elton John AIDS Foundation and Instagram