Every year, the White House correspondents’ dinner draws more than a few “huh?” guests – those of-the-moment scene stealers whose presence at the black-tie affair is meant to draw eyeballs and make headlines. Remember when Sanjaya showed up? Do you even remember who Sanjaya is? Kim Kardashian (before she broke the Internet)? And JC Chasez?
But while the rest of the one-time wonders came and went, former boy bander Chasez has been a familiar face at the dinner since the late 2000s, which was already several years after ‘N Sync’s last world tour. Additional slightly random but frequent guests include former “Gossip Girl” heartthrob Chace Crawford, actor Joseph Mazzello (the kid from the original “Jurassic Park”), Matthew Morrison of “Glee” fame and Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo.
So why do these guys get a golden ticket? Two words: Eric Podwall.
Podwall, a music-tour manager-turned-celebrity manager, has been in the ballroom with President Barack Obama since 2008, when Fox News invited his client Crawford, who was at peak “GG” fame.
“And it grew from there,” Podwall said of his relationship with Fox and the annual dinner. The next year, he asked whether he could bring his other clients. Invites quickly went out to Morrison, Chasez and Mazzello, plus their plus-ones and so on.
“I bring anywhere between nine and 16 people every year,” said Podwall, who quickly became overwhelmed (and underwhelmed) by the pre-party offerings, large affairs that were heavy on the selfie seekers but light on celebs. So two years ago, he started throwing his own. “It got a bit much,” Podwall explained.
This year, Podwall’s Friday kickoff event at Sheppard, the small speakeasy owned by “Top Chef” alum Spike Mendelsohn, drew in a curated mix of the manager’s “D.C. friends and people (he) brings in.” “X-Men” director Bryan Singer, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin and former Obama speech writer Jon Favreau dined on the “Prez Obama Burger” and sipped “politically themed” cocktails alongside the roster of Podwall’s regulars.
It’s no coincidence, Podwall said, that the celeb factor got a boost in 2008 when Obama first took to the podium to deliver his punchlines.
“I think it’s somewhat president-specific,” said Podwall, who nevertheless plans to show up next year with his client roster in tow. Unless of course, “Trump builds a wall to only allow certain people into the dinner.”