Many of you loyal readers saw the snapshot of Jessica Simpson and me a few months ago. I consciously littered that once-in-a-lifetime image across my numerable social networking accounts – including this very blog – and delighted in the responses I received from friends and strangers alike: astonished, complimentary, questionable and otherwise. (In fact, a Google search of keywords “wendy townley” yields a handful of results, the third referencing that very photo. Coincidence?)
Truth is, meeting Jessica Simpson consumed less than 45 minutes of my little, then-29-year-old life on a balmy, windy September eve in downtown Omaha. Jessica was in town as a performer at the 2008 River City Roundup and Rodeo.
Giddy up, cowpokes. No, that’s not animal feces you smell. It’s rural America’s most familiar odor. Take it in and savor it, my friends.
But back to Jessica. Looking back at the experience, I was unnecessarily nervous and primped way too much in advance. The ratio of “getting ready” compared to “face time” was off balance and out of whack.
Upon receiving news that I scored a pass to a “meet and greet” with the pop-turned-country singer, I immediately leapt in the shower, with just a few hours to spare. While carefully shaving and vigorously shampooing, I mentally weeded through my closet to find The Perfect Ensemble. I could not arrive too fancy or too flashy, as I did not want to outshine the star. I also did not want to look like the other women milling about the rodeo, their ill-fitting tops and jeans revealing too much (unfortunate) skin, paired with an abundance of store-bought glitter haphazardly spackled about their décolleté.
I lack any wardrobe item suitable for attending a rodeo or any cowboy-themed event, and went with a simple, classic and feminine ensemble: snug-fitting Apple red, off-the-shoulder top by Express; skinny, dark denim jeans by Sarah Jessica Parker; simple red flats by Payless Shoes by way of my sister, who passed them on to me years ago. This self-proclaimed City Slicker did not want even the slightest hint of Country Girl on such an important night.
A quick, thick polish of red atop my trimmed fingernails finished the look. With my camera snug in my bag, I headed with Matt and Ben to the Qwest Center for our close-up.
We arrived at a small but nicely furnished convention office to await Jessica. Some of us chatted nervously. All of us looked in the same, general direction as, each time, the door lock clicked and some stranger walked in the room. We were given shiny stickers to wear, which served as our backstage pass. The cloth-like sticker featured a sepia-toned, sultry-looking Jessica in her younger days, with an intricate typeface identifying the young star to those who can read. Who knew such access could be provided with such flair?
Within 30 minutes of receiving and affixing the Jessica stickers, we were lined up in an order that, to me, made no sense and seemed irrelevant. We all would meet Jessica and we would all have our picture taken with her. We all, as a result, would then be quickly escorted out of the room. What did it matter who went first?
The lengthy line of Jessica’s “fans” snaked through the concrete-walled hallways in the Qwest Center’s digestive tract. We were lead, single file, into a room whose walls resembled a fallout shelter or rather clean garage. A clear, plastic tarp covered the floor, for reasons I’m still uncertain of to this day. One by one we were allowed to cuddle up next to Jessica to take a picture. But before doing so, a gracious and hip-dressed roadie, clad in designer denim from head to toe, took each of our cameras and created the magical snapshot.
“A nice touch,” I thought to myself, but didn’t say aloud.
Seeing Jessica in person was surreal at first. Here she was: a living, breathing, buxom beauty whose image and likeness I only stole, albeit briefly, while paging through celebrity rags at my stylist’s salon or while flipping through the channels and happening upon a Hollywood tell-all TV show. (Mind you, the phrase “buffalo wings” didn’t once come to mind.)
She was shorter than I expected and struck me as rather calm and friendly while visiting with others in line before me. Jessica wore a very stylish, patterned blouse paired with slim jeans and large, dangling earrings. Her hair and make-up appeared flawless.
And that’s when I got nervous.
As was protocol, I was shortly thereafter instructed to stand close to Jessica and smile for the camera. Before the flash fired, I said, “Hi, Jessica” in a voice akin to a cooing parent. I was not sure how to behave around a celebrity and I, regretfully, barely looked her in the eye.
It was the damn nerves, I tell you!
We slid each other’s arms around the other’s waist and smiled our best smiles. It was a surreal moment that ended within 20 seconds. I thanked Jessica for the picture and stood to the side. Rather than being immediately escorted from the room, I waited patiently, my camera having been returned to me, while Matt and Ben posed with Jessica for their photo.
Within seconds we were lead out of the room and back into the hallway. I will admit that the three of us were buzzing a bit on celebrity-induced adrenaline. And we checked our cameras countless times that night as proof that what just happened really did happen.
I wish I could tell you that the experience was more memorable than that. I wish I could tell you that Jessica and I exchanged emails and that she gave me, as a gift, one of her signature handbags. (“Oh, Jessica, you shouldn’t have!” I would cry, tears glistening in the corners of my eyes. “You are such a doll!”) I hoped for both in the hours leading up to the photograph, but that simply wasn’t the case.
The photograph remains more valuable to me than actually meeting Jessica. It wasn’t my proudest moment, but rather vanilla and hurried.
The photograph, however, allows me to mentally reconstruct what happened and even fib on minor (and major) details of the evening to those seeing the image for the first time.
Isn’t that what Hollywood is all about?
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