Journey to Ellen’s, Part IV: Look, Ma, I’m On TV!

This is the final installment of the Journey to Ellen’s Saga.  The rest of the story can be found here:

Part I: We’ve Got a Train to Catch!

Part II: Hurry Up and Wait

Part III: The Riff-Raff Room

Although we were a flight of stairs and ten feet closer to the studio doors, we fared better than only about ten people who stood behind us in line. While waiting in impatient agony downstairs for our numbers to be called, we decided that the two hundred and thirty people that stood between us and Ellen were the so-called Very Important People. We didn’t think that anyone was more important than we were, since we were obviously Ellen’s biggest fans, but apparently no one else but us recognized that fact. Don’t get me wrong – we were quite happy to have a guaranteed seat at the Ellen show. But I must admit that I felt like the unnumbered line that wrapped around the outside of the building earlier in the day, the line in which we occupied the front, was nothing but a big, spiteful tease.

As we discussed this sad turn of events, we waited in line whilst handsome men in smart tuxedos brought us more chocolate. We tried to refuse, knowing that there was a chance we might be seen on national television and didn’t want chocolate on our faces (or to contribute to the ten pounds that would be added to our bodies by the television cameras), but it is mighty hard to resist an attractive man in a tuxedo who says with a twinkle in his eye, “Please eat this piece of chocolaty heaven; I brought it all the way up that long flight of stairs just for your pleasure.” Personally, over the course of twenty minutes, I managed to eat an entire tray of bite-sized brownie goodness. Of course, the magic spell cast by these tuxedo-clad hunks wore off once we saw that he gave the same spiel to the old woman sporting the tacky gold jumpsuit in front of us.

So we waited. We waited and we waited. We waited and we waited and we ate chocolate and we waited. And the whole time while we waited we wondered, “Where is Ch?” We figured she wasn’t in trouble, otherwise we would have seen her escorted from the premises by security personnel. Someone in the group speculated that her absence might have something to do with her answer to the questions we answered while in line outside. By that time, everyone around us in line had discovered that the person who was called to speak with Ellen’s staff had originated from the group of girls plus a boy that stood near them, which naturally made them more important than they were five minutes before.

Eventually, we saw Ch approaching our place in line, a slight and dazed smile on her face. She was immediately bombarded by her friends and the surrounding strangers, all of whom asked the same question: “What happened?”

Ch confirmed our suspicions by revealing that Ellen (or, more likely, one of her writers) had really liked her answers to the survey questions.

“What did you write?” someone asked.

“Well,” answered Ch, “I said that if I had ten extra minutes in my day, I would spend them talking to my grandfather over the phone while looking for my perpetually lost keys. One errand I always have hanging over my head is having to go make copies of my keys so that I wouldn’t be without when I either lost them or locked them in my car. And if I had a butler, I would have him keep with him an extra copy of my keys.”

I chuckled. Most of the rest of us had deliberately thought of the wackiest answers possible in hopes of catching Ellen’s attention. I could see now why Ch’s answers had been chosen: they were simple, honest and naturally pure, qualities that best befitted one to interest Ellen. And of course they would choose someone who least wanted to be seen on national television.

Not long after Ch explained her absence, we caught sight of a person with a headset and a clipboard climbing the stairs. Seeing Ch, he turned to another staff member next to him, pointed and said, “That’s her!” We all turned to see what was going to happen.

He marched towards us, pointing to Ch and barked, “Christin Barnhardt? From Winston-Salem, North Carolina?”

“Yes,” Ch timidly replied.

“How many people are in your party?”

Ch quickly scanned our group to be sure of herself. “Six.”

“Come with me.” He then marched away from us, towards the entrance to the studio.

We all looked at one another. I called after him, “All of us, or just Christin?”

The man with the clipboard looked annoyed. “All of you. Come on!”

An uncertain, surreal giddiness came over us as we realized that we were being placed at the front of the line, ahead of all the VIPs who, realizing that we were mere mortals with only simple Guaranteed Seats to our names, glared at us. I laughed to myself, thinking that we were now the MIP, the Most Important People, who were much more Important than the Very Important People. The six of us huddled together in front of the two women who had previously won cruises on Ellen’s show. The shock of our sudden unexpected good fortune had begun to wear off, and we chattered like hens, speculating what would come next.

Amidst it all, Ch moaned that she literally woke up five minutes before people arrived at her house that morning, that she had not had a shower, hadn’t brushed her hair and wore no makeup. We tried comforting her, trying to make her realize that she looked better with no makeup than most of us did with it on.

Without warning, an official-looking man interrupted our excited chattering. With a gruff “Follow me,” we entered the studio before anyone else.

Once again, I was sent into a state of shock as I was momentarily blinded by the brightness of the studio. The outside wall was nothing more than a series of giant windows, in front of which hung a giant sign that read simply, “ellen.” I congratulated myself for my good sense in wearing a sweater, because it was cold; surely it wouldn’t do to broadcast a room full of sweaty people to the rest of the country.

We were greeted by a woman with a clipboard who led us down a set of steps towards the front of the room. She guided us into a row of seats three rows from the front, and right next to where DJ Jonny would be pumping up the jams. Ch was asked to sit in the aisle seat. Again we silently cursed the monsters who would not let us take photos.

Although it took almost an hour for the rest of the audience to fill the studio, we were never bored. A charming young man about our age came out into the studio and spoke with us. I forget his name, but he was in charge of energizing the audience before the show and during commercial breaks. By a strange twist of fate, it turns out that he attended one of the local colleges in our area, having only graduated a few years beforehand.

We sat in Ellen’s studio the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, but the show would be aired on the Friday following the holiday. We were then coached by this delicious young thing – brainwashed, if you will – to believe that it was Friday, and we were suffering from turkey hangovers and annoyed with the two million crazy folk who wanted to shop at 4:00am that day.

Once enough people had taken their seats, the music started and we were up and dancing. As more people entered the studio, they realized that there was a party going on, and they started dancing even before they knew where they would be seated. Eventually someone looked back at the door and saw the old woman in the tacky gold jumpsuit being seated near the back of the room. We couldn’t believe our incredible luck, so we danced some more. People were randomly selected to go down on the stage and dance in front of everyone; David was the first of them, and he subsequently won a t-shirt. Excitement and anticipation filled the air, and we were nearly exhausted before the show even began.

Before we knew it, the show started. DJ Jonny had taken his place not ten feet from my seat, the music started and Ellen ran out onto the stage, an unbelievably huge smile across her face.

We cheered with all our might, and were eventually calmed when Ellen began her monologue. We laughed not only at the jokes, but at the fact that she was complaining about how full she was from her all-day feast the day before. The dancing resumed as Ellen made her way through the audience, danced with someone in the center section, straddled the coffee table and finally sat comfortably Indian-style in her seat on stage. After a plug for Celebrity Cruises, during which all the tuxedoed staff made their way to the stage and were thanked by Ellen, the real fun began.

She said that there was a woman in the audience who always lost her keys, and that woman’s name was Christin Barnhardt from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Immediately, a camera crew surrounded Ch, who tried to sit as calmly as possible. Angela and I could barely contain ourselves with the knowledge that Ellen was speaking directly to someone we knew. Ch explained that her keys were always either lost or locked in her car. Ellen smiled, and said that she could do something about that. From backstage emerged a tall, extremely well-put-together butler who approached Ch, suavely took her keys from her hands, and left to make his way across New York City to make a copy for her.

The remainder of the show was a blur to me. At some point, Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera appeared on stage and gave, in my humble opinion, a rather bland interview that in essence was merely a plug for the Today Show. I remember wishing that we had the opportunity to see Denzel Washington, who sat in that very room only two days prior. During commercial breaks, the attractive energizer man kept us up and dancing, wearing us out completely so that we hardly had energy to cheer during the show itself. I must say here that it is a completely surreal experience to stand in the same room with someone that you had only seen on television. It was definitely the neatest thing I can remember going through, but definitely strange. In all honesty, during the course of the show, I found myself watching the television screens they had placed on the sides of the stage, rather than Ellen herself. It was almost as if her actual presence in the same room as me was too much for my brain to handle.

Before we knew it, the show began to wrap up. We had forgotten about Ch and her keys, which were sort of necessary for her to return to her home the next day. Fortunately for us, Ellen remembered at the last moment, and had her suavely suave butler return to the stage. Ellen told Ch that a copy of her keys had been made, and, so she wouldn’t lose them, they had been attached to a massive keychain. When I say massive, I mean a keychain in the shape of a cruise ship that spanned a good ten feet in length. With the help of a stage hand, Ellen brought it up to Ch personally.

Now, a ripple of excitement ran through the crowd at the sight of this ridiculously oversized keychain. Keeping in mind that the show’s sponsor that week was a cruise line, we all wondered if it was possible that Ch had won a cruise. We had seen Ellen speaking to someone ever so briefly before bringing out the keychain, and wondered if a prize of that nature was really a possibility. Unfortunately, though, after speaking with someone “in charge,” we realized that Ch had to settle for a giant keychain that would ultimately be left in the television studio since it was too big to fit on the train.

The rest of us certainly didn’t go home empty-handed. In the last seconds of the show, Ellen announced that each member of the audience would go home with a $100 gift card to Macy’s, as well as a goodie bag of junk from the cruise line. The audience jumped for joy and cheered even louder for a really super lady, who stayed after taping to talk with us and show us some fun video clips.

Eventually, we returned home and life returned to normal. Thanksgiving was spent with our families, to whom we told this fantastic tale of intrigue. Black Friday was spent braving the mall to spend the gift card and watching the Ellen Show, during which I could see myself for approximately four seconds, donning a white sweater and laughing my head off when the ridiculous keychain was brought out to Ch.

After all was said and done, it was a good day.

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