Backstage at the Oscars: My First Time

RT's Jen Yamato gives her first-hand account of what it was like to cover the Academy Awards.

by |

In the movie world there is no event greater, no red carpet glitzier, no awards show more meaningful, than that of the Academy Awards. While millions watch the biggest night in Hollywood via television and thousands post show commentaries on their blogs (or, in the case of this year, on Twitter), Rotten Tomatoes was on the ground, right smack dab in the middle of it all. Read on as RT's Jen Yamato recounts this year's Oscars show, from the best parts of the musical-laden telecast to the quiet moments backstage with the night's triumphant winners.

Jen here! After weeks of anticipation and months of populating Rotten Tomatoes' Awards Tour with major awards show news, galleries, trivia, and interviews with this year's Oscar nominees and winners, the day finally came to cover the Superbowl of movies: The 81st Annual Academy Awards! So on Sunday afternoon, I gussied myself up (left) --- formal wear mandatory, even for the backstage press room --- and headed to the Hollywood Renaissance Hotel to camp out for the next eight hours. It was just like my Senior Prom, only instead of a tuxedoed date (he'd worn white a la Mickey Rourke this year, incidentally) I'd be cozied up with my laptop, watching glamorous A-listers traipse up and down the red carpet practicing their best "It was an honor just to be nominated" faces.

Would Kate Winslet break the Susan Lucci curse and wrestle the Best Actress trophy from Meryl Streep's greedy paws? Could any film other than Slumdog Millionaire really contend for the Best Picture prize? Would Hugh Jackman usher in a new era of song-and-dance hosting, or make us long for the days of a Billy Crystal wisecrack? And would Beyonce please change out of that black and gold mermaid dress, which someone apparently made from her grandma's drapery??

"This Slumdog Millionaire just needs some Milk!"
-- Oscar host Hugh Jackman, before launching into the opening musical sequence

Oscar watchers had known for a while that this year's show would be different; ratings in recent years had dipped so low that some wondered if the Academy could ever get America watching again. (ABC's early numbers show that ratings were up six percent from last year's all time low of 32 million viewers.) But who knew it would be this different?

Filmmakers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark (the writer/director and producer of 2006's Oscar-winning Dreamgirls, respectively) were tapped to produce the show, no doubt in hopes that they would jazz up the proceedings. As they'd done to the film musical genre (with Dreamgirls and Chicago, which Condon wrote), the duo injected the Oscar show with a healthy smattering of shuffle-ball-changes and jazz hands, employing Aussie stage star-turned-Wolverine Hugh Jackman to lead two huge musical numbers; the first one, lampooning the Best Picture nominees, worked (thanks in large part to singing starlet Anne Hathaway, plucked from the crowd to duet with Jackman in the spirit of Frost/Nixon).

The second number, featuring guest stars Beyonce, Amanda Seyfried, Dominic Cooper, Zac Efron, and Vanessa Hudgens...not so much. Even with help from Baz Luhrmann --- the king of the overdone, sentimental spectacle --- the ode to music in movies from Jackman and Co. had many viewers wondering when the Oscars had become the Tony Awards. That is, those viewers who knew what the Tonys are to begin with. Others (read: the under-40 crowd) just squirmed in their seats until the singing and dancing were over.

Fun fact: The Oscars provide an "Academy Librarian" in the press room to answer your nerdiest, most obscure Oscar-related questions. When did Oscar last feature an all-star musical number?

It was back in 1990, two years after the infamous Alan Carr-produced spectacle-debacle featuring Snow White and Rob Lowe. My personal favorite is the sequence from the year before, with "stars of the future" like Ricki Lake, Patrick Dempsey, and Corey Feldman.

Next: Backstage with Kate Winslet, Best Actress winner