Smile pretty and don’t fall down

My night as a SAMMIES award princess

Princesses Amy Nathman, Andrea Anderson and Becca Costello: Royalty does <i>not</i> drink beer, thank you.

Princesses Amy Nathman, Andrea Anderson and Becca Costello: Royalty does not drink beer, thank you.

photo by Jill Wagner

“They asked me to be an awards princess,” one of my co-workers told me in the office break room after finding out I’d volunteered for the job at this year’s SAMMIES awards. “I was going to do it, but then I thought, ‘What if I tripped and fell in front of the entire Crest Theatre?’ Oh and the dressing up! Wigs? Heels? Ugh. That is so not me. What if the wig fell off or I twisted my ankle? I decided there was no way you’d get me up on that stage! There’s just way too many chances to make an idiot of yourself.”

She then glanced up from her coffee cup and noticed I was gnawing on my bottom lip in anxious contemplation of the humiliating possibilities she was setting forth. “Oh,” she smiled reassuringly, “I’m sure you’ll do fine, though.”

First, it seemed like a great idea. Being an awards princess meant handing out SAMMIES to the winners, supporting local music, dressing up all girly-girl and hanging out backstage. Nice work if you can get it, right?

Once I had committed to the project, however, I encountered a small snag: I’m not glamorous. I don’t own any makeup or hairstyling products. I can’t even walk in heels. Hell, most days I trip in my tennis shoes! What was I thinking?

Then I met the other princesses—cool-headed Amy Nathman and glamorous local diva Andrea Anderson—and my confidence returned. We shopped Prevues on K Street for the funkiest of fashions under the guidance of Princess Andrea, who possesses that magic capacity to understand things like eyelash glue and matching cosmetics to skin tone—concepts that have eluded me since birth.

The night of the SAMMIES, we descend into the bowels of the Crest Theatre and spend two hours gluing, strapping, glittering and wigging out. Getting dressed is complicated by the fact that there’s only one dressing room for men and women, necessitating a lot of door-locking and frustrated knocking as everyone struggles to get ready on time without exposing themselves to opposite-sexed strangers. Imagine a junior-high locker room scene with Eric Bianchi and the guys from Xenophilia instead of your gym class. Surreal, for sure.

As Andrea works to mold us into proper princess form, Amy and I complain, as those unused to suffering for beauty will do. “I feel like a drag queen!” Amy exclaims. “Are you gluing my eyelids together?” I yelp as Andrea straightens my long purple false lashes. Princess Andrea, with a minimum of nicotine breaks, keeps her cool throughout.

Finally, we emerge wearing short, bobbed wigs in contrasting colors, sweeping false eyelashes chosen to match our wigs, tight dresses and strappy, high-heeled shoes. There are rhinestones sparkling around our eyes and glitter glistening on our skin. We walk to the stage transformed. For the rest of the night, we are royalty.

In the green room, production manager Joie Johansen briefs us on our role. “You wait by the stage, holding the plaque. When the presenter says ‘and the winner is … ’ you walk up the stairs and stand there looking pretty. When the winner comes up, you hand them the plaque, wait for them to make their speech and then escort them off the stage to the left, so they can be interviewed by the media.”

I compulsively rehearse the steps in my mind. “Stairs, plaque, wait, exit left. Stairs, plaque, wait, exit left.” I’m holding the SAMMIE for the first award of the evening, Outstanding World/Latin Band, and I am ready. I make my way across the stage at the correct time, using one entire hemisphere of my brain to concentrate on not tripping and the other half to focus on smiling big, but not too big. I discover a newfound respect for the Price Is Right girls. It’s amazing how much concentration it takes to look vapid!

William Jones runs up to accept the award on behalf of the Sugar Boom Boom Reggae Band, and I hand him the plaque and step back. Behind my best imitation Star Search spokesmodel smile, I’m running through my mental checklist: “stairs, done; plaque, done. Now I just escort him off the … Wait! Where is he going?” Jones has finished his speech and has taken off into the crowd. Still attempting the smile, I break into what I hope is a graceful sprint in the heels I can barely walk in. I catch him somewhere in the center aisle, and tell him I need to escort him to the media room. He agrees and as I attempt to lead him around the (wrong) side of the stage without disrupting the show, a huge spotlight pins us in the aisle. Eric Bianchi and Laura Ingle, the hosts, are introducing the awards princesses. Blinded but smiling, I wave at the crowd and scurry into the darkness like a glamorous purple cockroach.

After the first presentation, I relax into the rhythm of the show and begin to have fun. The backstage crew nicknames us by our hair color. I am dubbed the “purple ranger.” We princesses hang out behind the stage grooving to the sounds of Socialistik and chatting with the tech crew. We collectively groan when Dimple Records owner John Radakovitz remarks that country-pop singer Kasey Chambers has “a nice ass,” and agree with the burly soundman who whispers, “That was uncouth.” We commiserate about our aching feet. We take turns sneaking out into the lobby to see the crowd.

When it’s my turn, I quickly discover the conspicuous nature of life with purple hair. Strangers continually stop me to ask me what band I’m in. A man hands me a purple glow stick and bows. Heads are turning everywhere I walk and I am not used to it. I summon all my purple ranger powers to slip unseen through the crowd to the safety of backstage.

When I return, LUXT is rocking the Crest in a hardcore way. A pit has formed in front of the stage. Anna Christine’s blond dreads are flying as she belts out lyrics to the accompaniment of the band’s patented cyber-voodoo sound. When they launch into a cover of House of Pain’s “Jump Around,” I put one hand on the wall to steady myself in my heels and “jump up, jump up and get down” for all I’m worth.

It’s time to present the Outstanding Punk Band award and Mick Mucus is working overtime to convince all three princesses to accompany him and Justin Kable of KDVS onstage, wearing feather boas. I end up escorting Kable to the podium with a boa draped over our shoulders. I’m feeling like a trophy girl at a car show, but my embarrassment fades when I get to present the award to 7Seconds. My inner high-schooler thrills at being onstage with the guys whose cassette I sang along with in my bedroom back in the day.

Backstage once again, Mucus offers to buy a round of beers for the princesses and asks if we’re headed to the afterparty. Andrea informs him that princesses only drink wine, at which point he seems to lose interest. Wine is just not punk rock.

There are a few more awards and a Tesla tribute, but, for this princess, it’s all over but the 7Seconds finale. When the band takes the stage, I move into the audience to watch the show from the front of the house for the first time all night. Their short but sweet set is packed with surprises, from the Knockoffs selling their moves to a performance of the much-beloved “99 Red Balloons” cover. I forget my aching feet and my purple conspicuousness and shout out lyrics with the rest of the fans. It is the highlight of this princess’ night.

On the way to the Old Ironsides afterparty, I exchange my heels for flip-flops and say a prayer of gratitude for the fact that I never tripped onstage, praise be to the Goddess of Spokesmodels, Game Show Hostesses and Calendar Girls.