Elton John and David Furnish may have been the hosts, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation may have been the cause, but the talent that drew attention like moths to a flame was Lady Gaga, sweeping into Sunday’s Elton John Oscars Viewing Party a few hours in and completely shifting the energy in the room.
Even celebrity guests like Steven Tyler were left asking, “What’s going on over there?” when a massive crowd formed around the party’s head table to catch even a glimpse of Gaga. Security ultimately had to dispatch the crowd and then wrangle its ebbs and flows as numerous guests coincidentally found casual reasons to cruise toward the top table.
The pop star, in sparkly strapless pink with a flowing chiffon scarf, the same number she hit the Oscars red carpet wearing, plunked down first between Donatella Versace and a radiant Jane Fonda (can we hope to look that smashing at 76?) before being joined by Elton upon his return to his seat.
Heidi Klum, another head-table guest, sat just a few seats away as Gaga chattered along, especially with Fonda, before leaving at the end of the broadcast to hit Vanity Fair with the tiny-waisted Versace in completely different attire.
The party started with a cocktail hour that saw “Arrow” actor Colton Haynes, dapper in a blue velvet tuxedo jacket and black-and-white shoes, filling out the requisite Oscar ballot surrounded by buddies. This after Robert De Niro stopped by early to say hi to Elton before he continued on to the Academy Awards.
Director John Waters poked his head into a few conversations while “True Blood” was well represented, with actors Ryan Kwanten, Sam Trammell, Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer making the scene. Kwanten’s white satin tux jacket could be spotted popping around the main room all night as he made the most of the evening.
D.L. Hughley played it close to the entry for a while, taking pictures with friends left and right. Notorious “Hell’s Kitchen” chef Gordon Ramsay, who designed the menu for hors d’oeuvres and dinner, seemed positively tame as he cruised through.
After sipping Champagne and nibbling bites in one of two rooms set up for cocktails — one indoors and glowing with magenta lights, the other in a clear tent open to the natural light in newly cleared skies — guests entered the main tent to dine and view. They were greeted with tables set formally for 950, surrounded by a myriad of television screens, some of them the size of garage doors. Near the head table, Elton and Furnish’s son Zachary squirmed around in a tiny tux decorated with flashy sequin “Zs” on the back at the cuffs before being spirited away for the late action.
Neil Patrick Harris and husband David Burtka commanded a table nearby, as did Aerosmith’s Tyler, who broke with tux tradition and stuck to his own style in multicolor velvet pants and a rocker jacket.
Before dinner started, Elton introduced a new addition to the evening, though he handed off the description of the how-to details, protesting that he was “hopeless at this": Guests for the first time were encouraged to pledge donations to EJAF via text, and their messages and pledge amounts appeared on the giant screens during commercial breaks.
Names like Klum, Kardashian and Haynes were among those whose names flashed on the screens followed by four-and five-figure pledge amounts, with the supermodel and “Will and Grace” star Eric McCormack among those getting up to the microphone during the night to encourage more giving. “I’ve done it and if I can do it, you can do it,” Klum said.
And all the while the Academy Awards played on almost in the background, until Lupita Nyong’o’s supporting actress speech drew all eyes, nearly silencing the room. Huge cheers later went up for the best actress and best actor winners, Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey, and again for best picture “12 Years a Slave.”
EJAF Executive Director Scott Campbell noted that the event, which started on a small scale 22 years ago before growing to its current massive status — on Sunday the party tents took over West Hollywood Park — was still attended by a loyal “core group” that had supported the cause over the years.
That celebrities had been drawn into the mix has been a bonus. “I think that says something about the event,” Campbell noted.
While some stars like the three Kardashians and Britney Spears came and went relatively quickly, others hung around for the duration.
Sharon Osbourne, red hair newly brightened, made the scene with husband Ozzy and daughter Kelly, even tossing in a bid on one of the big-ticket auction items. The six-item auction, which included things like tickets to Sunday’s Vanity Fair party (winners were immediately whisked away) and a five-night stay at Tyler’s Maui beach house, raised about a half-million bucks in only a few minutes.
A piano played by Elton at the event, signed by him and songwriting partner Bernie Taupin, brought in $220,000 all on its own. And Harris helped auction off tickets to his upcoming Broadway performance of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” his promises of attendant naughty behavior increasing incrementally as the price of the package climbed.
In total, the event brought in about $5.1 million.
After the auction Elton introduced singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran, who brought the audience to its feet with a rocking 45-minute set that included his hit “The A-Team” as well as a duet with the host on his hit “Candle in the Wind,” done up-tempo with the two trading verses.
“I didn’t think anyone would be interested tonight,” a pleased Sheeran said mid-set as he thanked the audience. He described his rehearsal jamming with Elton on “Candle” as something that “came out pretty cool.”
It was after his set that even more folks came streaming in for the after-party, which moved back into the cocktail areas and featured yet another round of hors d’oeuvres, free-flowing drinks and a booming dance beat.
And about that Oscar ballot from the beginning of the evening? One of two winners, the lady taking home a gender-appropriate Chopard watch as her prize, was none other than one Patty Hearst.