The White House Correspondents’ Association’s annual dinner is this Saturday. It’s the last one President Obama will attend while in office, and Larry Wilmore of Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show will be the emcee. But as you sift through your invitations to various ancillary events the Hollywood Reporter would like you to know that something about this year’s dinner is amiss.
“Star Power Dwindles at White House Correspondents’ Dinner” reads a headline from the entertainment-industry rag. Apparently, this year’s guests, including Scandal star Kerry Washington (invited by ABC), fashion designer Tory Burch (invited by the Wall Street Journal, perhaps you’ve seen the commercial), and New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (invited by Reuters), just aren’t that impressive.
Sadly, the Hollywood Reporter writes, “the confirmed list of attendees isn’t nearly as star heavy as it was when the association welcomed Obama for the first time in 2009.”
The 2009 dinner, THR remembers wistfully, was full of real A-listers and “power couples” like Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore, Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, and Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. This year’s edition is stuck with folks like the gaggle of YouTube and Vine celebrities the Huffington Post invited and America’s Next Top Model winner Nyle DiMarco, who will be sitting at People magazine’s table along with The Office star Jenna Fischer.
To be sure, that’s a considerable drop-off in universally recognized names. Teens with big Vine followings and America’s next top model might not be as top-of-mind as Academy Award-winning directors and Emmy-winning actresses. But what makes THR‘s alarmism more mystifying is the fact that the publication has been ringing this bell for years.
Take its preview of the 2015 White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner: “Film Star Wattage Continues to Dwindle at White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” the headline read, even though the article quickly revealed that the dinner’s tables would be packed with the casts of House of Cards, Veep, Modern Family, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Game of Thrones.
In 2014, the Hollywood Reporter‘s story was “Few Movie Stars Set to Attend White House Correspondents’ Dinner.” Guests that year included Lupita Nyong’o, Armie Hammer, Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Anna Kendrick, Jack O’Connell, Kevin Hart, Robin Wright, and Kevin Spacey. So few movie stars, indeed.
Just what prompted this supposed exodus of big-name stars from the most odious of nights on Washington’s social calendar?A scan of the Hollywood Reporter‘s archives puts the blame on us Washingtonians, who see big-name entertainers and reveal our inner podunk-ness.
“Celebrities might view the bash—which has swelled to 2,500 and earned the Twitter hashtag #nerdprom— warily, especially when it comes to dealing with the starstruck spouses in attendance,” it wrote in 2013.
That year, George Clooney—”who usually is considered the evening’s biggest catch”—skipped the dinner because he was off filming The Monuments Men while Ben Affleck stayed away, reportedly scarred by his attendance at one dinner where a female onlooker attempted to win his attention by showing him her breasts. The big question was whether Kim Kardashian would attend, as she had in 2012.
Kardashian ultimately skipped the 2013 dinner, too. Was she in fact part of a vanguard of celebrities cutting it from their event circuits so that “Nerd Prom” could be exclusively the domain of the nerds again? A “longtime DC political consultant” told THR in 2014—when that galaxy of non-stars attended—that with Obama firmly into his second term and facing no more elections, the big Hollywood money that backed his 2008 and 2012 campaigns could stay home.
Maybe there isn’t enough wattage this year to impress the staff of the Hollywood Reporter, but don’t count DC’s innate ability to turn any event into a cowtown. Kardashian herself might not be on the list this year, but her clan will still be represented. Her half-sister, Kendall Jenner, will be sitting at USA Today‘s table, and appearing in selfies taken by every Gannett employee you know.