Keeping track of who's who on the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards can be a tall order for the most diehard music fans — let alone a journalist whose primary beats are television and film. For every Pamela Anderson and Jason Biggs that whizzed by, there were 16 Simple Plans (Who?). So, what's a dazed reporter to do? Focus on the familiar, avoid the obscure, but never — ever — let them see you sweat.
The first act to make its way down the carpet was British female duo Floetry — not the most recognizable artists around. Luckily, their publicist brought along a stack of flyers chock-full of background information. Turns out, Floetry's Natalie Stewart and Marsha Ambrosius are "the breakthrough story of the year," having landed two VMA nominations for their debut album and single Floetic. Who knew?
What wasn't covered in the flyer, however, was the origin of the duo's unusual name. "A friend of ours [suggested it]," Stewart said. "We were going by 'Nat and Marsha,' and it sounded like we were about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. So, a friend said, 'Poetry is flowing with music — it's Floetry,' and it just stuck."
Following right behind Nat and Marsha, er, Floetry, was the publicist for TRL host Damien Fahey, who, according to a postcard she handed me, is "MTV's most popular VJ." (Who knew?) The postcard also urged reporters to, "Ask Damien about Chris Rock — good story!" Seconds later, Carson Daly's successor appeared and I wasted no time following up on that hot Chris Rock tip. "I met Chris the other day," Fahey said. "I went to his dressing room and said, 'Hey Chris, I'm Damien. I'm on MTV.' He [replied], 'I know who you are. Man, you sucked your first week. You were awful. Now you're really good, but before you sucked.'"
Rocco DiSpirito, star of NBC's hit reality show The Restaurant, stopped by (sans flies) to defend his much-maligned New York eatery — which recently got slapped with six violations from the New York Health Department. "The health department finds problems everywhere," he argued. "That's what their job is. Relative to what it could have been, it was very minor. There were no critical violations.
"People leave our restaurant happy — I make sure of it," added the celeb chef. "I talked to every table last night personally, and I think there was one table that thought their food could have been different, but 400 people were very happy walking out the door."
Ashton Kutcher's Punk'd field agent Aly Al hinted that the VMAs might one day be a staging ground for an elaborate prank. "You never can tell," he smirked. Has the joker met Kutcher's red-hot mama, er, girlfriend? "I have indeed met Demi," he winked. "[They make a] nice little couple."
Speaking of nice couples, tennis greats Serena and Venus Williams stopped by, and Serena confirmed that her dramatic acting debut on Showtime's Street Time was delayed as a result of a recent knee injury. (She'll tape the episode on Sept. 8.) "I play a reformed gang member," she said. "[She] went to jail, but it wasn't [her] fault."
No one needed a flyer to ID the next group of performers making their way down the red carpet — the stars of Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. A fellow reporter asked Carson Kressley what it's like to be gay and so popular, and the quick-witted stylist quipped, "It's like high school, but reversed."
It's snappy comebacks like that that will only intensify speculation that Kressley will be the first member of the Fab Five to set out on his own. After all, the future talk show host just signed with high-powered Hollywood agency ICM for representation in all areas. "We're a group," argued Kressley's co-star Thom Filicia (interior design). "We're all about the Fab Five."
Another group that showed no signs of splitting up were the Olsen twins, who walked hand-in-hand all the way to Radio City Music Hall. Mary-Kate and Ashley — who just completed filming the comedy New York Minute in Toronto — seemed tongue-tied when asked to critique their current (and rather sexy) Rolling Stone cover. "It's an honor," said Mary-Kate (or was it Ashley?), "but we would never let that go past that."
Fame champ Harlemm Lee was clearly enjoying his moment in the spotlight. "I was in Times Square and people were recognizing me from Fame," marveled the up-and-coming crooner, whose debut album is due in November. "I'm almost halfway done. We've been knocking out a song every three days."
R&B babe Mya revealed that she just knocked out a plum part in the upcoming Jennifer Lopez-Richard Gere romance Shall We Dance. "I play Lisa, and I'm in a ballroom dance competition with my husband," she said. "It's a love story for many characters and couples."
Jason Biggs also broke some news to TV Guide Online at the VMAs. The American Wedding star said reports that he's slated to replace Robert Downey Jr. in Woody Allen's next film are premature. "I don't know if it's going to happen," he said. "I think I'm too young for the part. We'll see."
In other movie news, David Spade was out promoting his latest comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, which is enjoying some good advance buzz. "I just got a whole [stack] of reviews and they're great," the Joe Dirt star exclaimed. "I'm shocked that finally the [critics] are on my team."
Newlywed Jessica Simpson — whose MTV reality series with hubby Nick Lachey is shaping up to be a ratings winner — admitted that the show accurately portrayed her as a dunce in the laundry room. "I really didn't know how to use a washer and dryer," she said. "I really had never done laundry before — until I got married. My husband makes me a better woman."
Hilary Duff also was in a celebratory mood: Her song "So Yesterday" is No. 1 on Billboard's singles chart. "I can't believe that it's me," she gushed. "I'm really excited." She had more modest expectations for her new CD Metamorphosis, which will hit stores on Tuesday — the same day as Mary J. Blige's new disc Love & Life. "Mary J.'s a legend, so I think [Metamorphosis] will debut at No. 2."
Last but not least, a radiant Kim Cattrall sauntered down the carpet minus her Absolut Hunk. "I only see him on the set," she said of her Sex and the City leading man Jason Lewis. When a fellow reporter asked the newly single actress whether a guy has to be gay to enjoy Sex, she responded, "No. It's a guy who is not frightened of women or frightened of his own femininity." Carson Kressley couldn't have said it better himself.