The Man Behind the Curtain: Covering the VH1 Super Bowl Blitz 2014

Text and Images by Kimberly Cecchini

As the step child of the boroughs, New Jersey’s singular VH1 Super Bowl Blitz starred a name I had not heard of, Gavin DeGraw.  Forget about the fact that the New Jersey was the official unofficial host of the big game and I did not even get to a Super Bowl party because the stadium’s melee literally was en route to it.

But thank you, VH1, for at least inviting the Garden State to our own party.

Not that I was clamoring to cover Brooklyn’s prize of Fall Out Boy, but at least I knew something about their music.  And, unfortunately, I did not have the heart to trek through the arctic blast and slushy streets midweek to photograph Janelle Monae’s Blast in the Bronx.   So I tried to unsuccessfully recall one of his hits in a YouTube clip and secured a press pass for Gavin DeGraw’s show in Montclair.

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Despite my having missed DeGraw’s blip in pop culture, I was still looking forward to seeing Montclair’s Wellmont Theater primed for the live broadcast.  It was not a disappointment; the faithfully restored theater popped with the color of TV lighting in my wide angle lens.  The line outside the theater seemed to indicate that he may have been a good choice for the New Jersey spot.  I amused myself before the show by snapping shots of the VH1’s penguin mascot and chatting with the Associated Press photographer next to me in the photo pit.  Having been at the Goo Goo Doll broadcast the night before in Staten Island, he gave me a run down on the magic of television.

“C’mon, New Jersey, that was only a 6,”  one of the show’s engineers prepped the audience for live television with the exact script the AP guy had promised me from his experience at the Staten Island Blitz.  The not so inspiring man from behind the curtain coached the audience on its cheers;  instructing them to loudly usher in Nick Canon and to amp it up for the star of the show.  

Unfortunately, DeGraw may not have been the biggest draw as the crowd of lucky ticket winners had to work a little harder to meet the expectations. A couple of my friends appeared behind me as they were among the folks  that were solicited with free tickets on Bloomfield Avenue in order to fill the place.

At five minutes to broadcast, the folks on the lower level were parted by flood lights, cameras and a small marching band with the penguin.  Nick Canon and his co-host, Stacy Keibler, walked into their protected circle and did their first announcement at eleven o’clock sharp, Eastern Standard Time.

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I’m not sure how many American tuned in that night, but I will say, that DeGraw has some relevancy because there were people in the live audience that were singing faithfully along with him.  But, perhaps because I was more of a cynical observer than a fan, I was more fascinated by the spontaneities of this act that looked like it was cued as effectively as the commercial breaks.  

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In fact, luring the extra bodies from the street was a good move because he played the part of a rock star when he came out into the theater to serenade a lucky lady.  I could not tell you which song it was because when the house lights came up directly after Nick Canon wished America good night, I still could not recall one of Gavin’s supposedly charming melodies.