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Deal Divas

Stephanie Hayes, Katie Sanders, Kameel Stanley, & Keyonna Summers

Ted Williams, homeless man with radio voice, wears tattered clothes on Today



Cinderella never wore her dusty, ripped-up clothes to the ball. She was two very distinct characters -- the girl in the burlap dress dusting the cinders, and the girl in the sparkling ball gown getting wooed by the prince. That's how people have liked it since the first century B.C. Nice and clear. Rags. Riches.

It might explain why media sensation Ted Williams, a homeless man plucked from the streets of Columbus and lauded for his smooth radio announcer voice, appeared on the Today show Thursday sporting a spiffy new haircut, but also dirty sneaks, ragged pants and the same camouflage jacket he wore in the the viral video that started everything.

His homeless clothes.


Before you start with the pitchforks, I'm not criticizing a homeless man's fashion. That would be evil. But this image is curious, don't you think? Kind of Curly Sue? The haves in their expensive suits, staring lovingly at the have not in his dowdy street garb. Williams effusively thanked NBC Thursday for putting him up in the best hotels in New York, for giving him a chance to read the morning introductions and be a part of their crew for a day.

It's one thing as a journalist to capture someone in their natural setting, their reality, their unsullied truth. But this wasn't an account of his life on the streets. This was a celebration of success under heavy stage lights. Producers even helped him with documentation to get to New York. He hugged Matt Lauer. In that context, couldn't they have bought him a suit? A polo shirt? A pair of jeans? Surely they have racks of wardrobe items a few steps away. Finish the job.

The homeless clothes fit better into the made-for-TV storyline. It's good tube, this ash-ridden Cinderella story. It's not so good if he looks good.

I asked Times media critic Eric Deggans, who pointed out that Today has previously been criticized for taking guests shopping. Maybe they're trying to avoid perceptions of paying for interviews, but I don't think that was the case here. I feel like this was a move to paint him as a tidy caricature on the small screen. Homeless man makes it big! Quick, look poor!

Maybe they offered him clothes, and he didn't want them. Maybe it's a policy thing. NBC said they didn't want to comment.

Williams also appeared on the CBS Early Show. He wore a collared shirt under a sweatshirt, no camo jacket. CBS spokespeople said Williams was already at a radio station doing interviews when they sent a satellite truck to interview him Wednesday. They had no control over what he was wearing.

This shows the power that clothing has to define people, for better or worse. Fashion takes flack for being inconsequential. But what we put on our bodies speaks volumes about how we're perceived, what we want to believe, and what people want us to believe. One look at Meredith, Matt and Ted says it all.

Deal Diva Stephanie (with help from Eric Deggans)

Photo: AP

[Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 5:48pm]


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