Wednesday, June 20, 2018
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Tread lightly, show respect when approaching celebrities at Republican National Convention

Okesene Tilo knows his way around the red carpet.

As marketing director of Tampa's Ritz Ybor, he has watched a parade of celebrities come through the door, from Lindsay Lohan and Demi Lovato to Natasha Bedingfield and Cuba Gooding Jr.

He was front and center when Lady Gaga performed at the Ritz in 2009. She was set to do a meet and greet with a few fans after the show but instead strutted through the venue in black underwear, fishnets and a denim vest, stopping and taking photos with anyone holding a camera.

"She was actually very sweet,'' Tilo said. "She called everyone 'baby.' ''

Most of Tampa Bay will be on the lookout for similar brushes with fame when the Republican National Convention comes to town Aug. 27-30. Which celebrities show up remains to be seen but, if past conventions are any indication, Tampa will attract a who's who list of Hollywood stars, politicians and media commentators. Confirmed music headliners, so far, include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins and Kid Rock, performing at Liberty Plaza in downtown Tampa.

Many private RNC parties will feature national acts, from Kid Rock in a tent adjacent to the Tampa Bay Times Forum to major acts like Big Head Todd, Blues Traveler, Drive By Truckers, Better than Ezra, and Gregg Allman and Friends at the Ritz Ybor. While fans won't have opportunities to get inside, loitering outside might be a way to catch a glimpse of a favorite celeb.

Getting up close and personal to performers and celebrity guests won't be easy, but it won't be impossible, either. Fans who are kind and respectful have the best chance of scoring photos and autographs. People who are rude or verbally disagree with the person's politics will get ignored.

Tilo always opens with a compliment.

"Be straightforward. Try to keep it short and sweet, and always know what you're talking about,'' he said. "Usually they will accommodate you if you aren't going to take up a lot of time.''

For famous musicians, he recommends going a step further. "Instead of saying, 'I love your new album,' say, 'I love track six of your new album.' " It shows you're a devoted fan, and it separates you from others vying for attention.

Fans looking for an autograph should have a Sharpie in hand and something for the celeb to sign, said Katie Pedretty, public relations manager at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Don't fumble around your purse or ask around for a pen and paper. Want a photo? Have your camera out and be ready to press the button. Most celebs don't have time to linger.

"Just make sure you're presenting one item,'' she said. "If you hand them four or five, eBay flashes into their head. They will shut it down and say, 'I've got to go.' ''

Savvy fans scope out the back entrance. The Script, Styx and Jon Stewart recently signed autographs for fans waiting outside Ruth Eckerd's backstage door. Fans must show their ticket stubs to protect against professional autograph seekers.

But back doors can be hit or miss.

Tara Schroeder, director of programming and marketing for the Tampa Theatre, remembers seeing the Talking Heads' David Byrne as he was leaving the theater after a show in 1992. He and his road manager were discussing how to get across the sidewalk from the door to the bus and whether to stop for autographs. The mood was tense.

"They opened the door and there were flashing of lights and screaming fans. It was really jarring,'' she said. "In that second I thought I would never want to be a celebrity.''

Laura Reiley contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110.

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