A (Rockin’) Night at the Museum

You normally wouldn’t go to the Museum of Fine Arts to stargaze but anything can happen during Super Bowl weekend. The kind of stars I’m talking about also aren’t typically seen in the sky. But they did shine bright at Rolling Stone Live!, the event I covered the Saturday night before the big game.

Once the celebrities hit the red carpet, it felt like the party had already started and that was before headliners DJ Cassidy, Diplo, Big Sean and Nas got there. You can read about the antics that ensued here or check out the full story under the pictures.

Stars clown around and put on a red carpet show at Rolling Stone Super Bowl party

We haven’t even made it through Super Bowl LI yet and already comedian JB Smoove had a suggestion for next year’s half time performer. “JB Smoove, of course. Next question!” Jokes, laughter and antics were just some of what could be heard and spotted on the red carpet at the Rolling Stone Live! party that had the atmosphere feeling more like a comedy club.

From NFL players Eddie Lacy and Brandon Williams dancing to Anthony Anderson breaking up Smoove’s interview (they hugged it out right after that), celebrities from the entertainment and sports world got things rolling early at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Saturday night.

In fact, former Bachelorette Andi Dorfman called out reporters for being too tame. “Why are you so quiet? Am I going to have to put on some music on my phone?” It might have been a little quiet on media row, but the evening’s performers would more than make up for it.

DJ Cassidy and Diplo were set to take the stage along with Grammy-nominated rapper, Big Sean, who stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for fans waiting outside the red carpet area on Montrose Boulevard, not far from Hotel ZaZa. It turned out to be a prime spot to sight celebs. Entourage’s Adrian Grenier ended up going over to meet fans, as did Houston Rockets star Sam Dekker when he arrived around midnight.

Busta Rhymes showed up later for a surprise performance with Diplo.

To be one of the main acts, multi-platinum artist Nas slipped onto the red carpet quietly, letting his jacket do the talking with the words ‘Unity Is Power’ on the back. He walked in around 10:30 pm and his name came up often when stars like Eddie George were asked who they were excited to see. “I’m ready to see Nas because he’s one of the legends. I’m a big hip-hop fan, so that’s what I’m looking forward to,” George said.

Appearances came early and often with Alyssa Milano, James Ihedigbo, Warren Sapp, NeNe Leakes, Cynthia Bailey, Cameron Jordan, Delanie Walker, Finesse Mitchell, Olivia Culpo, and Odell Beckham Jr. arriving within the same hour.

MFAH as party venue

One thought that crossed my mind was how the Museum of Fine Arts would be turned into the party venue that athletes including Ezekiel Elliott, A.J. Green, Antonio Cromartie, Jaelen Strong, Devon Still, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz would flock to.

I got my answer when a mix-up got me inside about an hour before the event started. A huge DJ booth on the second floor lined a wall showing projection art. The space that normally has only a few seats for museum guests to watch the installation was filled with leather lounges and tables. Across from that, Mercedes-Benz, a sponsor of the event, had a convertible AMG GT C model on display.

White Mercedes-Benz sports cars were also parked outside the museum in contrast to the splashes of color being thrown onto the exterior of the building.

Back on the red carpet

Back out on the red carpet, expected questions surrounding the Super Bowl like “What do you think Lady Gaga is going to do during the half-time show?” or  “Who do you think will win?” dominated the conversation.

But you can’t talk about the big game without talking about the big city hosting it. “Houston is relatively easy to get around, hospitality has been great, the food has been excellent, and it’s been easy for a long week,” George said.

Minnesota Vikings’ Andrew Sendejo also praised the city, calling Houston his second home since he graduated from Rice University. He struck several fun poses on the red carpet.

Celebrities continued pouring into the party with Jerome Bettis, Chanel Iman, Darrelle Revis, Rashad Jennings and Caroline Wozniacki making it in before midnight. Fans who stuck around long after that were also able to see Gordon Ramsay, David Schwimmer and Adrienne Bailon.

 

 

NFL Goes Green

The Super Bowl has passed through Houston but it didn’t just leave us an historic game. The NFL is hoping its legacy in the Bayou City will extend far beyond the finale between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.

While the NFL Experience, Super Bowl Live, Club Nomadic and other attractions were being built around the city, the league was also implanting roots here through its Environmental Program. That means some of the materials used to transform Houston into a decked-out host city will go toward local non-profits. For example, banners displayed on NRG Stadium or the security netting used for crowd control at Discovery Green went toward non-profits who could re-use or even upcycle them into new products.

I talked to Jack Groh, the director of the NFL Environmental Program, about how the league worked to leave a little piece of itself and a big impression, throughout Houston.

Check out my article on the effort here or see the whole story below.

Super Bowl LI banners and other leftovers get a new life in NFL recycling program

Even though the reins have officially been handed over to Minnesota to host Super Bowl LII, Houston is still on the mind of NFL officials.

“We want people to be glad we came to the community. Not just because of the football game, but because of the resources we have for the community,” Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program, says. “So, we do this because it’s the right thing to do.”

That “right thing” Groh is talking about is making sure the league invests in Houston by finding ways to transform the material used around the city to promote and organize the big game.  From the banners displayed at NRG Stadium to the turf laid down for Super Bowl Live at Discovery Green, it will all serve a new purpose in and around Houston, in large part through material recovery, a branch of the NFL’s Environmental Program.

Habitat for Humanity, the Houston Food Bank and Magpies and Peacocks are among the local non-profits who are the direct recipients of these materials.

“We’ll be getting some of the mesh perimeter fencing used for crowd control, the jersey fabric on the inside of the stadium, bike covers, shopping bags, street banners, anything that can be used to make products from and that our designers can upcycle into their art,” Sarah-Jayne Smith, founder of Magpies and Peacocks, says.  The organization has several programs designed to nurture emerging artists and allow them to create new products by increasing the value of old ones.

That’s one of the reasons Ahshia Berry, who works with Smith, says Magpies and Peacocks was the perfect fit for the NFL.

“We told them who we might work with and what kind of projects we do. Once they were comfortable knowing we were doing the right things by it, they needed to know we were a 501c3,” Berry says. “We’re happy we were on their radar. And we let them know how sustainable Houston can grow to be.”

And sustainability is what Groh says the NFL’s Environmental Program is all about. It began 25 years ago when the league implemented a stadium recycling program for Super Bowl XXVIII at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.  According to Groh, the NFL was the first sports league to do this. Prepared food and material recovery programs followed, along with urban forest redevelopment and renewable energy.

This year, 10 projects were completed in Houston, including the Super Kids Super Sharing event, managed by Groh’s wife, Susan, at the Houston Texans YMCA.

“We recruit 100 or more schools in each Super Bowl city to collect supplies. In Houston, the kids brought in 23,000 items to donate,” Jack Groh says. “Then we invite low income schools to shop for the items they need.”

Strong environmental message

Groh believes it gets out a strong environmental idea of letting someone reuse supplies rather than have them sit in the attic or be thrown away. It’s also part of a message that helped Houston make history not only on the field this Super Bowl, but behind the scenes.

“We had the most successful material recovery program in the history of the Super Bowl, and it happened here in Houston,” Groh says. “I attribute that to two things. On the NFL side, we had staff and contractors working hard, and we had a tremendous partnership with the City of Houston’s Reuse Warehouse.”

Groh says Reuse picked up materials and made it available to non-profits. For example, the Houston Food Bank recovered 6,000 pounds of office supplies, which will be given to local teachers in 18 different communities around Houston. Turf carpeting went to local animal shelters. Magnificat Houses, Houston ISD and Keep Houston Beautiful also recovered materials.

Plans are already in the works to partner with Minnesota for projects as it prepares to host the next Super Bowl.

Host cities have participated in the programs since the environmental department’s inception more than two decades ago. It’s a concept that now includes the Pro Bowl and NFL Draft.

“Sports is a great neutral territory when it comes to getting this message across,” Smith says. “It affects all age groups and all nationalities. Sports is a perfect way of getting a short version of our story out to a large amount of people. We’re lucky that the NFL can facilitate that for us.”

And the league says, it’s happy to do it. In fact, Houston’s diversity, cooperation and warm atmosphere is what Groh says he enjoyed most about working with area non-profits.

“I don’t know if it’s a Houston thing, a Texas thing or a Southern thing, but people were always willing to step up and say, ‘I could help you with that,’ ” Groh says. “It just seems an awful lot of people were willing to help out a stranger or a friend.”

Permanent green legacy

For more information about the NFL Environmental Program, Groh admits you might have to do some digging online through the league’s website. Groh says what they do isn’t as widely publicized because he’d rather spend money lightening the environmental load than on advertising.

“We want to leave some type of permanent green legacy in every community we visit. People say, ‘Don’t you wish you got more attention?’,” Groh says. “Well, no. I’m here asking, ‘How much good can we do?’”

Groh hopes to have the final total of recovered materials in Houston within a couple weeks.

 

 

 

Leather and Laces Super Bowl Party

After a year of build up and a historic night, Super Bowl LI has come and now gone in Houston. I remember when it was first announced that the game would be coming to our city and then doing the subsequent countdown to the big day. I was part of the experience over the last two weeks, first as a Super Bowl volunteer and then this past weekend, covering two of the parties happening in town.

The first was Leather and Laces at Hughes Manor on Washington Avenue. The annual event started in Houston back in 2004. It returned to the Bayou City this year with co-hosts (and married couple), Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg. Past guests have included Adriana Lima, Joey Fatone and Jeremy Piven. I covered the event for CultureMap. You can check out the story here or read the full article below.

Marriage proposal and Super Bowl predictions take center stage at sexy Leather and Laces party

is In the Air” might sound more like a phrase best saved for Valentine’s Day, but it managed to find a place at the 14th Annual Leather and Laces Super Bowl party Friday night.

Actress Jenny McCarthy and husband Donnie Wahlberg co-hosted the event at Hughes Manor on Washington Avenue, but the couple turned the spotlight over to their friends shortly after the clock struck midnight. Wahlberg, who is the star of CBS’ Blue Bloods, handed the microphone to his friend, Tony, so he could propose to his girlfriend (and for the record, she said, yes).

That was probably the most surprising moment at the party, which is making its return to Houston after being founded here in 2004.

But let’s not forget one of the main reasons bringing partygoers out this weekend: Super Bowl LI. Predictions for who will win leaned more in the New England Patriots’ favor than the Atlanta Falcons, with the most notable push for the Pats coming from Wahlberg, a Boston native.

Special guest and NASCAR driver Kyle Busch also threw his support behind the Bill Belichick-led team, while former Houston Texan Marcus Spears elected to stay neutral saying, “We’ll let the chips fall where they may.”

Even if some fans didn’t outwardly show their love for the Falcons, they did have a chance to take home some memorabilia from the team’s quarterback. A silent auction featured a Matt Ryan autographed jersey, along with signed guitars from Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney, movie posters with cast signatures on them, and other items from NFL teams. But when paying to play in auctions gets too expensive, you can always get the autographs from the athletes and celebrities in the flesh. And there were plenty opportunities to do that.

La’Roi Glover, Roy Williams, B.J. Johnson, Victor Ortiz, Bryan Braman and Ryan Klesko were among the former and current professional athletes to walk the red carpet. Sports Illustrated model and Texas native Hannah Ferguson also made an appearance.

But dancing was the main theme of the night as popular music blared from a room with white cabanas and a lit-up dance floor. Performers with Cirque USA dangled from the ceiling as open bars throughout the venue kept the drinks flowing. DJ Michael Jerome entertained in another area, where guests could feast on macarons, chocolate and strawberries from Dolce Delights, or briefly play dress-up at the photo booth.

For those interested in watching the scene rather than being part of it, covered seating on the deck was an option, complete with a big screen airing NFL Network. One of the lushest rooms was a lounge with a Moulin Rouge flair, including red curtains and velvet ceilings.

Friday was the first of a two-night event. The party continues Saturday with models Emily Ratajkowski and Sara Sampaio expected to headline. Parking seemed limited on the Hughes Manor campus, with valet being the closest option if you plan to navigate the streets yourself on the night before the Super Bowl. Otherwise, you can grab an Uber right outside the club.

A lounge ticket starts at $400 and goes up to $20,000 for a celebrity cabana. You can find more information on the Leather and Laces website.

 

 

 

The Call of the Wild

I had a run in with an alligator, but I’m happy to say, I walked away from it without a scratch. OK, I was attempting to make it sound more dramatic than it was. Actually, I learned how to properly handle an alligator (should that ever come up) from the folks at Croc Encounters, a reptile park and wildlife center in Tampa, Florida.

Their goal is to help preserve the reptiles they have, provide a safe space for unwanted ones and also educate the public so they know how to better take care of them if they’re pet owners or just want to know more about them.

John Paner, who runs Croc Encounters with his family, filled me in on why it’s important to take care of these reptiles… and helped me become a little less scared of them! If it’s any indication of how positive my experience was, I did get on the back of one of the alligators.

Check out the full story below!

Name That VP Candidate

Do you know the names of the vice presidential candidates? If you watched Tuesday night’s debate, Mike Pence and Tim Kaine are probably familiar to you. And if you turned on the news the next morning or went online, you might have seen their faces more than you normally did in the months leading up to their only debate.

An ABC News poll published earlier this week found that almost half of Americans can’t name the candidates.

I hit the streets of Houston to test that theory considering these are the men who would be next in line to lead the country should something happen to the person elected president. So just in case you’re wondering (or wanted more confirmation since, of course, you already know!), Governor Mike Pence (R) is Donald Trump’s running mate and Senator Tim Kaine (D) is Hillary Clinton’s running mate. It was interesting to hear the different responses.

Check them out below!

Exploring Downtown Houston

If you’re headed to Downtown Houston and need to find a good place to eat, want to find the best entertainment or just need to figure out how biking in the area works, you can check out the website Downtown Houston Live.

I had the opportunity to be in a parking tips video. It can help you navigate the area, whether you’re new to the city, or you’ve been here all your life but need a refresher.

You can find more on the Downtown Houston Live website, including tips on walking and biking downtown.  Check it out!

Passion for Fashion with Christian Siriano

This year, Houston Community College‘s annual Passion for Fashion luncheon featured designer and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano. The event at River Oaks Country Club raises scholarship money for students in HCC’s Fashion and Interior Design programs. CultureMap editor-in-chief Clifford Pugh interviewed Siriano, who talked about life after Project Runway (he’s one of the show’s most successful stars), and his latest collection, which he showcased during the event. Siriano also has a sense of humor — which kept the room laughing!

Work from HCC students was also on display. I’ve always loved their designs and the talent that comes from the schools arts’ programs. Around May, HCC usually has a large fashion show featuring the collections of at least a dozen students. Scholarships to study in Paris, sewing machines and gift certificates are among the awards given to the top designers (though, those involved are all strong). I’ve modeled in the show before. It’s worth checking out!

On a personal level, I saw my great friend and former co-worker, Brittany. She’s a graphic designer who actually created all the materials (programs, signage, digital elements, etc.) for the event. A snapshot of her work is in the above gallery in the bottom right-hand corner. Before the show, I ran into Clifford Pugh and in between mingling with other guests, hung out with the mannequins. Turns out posing with them is harder than it looks! I also worked in a fierce picture with Christian Siriano.  Stay Stylish!

 

 

 

 

 

Derulo’s Debut

Since I didn’t make it out to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo last year, I knew I wanted to check out the show this time around. I reviewed Jason Derulo‘s concert (my first concert review since high school!) on Black Heritage Day. It was his debut at RodeoHouston. He came riding into NRG stadium on the back of a pickup truck and left like a true cowboy  — on horseback. It was a rocky ride (a friend working closer to the stage told me Derulo accidentally kicked the horse, causing it go faster. Hence, a look of shock, or maybe terror?, was spotted on his face as someone helped catch the horse.) Read here or below to find out what other moments left his fans on Twitter talking!

DERULO AT THE RODEO
Shirtless Jason Derulo searches for H-Town’s ‘It Girl’ and gets the party started at sexy Rodeo debut

Jason Derulo made it clear early in his debut at RodeoHouston: If you didn’t come to dance, you were in the wrong place. “We came all the way to Houston to party, and I heard this was the hottest party in Houston, tonight,” he shouted out to an excited crowd of 59,236 on Black Heritage Day at NRG Stadium Friday night.

The sexy 26-year-old singer kicked off the show with “Trumpets”, “Wiggle” and “Get Ugly” before turning the stage over to his dancers.  Fans were on their feet, but it seemed the dancing didn’t really get started until he roared back with “Whatcha Say,” his 2009 debut single.

And for the fans who’ve followed Derulo’s career, he had another treat. “Single ladies that love Jason Derulo make some noise. If you’re not single, I bet by the end of this song, you’ll be riding solo,” he said.

What can I say? The man knows how to work a segue between songs. But it was enough to get a laugh and keep people moving well after his break-up anthem “Ridin’ Solo” was over.

Derulo wasn’t alone for long, though. He hopped off the rotating stage to touch fans’ hands and get one question answered.“All these beautiful ladies over here, and I was wondering if my ‘It Girl’ was in Houston, tonight,” he said.

For the purposes of this segment, she was. The strobe lights, glass-breaking sound effects and dance-offs mid-song all faded into the darkness as the spotlight shined on the fan he pulled from the crowd.

However, it left me thinking, how could I do that? I want to be the “It Girl.” Are these girls vetted?  But I digress.

The chosen fan did exactly right: She milked the moment, sneaking in kisses (on the cheek). At one point, she and Derulo were so close, I began to wonder if I should run out to the floor and offer breath mints. My favorite part of the serenade was how supportive the crowd was, cheering her on the entire time.

On that note, Derulo moved into an acoustic version of “Don’t Wanna Go Home,” but it was brief.

He brought back the dance party and upped the sex appeal in a way that many fans knew had to be coming. He ripped off his shirt. I don’t think you could say his chest was sweating. It was more of a glisten. But the fans didn’t seem to mind as he transitioned into “Talk Dirty.”

Derulo set up his finale in a way I thought was meaningful and believable, despite him being half-naked. “This next song is a celebration, and I want today to be a celebration of life.  Let’s celebrate our health. Let’s celebrate that we can get up and do what we want to do,” he said.

That part made me think. I’d wondered if that celebration of life was a nod to the near-death experience he had four years ago, when a neck-injury sustained from dancing could have left him paralyzed.

Derulo spoke with humility about his journey and success from the moment the show started until the final thank you, when he introduced his hit single,“Want To Want Me.” (He and Luke Bryan did an excellent karaoke version of that song. Maybe Derulo should make a cameo appearance at Bryan’s RodeoHouston concert on March 10. Can we make this happen?)

Derulo ended the show shirtless on horseback and rode off into the sunset – or rather, backstage. Gasps could be heard (or maybe that was just me?) when the horse sped off, catching Derulo off guard. But he laughed it off.

Overall, I found Derulo to be a talented, high-energy performer who mixed the hits fans love (“In My Head,” “The Other Side,” “Cheyenne”) with the vocal range he reminded everyone he has (“Marry Me”). Add in the snippet of “Broke” – a collaboration with Keith Urban and Stevie Wonder – and Derulo may have just danced, glistened, and ridden his way to another Rodeo.

Letting Off Some Steam

Hours before the AFC Wildcard showdown took place at NRG Stadium, another battle of sorts was going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center. It was a fight between fans of the Houston Texans and a car covered in Kansas City Chiefs decals.

The Bridal Extravaganza may have seemed like an unlikely place to take a sledgehammer to a busted old car, but the show’s organizers say it was a  fitting way to let brides-to-be and their soon-to-be husbands relieve some of the stress that comes along with wedding planning. Fans also say it was payback for the way the Chiefs beat the Texans at the beginning of the season.

Although we know how the story ended (KC shut out Houston 30 to nothing), fans were thrilled to destroy anything Chiefs-related, even before the game that put a wrap on the Texans post-season run.

This story was a lot of fun to do. I admit destroying things (in a somewhat healthy way) can be a great stress reliever. I could barely hold the sledgehammer, but I got a couple hits in! Check out the story above. I wrote and edited it.

Pink for a Passion

Mia Sharp’s personality is as bright as her cotton candy blue and electric neon pink hair. But even without the avant-garde wig she’s wearing, it wouldn’t be hard to spot the high school junior or feel the energy radiating from her when she smiles.

VisibleChanges_31
Mia Sharp, one of the models in the hair show, is also a bright teenager battling an inoperable brain tumor.

“It’s just motivational,” Mayra Sharp, Mia’s mother said. “She just reminds you that you can’t let this thing bring your life to a stop.”

That “thing” Sharp is talking about is cancer. 16-year-old Mia is battling pilocytic astrocytoma, or a brain tumor. It’s inoperable but that hasn’t broken her spirit or deterred her from playing tennis and managing to sing in a blues band through treatment.

“She’s not shy. She likes for girls to accept themselves for who they are and that’s part of her,” Sharp said.

That confidence was clear as Mia took the stage to model for the Visible Changes’ artistic team during the salon’s Fashion for a Passion gala October 15.

I was proud to be a part of the event as an emcee.  The gala, held at Momentum BMW Southwest, was the company’s first fundraiser aimed at expanding its Thair For You program – a free service that gives any woman fighting cancer, regardless of whether she’s a client, a custom wig that is styled to fit her. According to Visible Changes co-founder, Maryanne McCormack, the salon has given more than 2,000 wigs since it started in 2011 and last year alone helped more than 750 women.

McCormack with daughter Meagan, who not only owns the company, but is its Chief Happiness Officer
McCormack with daughter Meagan, who not only owns the company, but is its Chief Happiness Officer

McCormack knows first-hand the value of feeling beautiful inside and out. In 2009, McCormack was diagnosed with cancer. That’s when she got the idea for Thair For You.

McCormack is now cancer-free and so is long-time Visible Changes client, Olivia Kaufman, who found out she had stage 2 breast cancer last year when she was just 26-years-old.

“When you get diagnosed with cancer you feel as though you’ve lost control of everything that’s happening in your life,” Kaufman says. “You’ve got a disease in your body that you can’t control. There are things changing, things happening to your body that you can’t stop.”

But one day helped change that, putting her on the path to getting her power back. Kaufman says she was sitting in the chemo infusion chair when a Visible Changes logo caught her eye. It was part of a poster describing Thair For You.

The next day she called her stylist at the salon that cut off 16 inches of her hair, which was donated.

“I was really scared about being bald, but they made me feel beautiful when it felt impossible,” Kaufman says.

VisibleChanges_27
Olivia Kaufman found out she had breast cancer at 26. She’s now a survivor and raises awareness for early detection.

Kaufman told me she has the same genetic mutation, BRCA1, as Angelina Jolie Pitt, who had a preventive double mastectomy.

As a breast cancer survivor, Kaufman says she’s now raising awareness by encouraging people – especially those with a family history of cancer – to get tested for the disease earlier in life.

Kaufman shared her story at the inaugural gala, which raised a little over $19,000. All proceeds went to Thair For You. To find out more about the program, go here.

The fundraiser also included a fashion show with looks provided by Sloan/Hall, who was also a sponsor.

All photography is courtesy of Kristen Eide. Click here to learn more.