Thursday, July 5, 2012

By Steve Ludwig

I'm a die-hard Howard Stern fan, so a few months ago when Howard told us Sirius/XM listeners that he was going to be replacing Piers Morgan on America's Got Talent, I thought to myself, "Well, I guess I'll have to watch." I'm not a fan of American Idol (although I've watched some of the finalist shows in the past); don't like Dancing With the Stars, and I had never seen America's Got Talent. AGT was one of Howard's favorite shows, and each week he'd talk about it on his radio show. He'd tell if he agreed with Sharon Osbourne, Howie Mandell, and Piers's opinions, but I still had no interest. I started watching this year only because of Howard.
So when I was at a Bill Maher show a couple months ago at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ, and the emcee told the audience that AGT would be televising LIVE this summer at NJPAC, I took out my iPhone (although we were asked to shut all phones off) and immediately put myself on the waiting list.
Sure enough, on June 26, I got an email instructing me to choose a day (I chose the first live show,  Monday, July 2, just in case the world ended before they got to do the other shows), and to print out a voucher for up to four tickets. So that's just what I did...

 Well, I knew my wife Sue would be going with me, and I knew my friend, Jeff, who was with me at the Bill Maher show, would want to go, so I asked for four tickets. The final ticket would be for Sue's cousin, Tommy. Tommy is a sweet guy. He's a mentally-challenged adult; I mention that only because it has something to do with the story. Ever since I met Howard Stern about ten years ago, Tommy thinks Howard and I are friends, and Tommy is always asking me to take him to New York City to Sirius Radio to meet him. I continually explain to Tommy that Howard doesn't know me, and that I only met him because of a friend of mine, Shelley Harris (aka "Angry Black"). [More about my meeting Howard in a few weeks.]
So I told Tommy that although we wouldn't be meeting him, we'd be seeing Howard as he sat in his judge's chair during the AGT taping. 
In addition to the voucher, a specific set of instructions were also included:
OK, so having read that admittance was not guaranteed, I knew we had to be there early on 
July 2. That wouldn't be a problem, because I was off from school (I'm a teacher), Sue, a nurse, had Mondays off with her schedule, and Tommy didn't work. And Jeff, who worked in Newark, would be only a few blocks away from NJPAC, in his office, and he'd be joining us on line later. 
On the voucher, it said that 6:00 PM would be the time we'd be going into the PAC (the live show would begin at 8). So what would be a good time to get there to be assured a nice place in line? 
By 1:30 PM we were parking the car. As we crossed the street from the parking lot to the NJPAC, it seemed pretty docile. I figured there would be more than a few Howard Stern fanatics that had camped out the night before. But there were hardly any people around. We figured maybe they were lining up inside because of the heat, even though I had received this email the previous Friday about lining up:

We went into the lobby, and a very helpful gentleman explained that people would indeed be lining up outside, and that we were there in plenty of time. Wow, cool! We were definitely gonna get a good place in line. 
Did you notice the letters "OCA" on the voucher? They stand for "On-Camera Audience" (as opposed to those who would be seated in the balconies). That meant that we'd be close enough that we might appear on TV during the live broadcast. Because of this, we needed to follow a specific dress code. I really got a kick out of this part of the instructions that they emailed:

Hip, upscale attire. Yeah, daddy-o, I can dig it! I'm groovy 'n' stuff... Hey, I want the show to look great, so, damn it, I will look great. No clothing with logos...well, so much for my Beatles T-shirt. So we all dressed as hip, upscale and bright as we could for the show.
We sat down under a couple trees and we watched as the TV crew began setting up. I figured they'd be doing an outside shot closer to showtime, ya know, of Howard, Sharon, and Howie arriving to the cheers of the crowd. Soon a marching band and some high school cheerleaders, along with Rutgers University cheerleaders, came out and began setting up.

Before long, the band began playing, and the cheerleaders were slowly going through their routine. It was obviously a practice for the live show later on. The band sounded quite good. Sue finally said to me, "The band's not really playing. They're just going through the motions." Sure enough, the music was being piped in, and the band was doing whatever the equivalent of lip-syncing is with musical instruments. I don't know if they used piped-in music for the actual live broadcast; we were inside at that time.
Up on a platform, in front of one of the raised cameras stood a guy in a black sweatsuit, with the hood up over his head, practically covering his face.
I said, "Hey Sue, isn't that...?" Nick Cannon! Yup, AGT host Nick Cannon had somehow appeared and they were setting up camera angles and stuff. We sat there and watched, goofy smiles on our faces. Hey, this is definitely cool. Before we knew it, he stepped down off the platform and walked right past us, talking on his cellphone. "Hey, Nick," Mr. Hip Upscale Me called out. He just kept right on walking with a couple other guys. (I still can't believe I didn't take his picture. Guess it happened too fast. Nah, I was just too slow.)
"Uh, oh," I said to Sue. "Prima donna."
"No, he was on the phone," Sue said. "He was busy." I still wasn't convinced he wasn't pulling the phony "talking on the phone to avoid people" move. But I'm happy to tell you that later on during the commercials on the live show, he was friendly with the audience, even signing autographs. So Nick was cool in my book.
"Who was that?" asked Tommy.
"Nick Cannon," I told him.
"Who's that?" he asked me. 
"He's the host of the show."
"Who?" Tommy asked again. He clearly was thinking only of Howard.

A few minutes later, after the cheerleaders and band went back inside, we saw a few of the contestants walking around. I recognized the 787 Crew because of their hairstyles.
"I wonder why no one's on line yet," Sue said. She decided to go back into the lobby just to make sure. 
When she came back out, she said the lines were "over there" more, and that six people had been  here since early morning. So I got up and checked, and sure enough, there were maybe twenty people on line. It was set up like an amusement park line, zigzagging back and forth. It was about 2:30 by this time, and obviously most of the people on line were wearing the "off-camera" clothing:

But it was definitely hot; they had a "mist tent" set up; if you wanted to go cool off, you were allowed to leave the line and get misted. I must say that everyone working at the NJPAC was so kind and helpful. A woman would walk up and down the lines telling us that if anyone felt ill because of the heat, tell them right away and they'd be taken care of. 
Sue and Tom sat close by, but in the shade, as I held our place in line. All the people waiting on line seemed to be friendly, too. I talked with a woman named Patty next to me in line. She was a hardcore Stern fan, as was her husband, but she said she was careful about telling people how much she loved Howard, because people may get the wrong impression of her. I told her I understood completely, that people who don't listen to Howard on a regular basis probably think he's just some woman-demeaning pervert. It really simply is not the case. Oh, absolutely there's sex talk on his show, and some of it quite raunchy. But as a fan, and a GUY fan, the sex talk is not my favorite part of all things Stern. I like it best when the crew busts each other's chops, and when they're all just being goofy and silly.
That's another reason why I'm glad Howard is a judge on AGT; people who have formed an opinion of him may get to see the other side of him that we fans see. 
Soon Patty said to me, "Hey isn't that Maryann from Brooklyn?"
Maryann is a member of what Howard calls his "wack pack." They're wacky people who call in to his radio show and over time have become a part of the show. Maryann has an especially grating voice; whenever she calls in, the great Fred Norris plays a squawking bird sound.
She was holding court, as people started gathering around her. She dressed up specially for the occasion, with black gown and tiara. Nick Cannon may have gotten away, but not Maryann from Brooklyn. I stepped out of the line and...

...took a picture with Maryann! As some fans may know, Maryann has a husband who tolerates her Howard obsession. She has two grown children, also. But she was a real sweety. She talked and posed with anyone who asked.
I decided to visit the mist tent before I got back on line. Good thing I did, because an important seed to this story was planted there. As I cooled off in the mist, one of the female NJPAC workers said to me, "Nice tattoo." I have a tattoo on my arm with an "S" interlocking with another "S."
"Yeah, I'm Steve and my wife's Sue," I explained.
"Oh, cool," she said. "I have my husband's name tattooed on me, but I want to get rid of it."
"Your husband or the tattoo?" I joked.
"Both!" she laughed.
My female tattoo admirer will be back with us in just a bit.

At about 4:00, they began checking the vouchers and handing out the real tickets. This was good, because this meant we could leave, get something to eat, and just make sure to be back at 6:00 to be seated.

By this time Jeff had arrived from his office, and the four of us sat down to eat at the NICO Kitchen, a restaurant that was attached to the NJPAC. We'd eat, then head right to the lobby; we weren't going to wait till 6:00. We had tickets, we were assured entry and assured a seat in the orchestra, but they weren't assigned seats, and we wanted to get as close as we could. AND we wanted to try to sit on the side that Howard was sitting, which would be the right side looking at the stage.
As we ate, I showed everyone my picture with Maryann from Brooklyn.
"Can I take a picture with her?" Tommy asked. I looked around from our outdoor table. Maryann was still talking to people. Here's the result:

She posed sweetly with Tommy. 
"My mother's in heaven," he told her out of nowhere. "I miss her."
"Oh, well, my dad's in heaven, too, Tommy," Maryann told him.
Tommy asked her, "Is Howard here yet?"
"No, not yet, Tommy," she replied.
"What's your name?" Tommy asked her.
She told him, and I could tell Tommy didn't want to leave her. 
"OK, Tom, let's go back to our dinner," I said to him.
As we walked away, Maryann called, "Bye Tommy, enjoy the show!"
The picture Tommy took with her is now the wallpaper on his cellphone.

The waiter brought our check, and asked us who our favorite contestants were. He was a fan of the show, and he told us that they had taken out rows and rows of seats in the NJPAC auditorium to make room for the expanded front of the stage and the judges' chairs. And, he, himself had helped them put up the ramps for the BMX Biker contestants. He gave us the inside scoop. They would tape the BMXers at about 7:30 and then insert it into the show about midway. They needed time to take down the ramps, and they couldn't do it during the live broadcast; not enough time during the commercial break.

We thanked him for the info, paid the check, and made our way to the lobby. There were already tons of people in no particular line or order; everyone was just milling around inside and outside the NJPAC, waiting for the word to start lining up. By now it was about 5:15. 
Sue said, "Hey, there's Lisa G !" Lisa G is a reporter for Howard TV. I smelled another photo op!
"Hey Lisa, can I take a picture with you?" 
It was probably my hip, upscale look that caused her to say, "Sure!"

The judges would obviously be arriving soon; Lisa G was there, the regular TV cameras were all around. Maryann from Brooklyn was psyching up the crowd with chants of "Howard! Howard! Howard!" We had to make a decision: Should we wait outside to see their arrival or miss their arrival and get back inside in case they started lining us up? We figured we'd see the judges once the show started anyway; we went inside.
Now remember when I told you the tattoo lady would figure into the story? Well, we weren't sure which gate exactly would be closest to our Door C Orchestra seats. As we were standing idly around, Tattoo Girl pointed at my tattoo and said, "Hey, it's Steve and Sue."
"Yeah, hi. Where exactly should we line up to get to our seats?" I was getting worried it would turn into a race for the seats, with everyone pushing each other.
"Well, actually everyone is going to have to leave the lobby and line up outside in a few minutes. Mayor Booker (Cory Booker, mayor of Newark) will be here, and everyone needs to get scanned."
Oh, no, we thought. We looked outside. We'd be so far back in line!
Before we even got to the door to go outside, my tattoo friend saved the day. She actually went out of her way to get us.
"I just found out they're gonna let people in this gate right here."
She led us to the first gate that would allow people entry. We would be first to get in!
Through the gate, we, and the other audience members who quickly caught wind of what was going on, saw a very familiar figure walking up on the second level inside.
"Hey, Howard!!" someone yelled.
Sure enough Howard Stern was walking somewhere with a group of people. He was gone from sight in seconds. But that brief sighting made all of us smile.
The security started setting up the scanning stuff just inside our gate. Suddenly people were calling Howard's name again. Now he was on the first level (our level) going toward one of the doors to go outside to do TV interviews. When he heard us calling, he stopped, smiled at us, and gave a wave.
Oh yeah, Howard acknowledged us. We are all ready!
The gates opened and we walked into the hall that led to our door, Door C. But just before we got there, the crowd of us were stopped by security and asked to wait. The judges were still outside, and as soon as they were finished with the interviews and back inside, then we could proceed.
"Sue, do you realize they all have to walk right past us?" I asked.
I couldn't believe our luck. All of us with tickets to go in Door C were waiting right by the door that Howard, Howie, and Sharon would come through. We were right there!!
Fans of Howard will know these two names: Ronnie the Limo Driver and Ralph Cirillo. They were both outside; I could see them through the window. 
A couple "TV types" came in through the door. The interviews must be over. Sure enough, Sharon Osbourne came through the door. A couple Ozzy-sounding "Sharon!" calls came from the crowd. She smiled and waved as she kept walking. 
Then a real buzz began. Ronnie the Limo Driver (who doubles as Howard's security guard) came through the door. And who followed? 
"Howard!! Howard!!" People were going crazy!! The security people locked arms to keep us from getting past. Would Howard acknowledge us? Would he be a stuck-up creep and ignore us??
He came in smiling and ready to fist-bump the fans. Here's a picture I took:

You'll be happy to know that fist on the right belongs to Sue's cousin Tommy. Yup! He got to bump fists with Howard!!
Not only that, this next picture is Howard and Sue bumping fists!!

Can you believe it? My wife Sue and her cousin Tommy made contact with Howard! These pictures are screencaps from a video I took. That video will appear on YouTube in about a week.
As for me? Well, some poor slob had to take the pictures, and I'm that hip, upscale slob.
But that's ok, I took a picture with the SternMeister General a few years ago. You'll see that picture in a few weeks in a different, all-Howard blog.

That'll do it for Part One. In about five days, I'll post Part Two. I'll take you behind-the-scenes of the July 2 live broadcast with some cool stories and even cooler pictures.


Do you love pop culture like I do? Why not check out my radio show, STEVE LUDWIG'S CLASSIC POP CULTURE at Thanks!



As always, thanks so much for all your support!  Steve 


  1. Wow, great read. It sounds like it was worth the wait. I am planning on going also as I have joined the waiting list. One question, so if you want to be on camera one has to dress "hip"? By the way, what exactly classifies as "hip, upscale attire"?

    1. I'm still trying to figure out what "hip, upscale" is, too, Bryan. There were people in the "on-camera" seats with T-shirts and jeans, so I think anything short of tank-tops are OK. If you get to go, it's definitely a fun experience. Enjoy and thanks for reading my blog. Steve
      btw I'll be posting Part 2 of my AGT experience in a few days. In the meantime, here's a YouTube video I posted about the day: