“It’s hard to believe that it’s our 24th Oscar party,” Elton John said of the annual benefit for his AIDS Foundation.
“I remember the first one very well,” the singer added. “We raised about $300,000 and we thought we were the best thing since sliced bread.”
How times have changed: On this night, the event would go on to raise $6.2 million by evening’s end. Undoubtedly, the main draw for guests was John, who served not only as host but also as the entertainment, performing with his band at the bash for the first time in nearly a decade.
“Obviously in the business we all work in, the Oscars are so important,” said Chris Hardwick. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not. And so a party like this that is for charity makes you realize: Oh, yeah, saving lives is the actual most important thing in the world.”
Mary Wilson of the Supremes happened to be the second singer to enter after Elton, but which one is the bigger diva? “In size? Elton, not me,” joked Wilson, who believes that the entertainment industry has come a long way in terms of embracing diversity. “I can tell you that when the Supremes started out, we drank out of water fountains that said: ‘For colored people only.’ ”
Andie MacDowell, meanwhile, pointed out the progress made by the LGBT community. “Elton is the original gay man,” she said. “He was not afraid to be who he was very early on. He’s charming, smart, slightly bitchy — but in a perfect way, like you would hope.”
And, as singer Bonnie McKee pointed out, John’s appeal is seemingly timeless. “Elton is one of the most exciting performers alive today,” she said. “He’s set so many trends and broken boundaries, and someone like Lady Gaga wouldn’t exist without Elton John.”
Inside the Oscar viewing party, guests dined on a five-course dinner while watching the ceremony seated at an array of circular tables topped with centerpieces of red lilies amidst a lavish color scheme of magenta, tangerine and violet. “It’s Old Hollywood with a modern twist,” said Tommy Hilfiger after exchanging air-kisses with Mariah Carey.
Nearby, Transparent’s Jeffrey Tambor had a man-to-man conversation with the singer of “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” Steven Tyler. The Academy Awards seemed to be of little interest to John, who missed Sam Smith’s performance in favor of catching up with Beck and similarly chatted intently with Sheryl Crow while The Weeknd performed; only Lady Gaga’s ballad drew Elton’s attention to the screens hanging overhead. (Ironically, chef Gordon Ramsay, who was seated on the outskirts of the room at table 35, was one of the latter guests to be served his own cooking.)
After dinner and a live auction that included a “five-day shag-athon” at the Maui vacation home of Tyler, according to the auctioneer, John quipped: “I’m now going to change into something a little spectacular.”
John soon reemerged onstage in — what else? — a rhinestone-studded jacket to perform a 12-song greatest hits set along with songs from his new album, Wonderful Crazy Night, which he gifted to guests. “If you don’t want to play it, you can use them as frisbees or coasters,” John joked.
Additional attendees included Andrew Rannells, Anthony Anderson, Ashlee Simpson, Ashley Greene, Ashley Tisdale, Bellamy Young, Boy George, Brandy, Brittany Snow, Charlotte McKinney, Cheyenne Jackson, Dave Grohl (spotted slow dancing with wife Jordyn during Elton’s version of “Your Song”), Dave Navarro, Dita Von Teese, Emily Ratajkowski, Eric McCormack, Erika Christensen, Evan Ross, Hailey Baldwin, Harry Shum Jr., Heidi Klum, Hilary Swank, Ian Somerhalder, Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Osbourne, Kelly Rowland, La La Anthony, Lana Del Rey, Lea Michele, Lydia Hearst, Maggie Grace, Mary J. Blige, Nikki Reed, Russell Simmons, Tracee Ellis Ross,Trey Parker, Vince Vaughn, Zac Posen, Zooey Deschanel, among others.
Sponsors included: BVLGARI, M.A.C. Cosmetics, Neuro Drinks and Diana Jenkins. Audi, BBVA Compass, TheBLUEFISH, and StyleHaul partnered as the evening’s co-sponsors. American Airlines serves as EJAF’s official airline.
This article originally appeared in THR.com.