This week thousands gathered in Nashville for the 39th annual GMA Dove Awards. It’s THE biggest night in Gospel and Christian music. Last year I was privledged enough to attend as a seat filler. Here’s a little story I wrote about the experience.
Is This Seat Taken?
Adventures of a Dove Award seat-filler
By Alison Storm
I’ve applied for plenty of jobs in my 27 years, but none quite like this. I was trying to get picked to serve as a seat filler for the 38th Annual Gospel Music Association Dove Awards in Nashville. I knew I had what it takes: a love for Christian music, a black dress, and a butt. I passed the application on to my fiance and a few friends. Two weeks later we got the good news. We were going to the Dove’s.
I don’t consider myself star crazy, but I like adding new anecdotes to my story telling bank. So to me it was worth a couple of vacation days and a five hour car ride as long as it lead to a new experience and a funny story. The five of us piled into my friend Marco’s Honda Element and hit the road bound for Nashville. Hours later we arrived at our destination.
The air inside room 520 at the Lexis Inn and Suites was thick with hairspray. Plugs from curling irons, straightening irons and blow dryers filled every outlet. Eyelash curlers, bobby pins, and lipstick tubes littered the bathroom counter. Our fancy faces were a stark contrast to the sweats and t-shirts we were still wearing. Neck up we were A-listers. Neck down we were the stars of The Surreal Life.
With just 20 minutes to go before we needed to head to the Grand Ole Opry I grabbed my strapless black dress from the closet. I shimmied it on, pulled on the zipper, and it parted like the red sea.
Oh crap, I announced. My zipper just broke.
Everyone took a turn at twisting, pulling, and yanking the tiny piece of metal, but it wouldn’t budge. Time was running out. The clock read 3:43. Our instructions said to be at the theater no later than 4pm.
Just sew it, suggested my friend Michelle. No thread.
Pin it into place, offered my friend Mary Grace. No pins.
We’ll buy you a new dress, announced my fiancé Tim. No time.
Wearing just the dress wasn’t an option. The split revealed more than a promiscuous plumber. A few more minutes passed and the situation grew more desperate. With no back up outfit, I simply pulled a long black t-shirt on over the strapless dress, but the dress still needed to be pinned so it wouldn’t end up around my ankles. There’s a Walgreens two stop lights up, Tim said after a quick fact-finding mission to the front desk. We piled into the Honda Element and sped to the store. Tim and Mary Grace ran thorugh the aisles snatching two boxes of safety pins, throwing a five dollar bill on the counter and hauling it back to the idling SUV.
Suddenly we were a team on the Amazing Race and the million dollars was waiting at the Grand Ole Opry. While Marco and Tim navigated up front, the girls tackled my dress in the backseat. Normally I might be a little nervous about having sharp objects centimeters from my spine while swerving near semis at high speeds. But I was a seat filler and there were seats needing to be filled.
We pulled into the parking lot just as Michelle secured the final pin. I still had to wear the black t-shirt over the dress, but at least I knew I wouldn’t be offering the Dove Award audience my own show. The safety pins left a bumpy line down my back, making me look like I had a spinal cord disorder. The five of us filed into secion 16 in the upper level, joining hundreds of others outfitted in black.
And we waited.
Remind me again why we risked our lives trying to get here? asked Tim.
Finally the volunteer coordinator announced our instructions. You will sit next to celebrities, she promised. But don’t talk to them. We will put you into groups and when the artists go on stage to receive their awards you will fill their seats. That way when the camera shoots the audience it looks full. Perfect, I thought. I imagined myself congratulating Chris Tomlin and chatting it up with Rebecca St. James.
Two hours later we still waited for a seat to fill. We couldn’t help but notice the nervous looks the ushers kept giving the group of hundreds of seat-fillers waiting in the theater lobby. We worried they weren’t sure where to put all of us. Finally we were given a seat to fill. Follow me, ordered an usher to our group of five. So we did. We followed her all the way to the top balcony. The stage looked like an apartment patio and the celebrities milling around looked like munchkins. From the rafters it was painfully obvious we wouldn’t be giving Michael W. Smith any high fives or keeping Mac Powell’s seat nice and toasty. Maybe they stuck me up here because of my horrible outfit, I thought. They didn’t think I was camera-ready.
This stinks, said my fiance. Let’s get closer. I agreed so I took his hand and we snuck out of our seats in the rafters. Our strategy? Act cool. Our plan? Get as close to the stage as possible.
We walked with ease past an usher and stood in the section where all the stars mingled. I scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces, but saw none.
“Point out some celebrities,” I asked Tim.
“I see people that I recognize,” he whispered, “but I don’t know their names.”
In a wave of confidence no one wearing a safety-pinned dress should probably have, I grabbed his hand and pulled him to the stage. I smiled and nodded at the artists like we were old friends.
“I love that jacket ” I exclaimed to one spiky-haired blond man.
“Thank you so much,” he said with a smile.
“Where did you get it?” I asked.
“My wife picked it up for me,” he answered.
Our conversation continued comfortably and then I told the man with the cool jacket to have a good night and we walked over to another group of mingling musicians. I decided to talk to one sharply-dressed man with really funky hair. It was long in front and short in the back. A strip of pinkish-brown sliced through the front while the rest was Anna-Nicole blonde.
“My fiancé has hair envy of you,” I whispered in his ear, even being bold enough to interrupt his conversation with another possible celebrity.
“Really?” he laughed. “That’s so awesome ”
I flashed him a smile and walked on. Then an announcer asked everyone to take their seats. The show was about to begin. “What are we going to do?” my fiancé said without moving his lips.
“We’re going to stand here as long as possible,” I said through clenched teeth and a smile. “Then we’re going to grab two empty seats.” Our plan worked. For the next three hours we filled those seats, enjoying live performances by Toby Mac, Stellar Kart and Steven Curtis Chapman. When Casting Crowns claimed their Dove for Group of the Year I realized the guy with the cool jacket I had talked to was in the band. The guy with the funky hair was a guitarist with Family Force 5. We laughed at Brian Littrell’s dumb jokes and cheered when Aaron Shust won Song of the Year. A few rows up, winners returned to their seats carrying shiny statues.
After the Crabb Family took their final bow and the crowd started their slow exit, Tim and I lingered. “I have got to meet Leeland,” I told him. I spied the singer’s long red locks a few rows up. So once again I mustered up my confidence and waited for my moment.
“Leeland ” I exclaimed like we were old friends. “Congratulations ”
“Uh, thanks,” he replied with a smile, probably wondering for what since he hadn’t made any trips to the stage to claim a Dove.
“I’m a big fan,” I informed him. It was true. His entire album is committed to my memory. Meeting him was the perfect ending to this crazy night.
“Thanks,” he said again and introduced me to the girl by his side. “This is my fiancé Amanda.” We shook hands and she smiled sweetly.
“I love your dress ” I told her. She was wearing a lacy, cream and teal Betsy Johnson dress with matching teal earrings.
And I didn’t see any safety pins holding it up.