Carter, ever the savvy interviewee, refrains from judging Gal Gadot, the just-announced Wonder Woman to Ben Affleck’s recently announced Batman. “I couldn’t tell her how to do it. She has to make it her own,” says Carter, who allows that her most iconic role is still dear to her. “I always loved playing her. What’s not to love?”
The newsies show up early — Charlie Rose, husband and wife Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen of CBS — followed by “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King. King is dressed in her BFF Oprah’s favorite color (purple — but you already knew that), her hair in a retro Farrah Fawcett flip. She tells another reporter that her favorite Billy Joel song is “Just the Way You Are” and, before the interview is over, she gets the reporter to serenade her with it.
King has the red carpet down on lock.
Did you ever give music a shot, Gayle? “I took piano lessons for eight years,” King says. “And I really regret that I gave it up. To this day, I regret it. But I got tired of practicing, so I quit. I had recitals and everything!”
The artists arrive fashionably late, with politicians on their heels. Buddy Guy strolls in, dark fedora on his head and Kennedy Center rainbow-collared medal around his neck; he was an honoree last year. (On his way off the red carpet, he implores us to check out Quinn Sullivan, a teenage guitar whiz whom Guy’s high on.)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi waves on her way, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces his intention to serve as the night’s “New York cheering section for Billy Joel.”
Clive Davis, officially here to toast honoree Carlos Santana, reminisces about signing two other 2013 honorees — Joel and Herbie Hancock — 41 years ago.
Kathy Bates arrives wearing smoking slippers, which might just make her the smartest person here. “They should’ve had skates on them,” she says. Ever since honoree Shirley MacLaine met Bates on the set of “Used People” in 1992, “she’s been a righteous friend to me,” Bates says of her fellow Oscar-winning actress. (If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother: the movie wasn’t so great, according to Bates. “To play all these Jewish ladies, they hired a bunch of shiksas.”)
MacLaine appears next. It takes a little prodding for her to remember that she went to the secretary of state’s dinner Saturday night — although once reminded, she reports that “John Kerry can be really funny.”
“I’m from here,” says MacLaine, who attended high school (Washington-Lee) in Arlington. “I grew up here. I went to ballet school here. Everything [for me] was born here.” To win this here, “it’s like coming home.”
And you, Mr. Joel? Is this the best award for the guy who’s won everything? “It means a great deal,” he says, standing alongside girlfriend Alexis Roderick. “I’m an American, I love our country and this is an American award.
“I’ve never won it before!” he jokes.
In concert, he’s been performing more of his obscure stuff of late, he says — the album tracks that get a little less love from the public: “Blonde Over Blue,” “A Room of Our Own” and “The Great Wall of China.” “I feel close to them, for some reason,” he says. He was playing in England not too long ago, “and sometimes [the audience] didn’t actually know the words” to the B-sides he busted out.
Honoree Martina Arroyo swings by to say of the night’s recognition: “It means everything to you. It’s the culmination of your life’s work.” She gets whisked away as Hancock sidles up to say hello.
Hancock says that President Obama — whom he saw earlier in the evening at the White House — is a real jazz fan. “I’ve performed for him before, at his birthday. He told me about liking Miles Davis’s ‘Kind of Blue’ more than ‘Bitches Brew.’ ” Hancock nods in approval — not necessary an endorsement of the choice, but of POTUS’s jazz literacy.
As for the Kennedy Center Honors, “I can’t find the words to describe it,” Hancock says, but then he does. “Right now, I’m floating. Everything’s magic.”