By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Before she made it into a White House state dinner without an official invitation, Michaele Salahi made it onto the Redskins alumni cheerleading squad -- without ever having been a Redskins cheerleader.
Salahi performed at FedEx Field during halftime of the Redskins-St. Louis Rams game Sept. 20 with a group of 150 former Redskins cheerleaders. Salahi's rehearsals with the group were filmed by a crew that has been following Michaele Salahi and her husband, Tareq, for possible inclusion on a cable TV reality show, "The Real Housewives of D.C."
Several former cheerleaders said in interviews that Michaele Salahi's presence at a rehearsal drew attention because of the TV cameras, but also suspicion because no one seemed to remember her as a cheerleader for the team.
Their doubts were heightened when Salahi couldn't perform some of the basic cheerleader routines, including the standard choreography for the team's fight song, "Hail to the Redskins."
But it wasn't until stories about the Salahis' White House incident last week that the cheerleaders decided to follow up on her credentials as a Redskins cheerleader.
"She was never at an audition, never at a game and never performed" as an original cheerleader, said Sheryl Olecheck, a Redskins cheerleader from 1986 to 1996 who choreographed the team for seven years. "When I saw her, I had to ask around: 'Who is that?' "
Another former cheerleader said she asked Salahi who her choreographer was when she performed. "She couldn't answer," she said.
The Washington Redskins Cheerleaders Alumni Association lists Salahi on its membership roster and indicates that she was a cheerleader during 1991 season under her nickname and maiden name, Missy Holt. However, when asked by the group for proof of her participation, Salahi was unable to supply any.
The group's president, Terri Lamb, said Wednesday, "We have no record that she ever was a Redskins cheerleader. She was listed on our 1991 roster at Ms. Salahi's request and based on her misrepresentation to us."
That alleged misrepresentation enabled Michaele Salahi to become a dues-paying member in 2005 and to perform with the group at two other Redskins games at FedEx in 2005 and 2007. Neither of those appearances raised any concerns at the time.
Salahi didn't return calls or e-mails seeking comment Wednesday. A spokesman for the Redskins said the team was not aware of her participation in the cheerleader events.
A local video company, Half Yard Productions, showed up to film Salahi at the practice Sept. 18 and subsequently asked the cheerleaders to sign agreements granting their permission to appear on the "Housewives" program and binding them to confidentiality.
Salahi arrived late to the practice, and caused some disruption when a videographer scrambled into place to film her emerging from a Range Rover. At one point, a producer directed Salahi, who was wearing a wireless microphone during the rehearsal, to make small talk with members of the group in order to film the interaction.
"She came up to me, and asked, 'So, how many kids do you have now?' " said a former cheerleader, who asked not to be identified because the alumni group has asked its members not to speak to the news media. "It was really contrived and awkward." Some of the dialogue had to be reshot because Salahi wasn't facing the camera, she said.
At another point, a producer asked Olecheck, who was directing Salahi's group, if she could move Salahi to the front row in order to film her better. Olecheck declined. "I already had the formation, and besides, she was too tall and couldn't dance," she said.
The cheerleading group also turned down the crew's request to film the halftime performance that included Salahi. But photographs posted on some of the former cheerleaders' Facebook pages show Salahi on the field, often out of time with her line.
Olecheck said she was "unnerved" by the episode. "It takes a lot of time and heart and practice to be a Redskins cheerleader," she said. "It's really a privilege to wear the burgundy and gold. So I'm resentful. . . . For her to get out there and think she can just shake her pompoms is upsetting."