By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 6, 2010; B01
Justin Bieber might have gotten the loudest (well, at least the shrillest) ovation Monday at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. But let there be no doubt who was the biggest star of the day.
Despite an approval rating that's hovering around 53 percent, and a health-care law that has made him the subject of increasingly vitriolic attacks, parents and kids alike let it be known that they came to see the president.
And he did not disappoint.
Dressed in khaki pants and a button-down shirt with sleeves rolled up, President Obama didn't say much. He complimented Amber Riley, a star of the TV show "Glee," on her singing of the national anthem, asked whether everyone was having a good time and quickly deferred to his wife, whom he described as "the best speaker, the smartest and the best looking of the older Obamas."
The crowd loved it.
"We saw Obama at the White House!" 12-year-old Dylan Coal, of Easton, said as the president walked away from the South Lawn. "He came really close to us!"
For her part, Michelle Obama, dressed in a floral print shirt and pink cardigan, promoted her campaign against childhood obesity. She noted that this year's Easter Egg Roll -- which adopted the theme "Ready, Set, Go!" -- featured a variety of high-energy activities, including football, basketball and tennis. She also listed some members of the star-studded cast that would be performing, including Bieber, the up-and-coming pop star whose mere mention drew shrieks from the girls in the crowd.
He was joined by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, who read to a group of kids, actress Reese Witherspoon, singer Sara Bareilles, speed skater Apolo Ohno, the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian, and a host of others.
"Today, we have transformed the South Lawn into a playground," Michelle Obama said. "We're going to have 30,000 people in our back yard today, and we want every single one of you to have fun."
This year, as last year, the White House used an online system for people to request tickets, and distributed 3,000 tickets to area students and 4,000 tickets to military families. The White House said that 250,000 tickets were requested, and that 30,000 people from all 50 states would be coming.
Children and their parents, allowed on the lawn in groups of several thousand, moved from station to station, rolling eggs, doing yoga and watching the celebrity entertainers. Shortly after his remarks, Obama and his family, including daughters Sasha and Malia and first dog Bo, descended to mingle with a group of egg rollers before they moved on to other activities. Obama started off a line of rollers by blowing a whistle.
"This looks like a fierce competition," he said.
Kim Bryson came to the egg roll with her two children, Emma, 8, and Duke, 4, from Woodbridge. Rushing toward the line outside security about 7 a.m., Bryson said she would love to see "any of the presidential family," but just being at the White House with her kids was an educational experience.
"It's just a tradition to do it," she said. "It seems like a good experience for the kids to learn about the president and the White House."
The star-studded affair Monday was a far cry from its humble beginnings as an organized event in 1878 -- when President Rutherford B. Hayes let a bunch of wannabe egg rollers onto the White House lawn after police chased them away from the Capitol. But it hasn't totally lost its childlike innocence.
Sitting on the street, munching on a marshmallow Peep after he had left the lawn, 6-year-old Joey Coal said catching a glimpse of the president was his favorite part of the event, insofar as he had to climb a pole to do it. But clutching a headless Peep between his thumb and pointer finger, he soon had another thought.
"The end is my favorite part, too," he said. "When I get to eat one of these."