It could happen when you least expect it: turn a corner or walk into a room and there is your favorite celebrity — not on a stage or screen, but right in front of you, in the flesh. You’ve always wanted to meet this person! Your friends will be so impressed! This might be the only chance you ever get! You absolutely, 100% can’t blow it!!!
So what do you do? How can you make sure to have a great experience that will also leave the celebrity in question feeling positive about the interaction?
You’ve come to the right place! Between 7 years as @BroadwayGirlNYC, on top of almost 15 working in radio, I’ve met hundreds of celebrities: from actors to politicians, rock stars to celebrity chefs, and everything in between.
When that moment hits and you spot your idol, here are 7 steps to ensure you make the impression that will leave both of you feeling great.
- Read the room. Congratulations — you’re finally in the same room as your favorite celebrity! Take a deep breath; you’ve gotta do this right. This is someone you LOVE, and you want him or her to like you back, right? So make sure you’re in a situation where it makes sense to introduce yourself. Generally If you don’t take up much of their time, celebs are happy to meet someone who appreciates their work. But sometimes, it’s flat-out inappropriate to approach someone who doesn’t know you. Trust me, it isn’t worth pissing off your favorite star just to say you’ve met them. So if you’re in a doctor’s waiting room and you see Kristin Chenoweth, don’t ask for her autograph! And use extra discretion when a celebrity is out with his or her kids; the celeb opted into a public life, but the kids didn’t! On the street, at a coffee shop, at the theatre or a similar innocuous public locale, it’s generally acceptable to say hello, and a sure bet is spotting a star at an event like BroadwayCon, that comes with the expectation of fan presence (celebrities show up knowing — and even hoping! — that they will be approached). Listen to your gut and you’ll be golden!
- Smile and make eye contact. Once you’ve followed step 1 and determined that it’s cool to approach, put on that universal signal of friendliness: a smile! Establish eye contact organically, if you can do so without staring; in the absence of that opportunity, simply approach and say “excuse me” or “hi” and tell the star your name. Friendly eye contact with a smile, in any circumstance (even in any language!) says “I appreciate you; I respect you.” It’s the right way to begin any interaction that you want to go well.
- Follow the celebrity’s lead. The celeb WILL tell you what’s cool and what’s not, through body language if not with words. Did you get a warm smile back? Did the star turn their body to face you? Did he or she offer a hand or ask your name? These are all great signs to move forward with the conversation. If it’s not a good time, you’ll get a polite but cooler response; be attuned to signals like lack of eye contact, shifting from foot to foot, or keeping his or her body turned away from you. If you get a sign like this, consider that you might have read the room wrong, and exit the conversation gracefully with a simple compliment: “I loved you in The Drowsy Chaperone and I can’t wait to see what you do next.” Which brings me to…
- Skip to the good stuff! If you followed steps 1-3, you’ve already received tacit permission to approach & speak to your favorite star. Don’t dilute the experience with statements like “I never do this” or “I don’t want to waste your time.” Not only are these comments unnecessary time-sucks, but neither of them really holds water: you can’t claim to “never” do something that you're in the process of doing, and statements about wasting time are what actually takes up time! As Jackie Hoffman likes to say, “Get to the Point.” If you really want to communicate that you respect a celebrity’s time & space, be positive & succinct — always while maintaining that smile.
- Be genuine & specific. Humans (including celebrities!) are programmed to relate to those with whom we share something: a common interest, a mutual friend, a shared history or experience. An exclamation like “Omigod I love you,” while complimentary, establishes a differential in power and comes across as generic and unmemorable. Instead, try “I saw you in The Color Purple in 2005 and it has been my favorite musical ever since.” If you’re tongue-tied, “thank you for what you do” is always a fantastic go-to. And on that subject…
- Don’t say “I’m sorry” when you mean “thank you!” Apologies are for actions we wish we could have avoided, so if you feel an apology is necessary, reconsider approaching in the first place. My guess is that you really mean “thank you for taking the time to talk to me.” So don’t say sorry — instead, let the celeb know how appreciative you are.
- Save the selfie for the end. I know, this is going to be the hardest part. “Pics or it didn’t happen” is such a prevailing axiom that pressure to get a photo with a big celeb can outweigh the desire to actually meet the star. This I can promise: if you concentrate on having an authentic moment with the subject of your adoration FIRST, you greatly increase your chances of a genuine photo, and a genuinely positive shared experience, with your favorite star.
Meeting a favorite celeb can be overwhelming, but when handled correctly, it’s almost always awesome. Keep these steps in mind, so the next time you spot Lin-Manuel Miranda on the street, you know just what to say.