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Whitaker's Speech a Highlight of Oscar Night

TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox, in for Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

Hollywood's biggest night of the year did not disappoint. Here with us for Oscar highlights is celebrity entertainment reporter for American Urban Radio Networks, Tanya Hart. Hi, Tanya.


COX: Are you still in your gown?

HART: Well, honey, I've got to tell you, the stilettos have been kicked off and thank goodness, we can finally eat some real food for the first time all week, too.

COX: Well, let's get to it. What were the surprises for you from last night?

HART: Well, you know, I think everybody was very surprised that Eddie Murphy did not win because he really was the favored and the favorite, for best supporting actor. But I had - it hit me on Wednesday, Tony, and I had said it on the radio on Wednesday. I said, you know, Alan Arkin has not won or been nominated since the '70s or before then. I think it's been like 37 or 40 years, he's older and the Academy absolutely loved "Little Miss Sunshine." And it dawned to me, I'm saying, ooh, that could be, you know, Eddie's nemesis right there. I think that's his competition and obviously, it turns out it was.

There was also, you know, that "Norbit" factor.

COX: Oh yeah.

HART: And people had said, well, by them, you know, they thought it was a real big mistake to release "Norbit" right before the voting had been transpired -before all the votes would come in. And then the box office was great for "Norbit" but I think at the end of the day, it was a bad move to release "Norbit" because I think it really reminded people of what Eddie usually does.

And you know, that's not what the Academy - plus, then, you know, the Academy does not like any bit of controversies surrounding any of their films or their people. And there has been, as you know, I believe, it's on this show, the days on controversy about "Norbit" and that characterization of black women.

COX: That's correct. Well, let's talk about some of the speeches. In fact, we can talk about the locks and the speeches of the locks. There were two: Forest Whitaker, who we just knew was going to win…

HART: We just knew it.

COX: …and Jennifer Hudson, and they both did. Their speeches were interesting. Here's Forest Whitaker.

Mr. FOREST WHITAKER (Actor): I want to thank my wife, Keesha; my children; my ancestors, who continued to guide my steps; and God - God who believes in us all and who has given me this moment in this lifetime that I will hopefully carry to the end of my lifetime, into the next lifetime. Thank you.

(Soundbite of applause)

COX: So Tanya, what was he like backstage after that?

HART: Oh, he was wonderful. You know, Forest and Keesha used to be my neighbors here, until they moved on up to Beverly Hills. So, I always get a lot of love for them, from them and for them. And Forest was, like he always is backstage, he was, well, very interesting, though. As you know, Forest is a very, very humble person, and a very kind of a thinking man. And when he walked off that stage - by the way, that was one of the best Oscar acceptance speeches I've heard in years - and I've been backstage and been back there for like the last, almost 15 years. That's truly one of the best.

And I could even see, before we talk about backstage - you should've seen Will Smith's look on his face. Even Will Smith was tearing up as Forest won. And Will had told me on the red carpet, he said, you know, I am so happy for Forest this year. And it was a heartfelt, and you could tell he really meant it, because as good as Will was. And if it hasn't been Forest, it would've been Will, this year, because Will gave a performance.

COX: Well, you know, talking about heartfelt, there's no one who gave an acceptance speech anymore heartfelt, it seemed to me, than Jennifer Hudson.

Ms. JENNIFER HUDSON (Actress): If my grandmother was here to see me now. She was my biggest inspiration for everything, because she was a singer and she had the passion for it, but she never had the chance, and that was thing that pushed me for it to continue.

COX: When she gave that speech, I kept thinking about Simon Cowell in American Idol. You know what I mean?

HART: I was actually thinking about Jennifer Halliday and glad that she thanked Jennifer Halliday.

COX: What was she like backstage?

HART: Oh, she was great. But she's always great. I mean this is a young woman who has been on the most incredible Cinderella ride of her life, they truly are calling her the Cinderella story, and it's true. And you know, and she admits it - but she's still very, she's still very excited, very humble, very honest, very amazed by all of these. And I think she's going to have a good career. You know, she said she's going to take each one, now that she's got an Oscar, I guess we can't really call her, you know, just a singer anymore.

COX: I suppose you're right. Al Gore made a presentation - was a winner, and was also a part of the presentation some thought he might use it as an opportunity to announce his candidacy - that was an interesting side note, wasn't it?

HART: It was. Well, when Al came back to stage with his posse, they were backstage for a very, very long time. And ironically, they were backstage when Melissa Etheridge won the Oscar for the song that is in his movie, "The Inconvenient Truth," and so it was really kind of interesting because the whole - they stood by and watched and kind of jumped up and down and shouted and carried on.

But, yeah, we knew that Al wasn't going to do that. We kind of always - that, boy, had he been this animated when he was running for president, maybe we wouldn't be in the situation we're in right now. But that's another story.

Mr. COX: Interesting point. Let me ask you also about one other thing before you get away from us. And that is Ellen DeGeneres as the host. How did she do in your view? Do you think that they will invite her back?

Ms. HART: Well, you know, it's interesting because, when you're backstage, it's very hard, even though we have little earplugs and we can kind of tune in to the show. I was trying to pay attention to that and from what I could see, it seems to me that she was her usual Ellen and energetic self, and I really liked Ellen and loved her face make-up, too.

I mean, I thought she looked really great with the make-up on. Then I'd heard from some other people who had actually sat and watched the show that they didn't think that she did such a good job. So it's hard for me to say I'm going to - going to have to, you know, I TiVo'd it. And so I have to look back when I can really sit and watch. And what do you think, Tony?

COX: You know, I thought that she had one good bit when she had a Steven Spielberg take a photograph of her with…

Ms. HART: Right.

COX: …Clint Eastwood and told them to do it again because…

Ms. HART: Right.

COX: …he hadn't gotten it right the first time. But other than that, she would - I gave her a C, a C.

Ms. HART: Okay. Well then, I think you must have been with everybody else that I talked to that really had a chance to sit and watch the show. That was kind of the general feeling. And like I said, I'll have to look at it because I really - it's hard to tell for me.

COX: Tanya, it's always a joy to have you on. We will talk to you next time from the red carpet.

Ms. HART: Thank you.

COX: Tanya Hart is celebrity entertainment reporter for American Urban Radio Networks. For more on the Oscars, log on to npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.