Kwame Jackson is one of the eight remaining contestants on The Apprentice ; so far, the Harvard M.B.A.’s lack of flagrant misbehavior on the show and calm demeanor has shaped his reputation among viewers as the cool team player who owns up to his mistakes. (Conspiracy-minded viewers speculate that Mr. Jackson’s low profile means he is involved in subtle sabotage against his competitors.) The winner, of course, has already been chosen, and will be announced in an episode scheduled to air on April 15. In the meantime, Mr. Jackson and his friends have transformed his TV gig into weekly viewing parties that have become a social magnet among the city’s young black professional class. Every week, Evites from Kwame Toure Jackson, with subject headings like “The Whole Enchilada” and “Hump Day,” are regarded as hot tickets.
“For the last month or so, people have been talking about it,” said a 29-year-old male lawyer who wished to remain anonymous, who was hanging out with friends at the Feb. 26 viewing party, held at the cavernous BLVD nightclub on the Bowery. “I don’t want to tell you my name because it’s pretty unique, and the people at my job think I’m at work right now,” he added with an embarrassed smile. Dressed in a dark wool sweater and black trousers, he had come with six friends who sprawled themselves across a long, reddish-colored modern sofa.
Just as Mr. Jackson set up a lemonade stand near the odoriferous Fulton Fish Market-with predictably unprofitable results-in episode 1, the choice of location for the parties hasn’t always been free of quirks. At a bar in Murray Hill, Mr. Jackson’s friends and fans endured a malfunctioning sound system that loudly spewed a distorted vocal track during the show; when a cheesy frat band started to tune its instruments, the party suffered a mass exodus. At the Feb. 5 party, at Tribeca Grand Hotel, huge lines and unsympathetic bouncers caused many to wait outside in freezing temperatures for over an hour. The largest gathering was Feb. 19: 1,000 guests showed up, including cast members Katrina Campins, Amy Henry and Bill Rancic.
Mr. Jackson declined comment on the parties because of his involvement with the show. “He doesn’t choose where the parties are,” claimed his best friend, Dave Smith, a 31-year-old investment banker. “He has nothing to do with the planning of the parties.” Mr. Smith, however, refused to name those who do organize the weekly fêtes.
Most of the guests at the Feb. 26 bash walked around in bland yet eye-pleasing business-casual attire (blue button-down shirt with khakis for men; striped collared blouse with creased black pants for women). There were a few standouts-women in cleavage-baring tops, men in T-shirts and jeans. Mr. Jackson wore a long-sleeved gray T-shirt with jeans while catching up with old friends or introducing himself to new people. A core group of friends from Harvard and Wharton Business Schools (Mr. Smith’s alma mater) attend the parties every week.
“It’s a great forum for networking,” said Mr. Smith. “There are always networking opportunities when there’s new people. These parties are for networking, to bring out young New Yorkers.”
“I’ve definitely exchanged a few business cards with people,” said Chelley Talbert, a 28-year-old lawyer who knew Mr. Jackson from their undergrad days at the University of North Carolina. “There were a few people from college that I didn’t even know were in the city that I’ve traded info with.”
While wallets opened to catch business cards and cell phones lit up to memorize new digits, many scoped the scene for less business-like possibilities. One woman took advantage of her stiletto heels to peer over some heads: “I’ve already got my eye on two guys here,” she said. “Did you see that guy that just walked out? He was adorable!”
Indeed, in Mr. Jackson’s last Evite, he dictated one rule for the event: “Invite someone you have always wanted to ask out, using this event as the perfect excuse!”
The parties have started to diversify: At the Feb. 26 party, white bankers congregated in small clumps along one side of the main room; a group of Asian-American women perched on sleek ottomans; and black artist types flung their dreads behind their shoulders and tugged on their vintage T-shirts.
When The Apprentice came on the television screen, it was almost an afterthought.
“If I really wanted to follow [the show], I’d be at home with a couple of friends,” said Lara Jochim, a painter and D.J. “I have a pretty good attention span and the TV is right in my line of vision, but I’m so distracted by the crowd, the noise.”
Ms. Talbert, who has attended almost every viewing party, noted the evolution of the event: “Everyone at the first one was there to support Kwame. It was a ‘Yay, Kwame!’ atmosphere. It’s evolved into more of a party atmosphere. The first one was fun because everyone was there to support someone we know on the show. It was quiet, you could hear everything on the show, people cheered for him.”
“I try to watch the show at parties, but it becomes a bit difficult. A/V is usually pretty good at parties, but between networking and talking, it’s hard. But you catch key pieces. Also, NBC runs them again,” said Mr. Smith.
At BLVD, true followers of the show gathered in the V.I.P. section, cheering when Team Protégé won the competition and vocalizing a collective ” ooooh! ” when The Donald directed his famous two-word rejection line to Ereka. Mr. Jackson had survived another week, but not everyone at the party was necessarily rooting for him.
“I love Omarosa,” said Yardley Messeroux, 26, a sales representative at Island/Def Jam Records. “She is so on point, she has a strategy, she’s not emotional. She has business decorum at all times-maybe that’s not who she is, but I like that on the show.”
Enjoying his cocktail, the anonymous attorney (who has never seen a full episode of The Apprentice ) said he wants Mr. Jackson to win: “He seems like a nice guy. I watched the last, like, 15 minutes of one episode, and when he was making the decision, the decision of who should be let go …. I agreed with what he was saying. So I kind of like the guy based on that.”
He added, “It would be nice if he wins. Then we could keep going to these parties.”
-Hemmy W. So
On the evening before Super Tuesday, approximately 29 hours before John Kerry’s presumed Democratic coronation, the upstairs lounge of Sage, a slinky boîte on Park Avenue South, was crammed with young Kerry supporters who had shelled out $150 a head. But there were no whoops of joy-just the clink of glasses and the tick of conversation as the Kerry Core, as they call themselves, gathered their strength for Phase 2 of the campaign.
“You can’t proclaim a victory party when you’re facing an incumbent President who has a war chest of $200 million and will lie, cheat and steal to win the next election,” said the musician-activist Moby, peering from behind chunky black glasses. Moby has been a Kerry fan for more than a year, and was listed on the evening’s invite as one of the hosts. Like many of those in attendance, he’s also a J.R.R. Tolkein fan-or at least a Peter Jackson fan: “It’s like the second book of The Lord of the Rings , after they defeat Saruman,” he said. “They have five minutes of high-fiving each other and then they’re like, ‘Oh no!’-because compared to what we have to do in the next eight months, this is nothing.”
“It’s a dark age,” said Aaron Cahn, a 33-year-old advertising executive with pale eyes and Bilbo Baggins hair. “I’m here to give some money to the side of light, to fight the forces of darkness.”
“Just call him Treebeard,” said his friend, Adam Tibbs. (Treebeard, for those who might not recall, is the arboreal giant who rescues Merry and Pippin from the Fangorn Forest; he also bears a striking resemblance to Senator Kerry, at least before the Botox.)
“Right now things are looking pretty bleak, mostly because Bush has done such bad things with the economy,” said Adam Margolis, 27, a chatty lawyer with a ready command of unemployment statistics. “We come from the most politically apathetic generation in history, but now we are getting involved. We have to.”
“We used to get together for political events because we felt obligated, but now we’re doing it because we want to accomplish something,” said Jonathan Uretsky, 29, also a lawyer. “There’s a real intensity now.”
Shortly before 9 p.m., Vanessa Kerry and Chris Heinz, the candidate’s daughter and stepson, took the stage (a pair of folding chairs behind the D.J.’s turntables). Ms. Kerry has chiseled cheekbones and blond hair that hung loose over a casual jade T-shirt; Mr. Heinz has dark hair and dramatic eyebrows, and he was wearing tailored jeans. He did some apparent political comedy-lecturing in some impeccably foreign accent-before the two got down to business.
“This election is the most important election in this century, if not the history of this country,” said Ms. Kerry, 26. “What is at stake is incredibly important, whether it’s civil liberties, the Supreme Court, our relationships abroad, health care, jobs, education. We have to be willing to fight for what we believe in.”
“Don’t get petrified by the size of this effort,” Mr. Heinz, 30, said. “What we need to do is take little baby steps and then work together, and that is how we get the sea change moving.”
During a lull in the Q. and A., a clarion voice wafted from the back of the room: “My name is Moira Moynihan, and my father was Senator Moynihan. Before he died, he told me that he thought John Kerry was the guy to do it.”
The crowd erupted into applause. Mr. Heinz gasped; Ms. Kerry’s eyes grew wide.
Follow NYO Staff via RSS.