CNN Taps Stars to Honor Ordinary People

A snarky report in on Page Six of Wednesday’s New York Post claimed that CNN publicists were scrambling this week to convince B-list guests to attend the network’s first ever "Hero’s Tribute," which took place last night at the Museum of Natural History, after first choices like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt did not confirm attendance.

Still: The show—hosted by Anderson Cooper and Christiane Amanpour, and designed to honor some 18 "ordinary people" who, the network says, have helped change our world for the better—must go on! Tyra Banks was on the red carpet, in a Pamela Roland gown and vintage jewelry. "I didn’t want to be too trendy," she said. "Anderson’s here! I thought I had to look White House-ey!" So was Mary J. Blige, sporting a very eco-unfriendly knee-length fur coat; the Reverend Al Sharpton, musing over Don Imus’ return to morning radio ("It’s not about Forgiveness! It’s about Amnesty … No matter how big you are , you can still fall!") and heiress-entrepreneuse Fabiola Beracasa, in a metallic Yves St. Laurent ensemble, pledging that this time she was Spanx-free, and naming Diane Von Furstenberg as her all time hero ("she just does so much for charity!") Meanwhile, Jane Alexander, star of HBO’s Tell Me You Love Me, offered advice to the sexually frustrated: "Go to a therapist! Sex isn’t such a mystery!" Rosario Dawson in a silver metallic gown, Kyra Sedgwick, Glenn Close, and Harry Connick Jr. also attended.

Wesley Autrey, the subway star who leapt in front of a moving train to save a young man stranded on the tracks earlier this year, was one of the "ordinary people" being honored. Who would play the construction-worker-turned-superhero if the story were turned into a made for TV movie? "Wesley, Denzel, or Samuel L. Jackson! I’m happy with any of those!" gushed Mr. Autrey as he made his way down the red carpet, two young daughters in tow. Mr. Autrey, who was also honored by President Bush during his State of the Union address earlier this year, added that he’s so busy working and helping his daughters with homework that he has "no time for a girlfriend! And even if I did, my little girl wouldn’t let me have one!"

As for the event itself: CNN had chosen its heroes—from among 7,000 nominations submitted by viewers from over 80 countries—for their achievements in the areas of health and medicine, child welfare, community and social development, protecting the planet, and global justice.

Kayla Cornale, 18, of Burlington, Ontario, developed a music system that helps children with autism communicate. Pat Pedraja, 12, of Palm Harbor, Florida, suffers from leukemia, and recently completed a quest to register 5000 bone marrow donors. Among absent honorees were Irania Martinez Garcia, a Cuban who turned a toxic waste site into a flourishing garden after her ten-year-old daughter died of leukemia, and Zach Petkewicz, who saved fellow students’ lives by blocking a classroom door during the Virginia Tech massacre.

From these 18 heroes, six winners were selected by a blue-ribbon panel, a bunch of not-so-ordinary people which included Lance Armstrong, Deepak Chopra, Peter Gabriel, fashion designer Carolina Herrera, Nobel Prize winner and micro-credit pioneer Muhammad Yunas, Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, singer-humanitarian Jewel, and Bishop T.D Jakes. The awards were presented by, among others, Jimmy Smits, Mira Sorvino, and the Duchess of York (who announced that she was adopting young Mr. Pedraja as her godson), with musical interludes by Ms. Blige, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones and Wyclef Jean.

Ordinary people are all well and good, it seems, but, at the end of the day, it’s hard to get by without a few stars—B-list or not.