One of the few instances when Britney Spears is not the right answer

About a week and a half ago I got an email from a producer at CNN asking if I’d like to participate in a round table discussion in New York City about Time Magazine’s person of the year. But of course, I said, as who in their right mind would refuse a free trip to what many consider to be the world’s most exciting city, the place where anything is possible, or at least mostly possible, as long as you are willing to tip well. They were going to fly me out, hook me up with a nice hotel, and then fly me back whenever I was done having fun in the city. But the catch was that I would have to open my mouth and pretend like I have any business whatsoever giving an opinion on something like this. Because let’s be serious here, if you have ever read a word of this website you might have the impression that I think Access Hollywood is serious journalism. And you’d be very correct.

I told a few friends before I left what I was doing, and invariably their responses were the same: CNN HAS LOST ITS MIND. And I agreed. I did several Google searches on Heather Armstrong to see if there was an intelligent and articulate political blogger whom they may have gotten me confused with, but all I could find was a lovely real estate agent in Arizona who has my name. I thought about calling her up and asking if she had an opinion on this, on who had the most influence on the media in this country over the last year, and if she said anything other than Britney Spears I would steal her answer and claim it as my own. If she said Britney Spears? Then I would invite her over for dinner.

The thing about 2006, though, is that there really isn’t a clear and fast answer to this question. Everyone I asked had a hard time coming up with even one candidate, so I figured that the odds of something totally outrageous coming out of my mouth were very slim. Ah, but do I ever underestimate my own stupidity, and instead of concentrating on the “who” part of the answer I should have maybe studied up on how to talk in coherent sentences. And this is why I like to hide behind the computer, because here I can go back and re-read a thought I have written down and fix it so that it doesn’t say, “The change that we’re going toward into for that and everything,” a sentence I said out loud on Friday morning while staring directly into a camera.

Before I go any further, I should probably talk about how intimidated I felt by the city of New York itself, a feeling that was totally unexpected. I have been to New York three times in the past, and I can see exactly why it is a perfect place to live out your dreams if you’re an ambitious, single 20-something who has life by the balls. There are so many people living there, a literal ocean of humans, and the simplest task requires so much maneuvering. Because of this I think people who live there have learned how to channel an incredible amount of energy and maintain that output at a level much higher than your average human being. It’s like, if you can survive a day in New York City, you’re well on your way to conquering the world.

But I am no longer a single 22-year-old whose only major responsibility in life is making sure that I pay the rent on time, and even though I was alone on this trip I could not turn off the parent inside me. And I was completely overwhelmed with the idea that people have children in that city, that they have to push strollers on those sidewalks and down the stairs to the subway, that they have to carry those children up and down four flights every time they leave the apartment. The intricacies of day-to-day life with children in that city must feel like an hourly marathon, a race that does not ever end. I have never been more aware of the luxury it is to be able to get into my car and drive to the grocery store, or of the fact that I am a total pussy.

I have also never felt so suburban and quaint, especially when I shook the hand of Soledad O’Brien who moderated the discussion. That woman walked into the studio, and I kid you not, there was a glowing aura around her body, and it was filled with dancing leprechauns and fairies. She was exquisite in every conceivable way, perfect hair and make-up and wardrobe, and when she greeted everyone and made small talk I got the sense that her brain was wired to a digital encyclopedia of everything that has ever happened on Earth, because she spoke with authority on every topic. I know that what I am about to say is going to give my mother a heart attack, but I can’t think of a better way to sum up the other-worldliness of Soledad: that woman does not take shits. No way.

So there I am, Gap sweater and khakis that I bought on clearance, and shoes I got two-for-one at Mervyns, and even though my hair and make-up had been crafted by a professional, I felt like a five foot eleven inch thumb. It did not help that the other people who had been invited to the discussion were all male political bloggers, one of whom is currently working on his Ph.D. at Harvard. Where did I go to college? An institution whose administration was so offended by the nudity contained in some of Rodin’s finest sculptures that they stuck The Kiss in a dark basement and refused to allow their students to see it. You could say that my education was robust.

Ultimately the hour-long discussion was not all that painful, although there were several moments when I could feel my heart beating in my throat because I thought Soledad was going to turn to me and ask what I thought about the suggestion that Kim Jong Il be person of the year. Ummmmmmm… He’s a bad man! Very bad! With much badness! My instinct would have been to frown like a very sad circus clown and boo. And maybe hiss. And then sink to the floor and crawl under my chair.

Who did I say? Well, technically it was a discussion about many people, and one of my answers was apparently so awful that Soledad looked right at me and said, “What?! Do you really think that?” And I defended myself pretty well, although my insides were screaming like a pig whose head has just been severed from its body. I will tell you that I did not say Britney Spears, although her name was brought up by someone else and that was the only time you could see fire under my ass. I even interrupted the conversation at that point to say, “I’ve got dibs!”

The 5-8 minute package will run as part of a larger program toward the end of the year. Once I know exactly when it will air I’ll pass along that info. In the meantime, I’d love to know who you would have chosen, and why. And what you would have worn.

  • http://www.closetuniverse.com A.J. Axline

    Person of the year: Jon Stewart.

    What I would have worn: a crotchless Mayor McCheese costume.

  • http://www.bellechats.com Rbelle

    I actually DID one of those one time, and it was on BALANCING THE BUDGET. Mind you I was a college senior that could not balance her checkbook and had my phone at college cut off because my long distance bill was some ridiculous amount I could not pay. I was also president of the Student Government, and I guess that was how I was invited, but I felt like a little lost girl except I could not fly away. I have no idea what I wore, but I imagine it was my Navy blazer and khaki skirt that my mom bought me. Today I would prob. wear gray pants and a black turtleneck, and I would have picked Handy Manny. Seriously, that guy can do ANYTHING and he is bilingual AND he entertains my toddler.

  • Nefariousnina

    I think we can all agree that Justin Timberlake is the Person of the Year. Love of God the man brought SEXY back. Is there any other choice?

  • http://www.snickrsnack.com Snickrsnack Katie

    I meant to say John Stewart OR Stephen Colbert. See what a real brainiac I am? :-) Can’t wait to see what your pick was! (GO BRITNEY!)

  • Nefariousnina

    Oh and also? I think I would have worn the “Vote or Die” P-Diddy original T-shirt. Seems fitting.

  • Lauren

    I would have voted Ricky Martin, and gone naked; at least it’ll put everyone elses minds at rest about what the hell they look like..

    ..I don’t know why I chose Ricky Martin.

  • http://www.orato.com Hedder

    I’m looking for funny parenting stories, like this one out of California:
    http://www.orato.com/node/1049

    If you can top that, please do!
    Heather Wallace
    Senior Editor
    Orato Media Corp.
    http://www.orato.com

  • Gisele

    That is a really hard question. Especially with the news these days being so twisted – we don’t hear about some of the great things people are doing. My choice probably would have been Angelina Jolie and/or Brad Pitt.. they are both pro-active people, who make decisions on what is right and then make a move.. and most of the time, it seems, they are right. They seem genuinely concerned with the good of everyone, everything. They give. They get involved. They get others interested in doing the same. And they’re both gorgeous, and probably wonderful parents.

    I probably would have done a little bit of shopping in NYC to pick out an outfit. Khaki pants and a sweater sounds good.. with heels or boots. Of course I would have considered also a skirt with a nice top or a casual, but pretty, knee-length dress. I don’t rule any style out – consider them all and pick the best.

  • http://www.poppetprojects.blogspot.com rikki

    I would have said Stephen Colbert because of his performance at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. And I’d wear my leopard print corduroy jacket because it’s professional, but not really professional.

  • http://pixiepurls.com mediadiva

    If anyone else mentions the You Tube guy I will seriously go mental. It’s not earth shattering AT ALL!!! It was just a matter of time once, and something that required more people to have high-speed internet (40% of the US Families now I believe). Social internet sites have been around for years! MANY YEARS! It’s not a new invention!

    Seriously, annoys me. The guy who invented wikipedia, now that’s someone who I could see being nominated, because atleast it has a better concept driving it.

    I would have gone out to bebe and bought a totally hot outfit, black pants, high heeled fancy shoes, and a pretty top (not sleeveless) that wouldn’t show sweat!!

  • http://www.snickrsnack.com Snickrsnack Katie

    Well, let’s see. It certainly would NOT have been George Bush, and if any of those political brainiacs even brought up that name I hope you clubbed them over the head with your Mervin’s two-fer-one shoes. Being from Texas, I could say Kinky Freidman, but that would just be wrong on so many levels, and really – I can almost guaran-freaking-tee you there will never be a person of the year with a sexual adjective for a first name. John Stewart of Stephen Colbert would be nice to see, but I still can’t say that would be my definitive pick. That is a really loaded question! You can only imagine how articulate I would be in that situation “Uh, DURRRRR, maybe Jerry Springer? Cuz he danced with his blind daughter on Dancing with the Stars”? Yeah, thank God CNN didn’t call me.

    As to what I would wear, I think some of those cute skinny pants they are selling at the Gap would be really adorable. I mean, really – if it worked for Audrey Hepburn, it should be good enough for CNN!

    Can’t wait to see you on tv!!! I’ll be in NYC this weekend – just missed you! hmmph!

  • http://www.flummel.com/ee Karan

    Oprah unless of course y’all picked some recent dead guy like Ed Bradley

  • rivervision

    i nominate any parent who has lost their child to a terminal illness. or any primary caregiver of someone with a terminal illness. i’m not interested in politicians or celebs. i’m interested in those who don’t get recognized. who’s daily trials are met with no great fanfare. who’s daily trials are just that – daily trials that they trudge through, hoping that the next day will be better, or maybe even simply hoping it won’t be worse.

  • Christina

    I would have worn my wedding dress. And then said that I am the person of the year. For the reaction, of course…

  • kristinwhatever

    hmmm… this just in: soledad got beat on Celebrity Jeopardy by a guy who does voices for “the simpsons.” she is not, it would appear, all knowing. but still very likeable :~)

    sorry if this is spoiler info for all the jeopardy watchers.

  • http://almostlucid.com Almost Lucid (Brad)

    Based on their criteria, I’d have to vote for Bush. Only an idiot would “stay the course” like he has in the face of such upheaval. His state of the union address gave light to his desire to screw with Iran, his policy on Israel and Palestine caused deaths, he kept Rumsfeld until the military finally pushed him out, his approval rating was horrible, and he just kept saying the same shit every time he spoke. Appalling for someone in his position.

    On a more shallow and fun level. I’d vote for Google.

    And I’d wear jeans from Old Navy and a comfortable sweater thing from Eddie Bauer. I like comfort.

  • kjc

    As to what to wear… clueless. I would think everything made me look fat.

    Person on the year… George W. Bush. And NOT in a GOP way. He was the most influential because of his lies, ineptness, lies, stupidity, lies and more lies. Did I mention the LIES. This country began to see the light and has voted in a Democratic Senate and Congress.

    A “good guy” choice would be Michael J. Fox… for standing up and showing us the face of a disease. Standing up to the ridicule and cruelty of naysayers. For standing up something he believes in, not just for himself, but for everyone with a disease that could be cured by stem-cell research.

  • katy66

    Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! Her continuous effort to bring accurate news to the public is very important in our conglomerated media world.

    Barack Obama, because he is “teh awesome”

    Barbara Boxer, because girl don’t back down!

  • http://bucky4eyes.com Bucky Four-Eyes

    I totally get your reluctance to be in a situation where your immediate words and thoughts are heard, uncensored, by other people. That’s why I much prefer teaching online to teaching in a physical classroom – less chance my students will realize what an idiot I am!

    Now, for person of the year…I’m sorry, I’m shallow and wouldn’t pick anyone political. But I would be torn between Sacha Baron Cohen, Stephen Colbert, and Amy Sedaris. I like to laugh, people.

    Although, really, I think Bettie Page should be person of the year every year.

    As for attire? I think I would have to go with a black fishnet body stocking, black Docs, and pasties made from aluminum foil spray painted black. With a funnel on my head. I almost added black lace fingerless gloves, but that would be just beyond the limits of good taste.

  • napangel

    I agree with the person who suggested Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. I think they’ve had a bigger effect on our nation that the mainstream media would ever admit.

    And I would have worn pretty much what you wore. Only in a bigger size.

  • http://www.caloden.com Caloden

    The sad truth is that I have spent the better part of 2006 hiding from the world. We rarely turn on the television and I don’t read newspapers. If it isn’t a Yahoo headline, I likely haven’t the foggiest idea. And even then? I would have to make the effort to click on the headline. And that’s not gonna happen. Sluggish, ego-centric American? Guess so.

    As for the outfit? Nothing beats a pair of Gap khakis. What’s a girl to do?

  • http://vindauga.typepad.com Lisa V

    Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, George Bush and Donald Rumsfield- for giving us a Democratic congress. Thank you boys very much.

    I would have worn a black sweater, jacket and boots. Probably jeans. And a flask strapped to my waist. I would have dropped my penicl alot, so I had to go under the table and get a nip every now and then.

  • http://www.ittybit.blogspot.com Toyfoto

    I probably would have said Brangelina or some amalgam of stars who are fighting for causes. Simply because while the “legitimate” newsmakers are idly sitting by making wars and cuts in social spending, they are using their clout, taking jabs for diletantism (word? No?) but doing something all the same.

    I would have looked terrible no matter what I wore. I also wouldn’t have been able to comb through my hair.

  • http://dooce.migrantroo.com minxlj

    I think I’d have to pick Al Gore for the whole ‘inconvenient truth’ thing and all he’s done to highlight America’s (and the West in general, I might add) refusal to do anything about climate change.

    As for what I’d wear, the old black trousers and white/black pinstripe 3/4-length sleeved shirt combo would have to come out. It sets off my pink hair nicely! And since everyone would probably be staring at my head, they wouldn’t notice my terrified little heart beating out of my throat at that moment!!

  • http://www.bollywoodwest.com DesiDancer

    obama, obama, obama
    and obama.

    or colbert, because he makes me snicker.

    and you’re right, Soledad O’Brien is a femme-bot. She can’t be human.

  • AnMc1019

    Not sure who I would’ve nominated, bu tI would’ve worn the only really nice business suit I have. Its multi colored tweed. Very fall-ish, very cute…well for Texas that is. ;)

  • Blue.

    I’m Canadian, and I find that these things are often American-centric. However, my first thought was Donald Rumsfeld… You can’t argue that he’s certainly made an “impact”.

    Reading all of these comments, though, simply makes me feel stupid. I don’t know who half these people (nominated by others) are. Dooce, I would’ve joined you by being the little fat pinky finger in your entourage. No doubt I would have worn something totally inappropriate — pink and fuzzy with killer high heels that I could’t afford.

  • Amy

    I really did think Jon Stewart before reading that everyone else said that too. Clearly I’m not very original.

    What would I have worn? A supergirl outfit. Duh.

  • http://www.outsidevoice.net pammer

    Urs nailed the wardrobe. Black turtleneck, camel pencil skirt, killer heels.

    I’d nominate “The Blogger” or “The American Mother” – because there are some moms around who have done amazing things this year — or endured the unbelievable. Or? The Blogging Mother.

  • Andrea-cat

    I would nominate Howard “Ho Ho” Dean for Person of the year but I’m biased as a former Vermonter. I think he did a lot this election behind the scenes to help win back Congress. If I could nominate a critter, I would nominate my dog for kicking cancer’s ASS!

    I would wear all black, if possible, or black pants with an aubergine cashmere sweater and black boots.

  • http://chrismohney.com Chris Mohney

    Hello Heather, this is Chris Mohney. It was a pleasure to meet you at CNN, and while I am male, it hurts me deeply to be called a “political blogger.” I only blog about politics when it involves politicians getting inappropriately naked. That aside, would love to see the photos you took while we were in the studio. Between your awesome camera and Steve Clemons’ obsessive laptop checking, I felt very inadequate, gadget-wise.

  • Terimo

    Good lord, I would have gone shopping at Saks or Barney’s, bought something outrageously expensive and willed myself not to sweat so I could return it afterwards. Or, I’d borrow one of my husband’s t-shirts, either “One Nation Under Surveillance” or “The Future Looks Like Shit”. Would CNN put up with that?
    Easy answer for person of the year (and really just a U.S. answer): Jon Stewart
    A more international-impact answer: Pakistan President Musharraf or Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad

  • Cara

    I haven’t had time to read through all your comments, so these may have already been suggested. When I think person of the year, I think someone who not only greatly influenced the media, but also was a GOOD influence on the world in general. My two top picks for 2006 would be Angelina Jolie and Bono for reasons that are pretty self explanatory. I think the emence human suffering going on in Africa was really brought to light by the media this year. Angelina and Bono have both been a huge influence on that exposure.

    I did read a few comments and saw that someone had suggested GWB for his negative influences. I agree that he has definitely had the most negative influence of any human walking this Earth. But, IMO, he doesn’t deserve any recognition, even if negative.

    Glad to hear your trip went well and I can’t wait to hear who you suggested!

  • Karen Shanley

    LOL! Oh I can so relate… I don’t know why the media thinks authors/bloggers can automatically speak brilliantly once a TV camera is pointed at them. I’ve been in this spot more times than I care to count. With the same result. Even though I even know better now.

    Heather, since it seems you’re destined for fame and fortune, I think it’s safe to say that these kind of invites will probably only increase. You might want to investigate media trainers. They’re people who help people like us prepare for being on camera, or radio.

    As to who I’d pick–no clue.

    What I’d wear? With kids and dogs, I don’t own anything without spots, so I’d have thrown on whatever was cleanest.

  • http://www.dooce.com Jennifer in Ohio

    Well, for me it’s a toss-up.

    Colin Powell. For anyone that knows me, the fact that he’s a Republican and I picked him anyway should speak volumes. It was very dramatic the way that he stepped down and his very obvious reasons for doing so. It was a symbolic smackdown to the Bush administration, and to see it delivered by one of their own totally rocked.

    Dana Reeve. To the end, she was a classy lady with neverending strength. She showed us all that even when her future seemed full of doom, she could still carry on with incredible grace and dignity. And she didn’t just “live”, she inspired change and lobbied Congress.

  • PennieB.

    I would have gone with good old Britney. The chick has done some major life overhaul. As for the outfit? Sassy heels and some black dress pants.

  • http://sisuliz.typepad.com SisuLiz

    What kind of year has it been when it’s so difficult to come up with someone who’s really made an impact, good or bad? I do like the suggestion of the Amish in Pennsylvania though. If more of the world followed that example, we wouldn’t have half of the problems we have now.

    What to wear? Ugh. I can’t think of a single article of clothing in my closet that I would be comfortable wearing on national television and in front of the beautiful Soledad O’Brien. I would definitely have to make a special shopping trip for something way too expensive that I would never end up wearing again.

  • roxyroo

    I would nominate Oprah and would have worn all black to help with those 10 lbs the camera adds…

  • http://www.paintingchef.com PaintingChef

    Person of the year is a tough one. And that’s kind of a big deal that you were asked to contribute… congratulations! And also…yay for not saying Britney although I think if we’re going to nominate her we shouldn’t forget Whitney Houston as she, also, dropped some marital dead weight…

    But I think my vote goes to Bob Woodruff. The ABC News Anchor who was injured so horribly in Iraq and is recovering so well. He’s kind of incredible, I think!

    As for what I would wear…I think a suit made netirely of that green screen color that disappears so I would just be a floating head. Either that or a black suit. You know…because black is slimming. And more normal than a green screen suit.

  • Melissa

    New Yorkers are not members of a cult who only wear black – we’re more like chameleons trying to blend into our environment and not be noticed by junkies and muggers. Seriously, though, what you wore was fine but I might have thrown on a blazer just to look a bit more tailored. My selection for Person of the Year is Suri Cruise because she has no idea what she’s in for as she gets older and she will always be compared to Baby Shiloh, as respects Baby Shiloh being prettier and with a better bod. Not even a year old and her life is all mapped out for her, poor thing.

  • Anu

    I think Iranian President Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong II because they have the capability of making a BIG difference in a really bad way. As for my outfit, I would have dressed business casual…maybe pants that I bought in Express paired with a nice shirt. However, I think you have to represent who you are and in that sense I think you were well dressed. You look good in anything so don’t worry about it.

  • FinellySpinelly

    First and foremost, knowing myself and my requirements, I would most likely have gone on a shopping spree to buy not only a new outfit for the meeting, but also a whole new wardrobe for NY. That’s just me. I’m high maintenence like that.
    I’m sure you looked fabulous as you are beautiful in all of the pics I’ve seen of you.

    Person of the year??? Hmmmm, I have thought about this and the person that keeps popping into my head may sound crazy. Angelina Jolie. She amazes me. I know that may sound somewhat ridiculous considering she took part in braking up a marriage. But let’s face it, it takes two to tango. It wasn’t all Angelina.
    Angelina is selfless in many ways. She seems to genuinely care for people in suffering. She has adopted two babies who may have otherwise died without her. That alone deserves some kind of award.
    While adopting from countries in suffering, she could have had babies of her own. But she chose to help others in need. And, not only have these actions benefited her and her children, they have brought awareness to the suffering happening in poor countries. Some may argue that we have people suffering and in need right here in America, but under no circumstance here at home does it come near the extent that it is over there.
    I have yet to see Angelina do or say anything that comes close to putting her in the same category as Britney Spears. No offense, but it’s true. :)
    She always looks amazing and she has one of the most desired men by her side helping her with all of her humanitarian efforts along the way. Not only is he helping, but his selflessness is taking on a life of it’s own.
    I believe Angelina Jolie deserves a shot at the person of the year award and upon receiving it, I think she would be humbled by it.

    There’s my long-winded 2 cents and I’m sure someone will make me regret it.

  • VeddyVeddyBadAng

    Damn, am I the only conservative that reads this blog?

    Jim Gaffigan said that raising a baby in NYC was like carrying a bowling ball around with you wherever you go.

  • http://rabittrunfarm.com/blog Stephanie

    Okay… so even Soledad’s *eyebrows* are well-coiffed. Geezus! Just THAT intimidates ME! No matter what I wore it would have seemed out of place and inadequate. :)

  • Marie from Paris

    I’ll join the Stewart/Colbert camp as well! I was thrilled to death last year seeing Bono be chosen. I love, love, LOVE him!!

    I’m a Texan, so I guess I would’ve worn Wrangler jeans, Cowboy boots and a Cowboy hat. Nothing else.

  • http://pamsdogmobile.spaces.live.com bigdogmompam

    I agree that the Amish families in Pennsylvania should be the “People of the Year”. The courage and the strength they displayed in face of the tragedy is beyond awe inspiring.

    As for the wardrobe choice. . . sweater and khakis are the way I would have gone. Life’s too short to wear uncomfortable clothes or shoes.

  • http://www.troll-baby.com Karen Rani

    David Suzuki
    http://www.davidsuzuki.org/
    Anyone who tries to teach people to respect our planet gets my vote. Especially since a lot of us turn a blind eye to what we are doing to our environment.

  • fakeblonde99

    Did anyone see Soledad on Celebrity Jeopardy last night? I thought she was going to shit when she missed her Double Jeopardy question, losing a cool $5,000. Granted, the question was tough to answer in 30 seconds (name 2 of the 4 states that have two NN together) but I got it (Minnesota and Connecticut) and I don’t work at CNN. Man, did she looked pissed. But, to give her props, the misstep seemed to fire her up and she came back to recover the money and then some. However, she did lose the game in Final Jeopardy to the brilliant Harry Shearer and she shook his hand gracefully while Isaac Mizrahi wept silent, shameful tears in the background.

    As for wardrobe Heather, a girl can never go wrong in basic black in NYC.

    Person of the Year: The Democratic Party

  • skippy delight

    I’m on the Warren Buffet bandwagon because I think he’s good example in so many ways.

    And then there’s GW Bush, Cheney, Rove and Rumsfeld who have so perfectly illustrated that when you can’t be a good example you can still serve as a horrible warning.

    I would’ve worn anything that would hold my stomach in and not give me a muffin top.

    And bad ass, looking awesome when sitting down, though probably impossible to walk in, shoes.

  • http://www.visual-voice.net VisualVoice

    I’d name Chuck person of the year. He makes me smile.