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November 26, 2001

Ford Forum brings stars to Glenn

By Eric Rangus


The three couches, arranged in a semicircle around a low coffee table—ideal for entertaining—could be in the living room of anyone’s den or apartment.

The intimacy on stage was something Jay Mohr noticed right off. “It’s just like we’re hanging out in someone’s living room except we’re all facing one way.”

Indeed, the Glenn Auditorium atmosphere was cozy, but the people hanging out were of a caliber much more impressive than a normal coffee klatch: it included an NFL linebacker, an Olympic gold medalist, the lead singer of a multi-platinum recording act, a national cable sports anchor and several others, all at Emory for the Ford What’s Your Focus Festival, Nov. 13.

The idea behind the event was to bring together a panel of very successful, often very familiar people to discuss how they got that way. The fast-moving, two-hour panel served as not only a career workshop, but also a rap session on pop culture, sports, movies and personal

At the center was the affable and accomplished actor and comedian Mohr, who deftly kept all the panelists involved, lobbing questions at those who may have drifted outside the discussions and firing off so many one-liners (several of the PG-13-rated variety, and many of them hilarious) that the tone of the event had no choice but to remain light.

And the panel was certainly high wattage. It included Atlanta Falcons linebacker Henri Crockett, two-time Olympic medalist and member of the World Cup champion women’s soccer team Julie Foudy, MTV VJ Dave Holmes, singer/songwriter Ed Kowalczyk (whose band Live played a sold-out show at The Tabernacle later that night), CNN/SI sports anchor Bob Lorenz, actress Marisol Nichols (Showtime’s Resurrection Blvd.) and fashion designer Pixie Yates.

While Mohr went to great lengths not to take himself too seriously (using a spot-on imitation of actor Christopher Walken to introduce himself was a nice touch), some of his comments proved to be among of the most heartfelt of the afternoon. When discussing his career, which has ranged from stand-up comedy to featured-player status on Saturday Night Live to supporting roles in several critically acclaimed films to his current job hosting a cable sports show, Mohr defined success as it applied to him.

“I’m 31, and I’m doing what I love to do,” he said, although he admitted that hosting a cable sports show might be viewed as a step down from the a role as Tom Cruise’s antagonizer in the Oscar-nominated film Jerry Maguire. “I’ve made it because I am so overwhelmed with joy with what I do.”

That was a theme Holmes touched on as well. “To be able to do what we love to do—and not have to do anything else to pay the bills—that’s a great place to start.”

Kowalczyk proved to be the most popular participant, and he fielded questions about an artist’s community responsibilities, the practice songwriting and his experiences in the music business. As were all the panelists, he was unflinchingly honest.

“The music business is evil. It’s a nightmare,” said Kowalczyk, whose band has produced five albums in the last 10 years, the most recent released earlier this fall. “But it’s something I’ve suffered because it is the means to get the music to the people. The older I’ve gotten, I’ve seen how corrupt it is.”

Holmes was another popular panelist with the overwhelmingly undergraduate crowd. Asked whether he felt he has “sold out” because he must excitedly interview teen-pop stars of questionable talent, he played it straight.

“I sold out a long, long time ago. I’ve got bills to pay,” said Holmes, who worked as a stand-up comic and a self-described “starving actor” before earning first runner-up in an MTV “I Wanna Be a Veejay” contest. That eventually earned him a spot on the network.

“But while I might not love all the things I’m presenting, it’s a great job,” Holmes continued. “And somebody out there is eating it up.”

Yates, too, pulled no punches in her answers. “For me, it’s not about art—it’s about business,” she said, dressed in a casual, pale blue robe of her own design. In 1995, she debuted her first collection outside a small salon in New York, and six years later her clothing and bags have been featured in major fashion magazines. When Mohr revealed Yates had given his wife a pair of undergarments of her own design, it became a running joke through the afternoon.

Each panelist was able to bring a unique perspective to the event. Nichols, a young actress whose career is gaining momentum, began her career on stage, moved into feature films and has recently gotten steady work on the Showtime cable network.

“But I’m not anywhere near where I want to be,” she said. “[Although] I couldn’t do anything else but this.”

Foudy, who played on the women’s national team as a teenager, graduated from Stanford and has Olympic and World Cup titles to her credit, also spoke of love of her sport—and career—as being a driving force in her success. “The reason we’ve been so good for so long isn’t just a coincidence—we love to play soccer. That has always been the common denominator.”

And that passion for the game shown by its players is also something that has fueled its growth.

“Hopefully you can create a relationship with communities and [the game] will spread.”

Lorenz fielded questions about how to break into the business, how much creative freedom he enjoys and if he felt a job at another network might be seen as a promotion.

“There is a time when you say, ‘I want to be the next Bob Costas,’” he said. “But as you get older, priorities change.” His goal now? “I want to do every show to the best of my ability.”

Crockett, who played his college ball at Florida State University and has been with the Falcons since 1997, spoke not only of his approach to football and some of his on-field experiences, but also discussed the importance of community involvement and hard work.

“If you never feel like quitting, you’re not working hard enough,” he said. “If something was easy, everyone would do it.” Crockett was talking about football, but as everyone in Glenn Auditorium understood, his words could be applied to most anything.

The festival was cosponsored by the Office of Student Activities, the Student Programming Council and the L.E.A.D Team. According to Lee Kramer, assistant director of student activities, Ford representatives told the Emory organizers that they were some of the best to work with.

The festival’s date at Emory was the seventh of an eight-stop tour that wrapped up at the University of Miami, Nov. 16. The format at each panel was the same—only the guests were different. Mohr and Kowalczyk (Ford is a sponsor of Live’s current tour) were the only panelists to appear at every event.