Monday, February 25, 2013

Meet NASCAR's First Woman Pit Crew Member

Christmas Abbott Is the First Female NASCAR Pit Crew Member

02/22/2013 at 09:15 AM EST

NASCAR Pit Crew Member Christmas Abbott Is First Female on the Job

Christmas Abbott
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty

Her name is Christmas and if auto racing legend Michael Waltrip is right, she will become more than merry asset in the NASCAR pits – she'll become a racing business goddess.

Christmas Abbott, a fierce CrossFit video star and Raleigh, N.C., gym owner who bears a gun tattoo on her hip and who worked for years as a civilian contractor in Bagdad – doing military laundry, no less – was signed this week as a full-time crew member for the Michael Waltrip Racing team and its Sprint Cup operation, making her the first woman to work the pits at NASCAR's highest level.

Get more stories on your favorite celebrities by subscribing now.

While racer Danica Patrick offers star power on the track, Abbott, 31 and a Virginia native, will add her own muscled glamour to crews for this Sunday's Daytona 500, where she will be in the pits with racer Clint Bowyer and will shadow the pit team there in anticipation of her future gig.

At 5'3" and 115 lbs., her weight-lifting workouts will no doubt help Abbott endure the sport's lightening-fast tire changes, heaving 90-pound gas cans and jacking up stock cars in a very manly operation where seconds can mean the difference between winning and going home. She dodged IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq, giving her significant experience in handling pressure.

In a world that values star drivers, some expect the gritty, tough and photogenic fitness queen to expand the NASCAR fan base.

Abbott was discovered by NASCAR executive Ted Bullard who saw her videos and invited her to Charlotte, N.C., for a tryout. He set up a wheel and axel assembly station and she drilled the bolts with lightening speed. She will join NASCAR's year-long Truck Series and is excited about her debut, even if it comes with plenty of expectations.

"Christmas is going to transcend NASCAR," Bullard told Yahoo Sports of her appeal.

"I have to get dirty and [travel] overnight," Abbott told Yahoo Sports of her new job. "NASCAR fans are die-hard and they will call out your B.S. I want to go to the highest level, and I left three jobs to do [this] one."

Of her newfound fame, she says: "There's a lot of spotlight. I prefer to be the quiet underdog."

Michelle Obama Makes Oscars Appearance – Thanks Movie Magic, Harvey Weinstein

02/25/2013 at 12:15 PM EST

Oscars 2013: Michelle Obama Presents Best Picture
Harvey Weinstein and Michelle Obama

 When Michelle Obama appeared on screen at the 85th Annual Academy Awards to present the Oscar for Best Picture, many were shocked that she was able to be part of Hollywood's Biggest Night.

But thanks to a little movie magic, the producers of ArgoBen Affleck, George Clooney and Grant Heslov – were given their Award by the First Lady herself.

Here's how it became Oscar history:

According to The Hollywood Reporter, having the First Lady, 49, present Best Picture from the White House was all movie mogul Harvey Weinstein's daughter's idea.

Once the show's producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron were on board, the Academy approached the First Lady. Zadan says her response was, "Yes, I think it's a great idea. We watch movies all the time at the White House. Let's do it."

Two weeks before the show aired, Koch and producers flew to D.C. where they joined up with Weinstein and his daughter, Lily. Next, they met up with the First Lady's staff. It was soon decided that rather than appear by herself, she would appear with members of the military.

As for Mrs. Obama's co-presenter, Zadan and Meron approached Jack Nicholson – who they had worked with in their film The Bucket List. Once they explained the situation, the actor, 75, was immediately in.

Then on Sunday, the First Lady – wearing a glittering, custom, smoke-gray Naeem Khan gown and Sutra Silver at Fragments jewelry – presented the Best Picture Oscar live from the White House. While her appearance went off without a hitch – Nicholson was holding a second envelope with the winner at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood, just in case they experienced any technical difficulties.

Michelle Obama Attacked For Oscars Appearance

Conservative Media Ignore Laura Bush, Ronald Reagan Appearances

Right-wing media are falsely suggesting that First Lady Michelle Obama's Academy Awards appearance is unprecedented, ignoring that former presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have previously participated in the ceremony.
On Sunday, Obama made a surprise appearance via satellite at the 85th Academy Awards where she helped announce the Best Picture Oscar winner. According to a spokesman for Obama, the Academy contacted the first lady about being part of the ceremony.
Washington Post political blogger Jennifer Rubin, however, accused Obama of "feel[ing] entitled" to "intrude" on the ceremony, arguing that Obama's "celebrity appearance" made her seem "small and grasping":
It is not enough that President Obama pops up at every sporting event in the nation. Now the first lady feels entitled, with military personnel as props, to intrude on other forms of entertaining (this time for the benefit of the Hollywood glitterati who so lavishly paid for her husband's election). I'm sure the left will holler that once again conservatives are being grouchy and have it in for the Obamas. Seriously, if they really had their president's interests at heart, they'd steer away from encouraging these celebrity appearances. It makes both the president and the first lady seem small and grasping. In this case, it was just downright weird.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes likewise wrote on his Twitter feed that Obama "probably felt like she was entitled to upstage" the Oscars and accused the first lady of making the ceremony about her. called her appearance "obscene, and rather frightening in what it suggests about how low we have fallen as a nation."
In fact, former presidents and former First Lady Laura Bush have participated in Academy Awards ceremonies. In 2002, Bush appeared at the Oscars in a taped appearance. From the Chicago Tribune:
The documentary history montage was put together by director Penelope Spheeris, whose remarkable "Decline of Western Civilization" rock documentaries likely have never been even close to nominated.
And the show's marvelous "What do the movies mean to you?" opening segment was done by director Errol Morris, whose groundbreaking work, from "Thin Blue Line" through "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control," has also been criminally neglected.
It was bracing to see people from Laura Bush to Jerry Brown to Mikhail Gorbachev interviewed, and mind-bending to hear film titles such as Russ Meyer's "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill" and William Castle's "The Tingler" mentioned on usually sacrosanct Oscar airspace.
In 1981, President Reagan taped an appearance for the Oscars. From The New York Times:
But now that Mr. Reagan has moved on to another profession, he's been invited to appear on the Academy Awards program on March 30.
The President will remain in the White House and tape a brief greeting to the audience at the Oscar ceremonies, and his words will be televised early in the awards show.
''President Reagan was once a member of our industry and it seemed fitting for him to join us,'' said Norman Jewison, producer of this year's show.
The Times also noted that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt "spoke to an Oscar audience by radio in 1941."

Pope says Vatileaks probe will stay secret, adding intrigue to final days

As Pope Benedict XVI prepares to step down from his position in a matter of days, Italian newspapers are reporting rumors of blackmail and conspiracy. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News

A potentially explosive report into embarrassing leaks from the Vatican will be seen by only two people — Pope Benedict XVI and the man who succeeds him.

Italian newspapers have already angered the Vatican by suggesting that the report found evidence of corruption, blackmail and a gay sex ring, and that it triggered Benedict’s decision earlier this month to give up the papacy. The Vatican said in a statement Monday that Benedict, who commissioned the report on leaks from three cardinals, is the only person who knows its contents and will make them available only to the next pope.

The pontiff also praised the cardinals for showing "the generosity, honesty and dedication of those who work in the Holy See," considering "the limitations and imperfections of the human component of each institution."

Over the weekend, the Vatican took the unusual step of lashing out at the Italian press — accusing it of "unverifiable or completely false news stories" designed to influence the conclave that will pick the next pope.

Father Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church," said that Benedict’s decision to keep the report secret was not a surprise.

"The Vatican doesn’t like to do its laundry in public," he said.

In any event, he added, the new pope could always decide to make the report public. Benedict’s decision simply gives him cover in case he wants to keep it private, Reese said.

Slideshow: The life of Pope Benedict XVI

Javier Barbancho / AFP - Getty Images
Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Look back at his life from childhood through his papacy.
Launch slideshow

The pope ordered the report on what has become known as the Vatileaks scandal last year after documents became public that deeply embarrassed the church, including some of Benedict’s own correspondence and letters alleging corruption.

Benedict pardoned the ex-butler, Paolo Gabriele, just before Christmas.

The pope, 85, announced earlier this month that he would abdicate, the first leader of the Catholic Church to do so since the Middle Ages. His last day is Thursday. A conclave to pick successor begins next month.

The decision to keep the leaks report secret adds a layer of intrigue to what has already been a tumultuous papal transition.

Just Monday, the most senior cleric in Britain, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, resigned after The Observer newspaper reported that three priests and a former priest had accused him of inappropriate behavior going back 30 years.

Also Monday, the pope changed Vatican law to allow his successor to be picked sooner — as soon as all the voting cardinals are in place in Rome. Under previous law, the conclave could not have begun before March 15.

Britain’s top cardinal quits amid priests’ allegations
LA's Cardinal Mahony says he is a 'scapegoat'
Inside the Vatican: The $8 billion global institution where nuns answer the phones
Vatican history of 'cover-ups and disarray' will challenge new pope

How did Michelle Obama end up announcing best picture?

Chris Pizzello / Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
First lady Michelle Obama helped Jack Nicholson present the Oscar for best picture.

Oscar night was a good time for Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day-Lewis, and a mixed bag for viewers. The awards show was long and uneven, and also a puzzling night in many respects. We tackled some of the unanswered questions that remained after the Dolby Theatre emptied.

What was up with Michelle Obama's cameo?
Jack Nicholson took the stage to announce the best picture winner, but then the show cut to a satellite feed of first lady Michelle Obama live at the White House, wearing a glittery gown and announcing that "Argo" was the Oscar winner. The Hollywood Reporter writes that movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and Oscar producers worked the deal out with the first lady's staff and managed to keep it secret. Obama had been attending the National Governors Association Dinner and stepped out to handle the award announcement. What we found most interesting: Nicholson had a backup envelope with the winner's name in it just in case the White House feed was somehow lost. Obama herself later tweeted, "It was a thrill to announce the #Oscars2013 best picture winner from the @WhiteHouse! Congratulations Argo!"

Was Andy Griffith left out of the In Memoriam segment?
Yes he was. While Griffith, who died in July, is best known for TV roles, he also starred in feature films, including "Hearts of the West," "Rustlers' Rhapsody," "Waitress" and others. Also left off was Larry Hagman, whose films included "Fail-Safe," "Nixon" and "Primary Colors." Phyllis Diller, Sherman Hemsley and Conrad Bain didn't make the cut either. But fans of Whitney Houston need not complain: She was in last year's In Memoriam segment, having died just weeks before the 2012 Oscars.

Why do the Oscars love 'Chicago' so much?
The show's theme was music in film, but you'd be forgiven if you thought its theme was "Hey, Wasn't The 2002 Best Picture Winner Really Great?" Catherine Zeta-Jones performed "Chicago" hit "All That Jazz" and a group of the film's cast members reunited on stage as part of the show's tribute to musicals. Critics were quick to point out that the current Oscar producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron also produced "Chicago." Wrote TV critic Tim Goodman on Twitter, "Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow to find the Academy charged Zadan and Meron the cost of five commercials for that (expletive) 'Chicago' self-love."

Mario Anzuoni / REUTERS
Cast members Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, Queen Latifah and Catherine Zeta-Jones of the 2002 Oscar-winning musical "Chicago" announced the award for best original score. Why so much love for a decade-old film? Ask the Oscar producers.
Was this the longest show ever?
Not by a long shot. Sunday's show lasted three hours, 35 minutes. According to the L.A. Times, five shows were longer, with the 2002 show clocking in at four hours, 23 minutes, and two other years also passing the four-hour mark.

Wait, Scarlett Johansson sang one of the nominated songs?
Yep. Johansson sang best original song nominee "Before My Time," from the climate-change documentary "Chasing Ice." She was accompanied by violinist Joshua Bell on the song. It didn't win, but songwriter J. Ralph, who also worked with Johansson on a song for a 2010 film about autism, calls the actress "a world-class singer in every regard."

What tripped up Jennifer Lawrence?
The best actress winner wiped out while walking to receive her award, then joked that the audience only gave her a standing ovation because they felt sorry for her. What caused the fall? E! Online quotes Lawrence as saying, "What do you mean, what happened? Look at this dress." Her pink Dior gown was apparently just too much volume for the 22-year-old, at least when it came to stair-climbing.

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Actress Jennifer Lawrence falls as she walks up the steps to accept the best actress Oscar.

Why was Kristen Stewart limping?
If you saw "Twilight" star Stewart on either the red carpet, hopping from foot to foot as the paparazzi cameras flashed, or watched her closely when she came on stage with Daniel Radcliffe, you probably spotted a hitch in her walk. Her makeup artist told People magazine that Stewart cut her foot severely on broken glass, and indeed, she sported crutches on the red carpet.

Sam Mircovich / REUTERS
Kristen Stewart used crutches on the red carpet as she nursed a cut foot.
Related content:

FLOTUS Thanks H'Wood For 'Vitally Important Work,' Announces Best Picture 

"Thank you, Jack and welcome to the White House, everyone. I am so honored to help introduce this year's nominees for Best Picture and to help celebrate the movies that lift our spirits, broaden our minds and transport us to places we have never imagined. This has been an exciting year for movies, and I want to congratulate all the nominees on their tremendous work. These nine movies took us back in time and all around the world. They made us laugh, they made us weep, and they made us grip our armrests just a little tighter. They taught us that love can endure against all odds and transform our lives in the most surprising ways. They reminded us that we can overcome any obstacle if we dig deep enough and fight hard enough and find the courage to believe in ourselves. These lessons apply to all of us no matter who we are, or what we look like, or where we come from, or who we love, but they are especially important for our young people. Every day, through engagement in the arts, our children learn to open their imaginations, to dream just a little bigger and to strive every day to reach those dreams. I want to thank all of you here tonight for being part of that vitally important work..."

Oscars 2013: "Argo" wins best picture

Actor/producer/director Ben Affleck accepts the best picture award for "Argo" onstage along with members of the cast and crew during the Oscars held at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, 2013, in Hollywood, Calif.
Actor/producer/director Ben Affleck accepts the best picture award for "Argo" onstage along with members of the cast and crew during the Oscars held at the Dolby Theatre on Feb. 24, 2013, in Hollywood, Calif. / Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Ben Affleck's revenge? Maybe. Despite the "Argo" director's much-talked-about snub on the best director nomination list, his film took home the best picture Oscar Sunday night, the final award of an evening that seemed even more ploddingly paced than usual.

Affleck seemed genuinely thrilled and touched as he speed-shouted out his thanks, including expressing gratitude to Canada, a near-necessity after that country's ambassador said he felt his nation's contributions to the 1980 rescue depicted in the film were underplayed.

The Ben Affleck-directed film "Argo," Jennifer Lawrence and Daniel Day-Lewis were major winners at Sunday night's Oscars.

"I was here 15 years ago and I had no idea what I was doing," Affleck said, referring to his 1997 original screenplay Oscar win for "Good Will Hunting." "I never thought I'd be back here."

In a surprise twist, the win for "Argo" was read not by presenter Jack Nicholson, but by first lady Michelle Obama, via a live satellite presentation from the White House.

Obama praised the importance of the arts in the lives of young people, saying "every day, through engagement in the arts, our children learn to open their imaginations, to dream just a little bigger and to strive every day to reach those dreams."
Slideshow: 2013 Academy Awards red carpet

 Launch slideshow

"Argo" beat out eight other best-picture contenders, including Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln," which was expected by many to dominate the night. But helped in part by publicity from the Affleck snub, "Argo" came on strong and by Oscar night, was considered by many to be a best-picture favorite.

"Lincoln" didn't follow through on its early best picture hopes, but for months, star Daniel Day-Lewis had been the overwhelming favorite. He didn't disappoint -- he took home his third best actor Oscar, making him the first actor to claim three wins in that category. He was quick to joke with presenter Meryl Streep, saying, "before we agreed to a straight swap, I had been commissioned to play Margaret Thatcher." Streep won an Oscar for playing Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" in 2011.

Jennifer Lawrence surprised many by claiming the best actress honor for her role in "Silver Linings Playbook," then surprised them again by tripping as she walked up to accept the award. She put her hands down on the stairs leading to the stage, steadied herself, and continued on to the microphone.

Director Ben Affleck says he was confident that "Argo" would win the best picture Oscar, once he had the award in his hand. Clip Courtesy A.M.P.A.S.© 2013.

"You guys are just standing up because you feel bad that I fell," Lawrence said, looking out at the standing ovation that greeted her.

Christoph Waltz won the night's first statuette, for "Django Unchained," 15 minutes into the show, kicking off a long slog of musical numbers and minor awards until Anne Hathaway's best supporting actress award an hour and a half later.

In his speech, Waltz gave special thanks to Quentin Tarantino, the film's director, saying "you climbed the mountain ... because you were not afraid."

Hathaway won as expected for her role as the desperate prostitute Fantine in the big-screen version of "Les Miserables," a part her own mother once played on a national tour.

"It came true," Hathaway said while holding her trophy. She closed her speech with the hope that in the future, "the misfortunes of Fantine will be found only in stories and never again in real life."

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
Anne Hathaway accepts the award for best supporting actress for her role in "Les Miserables.

The best director category became controversial back when the nominees were announced, with Affleck and "Zero Dark Thirty" director Kathryn Bigelow left off the list. Many awards-watchers felt Steven Spielberg would claim the honor for "Lincoln," but it was Taiwanese director Ang Lee who won the Oscar for his work on "Life of Pi."

"Family Guy" host Seth MacFarlane began the show with a lengthy song, dance and humor segment that included an appearance by William Shatner, appearing as "Star Trek's" Captain Kirk, and chastising MacFarlane for a supposed poor performance that Kirk came back from the future to correct.

MacFarlane's humor is often risque, and a few lines from his opening segment and throughout the show earned gasps from the audience. He joked that "Django Unchained's" near-constant use of the n-word was because the film was "loosely based on Mel Gibson's voicemails."

Later in the show, MacFarlane complimented Daniel Day-Lewis' performance in "Lincoln," and said that "the actor who really got inside Lincoln's head was John Wilkes Booth." The reference to Lincoln's assassin didn't go over well, leaving MacFarlane to crack, "Really? 150 years and it's still too soon?"

The show's theme was music in film, which was spotlighted in numerous segments.

 Best Actor for "Lincoln," Daniel Day-Lewis surprises a reporter by telling him the president's beard was all his, not makeup. Clip Courtesy A.M.P.A.S.© 2013.
The always-popular "In Memoriam" montage showing photos of those in the industry who died in the past year ended with an image of Marvin Hamlisch. As his image scrolled away, Barbra Streisand strolled on stage to sing Hamlisch's "The Way We Were," which won the best original song Oscar in 1973.

A montage of dramatic scenes from James Bond films was shown to celebrate that film franchise's 50th anniversary, with Bond girl Halle Berry introducing the footage. Singer Shirley Bassey, who sang three of the Bond theme songs, sang "Goldfinger" as part of the tribute.

It was a timely nod, because later in the show, singer Adele and co-writer Paul Epworth won the Oscar for best original song for "Skyfall," the theme to the latest Bond film.

Kevin Winter / Getty Images
Adele accepts the Oscar for best original song for "Skyfall."

A tribute to movie musicals featured Catherine Zeta-Jones singing "All That Jazz" from "Chicago," and Jennifer Hudson bringing down the house with "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls." Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Russell Crowe and other cast members from "Les Miserables" capped off the performances with a medley from their musical.

Both screenplay awards went to best picture nominees. Quentin Tarantino won the original screenplay award for "Django Unchained," the slavery drama that had already won Waltz his supporting-actor honor. Praising the strong work of current screenwriters, including his competition, Tarantino announced, "This will be the writer's year!"

"Argo," adapted from an article in Wired magazine, won the award for best adapted screenplay, with writer Chris Terrio dedicating the honor to CIA employee Tony Mendez, who was instrumental in the 1980 rescue of American embassy employees from Iran that forms the center of the film.

"33 years ago, Tony, using nothing but his creativity and his intelligence ... got six people out of a bad situation," Terrio said.

Slideshow: 2013 Academy Awards

Launch slideshow

The best sound editing award ended in an Oscar rarity — a tie. Presenter Mark Wahlberg announced the Academy had come to a split decision, and gave the award to both "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Skyfall."

"Life of Pi" won the most Oscars of the night. In addition to Lee's best director honor, the film claimed awards for cinematography, original score and visual effects. The winners of the visual effects award were cut off by the ominous theme from "Jaws" as their speech ran over — a musical choice that was revisited later when "Searching for Sugar Man," a documentary about little-known American singer Rodriguez and his unexpected popularity in South Africa, won the Oscar for best documentary feature and the film's director began to ramble.

"Brave," the story of a Scottish princess who battled to establish an adult relationship with her mother the queen, won the Oscar for best animated feature. "Paperman" won the award for best animated short.

"Anna Karenina" won for best costume direction, and "Les Miserables" for makeup and hair.

"Curfew" won the award for live-action short film, and "Inocente" for documentary short subject.

"Les Miserables" won the Oscar for best sound mixing.

"Lincoln" won for production design.

Austria's "Amour," which was also nominated for best picture, won the award for best foreign-language film. The film, set in France, stars French actress Emmanuelle Riva, who turned 86 on Oscar night and was a best actress nominee.

Related content:
Host Seth MacFarlane's humor meets with mixed reception
'Jaws' music cuts off chatty Oscar winners
Weird Oscar fashion moments: Trips and wedgies