At the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards, a scantily clad Miley Cyrus and her foam finger twerked her way into our collective memories. At this year’s awards, the pop star somehow managed to grab everyone’s attention again — and she barely even left her seat.
After presenter Jimmy Fallon announced her Video of the Year win for “Wrecking Ball,” Cyrus had her VMA companion, a 22-year-old formerly homeless man named Jesse, take the stage instead.
“I am accepting this award on behalf of the 1.6 million runaways and homeless youth in the United States who are starving and lost and scared for their lives,” he said. “I know, because I am one of those people.”
“I have survived in shelters all over this city,” he continued as Cyrus cried in the audience. “The music industry will make over $7 billion this year, and outside these doors are 54,000 human beings who have no place to call home.”
While in front of the microphone, Jesse also explained how viewers could donate to My Friend’s Place (a center that helps homeless youth in Hollywood with housing, jobs, school and healthcare) by visiting Cyrus’ Facebook page.
Undoubtedly (to paraphrase a tweet from Maria Shriver following Cyrus’ win), this is a very smart use of air time.
As the New York Times points out, however, Jesse’s appearance raises a few questions: Is Cyrus trying to improve her image? Did she notice the viral potential of social media activism of the #IceBucketChallenge? Is this tongue-wagging exhibitionist suddenly a philanthropist?
All of which leaves us asking: How genuine is Cyrus? We’re not sure, but the fact that there’s a prize for donating to My Friend’s Place — a VIP trip to Brazil and a chance to hang out with Cyrus — is unsettling, to say the least.
Her rep tells the Times that Cyrus took a page from Marlon Brando, who sent a woman named Sacheen Littlefeather to accept his Best Actor Oscar for “The Godfather” in 1973 to protest of the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry.
And, according to the Times, she was also “informally advised” by Trevor Neilson, the president of G2 Investment Group and co-founder of Global Philanthropy Group, who worked has worked with Bono and Sharika on their charitable campaigns.
Interestingly, Cyrus also admitted to Ryan Seacrest in an interview she, perhaps, wanted something with a little more substance following last year’s scandalous VMA performance. “There’s going to be talk, so what do I want them to talk about?” she said. “If I’m going to be given this loud of a voice and this big of an image and this big of a platform and this huge of an opportunity to talk to young people in American right now, what am I really trying to say? Because I don’t think what I was trying to say is what happened the year before.”
My Friend’s Place does appear to be a reputable organization for Cyrus to talk about. It’s received a four-star rating from CharityNavigator, spending just about 90 percent of its funds on programs and services and only 5 percent on administrative costs.
Whatever your thoughts are about the former Disney starlet’s intentions, we’re probably going to hear much more about her newest charitable cause. “I’m just getting started,” a statement from Cyrus reads. “And I want to make sure my fans are part of helping me to give back and make an impact on this issue. We all have the power to make change happen. This is about helping youth, people just like you and me have the opportunity to find their inner power and potential, no matter what their circumstances.”
Bravo for raising awareness and funding for the 4,000 young homeless people on the streets of Los Angeles every year. And as for doing things for attention? That’s so Miley.