Remember that girl at the VMAs who was freaking out during the Beyoncé performance? Hi, that's me — Danielle Vito, a 24-year-old marketing associate from Brooklyn, New York. No, I'm not some VIP or exclusive person. I was just a peasant in a sea of celebs. So how did I get so lucky enough to mingle with all these celebrities on national TV and experience one of the most memorable nights of my life for free? Allow me to explain.
I'm subscribed to a casting site that fills audiences for TV shows and occasionally big events like the VMAs. Audience casters look at your profile photo and your demographic to see if you're a good fit for the audience they're trying to fill. If you are, the company then distributes the tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis. I had previously gotten to attend things like the VH1 Hip Hop Honors using the site. A little over a week ago, they sent me an email about free tickets to the VMAs, so I immediately applied and told a couple of my other friends to apply too. Three days before the show, I got an email saying I was selected as a seat filler (they also had tickets for the red carpet and the audience pit near the stage). None of my friends were chosen, but I decided to go solo anyway, because who would pass up the chance to attend the VMAs?
A seat filler's purpose is to take the seats of celebrities who get up to perform, present, go to the bathroom, or do anything else that leaves an empty seat in view of the cameras. Producers don't want viewers to see empty seats in the front rows, so the seat fillers come in to take those empty spots. When the celebrity comes back, you must get out of the seat, no questions asked, and move to a new spot. You don't see it on TV, but all this moving around happens during commercial breaks, when about 100 seat fillers scurry between vacated seats. The seat filler staff would sometimes tell you which seat to take, but if you saw an empty spot as the show was about to start again, they encouraged you to jump right into it.
There are a few rules when it comes to seat filler etiquette. The most important one is no cell phones while the show is live (though you can use them during commercial breaks, so I still got a few epic Snapchats). You're also not supposed to drink the alcohol served to the artists during breaks, because the staff doesn't want drunk seat fillers mixing with celebrities. I may have broken this rule and had one little glass of champagne. Finally, no selfies with the talent. I could have easily broken this one too, but I didn't because I didn't want to annoy anyone.
I started out in the seventh row, with Lance Bass, Heidi Klum, and some Teen Mom OG cast members ahead of me. After Ariana Grande performed, I was moved up to the front row. I took a seat and prayed I wouldn't be moved again, but I knew that I wouldn't be able to keep that prime first-row spot. I looked at the seat next to me and saw an MTV pass with "F. Grande" printed on it. Sure enough, Frankie Grande came over five minutes later and took that seat from another seat filler. We had a little conversation about how great his sister's performance was.
Shortly after that, Ariana herself came over and sat on my other side. I asked her if she wanted to switch seats so she could sit next to her brother, and she said something like, "He should come sit next to me on the end." I asked Ariana a question and she responded, so basically we're best friends now, right?
When Kanye West took the stage to introduce his "Fade" video, Ariana and Frankie exchanged some words about how they liked his music video. I heard Frankie say after the video was over, "Girl, I think I'm straight." I laughed to myself about how he's just as funny and authentic in real life as he was on Big Brother. When Kanye's video was over, Ariana asked me (see, we are seriously besties) if I would mind moving my seat so her family member could sit there.
Of course I hopped up to let her mom take my seat, and in that moment, Kim Kardashian came over to say hi to Ariana. All of a sudden, I had Kim, her sidekick Jonathan Cheban, and the Olympic women's gymnastics team all right in front of me, taking selfies together. The urge to not photobomb them took everything out of me, though I did manage to sneak my head in the background of one with Jonathan and Simone Biles.
The commercial break was about to end, so a staff member shuffled me to another seat that happened to be in front of a baseball bat in a plastic holder. Knowing that Beyoncé was about to perform and that she had used a baseball bat in her "Hold Up" video, I knew that I was about to have the absolute best seat in the house. The girl seated next to me joked that we should hand the bat to her or point to it or do something funny, but obviously we didn't because we didn't want to cause trouble and get kicked out of our prime seats.
When "Hold Up" came on, Beyoncé started walking down the aisle to the row right in front of me. Her facial expression was full of so much fierceness that I literally felt it running through my soul. Then Beyoncé looked directly into my eyes and sang to me. I didn't know what to else to do but awkwardly dance and take in this moment, because Queen B was right there. At that point, there was nothing I wanted more than to be on TV with Beyoncé.
I wasn't sure if I was in the frame the first time she sang in front of me, so on her way back toward the main stage I popped my head out and waved to the camera to ensure I'd have a shot of me and Beyoncé together. It didn't seem like the camera would get me in the shot, so I leaned out, not knowing it was a wide-angle camera, and did the most basic lean and wave I've ever seen. I had promised my friends that I would mouth the word "pizza" into the camera as a secret shout-out to them if I got some airtime, but the whole "Beyoncé is an arm's length away from me" thing threw me for a loop and I scrapped that plan.
Minutes later, my phone was blowing up with people asking me if I was at the VMAs, because they'd seen me on TV with Beyoncé. Then I saw everyone tagging me in a Cosmopolitan.com blog post published about me, the girl dancing next to Mrs. Carter. Beyoncé and I were featured in the same article. Was this real life?
Overall, it was an amazing experience. It was really cool to see celebrities being themselves and interacting with each other as friends. You've seen all these people on TV thousands of times, but to see them up close really puts it into perspective that they're ordinary people just like you and me (except a billion times richer).
Originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com