"Barack Obama is not a robot" - Jim James
“Ok, who's ready to get their picture taken with the president?" This is what the no-nonsense Secret Service agent asked several of us. We had just walked offstage after performing at the national Christmas tree lighting ceremony, held every year since 1923 in President's Park, just south of the White House. I was honored to have been chosen in 2010 to sing perhaps my favorite Christmas standard, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," accompanied beautifully by the U.S. Coast Guard Band. Talk about surreal — but I had a really nice time and thought the performance went well, considering the level of stress that comes with a high-profile event like that.
It was FREEZING cold outside but obviously everyone was excited at the prospect of meeting the PREZ, so we ducked outside and stood in line by a smaller tent allegedly housing Barack and Michelle. Ahead of me in line was 10-year-old TV singing sensation Jackie Evancho (who did sing quite beautifully) and her father. When they reached the tent, the two Secret Service guys on either side of the door said "One at a time sir..." as Jackie and her dad tried to enter together. "But she's my daughter!" exclaimed Dad. "Well… ALRIGHT," said Secret Service Dude, and sent them both inside.
As I stood there waiting I must say I was perhaps more nervous than I had ever been in my life — and I have found myself in some pretty nerve-racking situations. But then before I could think about it any longer, "Poof!" they pulled back the curtain, Jackie and her dad left, and I was ushered inside. It was a narrow tent, with a long red carpet leading the way to the President and First Lady of the United States of America standing tall at the end. The red carpet must have been 1000 miles long — at least it seemed 1000 miles long to me as I strolled down the path — but when I reached the end, the pomp and circumstance seemed to fall away, and there were two real people there, real people who reached out, gave me a big hug, and said thanks for coming ... and just like most everything that comes out of their mouths, you could tell they really meant it. They were no longer the President and First Lady there in that tent. They were REAL. Somehow in those three minutes they made me feel at ease and conveyed the truth of the human experience: that no one is any better or worse than anyone else.
Standing there getting our picture taken ... it was SO strange, being this close to a real live president. I thought of all the times I had seen him on TV, especially election night in 2008 — watching with tears in my eyes as the Obama family took the stage after winning the election, thinking to myself what so many others were thinking: "Finally!!! Sweet justice! A real live person is our president! Who has a real live family and a loving relationship with his wife! A president that does not seem like an evil robot!!!" What a revelation it was. And standing right next to them, that feeling was confirmed to me even deeper — that these were real people who know what it is like to live real life and deal with real struggles that ordinary Americans face every day. What an incredible thing to see and feel after watching way too many wealthy, out-of-touch presidents and their families take office. Here was something in politics that finally made sense to me and so many others.
I was about to start blathering out classic lines like "Thanks!" or "Hey, you're doing a great job!" but the Secret Service guy burst in, shattering my reverie, and barked: "Alright kid, move it along. NEXT!" We all laughed at that and I was on my way.
— JIM JAMES