Behind the scenes at the Starkey Gala: Presidents, Katy Perry, and lots of stars

Katy Perry performs at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala

Katy Perry performs at the Starkey Hearing Foundation gala

Each year, the Starkey Hearing Foundation's Bill and Tani Austin throw a gala fit for the stars. And boy, do they come out. This year was no exception, with dozens of celebrities in attendance at RiverCentre in St. Paul.

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush spoke to the gala attendees, cracking jokes and extolling the foundation's work. Bush, one of the night's honorees, even called Clinton his "brother with another mother." As the night's penultimate guest, Clinton won big laughs by acknowledging, "I'm the only thing standing between you and Katy Perry." After four hours of speeches and auctions at the gala, Perry finally took the stage and performed stripped-down versions of her biggest hits ("Roar," "Part of Me," "Teenage Dream," "Unconditionally," and "Firework") with a small band to cap off the evening's festivities. 

Perry walked the red carpet, but didn't do any interviews (so, sadly we will never know if Perry visited Skateville in Burnsville during this trip back to Minnesota, or about that VMA Twitter kerfuffle with Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift). 

As they walked the red carpet, we chatted with a few of the other stars about their most iconic roles, what the Starkey Hearing Foundation means to them, and what they think of Minnesota. 

Dascha Polanco

Netflix binge-watchers know Dascha Polanco better by her character Daya on Orange Is the New Black. The show has been a pioneer in bringing new voices and incredible stories to the mainstream, and Polanco loves the opportunity to be part of the show. 


"It's not only revolutionary, but also part of history," she says. "It's like being a part of pop culture history, of stories, of connection, being a refreshment on TV. It just makes me proud." 

While the accolades are still rolling in for the show, which just released its highly anticipated third season this summer, Polanco's still taking it all in. "I'm honored and I'm humbled," she says. "I don't take it for granted every day and I try to represent it as best I can."

Julia Ormond

Julia Ormond has been on the small and silver screen for years, first gaining notoriety for her roles in Legends of the Fall, Sabrina, and First Knight. Last year, she finished up the two-season series The Witches of East End while working on a few other projects. Most recently, Ormond wrapped on Mad Men as Marie Calvet, Megan's mother and Roger Sterling's latest (and greatest?) paramour. 

Winning her role on AMC's critical darling was like a dream come true for Ormond, who was already hooked on Mad Men. "It was really kind of strange because on one level, it's your job," she explains. "But on the other hand I'm kind of pinching myself the whole time I'm there, because I was a huge fan of the show. I've not always necessarily gotten to work on the projects that I'm an authentic fan of." 

So what was it like getting to work on the retro set? "Pretty bizarre. It's sort of like an adult version of getting to go to Disneyland," she says. "It was pretty dreamy. I'm sorry there wasn't more of [the show], but I certainly relished every moment they gave me."

Ormond also had a small part in the show's finale that gave a little insight into where Marie and Roger end up. Was that short scene more of a happily ever after or just the calm before the storm? "I'm fairly sure they shall continue with the spice and hurdles and fun that they started with," Ormond laughs.

Alan Kalter

This year, David Letterman bid adieu to the Late Show and handed the torch off to Stephen Colbert, who will helm the late-night show this fall. In addition to saying farewell to Letterman, audiences also had to say goodbye to the host's comrades, like band leader Paul Shaffer and iconic announcer Alan Kalter. 

Besides his 20-year stint on the Late Show, Kalter recently brought his recognizable vocal talents to the stage, sort of. "I've been doing off-Broadway for the past year... but I'm only the radio [in the show Hereafter]. They turn it on, and you hear my voice, but enough people have heard that to feel I've got a new profession!" 

But what has Kalter been up to since his late-night antics on Letterman? "I've been doing nothing since then," he laughs. "It's been like a two-month vacation that's been phenomenal. Ask me in February when I can't go outside how I like being off the air. Ask me!"

Vanessa Marano

For actress Vanessa Marano, the cause behind the Starkey Hearing Foundation's gala is both a professional and personal one. She stars on ABC Family's Switched at Birth, which features many deaf and hard-of hearing actors and scenes in American Sign Language. Starkey supporter Marlee Matlin is also a part of the show, and one of the reasons Marano became interested in the Minnesota-based organization. "It's kind of infectious," Marano says about Matlin's support of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. "She really got a lot of us inspired about it, and we wanted to come out and help. This is my first time at the gala, but I'm hoping to do a mission soon."

Fans of Gilmore Girls will recognize Marano as Luke Danes' precocious daughter April Nardini from the show's later seasons. Recently, the main cast members met up for a mini reunion at the ATX Festival, sparking frenzied rumors of a return to the screen for Gilmore Girls. Would she want to reprise her role as April? "If they had me!" exclaims Marano. "Absolutely! Invite me, I'll be there!" 

Cheech Marin

Cheech Marin has seen a few things since his days as part of the famed toking duo Cheech and Chong, but he's staying mum about what his favorite memories of his visits to Minnesota have been. "Well, I can't talk about those..." he laughs, but he does have some other family-friendly memories of Minneapolis. 


"I've worked very closely with the Target stores and their headquarters here," Marin explains, talking about his traveling exhibition "Chicano Visions: American Painters on the Verge." "We actually just played up over at the Weisman Museum. I feel very close to this town."

This year, Marin guest-starred on the breakout hit Jane the Virgin, but he hadn't seen the show when he was initially tapped to play Alba's love interest. "I did the first day in which I did just one scene," he explains. "And then I said, 'You know what? These people are really cool.' So I went home, and my wife and I watched nine episodes in a row! We were like, 'This is the best show on TV.' It's just spectacular." 

Marin supports the Starkey cause because of the incredible difference the organization makes in young children's lives around the world. "You don't realize that hearing is the gateway to all learning."

Lou Ferrigno

"I've been wearing hearing aids my whole life," says body builder and actor Lou Ferrigno. He's been an avid supporter of the Starkey Hearing Foundation for years, wanting to be vocal about the organization in order to take away any stigma about hearing impairment. "If people see that I wear hearing aids, then kids can see me as a role model," he explains. "It's okay to wear hearing aids. There's no shame to it."

Ferrigno's been a role model for years, having shot to fame as a body builder and later as the Hulk in the late '70s. So what does this superhero pioneer think of the new obsession with comic book movies? "I think it's great, because children are fascinated with power," he says. "They always want to be powerful. So when you see the superhero kind of movies, like fantasy. Fortunately, I had the chance to be one of them."

Frankie Muniz

Before this past weekend, the Malcolm in the Middle star had only been to Minnesota once, but after this trip, he's already gearing up for his next visits to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. 


"I've been here once, for maybe a total of seven hours?" he laughs. "I was in a band [Kingsfoil] a few years ago, and we played here in... 2012? We drove here, maybe got in at 4, played the show, and were on the road by 12, on our way to Salt Lake City. I didn't get to see much."

But during his time in town for the Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala, Muniz was able to get a bigger taste of Minnesota: "I got to play golf here this morning, which was really nice. We played at the Meadows. I'm looking forward to next year already!" 

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli might be 81, but the '60s pop singer is as spry as ever, talking animatedly on the red carpet about the effect that the Austins have had on his life. "One of the reasons this is so important to me is the fact that I wear Starkey Hearing Aids," he says. "Through wearing hearing aids, I got a chance to know the Austins very well."

Beyond his own experiences with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Valli champions the work the organization has done for others. "I did a little research and found all the wonderful work they do around the world, especially for children and underprivileged people," he explains. "I just thought that was so terrific and so nice to see people give back something, because their success has created such an incredible thing."

Steven Bauer

Steven Bauer shot to fame as Manny Rivera in Scarface in 1983, but audiences got reacquainted with Bauer's bad-assery just a few years ago with a short stint on Breaking Bad as the horrendous Don Eladio Vuente. While his character met an untimely end after only two episodes back in 2011, Bauer's work on the show made a huge impact on Breaking Bad watchers. "They do!" he says of fans stopping him on the street. "I've lost a lot of weight since Breaking Bad, but they recognize me." 

The Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala was Bauer's excuse to pay his first visit to Minnesota, and he's already smitten. "It's nice here, beautiful!" he says. "I had no idea what it was like, what the weather was like. I've seen the winter in pictures, but it's really nice now."