HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — It was the Night of the Shining Adult Stars at the ballroom and terrace pool atop the W Hotel in the legendary heart of Tinseltown, Hollywood and Vine, as XBIZ held its annual RISE Talent Appreciation Gala, sponsored by X-Art, honoring community spirit before unveiling the complete roster of nominees for the XBIZ 2020 Awards.
The evening got off to an early start, as swankily dressed invitees gathered downstairs at the W’s lavish lobby to enjoy some pre-event cocktails. At 7:30 p.m. the elevators opened to deliver the guests to the rooftop overlooking the iconic Hollywood skyline.
It was time for the red carpet, as photographers from the industry and from prestigious international outlets like Getty Images readied their lenses for a Who’s Who of adult talent.
Whitney Wright dazzled with a vintage 1970s couture number with shimmering pop art depictions of B/G, G/G, and B/B kisses. Jessica Drake was a vision in an architectural off-white gown that could have elevated any European Film Festival gala. Seth Gamble, Ryan Driller and Ryan McLane served some GQ-worthy looks in perfectly tailored suits.
Jane Wilde, Paige Owens and Emily Willis brought a quota of youthful style in simple but striking short dresses. Alina Lopez stunned, per usual, with a lambent blue wrap dress that revealed more than a hint of cleavage.
And Maitland Ward, an experienced actress making a splash in the adult industry, made the photographers reach for better lenses to capture her catwalk-ready figure in a green velvet gown that served as a foil for her signature red coif.
But the magazine-spread looks were only part of the tale, as others preferred to individualize their looks in a way more in tune with the eroticism of the crowd. Kenzie Reeves channeled the punkish glam of Die Antwoord’s Yolandi, a pant-less vision of rocking blonde tresses, pink power and pure energy.
“Karma Prescription!” I jokingly called Karma Rx, who came over in her usual anarcho-princess vavavoom style. “People can call me whatever they want,” she confirmed. “Though most people miss the ‘Karl Marx’ hidden in there.”
“Or is it Groucho?” I asked, which brought out her signature big-eyed smile.
The Society 15 crowd also rocked the “we are porn family” look, led by impresario Train, who posed in the red carpet draped by the bodies of his models, who entwined limbs around his sturdy, almost guerrilla fighter figure.
By 8 p.m., everyone was led to the W rooftop ballroom, arranged for a lavish dinner of Caesar salad, a hearty meat dish and a rich chocolate dessert.
Sponsors for the RISE Gala included Chaturbate, Evil Angel and MeetMyFans at the Diamond level; Playboy Plus, CAM4 and Society15 at the Platinum tier; LetsDoeIt, Bang.com, Cherry Pimps, Camscartel and Paxum as Gold sponsors; and Adam & Eve Pictures at the Silver level.
Some of the sponsored tables were truly star-studded, starting with the Playboy Plus contingent led by brand ambassador suprema Holly Ruprecht, decked out in a fuzzy furry-ish pink playboy coat and handing out psychedelic bunny ears to the new bread of Playboy darlings like Elsa Jean and Ana Foxxx.
The Spiegler girls, led by Dana DeArmond, gathered at a table up front.
“Where’s Mark?” I asked them.
“I am Spiegler tonight,” replied DeArmond, aptly seconded by Casey Calvert, who was celebrating a wrap on her directing stint for the upcoming Erika Lust series, “Primary.”
The room was packed by the time XBIZ Events Director Moe Helmy took the stage to introduce the RISE Awards. XBIZ Founder and Publisher Alec Helmy gave a brief speech expressing heartfelt appreciation to the talent community, the real honorees of the evening and “the lifeblood of the industry,” and then it was time to hand out the five 2019 RISE awards.
First, ultimate G/G performer Charlotte Stokely presented the Positive Image Award, honoring talent whose reputation inspires others through their exceptional professionalism and dedication to their art, to Romi Rain, the first of the night’s award winners to be completely shocked by the accolade.
“I didn’t even prepare a speech,” she confessed, before launching in an impromptu celebration of sex workers like the inspiring all-angles businesswoman that she is.
Anna Foxxx announced the Peer Empowerment Award, honoring talent who uplift their peers, behind-the-scenes and on social media, with heartfelt encouragement and shared knowledge, to performer, activist, producer and Free Speech Coalition stalwart Lotus Lain. The crowd enthused over this deserved accolade to a tireless fighter for the rights of all kinds of performers.
Lain was striking in a shiny black coat and futuristic braids. “I’m ready to fight the Matrix!” she told us, faking a karate punch.
Noted veteran director Will Ryder was next onstage to hand out the Advocacy Award, honoring talent who champion performer rights, fight against sex worker stigma and constructively raise mainstream awareness of industry issues, to the woman he endearingly called “Mrs. Brady herself,” his longtime friend and associate Alana Evans, President of Adult Performers Actors Guild.
Adult Performer Advocacy Committee (APAC) President Riley Nixon presented the Community Service Award, honoring talent who selflessly go above and beyond in giving back to the community, while fostering a sense of unity and camaraderie, to APAC Chairperson Riley Reyes, who expressed her gratitude to the community for the honor.
All of the awards were chosen from names submitted by members of the community. The final RISE award of the evening, however, was a special Legacy Award honoring an individual who has demonstrated their long-term capacity to thrive in the adult industry, while earning widespread acclaim through a commitment to excellence.
Manuel Ferrara, his usual charming, suave self, was happily surprised to open the envelope and announce the Legacy Award would go to his old friend, bowling partner and “compagnon” — French for “somebody to share bread with” — Steve Holmes.
Holmes was touched by the recognition of a decades-long career delivering reliable performances to the industry while earning respect by directors, producers, peers — and also becoming a silver-fox sex symbol to generations of starlets.
After the dinner, the party continued outside, as guests mingled while awaiting the nominations for XBIZ 2020 to be unveiled on a poolside screen.
The merriment continued until the wee hours, and the rare inclement fall weather — turns out, it does occasionally rain in Southern California — took a serendipitous break for XBIZ to honor the community of performers, without whom everything else in the business would be impossible.