Huffington Post Inaugural Ball Packs In Celebs From Pete Wentz To Don King

Performances by Will.I.Am, Sheryl Crow distract guests from the overcrowding.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It was billed as D.C.’s “most exclusive party,” but the Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball certainly was crowded. Make that can’t-move-without-spilling-your-drink, can’t-talk-without-shouting, sardines-in-a-tin-can packed. Held at the ultramodern Newseum on Pennsylvania Avenue, the party took place amid giant models of laptop computers and interactive journalism terminals that partygoers played with at random.

Calling the bash “our inauguration,” the liberal online newspaper aimed to galvanize the public into taking action for the future of America. The site’s founder, Arianna Huffington, was interviewed by Larry King at the party.

“The theme of tonight’s party is that it’s not just Barack Obama being inaugurated tomorrow, it’s all of us being inaugurated,” she said. “It’s imperative not just to look at him as a knight in shining armor who is going to do it all for us. We have to take responsibility.”

Toasting that aim was a roster of celebrities fit for an Oscar fete. But despite the heavy star wattage, the night was all about Obama. Even flashy MC Hammer refused to bust a trademark move, saying the event was not about him. [artist id="3079280"]Demi Lovato[/artist], fresh from a performance for the first lady and first daughters at the “Kids’ Inaugural” with Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers , gushed about the thrill of hugging Michelle Obama. Shakira and Rosie Perez spoke rapturously about the impact Obama has had on Latinos.

In a bedazzled denim suit covered in pictures of Jesus and Obama was Don King, the flamboyant boxing promoter who discovered George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. Preaching and yelling, King said that in a knockdown fight between the president-elect and McCain, “Obama would win, no contest.”

Jesse Jackson competed for reporters’ time with the effusive King and shared red-carpet space with Josh Groban. Groban had the honor of singing the national anthem at Sunday’s “We Are One” concert . Groban was still marveling about the experience a day later. He recounted standing between [artist id="1521450"]Will.I.Am[/artist] and [movieperson id="30855"]Samuel L. Jackson[/movieperson] at the gig, giddy “like schoolchildren” as they waited for Obama to come shake their hands.

Other celebs crammed into the crowd included Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, John Cusack, Ben Affleck, Robert De Niro, Teri Hatcher, David Arquette, Larry David and Sarah Silverman. Musicians represented, too: Members of Fall Out Boy and Maroon 5 hobnobbed with the press. Pete Wentz, who’ll perform at MTV’s “Be the Change: Live From the Inaugural,” said he’d step down as FOB frontman if Obama wants to grab the mic.

Spirits at the uncomfortably crowded party lifted when [artist id="980"]Sheryl Crow[/artist] took the stage and sang “Everyday Is a Winding Road,” a song fitting for the challenging path to the presidency. Then Will.I.Am got even the stiffest of senators waving their arms. Sting capped off the night with a rousing set.

While dignitaries and celebs abounded, one of the evening’s most important guests flew under the radar, clad not in a tuxedo but in a military uniform with a half-dozen medals pinned to his lapel: Todd Bowers, a Marine Corps reservist who was almost finished with his studies at George Washington University when he was sent on two tours of duty in Iraq. Bowers showed up at the event with a piece of shrapnel in his cheek, where the bullet that nearly killed him hit home. Even so, he said he couldn’t wait for the inauguration, when the world would welcome his new commander in chief.

“Be the Change: Live From the Inaugural” will air live on MTV on Tuesday, January 20, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. MTV News will have wall-to-wall coverage of the event and of the scenes in Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Kenya in the days leading up to the event and in the days that follow.