Ellen-mania on UI Quad

Ellen-mania on UI Quad

Ellen-mania officially struck the University of Illinois Monday afternoon.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres herself was nowhere in sight, but that didn't matter to the screaming thousands who jammed the UI Quad for a chance to be on her show — or win a prize.

Lured by teasers from DeGeneres on Twitter and Facebook promising a "big surprise" at 3 p.m., fans of "The Ellen Show" started converging on the Quad around noon. By 3 p.m. several thousand people had packed the heart of the Quad, some climbing trees, fire escapes and porches of adjoining buildings.

What's the biggest crowd ever to gather on the Quad? Ask Tom here

Many were hoping for an Ellen sighting, which was not to be.

"I used to watch the Ellen show every day. I thought I'd catch a glimpse of her. It's not looking like that's gonna happen," Parkland student Mackensie Archibald, 17, said around 3 p.m.

Instead, the show's roving reporter Jeanne Klisiewicz, a UI graduate, greeted the crowd and explained that the episode being taped Monday afternoon, which will air Wednesday, would include a couple of live shots from the UI campus. The show runs at 3 p.m. weekdays on WCIA.

"Show her why the Illinois is the best university in the country!" she shouted to huge cheers.

(See University of Illinois graduate Jeannie Klisiewicz' blog for the show here.)

A dozen or so finalists were pulled from the crowd, all in costume, to be eligible for prizes awarded during the taping. The finalists had to recite a movie line, and the winner — UI sophomore Tad Logullo — will be on the show next week in California.

"I am thrilled," Logullo said. "It's beautiful out there. It's warmer than here for sure. I'm very excited."

Logullo said he's a fan of the show — and a fan of Halloween. His impersonation of the Joker was good enough for first place.

"Exhilarating," he said.

Among the finalists: students dressed as Lego Batman; lead characters from "American Hustle"," Tom Hanks' "Wilson" volleyball from the movie "Castaway," and Ricky Bobby, the Will Ferrell character from "Talladega Nights."

A camera on a boom panned the crowd occasionally, drawing huge cheers with each pass.

UI information technology officials tweeted that Monday was the most active day in the history of the QuadCam, a Web-based camera that looks out from the south side of the Quad. 

Outside the roped-off area for the finalists, disappointed fans pondered their bad luck.

"I spent $95 on my costume," said UI student Celeste Kim, aka Wonder Woman, whose outfit included red, gold and blue lame pants, boots, miniskirt and tank top.

Three UI freshmen dressed as "Finding Nemo" characters were dismayed to learn the finalists included another "Dory" and "Darla" (the dentist's niece who shakes the bag with Nemo in it).

"We came too late," said Gali Gannett, who was dressed as "Dory," DeGeneres' character in the movie.

"I'm skipping math for this," added Tori Winner, aka "Nemo."

Why all the effort?

"It's Ellen," UI junior Gianna DiMenna said simply.

"She's funny, she's a really big star but she's not cocky like some other stars. I mean I don't know her but she seems like a really nice person," Kim said.

Besides, Gannett said, "This is Champaign-Urbana. Nothing else happens here."

Messages teasing the event first appeared on Twitter over the weekend and picked up Monday. By mid-day came this tweet: "Alright Illinoisters. I can't wait to see you on the quad! Dress up as your favorite movie character, and you could win big. #Ellenois"

UI officials, who knew only vague details of the plan, put up barricades around 11:30 a.m. Fans started gathering shortly afterward.

Many came in costume: a gingerbread man, minions from "Despicable Me," Sandy from "Grease," Batman and Superman, Tin Man, Mary Poppins, three Coneheads and a student in a Leprechaun-like outfit who was obviously ready for Unofficial next week.

And it wasn't just students.

Nichole Isaac, who works in the Department of Crop Sciences, threw together her costume over the lunch hour: Ryan Stone, the Sandra Bullock character in "Gravity." It involved a bowl (space helmet), some kind of farm tubing (oxygen hose) and a small stress ball on a hanger that looked like the Earth.

"I'm floating out in gravity," she demonstrated, twirling.

She did not get picked.

Freshmen Louise Hong and Yu Sun, who are from China, stopped by out of curiosity after seeing the news on Facebook.

"It's our first year in America," explained Sun, who has watched the show on the Web in China.

Some in the crowd used the opportunity to get messages across, such as Palestinian rights or, at the other end of the spectrum, an invitation for Taylor Swift to attend a fraternity dance (in case she was watching, apparently).

Throughout the day students speculated on Facebook and Twitter that "Ellen" was there to a) coincide with the return of Alma Mater; b) bring back Chief Illiniwek; or c) support a campaign for trans-gender health coverage, which coincidentally was holding a rally across campus.

None of the above.

UI information technology officials tweeted that Monday was the most active day in the history of the QuadCam, a Web-based camera that looks out from the south side of the Quad.

— Tim Ditman of WDWS contributed to this report.

A tweet from the television host's Twitter account on Monday afternoon.

And this one:

The first message, sent Friday:

The second:

And then, late Monday morning, there was this:

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stevedue wrote on February 24, 2014 at 8:02 pm

I'm "assuming" Ellen has heard of me in LA before.  She IS funny and VERY cute and Funny/talented.  I've been a Illini a LONG time ago.  Jimmy Miller "owns/runs Mosaic here in West Hollywood.  He has known also Lou Due at the Improv here.  Give "THAT" a shot with Loren there.  Lou and sisters Ellen and Kathy live there.  Our Dad been placed away a LONG time.  Drop me a line.

Best,

Steve Due

Huntington Beach, Orange Beach, Southern California