Miley Cyrus was universally lauded when she had a homeless teen accept her award for Best Video at Sunday's VMAs.
Instead of the usual industry shout-outs that make up most acceptance speeches, 22-year-old Jesse Helt delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of the homeless youth in America, while Miley looked on, tears streaming down her face.
It was a poignant and heartfelt moment in an awards show typically devoid of them.
The Twittersphere was quick to praise the pop star for turning what could have been a tongue-wagging, self-congratulatory diatribe into something far more meaningful — a markedly different public reaction to what she received after last year's VMAs. While there were some obvious elements of image manipulation on Miley's part (one tweet read that she's "really good at being famous"), we'd like to believe that her heart was in the right place.
“I know I needed to, after last year, to remember what matters,” Miley told Ryan Seacrest on Monday.
Shortly after she sat down with the radio host, the Miley-generated good will quickly turned to backlash, when gumshoes from every corner of the web reported on Miley's mystery friend and his checkered past. The fact that she helped shed light on the oft-ignored social issue of teen homelessness quickly devolved into a classic exercise in click-hungry, gotcha journalism.
The fact is, it really doesn't matter what Jesse Helt did in the past (a few misdemeanors, if you must know). That a homeless teen has a police record shouldn't really come as a surprise, as 30,000 street youths were arrested between 1998 to 2007. And, in 2011, a team of researchers from the University of North Carolina revealed that one third of young Americans are arrested by the age of 23, homeless or otherwise.
Neither Cyrus nor Helt ever claimed that he was a boy scout. All he said was that teen homelessness in America is an epidemic that can't be ignored.
So, instead of clicking on the many articles about Jesse Helt's past, we're going to click here instead. It's the website for My Friend's Place, the Los Angeles-based youth shelter that helps homeless teens get back on their feet. Since Jesse Helt took the VMA stage on Sunday night, My Friend's Place has received over $200,000 in donations.
As far as we can tell, there's nothing wrong with that.