Leave it to Miley Cyrus to get people talking. At the 2014 MTV VMAs, the singer used her talent for creating unexpected moments to prompt a national conversation about homelessness. Instead of bringing a famous friend to the award show or rolling with an entourage, Cyrus brought Jesse Helt as her date, a formerly homeless young man. Helt not only walked the red carpet with his nominated date, but also accepted the Video Of The Year award for "Wrecking Ball" on Cyrus' behalf. She cheered from her seat while he gave a prepared statement about supporting homeless and runaway youth. Cyrus is getting ready to host the 2015 show, but where is Jesse Helt today?
Helt was 22 when he accompanied Cyrus to the show. According to Us Weekly, in 2010, prior to appearing at the VMAs, he had been arrested for breaking into an apartment in his home state of Oregon. Helt plead guilty to criminal trespass and criminal mischief, according to the Huffington Post, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison and probation. He violated his probation by leaving the state and moving to California to find the work on cleaning crews and movie sets that he mentioned in his speech. In October 2014, the Associated Press reported that Helt was sentenced to six months in prison for probation violation, after his attorney, hired by Cyrus, emphasized in court that Helt had already made many positive changes in his life and asked for leniency.
Since last fall, Helt has not been in the news, and his public Facebook page last showed a new photo upload on Feb. 19 of this year. During his VMAs speech, Helt spoke about having similar dreams to the artists in the room, so I hope he is able to follow his passion for acting and modeling. Meanwhile, Cyrus' efforts on behalf of homeless young people continue with the Happy Hippie Foundation. Helt is still a face of the organization, appearing on the website and in printed materials. Cyrus was in contact with him during his sentence, as she told Australian news station Channel Seven's Sunrise a few days into his time that, "he's doing really well, and everything except the food he said is great." Hopefully Helt and Cyrus will reunite soon, and the aspiring star will be a hands-on part of the foundation's work in the future.
Cyrus isn't the only musician to use the VMA platform to spread a message. In the same year as Helt's speech, Beyoncé made a clear stand in favor of feminism, setting herself apart from a cowardly series of celebrities who'd recently ducked out of embracing the "f" word. (And it was magnificent.) And back in 1997, Fiona Apple passed up the standard thank-you list of agents and managers in favor of an acceptance speech about the damaging effects celebrity culture can have on young people: "You shouldn't model your life about what we think is cool and what we're wearing and what we're saying and everything. Go with yourself." Yet somehow, she still managed to seem grateful for the recognition.
Who knows what powerful statements might come out of the 2015 show. Maybe Helt will be back by Cyrus' side, representing his struggling community again.