Amber Lee Ettinger: A girl with a crush on Obama

You know her as the Obama Girl, but Amber Lee Ettinger worked as a Hooters waitress before publicly declaring her crush on the presidential hopeful from Illinois. Her schedule now is nearly as busy as the senator’s, but The Hill got her on the phone a day after she had returned to her home in Jersey City, N.J., from the Super Bowl — the day before Super Tuesday. Hoarse from cheering on the game, Ettinger, 26, reflected on her quick rise to fame and her newfound love for politics.

How did you fall into the role of Obama Girl? Right place at the right time?
Ben Relles [the creator of www.barelypolitical.com ] e-mailed me a couple of months ago, saying, “Ya know, I have a funny project.” I think he saw me on Howard Stern. He played me the song. He just kind of pitched me a little idea. It seemed like a fun project to work on, so I was down from the start.

Did you think it would become as big as it did?
No, I had absolutely no idea it was going to become big. I always make jokes that if I would have known that my video was going to be viewed more than a million times, I would have brushed my hair. It was really hot that day. But I think that’s what makes it what it is. The casualness and the spur of the moment is how it happened.

Do you get recognized now? What’s the common reaction from people?
“I do and I don’t. I was obviously [recognized] at the Super Bowl, and I was running around. I have handfuls of people who recognize me. It’s always the same thing: ‘You’re the Obama Girl!’ It’s always that!”

Have you gotten any negative reaction to the Obama Girl video?
“Most of the e-mails I get are positive. You can’t please everyone, and I know that. The negative ones, people are just kind of close-minded and make weird comments, like ‘Why would you ever make a video about him?’ ”

Have you met Obama?
“No, not yet. That’s the million-dollar question. I do [want to]. I don’t see why I wouldn’t. I don’t see when. But when it happens, it happens.”  

Did you even know who Obama was before you were cast for the part?
“Yes, but I learn more and more about him every day. I saw him on Oprah, and I liked him back then when I saw the show.”

Were you an Obama girl before being cast in that role?
“I definitely support Obama. I would never want to do a video of this nature for someone I didn’t support. [Maybe she would, she giggles, but “I never say who I’m voting for.”]

What is it about Obama that attracts people to him?

“A lot of people talk about his charisma and stuff. He’s smart, he has new ideas, and he’s just kind of, like, refreshing to younger people. He’s, like, a great speaker, too — that’s always a draw.”

If Hillary Clinton wins the nomination, will you become a Clinton Girl?
[Laughs] “There’s already a Clinton girl, I think.”

Now that Rudy Giuliani dropped out of the race, you no longer have the Giuliani Girls to contend with. Are you planning on making any more videos?
“Good question. Pretty much I only know what I’m doing tomorrow. We have a busy, busy day tomorrow [Super Tuesday]. We’re going to different Obama events. We’re going to the polls. I’m excited to see what happens.” [Ettinger actually did not vote on Super Tuesday because she came down with a cold.]

Were you interested in politics before this?
“I was a little bit, but definitely never as much as now. One thing I’m proudest about [is] doing that video. I think it did help [encourage] the younger people to maybe want to learn about Obama or some of the other candidates.”

Do you and your friends talk politics?
“I was having dinner with friends, and we were talking about politics instead of Britney Spears. I laughed about it. A good laugh, though.”

Would you ever run for office?
[Laughs] “That’s a funny question, too. A lot of people are asking me that. ‘Are you going to have a job as a political correspondent?’ ‘Are you going to be in Obama’s Cabinet?’ I don’t plan on it. I plan to focus on modeling and acting, but hey, I’d never shut my eyes to it down the road.”

Has this been a moneymaker for you?
“I didn’t get any endorsements. Definitely, Barelypolitical keeps me really busy. I’ve made a little bit of money, but I do this more because this is what I love to do. My video has more than five and a half million hits, but that doesn’t mean I have $5.5 million in the bank.”

You’ve competed in the Venus/Hooters International Swimsuit Pageant and have appeared in promotions for Hooters. Did you ever work at a Hooters restaurant?
“Yeah, I worked at a Hooters in Manhattan. I know Hooters is huge in Florida, but people in New York just don’t care. I don’t think they even know a Hooters exists in New York. There are so [many] better restaurants to go to. I worked there for two years, I did the calendar, I got nominated to go to the swimsuit competition. Then I was like, ‘OK, it’s time to go.’ That job kind of was like in limbo of me graduating from [The Fashion Institute of Technology] and figuring out, ‘OK, what’s my next step, what am I going to do from here?’ ”

What are you doing now?
“I’m still auditioning, and I’m still doing modeling and acting jobs. I have a secret project that I’m working on that may be out around March. I kind of feel like the Obama Girl stuff is what I’m meant to be doing now, and I just try to take it day by day.”

Your website is pretty racy. In fact, I’m sheepish about bringing it up at work. How do you explain that?
“My website is just kind of my portfolio of me. I don’t feel like I do any kind of lacy, racy pictures. I don’t do any nude pictures. The website is to showcase my work.”

Do you have a boyfriend?
“No.”

Your dad was in the military. How does he feel about the Obama Girl video and your participation in swimsuit competitions?
“My dad was in the Army for 23 years. My mom is a vintage clothing storeowner and author. They’re so supportive of me and proud. My dad, who was computer-illiterate, went out five months ago and bought a laptop [so he could see me].”

Do you think Obama’s sexy?
[Giggles] “Of course.”

I understand you lip-sync in the videos. How’s your singing voice?
“The song was already done. They hired me to be the performer. I haven’t sung in public since I was in chorus in elementary school. I do love to sing, though.”



To recommend a political personality for 20 Questions, call Betsy Rothstein at (202)628-8516 or email at betsyr@thehill.com