Alison Krauss (and NeNe Leakes fan!) dazzles attendees at sold-out Captain Planet Foundation gala

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As Ted Turner arrived at the Captain Planet Foundation gala private reception for major donors Friday night at the Georgia Aquarium, he made one final tweak to the fundraiser’s decor. He ordered the environmental non-profit’s trademark green carpet taken up and re-rolled in order to fix a potentially dangerous buckling issue on the floor. It’s little wonder then when CNN’s Nadia Bilchik introduced the smog-fighting cartoon character’s dad to attendees at the sold-out dinner in the Oceans Ballroom, she described Turner as “media mogul, philanthropist and a guy who still picks up trash on the sidewalk.”

To his credit, Turner gamely endured a lengthy flash-riddled photo op with his gorgeous date, Atlanta author Elizabeth Dewberry, often looking like he’s rather trade places with Ray Liotta in the dinner party scene hosted by Anthony Hopkins in “Hannibal.” But the CNN founder’s face brightened considerably when he was introduced to the evening’s entertainment, 26-time Grammy winner and bluegrass phenom Alison Krauss. Surrounding Turner was his Ted’s Montana Grill business partner George McKerrow, Jr. and wife Ginair, Captain Planet Foundation co-creator Barbara Pyle (the environmentally conscious Pyle arrived on the carpet with a now-vintage canvas tote bag from the original 1990s “Captain Planet and the Planeteers” cartoon series), singers Anoop Desai, Matt Kabus and Eryn Woods, Animal Planet host and evening’s Superhero for the Earth Award recipient Jeff Corwin, concert promoter Peter Conlon and Sacha Taylor, the wife of former Lt. Governor Mark Taylor, who explained her husband’s absence to friends, saying that Taylor was spending time with his ailing father Fred.

Backstage in a chilly Green Room A, Krauss,  the most honored woman in Grammy history, was busy tuning up with Union Station member Dan Tyminski when we requested a few minutes of her time. Since Atlanta magazine was the evening’s exclusive presenting media sponsor, the shy performer graciously granted us an interview.  Even with a brand-new Grammy nomination for her 2011 album “Paper Airplane,” Krauss says the honor never gets old. “It couldn’t possibly,” Krauss said. “You make a record and it always feels like the first one you ever made and the last one you’re ever going to make. It’s a thrill to have anybody recognize it in that way or any way at all, to be honest. We’re still shocked that this is our job!”

This year, “Cheaper By the Dozen 2” actor and part-time banjo-picker  Steve Martin is nominated in the bluegrass category along with Krauss and Union Station. Does she plan a retaliatory strike by hatching an acting career? Laughing she replied, “Um, no! Could you imagine that?!”

The singer was disappointed to learn the star of her favorite Atlanta-based reality show was in Los Angeles Friday night and unable to attend the gala. “I just love NeNe Leakes!” she confessed. “My girlfriends back home all love her too. We love NeNe because she’s just herself. Every time she comes on the screen, we are thrilled to see her. She’s an original and she doesn’t put on for anybody and that’s a beautiful thing. In fact, I just got a message from a friend back home asking, ‘You’ve got to tell me, is her skin that beautiful in person?!'”

Captain Planet Foundation chair Laura Turner Seydel greeted Krauss backstage with a big hug. “She’s so very humble, it’s amazing,” Seydel confided. “We’re sold out tonight and we’re very grateful. A lot of it has to do with our entertainment but it’s also because we have a very loyal following. It helps that this benefits the environment, the system that supports all life. People are really starting to get that now and how important it is to educate, inspire and empower children. It’s all coming together. I hope our attendees come away tonight inspired by our honorees and inspired to take action in their own lives as well.”

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