Pop Culture

'These Young People Need a Champion': How Miley Met Jesse

Image: Singer Miley Cyrus and Jesse

Singer Miley Cyrus and My Friend's Place representative Jesse attend the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, Calif. Christopher Polk / MTV1415 / Getty Images

The handsome mystery man who accompanied Miley Cyrus to the MTV Video Music Awards and accepted her Video of the Year trophy while noting that, as a homeless youth in Hollywood he's been "an extra in your life," is heading home to Salem, Oregon.

After a whirlwind weekend being pampered at a Los Angeles hotel and an unforgettable appearance at MTV's popular awards show, Jesse Helt, 22, was on his way back home Monday evening, his mother told The Oregonian.

Linda Helt said that her youngest child had called her after the awards show to tell her that Cyrus had given him money and he was going to use it to fly to Salem. She acknowledged that sometimes her son has been homeless while living in Los Angeles.

Saying he was "at the right place at the right time" when Jesse Helt met Cyrus, his mother told the paper: "It's time for him to have some good luck."


Whether it was good timing or good luck, it certainly wasn't planned. Cyrus, 21, met Jesse just last Tuesday during a visit to My Friend's Place, a 26-year-old non-profit organization that assists about 1,400 homeless youths a year in Hollywood.

The singer wanted to learn more about homelessness among young people and meet with some of the center's clients, executive director Heather Carmichael told NBC News. With only 24 hours notice, Carmichael was nervous about how it would work, but said the Disney star was easygoing and approachable. Cyrus' publicist said the singer was not available for interviews on Monday.

"What I learned about her is that she and her family have for a very long time been moved by the impact of homelessness in the community," Carmichael said. "I also understand she also has a dear friend who has this experience our young people have. She was moved by all of that and wanted to figure out how to get the people who are supporting her, her fans — that audience — how to move them to a place of action. She is moved to a place of action. These young people need a champion. They do. And she could be that champion."

When Cyrus convened with a small group of clients to hear their personal stories and struggles, she met Jesse, Carmichael said. Before anyone knew it, Cyrus had invited Jesse to be her date at the VMAs.

"That just happened," Carmichael said. "We did not anticipate that. When I heard that invitation, first and foremost, I wanted Jesse to know that, whatever his decision was, did not impact our care for him. And to be thoughtful because it is his life that he’s putting out there. But he said he could be a spokesperson for these young people."

As she watched Jesse become just that on live television Sunday night, Carmichael said she was "shaking."

"But there were many moments in that live feed that you could see that Miley was taking care of him and that gave us confidence," Carmichael said. "If nothing else, she’s connecting with him. That’s sweet care, that’s not throwing somebody into the madness of this."

Through Cyrus' publicist and My Friend's Place, Helt declined to be interviewed.

"He’s chosen not to move into interviews," Carmichael said "That shows some maturity and thoughtfulness about wanting to take care of himself. My regard for Jesse was there before, but to be able to see someone step into that kind of opportunity and pressure and have the confidence he had, I now know a different part of him," Carmichael said. Might be a public part, might be a private part, but what an amazing display."

By Monday morning, Cyrus' efforts had raised $70,000, Carmichael said.

Outside My Friend's Place on Monday afternoon, several clients discussed Jesse's unexpected TV appearance with pride. They described him as smart and quiet, but also as someone "who can talk about anything." They said they've known him approximately three years.

One man in his early 20s said he was at the center when Cyrus visited but he was too shy to speak to her. He said he "got chills" watching the video of Jesse's acceptance speech.

"What he just did just helped us all!" screamed another young man.

"Yeah! Homeless Youth: 1! Police: Zero!" replied a teenaged boy.