One weird thing about celebrity (and there are several) is that there's this underlying notion that fame is only for those who truly deserve it, as though it's some kind of honorable reward we bestow upon people for talent. But prestige and fame are two different animals, which has only become more and more clear in this age of reality television and social media, wherein regular, everyday people are starring on our favorite TV shows and big-time pop and movie stars are interacting with nobodies on Twitter. Fame is up for grabs for anyone who wants it badly enough. But while it's easy to get famous, there seems to be an art to staying famous.
20.) Tan Mom
Fame Claim: Subject of a local evening news story
Fame Cling: After emerging from the UV rays of her tanning bed to step into the national spotlight in 2012 when her parenting techniques were questioned on a criminal level (she was eventually cleared on all charges), Patricia Krentcil—known by her stage name: Tan Mom—has amazingly carved out a career for herself in the entertainment industry, with tabloid features, sloppy club appearances, and topless modeling. She's also now a recording artist and a film producer working on a biopic about herself.
Fame Clinch: Gay men. Although it's unclear whether or not Tan Mom is even aware of her own campiness enough to exploit it to a gay male audience, she seems to be doing it well either way, even taking a (non-sex) role in a gay porno.
19.) Sweet Brown
Fame Claim: Subject of a local evening news interview about a house fire
Fame Cling: After her interview regarding the time management of her bronchitis went viral, Brown has made a number of other television appearances, released a music video for her new single, and has become iconic enough to be featured on T-shirts. She's already filmed a role in Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas, working on another film starring Louis Gossett Jr., currently in production on a reality show called The Sweet Browns, writing a cookbook, and getting ready to release her own brand of BBQ sauce called Oh Lord Jesus it’s a FIRE.
Fame Clinch: Ultimately, Brown continues to be famous for #aintnobodygottimefodat, as stated in her Twitter bio.
18.) Kris Jenner
Fame Claim: Momager with a guest role on her clients' reality show(s)
Fame Cling: We couldn't compile this list without at least one Kardashian. With a circle of famous friends, and divorcing one famous lawyer to marry a famous athlete, fame of her own had somehow eluded Kris for decades—until her daughter made a sex tape and she finally had the hook she needed to land the entire family a reality show. Ostensibly, Kris has just been trying to seize an opportunity to set her children up for life—taking her 10% along the way—but it turns out that she had dreams of stardom for herself, and will be hosting her own talk show later this year.
Fame Clinch: She has so many kids that she can coattail surf for the rest of her life.
17.) Tila Tequila
Fame Claim: Most popular person on MySpace
Fame Cling: That she's managed to turn being "Internet famous" into being actually famous is no small feat. She's been on magazine covers, starred in her own reality show, authored a book, launched a music career, and "leaked" a sex tape. After a near-death experience and a stint in rehab in 2012, she's been flying a little under the radar. However, it was recently revealed that she's starring in a new movie with Hulk Hogan's son.
Fame Clinch: As pointless as her celebrity seems, Tila actually will actually go down in history for some pretty significant "firsts": She was the first person to become famous strictly through promoting herself on social media; she was the first Asian to be Playboy's Cybergirl of the Month; and she was the star of the first mainstream bisexual dating show with A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila on MTV.
16.) Ray J
Fame Claim: The guy who fucked Kim Kardashian in her sex tape
Fame Cling: Before he was famous for being in Kim Kardashian and Kim Kardashian: Superstar, he was marginally famous for being pop singer Brandy's little brother. The sex tape made him interesting enough to land his own reality dating show on VH1, but when that attention fizzled he began dating Whitney Houston, and allegedly attempted to exploit that relationship by pitching a reality show about it shortly before she died. Currently, he's hosting the Bad Girls All-Star Battle on Oxygen.
Fame Clinch: He hit it first.
15.) La Toya Jackson
Fame Claim: Michael's sister; Janet's sister; Rebbie's sister; Jermaine's sister; Randy's sister; Tito's sister; Marlon's sister; Jackie's sister
Fame Cling: It's not that it's hard to believe that La Toya is still famous after all these years, but that she has somehow managed to become the most relevant living Jackson family member. As the only child of Katherine and Joe Jackson to not have a single crack the top 40 Billboard charts, La Toya has had to stay famous in other ways—all of them piggybacking on her famous last name—like a stab at an international music career, nude modeling, unsolicited press conferences, and several memoirs. Thankfully, the advent of reality television has finally given her the stardom that her enormous connections in the music industry never could. She's appeared on Armed & Famous, Celebrity Big Brother, Celebrity Apprentice, and finally has her own show with Life with La Toya.
Fame Clinch: She's a Jackson. Like the Kennedys or the Windsors, they will all always be famous.
14.) Jenny McCarthy
Fame Claim: World's first-ever hot girl to fart, burp, or pick her nose on TV
Fame Cling: It clearly takes a certain amount of talent and charisma to parlay being Playboy's Playmate of the Year into consistent television work, or else all of those models would've been hosting dating shows on MTV or getting title roles in network sitcoms. It's not that Jenny McCarthy's fame as an entertainer is without merit—it's just bizarre that she's been able to sustain it when her entire career after leaving Singled Out has been a series of flops: starring roles on TV shows and web series that failed; her own reality show that never really took off; writing and starring in a movie that utterly bombed and swept the Razzies; and painting her film career into the "spoof" corner. But, she's always been one to shed the stink of her farts and failures and manage to land endorsements, hosting gigs, and guest starring roles on established shows. Now she's hosting her own talk show on VH1 with a lineup of D-list guests that she repeatedly bombards with sexual innuendo.
Fame Clinch: McCarthy has been able to keep the public interested in her by striking a decent balance between her personal and professional lives. Even before her son was diagnosed with autism, she had penned some humor-based parenting books. Her autism activism has earned her some hardcore fans and the title of "mother warrior," even though she uses her celebrity status to promote views that much of the medical establishment considers dangerous. She also dated Jim Carrey.
13.) Eddie Cibrian
Fame Claim: LeAnn Rimes' lover
Fame Cling: LeAnn Rimes' husband/Brandi Glanville's ex-husband. Although Cibrian has graduated from Lifetime movies to a failed network TV show and some Tyler Perry projects, if it weren't for his ex-wife Glanville's role on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills the feud between the real mom and "bonus mom" of his children wouldn't get nearly as much play, meaning that we'd rarely ever hear about him.
Fame Clinch: As long as Rimes and Glanville have Twitter access—which will probably be forever, with brief hiatuses for Twitter-related rehab—they will continue to engage in the public battles that keep Cibrian relevant.
12.) Janice Dickinson
Fame Claim: Self-proclaimed World's First Supermodel
Fame Cling: With the peak of her modeling career happening well before cover girls were household names, we probably would've never even heard of Janice Dickinson if she hadn't told her story—holding nothing back, including all the famous guys she fucked, with vivd descriptions of their dicks (Liam Neeson's is shaped and sized like an Evian bottle)—in her highly entertaining memoir No Lifeguard on Duty. Thankfully, Tyra Banks read it and hired Dickinson to be a judge on the first four seasons America's Next Top Model, where we all became acquainted with her sharp tongue and chemically-enhanced moods. A reality star was born and she's mostly worked in the medium ever since, first with her own show on Oxygen, and later on celebrity ensemble shows like The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab.
Fame Clinch: Dickinson is a survivor and will remain a bold-print name—in the last month alone she made headlines for declaring bankruptcy, only to get engaged to a wealthy man who bought her a $1.4 million home in Beverly Hills, and walking around in public without makeup. Last week she gave an interview to In Touch swearing she "will get back on TV" and get her own talk show: "I will prevail." A model-turned-reality-star will always find a camera to be in front of.
11 and 10.) Larry and Dannielynn Birkhead
Fame Claim: Stars of the legal battle to regarding the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith's daughter
Fame Cling: Apart from occasionally cashing-in on a tabloid story about his daughter Dannielynn's latest birthday party or corrective eye surgery, Larry can be counted on for his annual appearance on the red carpet at the Kentucky Derby with his little girl. With Dannielynn's recent foray into modeling, Larry has become one of those highly-visible stage parents, doing interviews with Entertainment Tonight, speaking more than his kid.
Fame Clinch: Anna Nicole had something of a perverse Midas touch wherein everything she touched turned to tabloid gold. (Even her former decorator Bobby Trendy still pops up in gossip items.) So it only makes sense that her only living heir, famous since birth, would be famous forever, especially because she looks so much like her mother. And since it seems like Larry has turned being Dannielynn's father into his profession, he'll be famous forever, too.
9.) Vanilla Ice
Fame Claim: "Ice Ice Baby"
Fame Cling: As a one-hit-wonder who's been largely ridiculed, Ice should've melted away into oblivion down in Florida like Snow did in Canada. Possibly taking a page from ex-girlfriend Madonna's book of fame, he has managed to reinvent himself several times over as a means to get press. He became a Rastafarian and a white person with dreadlocks. Then he switched his professional focus to motocross racing and jet skiing, eventually becoming the world's No. 6-ranked sit-down Jet Ski racer. He switched music genres to perform hardcore, and perhaps most shrewdly, got in good with the Insane Clown Posse and their loyal following of Juggalos.
Fame Clinch: What's really cemented Vanilla Ice's footing in the pop cultural landscape is his willingness to build a career around being a "has been": a VH1 Behind the Music episode; a cast member on two seasons of The Surreal Life; celebrity boxing match with Todd Bridges; competing on the UK show Dancing on Ice; landing a cameo in an Adam Sandler movie. He's been the world's most famous, consistently-working "has been" for the last 20 years. He has turned that notoriety into two different reality TV shows currently in production for DIY Network—the home renovation show The Vanilla Ice Project, and Vanilla Ice Goes Amish (in which he lives among the Amish) that's set to premiere later this year.
8.) Farrah Abraham
Fame Claim: Pregnant 16 year old turned Teen Mom
Fame Cling: After her MTV reality show Teen Mom was cancelled, Abraham tried her hand at many different aspects of the entertainment industry in a bid to stay famous. She released a memoir about her struggle with drugs and depression as a single teenage mother that turned out to be a New York Times bestseller. She also released a children's book, the worst song you will ever hear in your life, and most recently, fluid from her vagina in porno that she tried to pass off as a "sex tape." Her true talent, though, seems to be her amazing ability to enchant us with seriously flawed, inane logic—as though being an asshole weren't enough to get her some attention, she thinks that having an asshole might be. In sticking with her ass-backwards theme, the Backdoor Teen Mom has inverted the Hilton-Kardashian business model by "leaking" a sex tape after she was already on a reality show.
Fame Clinch: This girl is plucky, and will seemingly sacrifice anything—her privacy, her dignity, her butthole—to remain in the spotlight. No story is too gross or too fake for her to sell to TMZ. We're not exactly sure where all of this is leading—another reality show? a feature-dancer gig? prison? the fiery pits of hell?—but we can count on hearing about it eventually on Entertainment Tonight or something.
7 and 6.) Olsen Twins
Fame Claim: Baby actors who grew up on a network sitcom
Fame Cling: As child stars whose careers were artfully managed to take advantage of the straight-to-DVD kids' market and brand licensing, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen became very, very, very rich and could do whatever they wanted, which turned out to not be acting. Instead, they got seriously into fashion and built legitimate careers for themselves as designers, winning a CFDA award last year. And they didn't have to star in a reality television show or leak a sex tape to so it.
Fame Clinch: At once nostalgia and fashion icons.
5.) Bret Michaels
Fame Claim: Lead singer of platinum-selling glam metal band Poison
Fame Cling: In the 20+ years since he's had a hit, Michaels has managed to stay relevant through the DVD release of a leaked sex tape starring himself and Pamela Anderson, searching for love on a reality show for three seasons, public gaffs, various health crises like diabetes, an appendectomy, and a massive subarachnoid hemorrhage that almost killed him but helped him win Celebrity Apprentice 3.
Fame Clinch: Like his body, his career seems indestructible, which is buoyed by the fact that he works harder than his kidneys. But even Donald Trump is sick of him, and fired him from the most recent season of Celebrity Apprentice on the first episode. Michaels was the only cast member to not show up at the live finale.
4.) Lauren Conrad
Fame Claim: Teenager on a fake reality show/the girl who didn't go to Paris
Fame Cling: LC's enduring popularity is a testament to how utterly bland America is. The first person they encounter that's competent at winged-eyeliner application is suddenly a fashion and lifestyle expert. And she writes bestselling books that she insists she wrote all by herself. Maybe I'm wrong and the boring girl—who managed to distance herself from the more exciting things about her life, like a rumored sex tape and her delicious mess of a boyfriend—we watched for five years on television, who was never prone to witty exchanges or even any minor insights, who is about as sharp as an eraser, and who never took a creative writing class was secretly, all this time, a talented novelist. Except I'm not wrong and her ghostwriter is a woman named Nancy Ohlin and LC wrote about as much of those books as she hand-sewed her collection for Kohl's.
Fame Clinch: Her eighth book will be released next month and she's supposedly turning her series of young adult novels into a movie. She also has a decent Instagram account, but is clearly cheating with third-party app filters.
3.) Jessica Simpson
Fame Claim: Third-rate Britney; Second-rate Christina
Fame Cling: A confusion over food origins (tuna, chicken, buffalo), played out on her reality show, helped shoot the then 24-year-old Simpson to the kind of stardom that had eluded her during earlier pop career. It was her personal life that kept her in the headlines, like her divorce, her subsequent boyfriends, and yo-yo-ing weight. Now she's a professional pregnant person, earning millions of dollars to shed baby weight, but then getting pregnant again before completing her contract.
Fame Clinch: Somehow, someway, perhaps when we were all too busy discussing her appearance in a pair of unflattering jeans, Simpson—who had previously convinced all of us that she was an idiot—managed to convince WWD that she's sitting at the helm of a billion-dollar fashion empire. She's not. Still, people think she is, and her licensed line does well enough to make her a fashion expert, at least in reality TV terms.
2.) Paris Hilton
Fame Claim: Famous for being famous
Fame Cling: Kind of a model, but not really; kind of an heiress, but not really; kind of a singer, but not really; kind of an actress, but not really; kind of a reality star, but not really—Paris Hilton's fame is as wonky and inexplicable as that eye of hers. However, she's managed to retain enough appeal to sell her hair extensions and perfumes and handbags even though you've probably never met a single person to buy anything from her brand. (And if they did, would they admit it?)
Fame Clinch: Paris Hilton is famous for being Paris Hilton (she's even playing her in a movie out this summer), and she'll always be Paris Hilton, so we're kind of stuck with her.
1.) Anna Nicole Smith
Fame Claim: Playboy cover model, 1992; Playmate of the Year, 1993
Fame Cling: Anna Nicole is the ultimate example of somebody who was, for all intents and purposes, supposed to be a flash-in-the-pan, but she was never not famous during her entire 15-year career in the spotlight, while also managing to eschew questions like, "Why is she famous, anyway?" Uneducated, untalented, and undisciplined her indulgences eventually left her unemployable as a legitimate entertainer—but that didn't mean she wasn't entertaining. Her life—a train wreck meets a circus (with fucked-up clown makeup to boot)—was a reality show before they even really existed, and it played out in tabloid headlines: Her boobs exploded! She's fat! She's thin again! She married an 89-year-old billionaire! She's in rehab! She's wasted again! (It only made sense that she would get an actual reality show, and that it made waves for being remarkably exploitative and trashy, even for a medium typically defined as such.) Her soap opera existence continued to attract attention after she and her lawyer Howard K. Stern moved to another country with sketchy paternity laws where she gave birth to a baby girl and watched her adult son die in the same hospital room of a drug overdose the next day. Anna died of a drug overdose five months later, leaving behind a legal mess that would take months to sort out, regarding who would get custody of her corpse and of her infant daughter, who was at the center of paternity lawsuit.
Fame Clinch: Dying young tends to make famous people infamous. But what really extended her 15 minutes of fame into an eternity was her lawsuit seeking half the fortune of her late billionaire husband that resulted in a landmark, precedence-setting Supreme Court decision.