What is a celebrity?

A celebrity is a person, who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media. The term is often synonymous with wealth (commonly denoted as a person with fame and fortune), implied with great popular appeal, prominence in a particular field, and is easily recognized by the general public.

Some people are natural entertainers (Usher, Bieber), others you have to watch with interest, (Katie Price, Joey Essex) whilst others GET LUCKY!

What is a celebrity?

Various careers within the fields of sports and entertainment are commonly associated with celebrity status. These fields have produced prominent figures within these two industries.

While people may gain celebrity status as a result of a successful career in a particular field (primarily in the areas pertaining towards sports and entertainment), in other cases, people become celebrities due to media attention for their extravagant lifestyle or wealth (as in the case of a socialite); for their connection to a famous person (as in the case of a relative of a famous person); or even for their misdeeds (as in the case of a well-known criminal). Celebrities may be known around the world (e.g., pop stars and film actors), within a specific country (e.g., a top Australian rugby player); or within a region (e.g., a local television news anchor).

Becoming a celebrity

People may become celebrities in a wide range of ways: from their professions, following appearances in the media, committing a mass murder,or even by complete accident. The term “instant celebrity” describes someone who becomes a celebrity in a very short period of time. Someone who achieves a small amount of transient fame (through, say, hype or mass media) may become labeled a “B-grade celebrity”. Often, the generalization extends to someone who falls short of mainstream or persistent fame but who seeks to extend or exploit it.


There are no guarantees of success for an individual to become a celebrity. Though celebrities come from many different working fields, most celebrities are typically associated with the fields of sports and entertainment or a person may be a public figure who is commonly recognizable in mass media. With innate talent, passion, diligence, discipline, self-motivation and tenacity, being the core factors of achieving success to becoming a celebrity, fame and fortune sometimes occurs spontaneously with relatively little effort due to sheer luck, being fortunate with connections, or simply being at the right place during the right time. Celebrities are incessantly stereotyped and fantasized as individuals who possess exorbitant amounts of wealth and glamor. They are also sometimes denigrated by the general public as being overpaid and publicly overrated compared to a normal worker such as a doctor, police officer or a teacher. Though glamor and wealth certainly plays a role for only famous celebrities, most people in the sports and entertainments sphere, be it music, film, television, radio, modelling, comedy, literature etc. live in obscurity and only an infinitesimal percentage (usually less than 1%) achieve fame and fortune. Due to the Machiavellian and competitive nature within both industries, a vast amount of aspiring entertainers and athletes in the world, even some of the most talented may never be recognized and won’t ever receive the opportunity to carve a name for themselves.

Famous for being famous

Famous for being famous, in popular culture terminology, refers to someone who attains celebrity status for no particular identifiable reason, or who achieves fame through association with a celebrity. The term is a pejorative, suggesting that the individual has no particular talents or abilities. Even when their fame arises from a particular talent or action on their part, the term will sometimes still apply if their fame is perceived as disproportionate to what they earned through their own talent or work.

Amy Argetsinger coined the term “famesque” to define entertainers such as actors and singers, or professional athletes who have become celebrities despite having achieved very little, if any, success in their careers. Such is the case that includes athletes Anna Kournikova, Matt Leinart, and Danica Patrick, singer Jessica Simpson, and actress Sienna Miller.

15 minutes of fame

Andy Warhol famously coined the phrase “15 minutes of fame”. Celebrities in the 21st century can now be famous simply by being in the right place at the right time. Certain “15 minutes of fame” celebrities can be average people seen with an A-list celebrity, who are sometimes noticed on entertainment news channels such as E! News. These celebs are regular people who originally are not celebrities, becoming celebrities, and are often turned into celebrities based on the ridiculous things they do. “In fact, many reality show contestants fall into this category: the only thing that qualifies them to be on TV is that they’re real.”

One example: in 2004 British television personality Ahmed Aghil became so famous by appearing in Big Brother, that Now magazine stated “Ahmed our BB God”, and a cult was created “Ahmania” short for Ahmed mania. Further, the quality newspaper The Guardian wrote a whole page about Ahmed Aghil, titled “Ahmania Rules”. But after 9 years Ahmed Aghil disappeared and only few fans remember him.

Certain people are only remembered today because of a movie portrayal, certain story or urban legend surrounding their life and less for their accomplishments. Antonio Salieri was a famous and well-known 18th-century composer, but his fictional portrayal as an antagonist (for example, in the musical and film Amadeus) has been more famous than his music since the end of the 20th century. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and O. J. Simpson are more notorious for their association with murder trials than for their respective movie and sports careers. Ronald Reagan is more famous as a politician today than as a movie actor. Centuries after his death, Andrea Mantegna is now better known as the mentor of Leonardo da Vinci than for his own paintings.


A large number of athletes who are unable to turn professional take a second job or even sometimes abandon their athletic aspirations in order to make ends meet. A small percentage of entertainers and athletes are able to make a decent living but a vast majority will spend their careers toiling from hard work, determination, rejection and frequent unemployment. For minor league to amateur athletes, earnings are usually on the lower end of the pay-scale. Many of them take second jobs on the side or even venture into other occupations within the field of sports such as coaching, general management, refereeing or recruiting and scouting up and coming athletes.

David Letterman, late night talk show host and comedian.

The Screen Actors Guild, a union well known for representing actors and actresses throughout Hollywood reports that the average television and film actor earns less than US$5000 annually. Actors sometimes alternate between theater, television and film or even branch into other occupations within the entertainment industry such as becoming a singer, comedian, producer, or a television host in order to be monetarily diversified, as doing one gig pays comparatively very little. For instance, David Letterman is well known for branching into late night television as a talk show host while honing his skills as a stand-up comedian, Barbra Streisand ventured into acting while operating as a singer, or Clint Eastwood, who achieved even greater fame in Hollywood for being a film director and a producer than for his acting credentials.

Entertainers and professional athletes make up less than 1% of all millionaires in the entire world. Less than 1% of all runway models are known to make more than US$1000 for every fashion showcase. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the median wage for commercial and print models was only $11.22 per hour in 2006 and was also listed one of the top ten worst jobs in the United States. Most models only draw in around US$500 every showcase and only famous models that are high in demand such as Miranda Kerr or Gisele Bündchen earn multi-million dollar salaries. Freelance writers and authors who aspire to be the next Stephen King and Dan Brown are known to submit manuscripts of their latest literary creations hoping for their big break are only to be bombarded with numerous rejection letters from major publishing houses. Many aspiring comedians who dream of becoming the next Russell Peters and Jerry Seinfeld never see the inside of a movie or television studio, but rather spend most of their careers doing stand-up in comedy clubs and other small venues, hoping to be discovered. Because gigs can be infrequent, it can be very difficult to make a living as a freelance entertainer. As a result, many supplement their income by holding down other jobs on the side.

Careers that offer celebrity status

Some professional activities in fields such as ones that are commonly associated with celebrity prestige are careers within the sports and entertainment sphere. Having a successful career such as being a professional athlete or an entertainment industry based professionals are careers that many average people can identify with but can only dream about pursuing. Only a very small percentage or a tiny fraction of people can ever make a name for themselves as celebrities in the cultural and entertainment spheres (including music, film, television, radio, theater, modelling, literature etc.) or within the realm of sports.

Quite evidently, careers within the sports and entertainment sphere such as being an elite professional athlete on a sports team, or an entertainment figure such as a musician that dominates the music charts frequently, an A-list movie actor with a lead role in a big budget blockbuster film, or a television actor with lead roles on prime-time shows have a strong likelihood to become celebrities. Informal references by the general public and media have used to refer to celebrities as: The stars, sports stars, rock stars, rap stars, supermodels, movie stars, TV stars, radio stars, music stars, superstars, stardom, and media personalities.

Business leaders which include successful entrepreneurs, financially successful investors, and top level CEOs of major corporations that regularly dominate the global business scene, top the daily business headlines and coverage of financial markets have a strong likelihood to become celebrities. High-ranking politicians and top level government officials that dominate global political scene and foreign affairs, headline major current events, play a pivotal role in domestic and international politics have a tremendous impact in day-to-day media have a strong likelihood to become celebrities.

Albert Einstein, is the epitome of the quintessential 20th-century symbol of scientific genius.

Prominent socialites, elite aristocrats and royal families, top level professional athletes, chart-topping musicians and pop singers, television and film actors with lead roles on prominently scheduled television shows and hit box office movies, internationally recognized supermodels and models are almost invariably celebrities.

Prominent media journalists, pundits on major nationally syndicated television shows, commentators on prominently scheduled television shows, nationally acclaimed media columnists and syndicated columnists, critically acclaimed and best-selling authors and writers, major national newscasters and news analysts, national television reporters and television anchors, national television game show hosts on prominently scheduled game shows, radio personalities on prominently scheduled radio shows, comedians on major headlining comedy shows, reality television personalities on most prominently scheduled reality television shows, daytime television show hosts, and late night television show hosts have a strong likelihood to become celebrities.

Individuals that host their own television show (as well as various components of television programs) have a strong likelihood to become a celebrity: Examples include shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Doctors, The Dr. Oz Show, and Dr. Phil. Cooking shows such as Emeril Live and 30 Minute Meals have spawned celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Rachael Ray, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse who are famed for their culinary aptitude. However fame based on one program may often prove short-lived after a program is discontinued.

Individuals (commonly referred as gurus and infotainers) that pass out advice as these specialists play an important role in society, disseminating expert knowledge to those without time or inclination to become the same. Gurus in all areas of life, from fitness to real estate and personal finance hand out advice and offer predictions and advice of authorities have a strong likelihood to become a celebrity. Various examples include personal finance authors and writers such as Robert Kiyosaki, Suze Orman, Jean Chatzky, and Jim Cramer as well as fitness personalities such as Richard Simmons, Jane Fonda, Suzanne Somers, and Tamilee Webb.

A few humanitarian and religious leaders such as Mother Teresa and Desmond Tutu have achieved fame because of their charitable work around the world. Various pastors and other religious figures and activists such as Rick Warren, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson campaigned for various social and political causes have achieved celebrity status in mainstream media as well.

Social networking

Celebrities have been flocking to social networking and video hosting sites such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and MySpace. Social networking sites allow celebrities to communicate directly with their fans, removing the middle-man known as traditional media. Social media humanizes celebrities in a way that arouses public fascination as evident by the success of magazines such as Us Weekly and People Weekly. Celebrity blogging have also spawned stars such as Perez Hilton who is well known for not only blogging, but also outing celebrities. Celebrities are now much more accessible to the public, through social media and also via celebrity databases, which provide their agent and manager details.

Social media sites have even catapulted some to fame. Justin Bieber for example, shot to stardom on MySpace.

Regional and cultural implications

Cultures and regions with a significant population may have their own independent celebrity systems, with distinct hierarchies. For example, the Canadian province of Quebec, which is French-speaking, has its own system of French-speaking television, movie and music celebrities. A person who garners a degree of fame in one culture may be considered less famous or obscure in another. Some nationwide celebrities might command some attention outside their own nation; for example, the singer Lara Fabian is widely known in the French-speaking world, but only had a couple of Billboard hits in the US, whereas the francophone Canadian singer Celine Dion is well known in both the French-speaking world and in the US.

Regions within a country, or cultural communities (linguistic, ethnic, religious) can also have their own celebrity systems, especially in linguistically or culturally distinct regions such as Quebec or Wales. Regional radio personalities, newscasters, politicians or community leaders may be local or regional celebrities.

English-speaking media commentators and journalists will sometimes refer to celebrities as belonging to the A-List or state that a certain actor belongs to the B-List, the latter being a disparaging context. These informal rankings indicate a placing within a hierarchy. However, due to differing levels of celebrity in different regions, it is difficult to place people within one bracket. A Brazilian actor might be a B-list action film actor in the US, but an A-list star in Portugal.

Some elements are associated with fame, such as appearing on the cover of Time, being spoofed in Mad, having a wax statue in Madame Tussauds, or receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Certain people are known even to people unfamiliar with the area in which they excelled. If one has to name a famous boxer, they are more likely to name Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson, since their fame expanded beyond the sport itself. Pablo Picasso’s style and name are known even to people who are not interested in art; likewise many know that Harry Houdini was an illusionist, Tiger Woods a golfer, Bill Gates an entrepreneur, Albert Einstein a scientist; Mozart and Beethoven classical composers; Luciano Pavarotti an opera singer.

Fictional implications

The same phenomenon is true for fictional characters. When most people think of a superhero or a comic book celebrity, Superman, Spider-Man, and Batman will usually be the first that comes to mind. If one has to name a famous wizard, the names would typically be Merlin, Gandalf or Harry Potter. Mickey Mouse is perhaps the most famous cartoon character and fictional mouse in the world. The most famous movie monsters are King Kong and Godzilla, the archetypical detective is Sherlock Holmes and most people’s idea of a spy is James Bond.

Celebrity 100

Forbes Magazine releases an annual Forbes Celebrity 100 list of the highest paid celebrities in the world. The total earnings for all top celebrity 100 earners totaled $4.5 billion over the course of 2010 alone.

For instance, Forbes ranked media mogul and talk show host, Oprah Winfrey as the top earner “Forbes magazine’s annual ranking of the most powerful celebrities”, with earnings of $290 million in the past year. Forbes cites that Lady Gaga reportedly earned over $90 million in 2010.[ In 2010, golfer Tiger Woods was one of highest-earning celebrity athletes, with an income of $75 million and is consistently ranked one of the highest paid athletes in the world. In 2013,the queen of pop and the biggest pop icon in the world,Madonna was ranked as the fifth most powerful and the highest earning celebrity of the year with earnings of $125 million.She has consistently been among the most powerful and highest earning celebrities in the world occupying the third place in forbes celebrity 100 2009 with $110 million of earnings and getting the tenth place in the 2010 edition of the list with annual earnings equal to $58 million.

Entrepreneurship and endorsements

Celebrity endorsements have proven very successful around the world where, due to increasing consumerism, an individual is considered a status symbol when they purchase a celebrity-endorsed product. On August 1, 2007 laws were passed banning health care professionals and public figures such as movie stars or pop singers from appearing in advertisements for drugs or nutritional supplements.

Though become the commonplace for celebrities to place their name with endorsements onto products just for quick money. However, some celebrities have gone beyond merely using their good names and have decided to put their entrepreneurial spirit to work by becoming entrepreneurs. Along with investing their salaried wages into growing business endeavors, a number of celebrities have become innovative leaders in their respective industries, gaining the admiration of their peers and contributing to the country’s economy. Numerous celebrities have become budding business moguls and established themselves as entrepreneurs, idolizing many well known business leaders such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Donald Trump. For instance, basketball legend, Michael Jordan became an active entrepreneur involved with many sports related ventures including investing a minority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats, Paul Newman started his own salad dressing business after leaving behind a distinguished acting career, or rap musician, Birdman started his own record label, clothing line, and an oil business. Other celebrities such as Tyler Perry, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg have become successful entrepreneurs through starting their own film production companies and running their own movie studios.

Tabloid magazines and talk TV shows bestow a great deal of attention on celebrities. To stay in the public eye and build wealth in addition to their salaried labor, numerous celebrities have participating and branching into various business ventures and endorsements. Many celebrities have participated in many different endorsement opportunities that include: animation, publishing, fashion designing, cosmetics, consumer electronics, household items and appliances, cigarettes, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, hair care, hairdressing, jewelry design, fast food, credit cards, video games, writing, and toys.

In addition to various endorsements, a number of celebrities have been involved with some business and investment related ventures also include: and toddler related items, sports team ownership, fashion retailing, establishments such as restaurants, cafes, hotels, and casinos, movie theatres, advertising and event planning, management related ventures such as sports management, model management, and talent management, record labels, film production, television production, publishing such as book and music publishing, massage therapy, salons, health and fitness, and real estate.

Although some celebrities have achieved additional financial success from various business ventures, the vast majority of celebrities are not successful businesspeople and still rely on salaried labored wages in order earn a living. Most businesses and investments are well known to have a 90 to 95 percent failure rate within the first five years of operation. Not all celebrities eventually succeed with their own businesses and other related side ventures. Some celebrities either went broke or filed for bankruptcy as result of dabbling with such side businesses or endorsements. Though some might question such a validity since celebrities themselves are already well known, have mass appeal, and are well exposed to the general public. The average entrepreneur who is not well known and reputable to general public doesn’t the same marketing flexibility and status-quo as most celebrities allow and have. Therefore compared to the average person who starts a business, celebrities already have all the cards and odds stacked in their favor. They can have an unfair advantage to expose their business ventures and endorsements and can easily capture a significant amount market share than the average entrepreneur.

As a mass media phenomenon

Celebrities often have fame comparable to royalty. As a result, there is a strong public curiosity about their private affairs. The release of Kim Kardashian’s sex tape with rapper Ray J in 2007 brought her to a new level of fame, leading to magazine covers, book deals, and reality TV series.

Celebrities may be resented for their accolades, and the public may have a love/hate relationship with celebrities. Due to the high visibility of celebrities’ private lives, their successes and shortcomings are often made very public. Celebrities are alternately portrayed as glowing examples of perfection, when they garner awards, or as decadent or immoral if they become associated with a scandal. When seen in a positive light, celebrities are frequently portrayed as possessing skills and abilities beyond average people; for example, celebrity actors are routinely celebrated for acquiring new skills necessary for filming a role within a very brief time, and to a level that amazes the professionals who train them. Similarly, some celebrities with very little formal education can sometimes be portrayed as experts on complicated issues. Some celebrities have been very vocal with their political views. For example, Matt Damon expressed his displeasure with 2008 US vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, as well as with the 2011 United States debt-ceiling crisis.

Behind the scenes

Actors, musicians, models, directors, producers, comedians, television hosts and other entertainment-industry professionals are some of the highest-earning in America given that the entertainment industry based professional achieves a certain degree of success as a prerequisite. Talent agents, sports agents, publicists, and talent managers of such people get 10 percent of the gross income their successful clients make and these jobs are among the highest paying jobs in the sports and entertainment industries. Though it is a potentially a very lucrative field, depending on whom the agent or talent manager signs on as a client, they are less likely to become celebrities.

While it’s true that the top television and film actors have become movie and television stars, musicians and pop singers that become pop stars, or athletes that become sports stars often become celebrities, the other professionals that play a more peripheral role in the entertainment sphere, such as television, music, and film directors and producers, screenwriters, playwrights, and animators are less likely to attain celebrity status (albeit there are some exceptions, such as directors Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and animator Walt Disney). Entertainment based occupations that are not as well known in the general public or are simply antiquated (e.g. magicians, photographers, and some visual artists such as painters and potters) relative to the present day mass media industry are less likely to become celebrities (though there are exceptions such as illusionists David Copperfield and Criss Angel, or photographer David LaChapelle).

In other sub-fields within the entertainment industry, there is a similar situation. For instance, in the music industry, the top-selling pop singers have a strong potential to become celebrities, but the behind-the-scenes professionals tend to remain little known to the general public (e.g. dancers, disc jockeys, record producers, and composers); though in recent years, Club DJs such as David Guetta, Skrillex and Deadmau5 or composer David Foster have achieved worldwide fame for their respective work in the music industry. High-end fashion and jewelry designers are likely to become celebrities but will not garner the same and equal importance in the entertainment sphere compared to a successful film or television actor or a widely known musician.

A similar phenomenon is also true within the field of professional sports as professional athletes who are directly involved directly with the competition, the physical aspects of scoring and defending, as well as being widely spectated by fans are more than likely to become celebrities. However, other professionals that play a more peripheral role in the field of professional sports (e.g. coaches, general managers, referees, commentators and announcers, sports team owners and executives, sports commissioners) who are more active in the internal aspects of field tend to remain in obscurity and are less likely to achieve celebrity status.

Outside of the sports and entertainment sphere, the top inventors, entrepreneurs and businesspeople, professionals such as doctors, lawyers, and scientists, etc. are unlikely to become celebrities even if they are enormously successful in their field due to the general public and society’s disinterest in science and technology, invention, entrepreneurship, business and courtroom law which is not fictional. Maurice Hilleman, an American microbiologist and medical scientist, is credited with saving more lives than any other medical scientist of the 20th century. After Hilleman’s death Ralph Nader wrote, “Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society’s and media’s concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic.


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Mark Meets
Mark Meets
MarkMeets Media is British-based online news magazine covering showbiz, music, tv and movies

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