Dozens of minor celebrities are currently crisscrossing the country to collect piles of cash for nightclub appearances. Snooki gets $10,000. Kim Kardashian is yours for $50,000. But why do promoters pay? They tell us they have no choice.
Sacramento is already facing sky-high unemployment and a battered real estate market. But it hit a new low last week when E! starlet Kim Kardashian denied reports she planned to make an appearance at an illustrious local night spot, Azukar Lounge. Local TV news investigated and found fliers featuring a semi-nude Kardashian image and talked to the three local club owners who'd arranged the appearance and had what seemed to be a genuine contract. [Click here to view.] The document listed the amount Kardashian was supposed to be paid ($11,000) as well as other essential perks that would have to be provided, like a hotel suite and transportation in a "late model SUV." The contract was signed "KK."
The contract wasn't real: "Another fake event," Kardashian tweeted. But because her presence virtually guarantees a packed house, the local club owners had jumped at the chance to book her services through Andrea Hayes, a 41-year old local entertainment broker. Instead of getting Kim, they're now out $15,000. And they're looking for blood.
"I don't know what to do," Hayes, who feels duped, told us by email. "I'm scared." Stakes are so high in "event placement" because, "in this economy, people aren't going to pay $15 when there's no one on the other side of the bar except for a bartender."
George Fox, a 31-year-old Virginia Beach shopping center investor, hit the perma-tanned jackpot when he snagged four foot eleven, bouffant haired Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi for his Jersey Shore themed Valentine's Day party a few months ago. "We killed it: $10 at the door netted $13,000," he explains. "That was before a single Jaeger Bomb was poured."
It's a phenomenon in big cities, too. On Friday and Saturday nights, New York's bridges and tunnels crawl with over-perfumed people hoping to become part of the illustrious social scene they see on the teevee. What they get instead is a few minutes standing near a wildly overpaid minor celebrity. If they're lucky.
"They just don't get it, says Manhattan nightlife fixture Steve Lewis. "Or they wouldn't be going some place because Paris Hilton is there." (Hilton, who played a role in kicking off the trend in the early '00s, no longer commands the prices she once did; she gets about half as much as Kardashian these days.)
But club owners sometimes have little alternative. "Patrons need to see celebrities," says Joey Morrissey, the managing-owner of 30,000-square-foot club M2, in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. While he is quick to say that M2's celebrity appearances aren't on a strictly cash-per basis, he admits that he'll go a long way to please boldface-names. "When you don't have them, you really notice how important they are," he adds.
Morrissey says he had a hand in sparking the celebrity appearance craze-by getting supermodels out to his club parties in the 1990s. But he doesn't sound too thrilled about his legacy. "You don't have to be a star to be a celebrity anymore," he said ruefully before proving the point by relaying an invitation to a Carmen Gotti party.
Paying someone like Gotti, Kardashian or Snooki four or five figures to step foot inside a garishly decorated club may seem like a rip-off. But C-listers are considerably cheaper than hiring the bigger-name musicians who used to pack clubs. Doing some quick math, Hayes adds up the cost of music: fat performance fees, expensive sound systems and needy entourages. "Reality show stars cost less."
"Right now, the hottest draw is the Jersey Shore kids," she says. And although MTV has tried to limit their appearances in recent months presumably to avoid overexposure before the second season begins this summer, Snooki—the cast's biggest attraction—has popped up in spots from Manhattan to Florida and everywhere in between.
When George Fox landed America's most famous guidette for his Jersey Shore party, he managed to score himself a deal, he says. "She was getting 2k plus expenses, which was cheap," he explains, stretching the meaning of that word. "Seminole Hard Rock had just paid her 10k to host a "fist-pumping contest."
One other difference between hiring a musical act and a fameseeking reality star: a certain amount of humiliation is part of the package. "We paid her for three hours but I actually had to ask her to leave after two hours," Fox says. "She was sweating so hard on the dance floor that her spray tan bled on my girlfriend's $300 Ed Hardy tank top." He goes on to recount a conversation he supposedly had with Snooki while she was at the club:
George: Hey Snooks, can you do a couple back handsprings for us?
Snooki: I cant because I'm wearing a thong. Plus I'm on my period... and it's really heavy today.
For every Kardashian and Snooki, there are hundreds of lesser known names who get around $1,000 a pop for appearances.
Jules Kirby, a gullible blond surf-chick on the CW's High Society who had no compunction about playing a vicious bully who drops the n-word for a millisecond of infamy, passed when Fox offered her the novice-rate to appear at his club. Attention whoring has its limits, she says. "I told him I don't need the money and I'm not going to sell my body." But she admits that for the right price she's available and adds that she's currently in talks with several "event placement" firms.
She pauses for a moment before continuing: "We don't have any special talents other than selling ourselves."
[ Photos at top via Getty Images. Photo of Snooki courtesy of George Fox.]