May 9, 2013

The average life span of a reality-TV fameball, starring Lauren Conrad*

Last week, a loyal podcast listener reached out with a dispatch from Kentucky Derby country. The news was pretty good for people who love horses and big floral hats--but bad for reality TV personalities hoping to outlive their 15 minutes.
“Our local channels have near round-the-clock coverage of Derby festivities, including the red carpet arrivals of what passes for stars here in the hinterlands,” Libbye M. wrote to me via Facebook. “Is it common practice for 'stars' to be accompanied by minions bearing dry erase boards stating the celeb’s name and preferences, such as photos only?”

(Editor’s note: Yes.)

“The funniest moment of the day,” Libbye dished, “occurred when a pseudo-star pranced into the interview area, struck a dramatic, over-the-shoulder pose, and...crickets. The look on her face was priceless. She finally made a dismissive gesture at the photogs and flounced off.”

(Editor's note: Ouch.)
* Pictured, after the jump

Lauren Conrad, former
person of interest
That “pseudo-star”? Lauren Conrad, the same reality TV personality who, not too long ago, dominated gossip rags. Back in 2007 she was hard to miss, thanks to shows like Laguna Beach and The Hills. She’s since published 7 books (all bestsellers) and overseen two fashion labels. And, sure, she still shows up in the glossies, especially in stories involving How To Rock That Trend.

And yet, there she was last week, standing in the middle of a red carpet, unable to garner paparazzo interest. The takeaway was clear: As a businesswoman, Conrad may still carry plenty of cache. But as a bona fide media sensation? A rising star? Not anymore, apparently. 

Curious about exactly how long Conrad has really been famous, I ran a database search, counting her mentions in major media outlets over the past several years. I took the measurements year by year, from May to May. The result: Conrad's rise began circa 2006 and peaked in 2009 before beginning its slide. Ergo, one might argue that her reign in the media, or at least, her ascension, lasted roughly three years. 

Three years. It may not sound like much, but, as I found out, it might be the average for a reality star--at least, a star whose name does not rhyme with Pardashian.

Take the inexplicably famous Bethenny Frankel, she of the shows Bethenny Getting Married? and Bethenny Ever After. Frankel also rose in popularity for roughly 3 years, before beginning a descent circa 2012. Ditto Kate Gosselin, who reached her apex in 2010.

Then there's Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the pencil troll who broke big via Jersey Shore in 2009. Media interest in her peaked soon after, between May 2010 and May 2011. It’s been on a rough decline ever since, though the birth of her baby has given Polizzi a recent—ahem—bump. Does that count as a second rise? Maybe. If so, then, again, we’re looking at roughly three years of ascension total.

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. Kim Kardashian has managed to work the system consistently since she first rose to prominence around 2006. Sister Khloe's media profile climbed for 4 solid years, and, like Kim's, it has yet to start falling. Both sisters garner more than 3000 mentions a year--the highest amount that Nexis will reveal in a single search result.

And then there’s the Queen Elizabeth of reality stars. Remember Paris Hilton? That supposed has-been who should have peaked during her Simple Life years circa 2003/2004? She still, to this day, reigns over mainstream media, a gloriana in skinny pants. She spurred more than 3,000 media mentions in 2003, the year she first broke out, and she’s maintained that same level of interest ever since—like aeons-lingering radiation after a nuclear cataclysm.

Some things even I cannot explain.

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