But what can help set apart the sorta famous from the very famous is the celebrity reality show, or “docu-series” if you’re feeling fancy. These behind-the-scenes peeks at stars’ lives simultaneously keep them in the spotlight while bringing them down to earth, and (they hope) gain them millions of new fans. It’s a difficult line to walk, and some series can come off as desperate and fake. If it’s done well, though, it can catapult lower-tier celebs to fame that lasts for years.
This week marks the debut of two such shows. Sunday, E! sets in motion “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?,” a look at the Olympic swimmer who made headlines at last year’s London games — not so much for his victories and friendly rivalry with teammate Michael Phelps as for a flurry of awkward interviews and self-deluded sound bites (trademarking the frat-thusiastic phrase “Jeah!”) that gave him a party-boy reputation.
On Tuesday, MTV premieres “Ke$ha: My Crazy Beautiful Life,” which follows the pop star who shot to fame after the release of her 2009 mega-hit “Tik Tok,” on which she sang about brushing her teeth with Jack Daniels. A few million album sales later, the singer — born Kesha Sebert — become known for her dance-rap anthems, being covered in glitter and embracing weird for the sake of weird.
Looking at the stars of both series, it’s easy to see similarities: two people talented in their respective fields, with outlandish public personas that threaten to overshadow their achievements. There’s a lot to gain from so much personal exposure, and even more to lose. Whether or not the shows are good is almost irrelevant (both fall in the category of “entertaining in an aggressively mediocre way”). More important, both serve as warnings — or guides — to stars wanting to kick their fame up to the next level. What are the most important lessons to take away from the “celeb docu-series” genre?
These people are famous for having a skill. You need to remind people of that fact.
“How many medals do you have?” an off-screen producer is heard asking Lochte, who sits for his on-camera interviews wearing a bulky hoodie and blank expression, one of the few scenes that isn’t a gratuitously shirtless shot. Lochte sighs. “I don’t even remember what I got at the Olympics,” he confesses.
An animated chalkboard pops up: Lochte’s had five gold, three silver and three bronze medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics (that equals 11, the graphic helpfully summarizes). He also holds four world records. The show doesn’t go into his accomplishments in the pool in great detail. Much is made of his training starting at 7 a.m. every day, since it’s a given that he partied hard the night before. “Tomorrow morning, be ready, be responsible,” his swim coach sternly tells him after Lochte mentions he’s going out for “a couple beers.”