By now, everyone knows that the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner means an invasion of celebrities of every list from A to D (is there even an E list? An F?).
Since the imported glitterati first wormed their way into the Washington tradition, there have been moments when movie stars dominated and others when reality-TV personalities stole the show. At last year’s fete, you couldn’t throw a canape without hitting a cast member of “Scandal” or “House of Cards.” But this year, a new breed of celebrity is poised to take over, and here’s the thing: You might not even recognize them.
No less an arbiter of fame than Arianna Huffington, the media mogul who knows a few things about buzz, has declared this the year of the “social star” — that is, the kind of folks who don’t measure success in terms of box office takings or Nielsen ratings, but rather, in re-tweets. Huffington’s slate of guests this year for her eponymous publication, the Huffington Post, is made up of people who are huge on YouTube. Or Vine. Instead of actress/model/dancer, the hyphenations go something like TED talker/author/media theorist — with 1.4 million Twitter followers (that would be Steven Johnson).
“There’s a new power center, ” Huffington says. “People whose names you might not have heard of have tremendous power — and we want to know them.”
And so this year, Huffington eschewed the Oscar winners and the presidential wannabes and invited, along with Johnson, this lineup: YouTube star Bethany Mota (whose enviable following scored her an interview with President Obama), journalist Sarah Koenig of the viral radio program “Serial,” Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker, Vine sensations Nash Grier and Marcus Johns, mommy blogger Heather Armstrong, Jerome Jarre, who’s described as one of Snapchat’s first breakout stars, hip-hop musician Killer Mike, and YouTube activist Tyler Oakley.
Okay, so your mom might recognize scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, another HuffPo guest, but most dinner attendees would need a cheat sheet to pick most of these folks out of a lineup. Welcome to the new celebrity landscape.
And although welcoming this new breed of notables to the sometimes stuffy Washington ritual feels novel, it actually honors one of the dinner’s oldest traditions: mixing business with pleasure. After all, harnessing the stars’ massive social-media folllowings could be very good for Huffington’s media-domination mission. “We want to bring our audiences together,” Huffington says.
[Related: Full coverage of the 2014 dinner.]