TRADITIONAL GATEKEEPERS OF modern celebrity include people like magazine and newspaper editors, and television, music and movie producers. The path to stardom was narrower and concentrated compared to the internet era, a Big Bang of starpower in which the more extreme, concentrated celebrity of the few — superstars like Taylor Swift, Brad Pitt and Kylie Jenner — keep expanding outward online in a seemingly infinite number of micro-star niches from viral videos to mom blogs, sometimes with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers, yet to many still obscure. Here’s a glimpse into the South Florida galaxy of our growing online multiverse, and some of the bright stars out there, some of whom are just starting to light up their own solar systems of followers, each follower at the same time their own star, however faint, around which others revolve.
we are so both and oneful night cannot be so sky sky cannot be so sunful i am through you so i
— e. e. cummings
Wildd at Heart
Before Fort Lauderdale resident Lacey Wildd was an internet-TV star and practicing clairvoyant, who became known as The Human Barbie for her enormous breast implants and numerous other plastic surgeries, she was born Paula Ann Simonds. Her childhood, as she describes it, bears a stark contrast with her public career, a spectacle that helped her earn the money she needed to raise her own six children. Ms. Wildd, 49, has no regrets.
“I’ve lived the life of a rock star,” she said.She grew up in impoverished Appalachia in the mountains of West Virginia. She recalled often being barefoot, her family canning food, the good smell of their coal-burning stove, and gazing out over a bridge at a river that looked “like a little tiny vein.” Later, in her midgrade school years, her family moved to Peoria, Ill., where she didn’t fit in. She had not yet learned to read and, due to her psychic abilities, she said, was nicknamed “The Witch.”
“People would hold their fingers up like crosses because I could predict things, I knew things,” she said. “I kind of moved away from there, got blonde hair and big boobs and called myself Lacey.”Married before she turned 18, she had two children before leaving her much older husband when she was 21, making ends meet working as a waitress, then as an exotic dancer in Las Vegas. A star at Olympic Gardens, she described making as much as $5,000 a night doing theatrical performances to songs such as Billy Idol’s “White Wedding” and literally raking the money off the stage. She got her first boob job shortly before moving there, she said: “I had a perfect body but I was flat chested as hell.”
Under the stage lights, the crowds were blacked out, nearly as anonymous as the viewers who would later watch her on television.
“The crowds never had faces to me, just the roar,” she said. “It was definitely where I found my peace and all my ghosts in my closet went away.”Later she moved to the southeast coast of Florida following a former Vegas flame, and began to gain popularity on MySpace, then on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. A video of her driving home from the hospital with newly enlarged breasts went viral, she said.
“I was like, if they like this and this makes me popular, what if I doubled them?”
She appeared on an episode of MTV’s “True Life” in 2011 called “I Have a Hot Mom,” the beginning of a string of TV appearances. She continued to get surgeries, she said, all over her body. As a result, people accused her of being one of the “fakest people on the planet.”“I gave the world what they wanted basically,” she said. “When I got famous I realized that they created Lacey Wildd, not me… I cry. I bleed like everyone else. I’m not really a hollow doll like they think.”
Ms. Wildd is planning to move back to where she grew up in West Virginia and open what she calls The Wildd at Heart Wilderness Wellness Center. This December, she plans to have another surgery to make her breasts even larger. And she doesn’t need to be psychic to perceive the consequences of destroying our planet, one of her major concerns, but it helps.“We are the fleas of the Earth,” she said. “We will be shaken off if we keep destroyingy her.”
Solo Travel Girl
A globe-traversing traveler recently clad in pink Converse sneakers, Jennifer Huber’s SoloTravelGirl.com blog and her related Twitter account @jenniferhuber have gained a loyal readership across the United States and the oceans beyond with more than 11,000 followers.
A Buffalo, N.Y., native, Ms. Huber, who describes herself on her blog as “just your average forty-something-year- old gal living life solo,” now lives in North Port and has a day job with Charlotte County’s tourism office.She first got a Twitter account in 2007, the year the iPhone came out, hearing about it from a guy she dated at the time who worked in IT and counterintelligence. She also worked writing articles for online sites such as Yahoo, and the now-defunct Suite 101.
“I was able to go in there and establish myself as an expert in travel,” she said.
At the same time, she used MySpace and then Twitter to share her personal travel experiences. In 2008, she got a break when Christopher Elliot, a major star in the travel writing universe, named her one of the top 50 Twitter travelers to follow.
“One day all of a sudden I noticed I was getting all these followers,” Ms. Huber said. “Someone said, ‘Oh, Christopher Elliot said to follow you.’”The next year she went to a conference called BlogHer, and experienced that small measure of fame that more and more people with social media accounts have: people whom you don’t know but who feel like they know you.
“It was kind of like a little creepy,” she said, but at the same time complimentary.
Another time she recalled flying to Ontario, Canada, where she was greeted in the lobby of her hotel by an unknown woman who happened to be one of her Twitter followers. From this she learned not to post where she’s going to show up.
“It turns out she’s a fantastic person,” Ms. Huber said, a school teacher with whom she became friends. “That ended up being a good story but I’ve heard other bloggers have bad stories, people trying to harass them or something.”She has often been recognized and awarded as a “boomer” generation blogger, though by age she is Generation X. Many of her readers are boomers, she points out, including women who perhaps lost their husband, chose not to marry, or for whatever reason are single, women for whom she offers her own travels as inspiration. As she says on her blog she travels “alone, not lonely.”
“Even going out to dinner can be a scary and lonely experience for many people so I like it that I kind of act as an inspiration to them,” she said.
She prefers Twitter for its brevity.
“You’ve got to use that space wisely,” she said. “That’s what I like about Twitter. It teaches you to be a better writer or use more visuals because the space is so limited.”
She’s earned some extra income here and there working for brands such as hotels to get paid by the Tweet or host Twitter parties, and her travel writing has led to a radio show and other writing gigs as well. Mostly, she posts what she wants.
“I’m thankful for the opportunities it’s afforded me and the people I’ve met,” she said. “I had no idea when I started this where it would lead me. I’ve been around the world and had all sorts of experiences. I don’t think it could have happened any other way.”
A fan of stand-up and sketch comedy such as SNL, Meredith Masony has been posting funny and honest blogs and videos about her life as a mom and wife on her site, That’s Inappropriate, since 2014. On her related Facebook page she had about 3,000 followers until last May, when her video rant “What Moms Really Want on Mother’s Day” went viral.
Since then, her Facebook followers shot up to more than 950,000, along with tens of thousands of Instagram and YouTube followers.
What she wanted for Mother’s Day was, for instance, “To be left the hell alone,” said Ms. Masony, 37. “Don’t ask me for anything. Don’t ask me to wipe anybody’s butt.”
On top of that, her husband was on a golf trip and texted her that he might not make it home that day.
“I was like super peeved,” she said.
She made the video and posted it. An hour later it had 10,000 views and by the next morning 1,000,000. About a week later, it had been seen more than 10,000,000 times. By the end of the month she had about 80,000 Facebook followers.
During 2016, her videos continued to go viral, the most popular one being “The Man Cold” last September, which got picked up and shared on different platforms, she said, ultimately being watched hundreds of millions of times.
“It’s just insane,” she said. “That one is basically me berating my husband when he’s sick because he acts like a big baby man child.”
Formerly a middle and high school teacher in Southwest Florida, she says That’s Inappropriate and her social media life have become a full-time job. Her income comes from sponsoring blog posts for products that she uses or tries out and likes such as Hero Clean laundry detergent or Bulletproof coffee.
She lives with her husband, Dave, and three children ages 7, 8, and 11, in Charlotte County. He has never appeared in person in her videos thus far, but helps behind the scenes. It’s become a running joke that people don’t see his face and know him just as “the BM,” for business manager.
“Because there’s a huge behind-the-scenes portion to this,” she said. “That 2½-minute video took hours between shooting and editing.”
Her success as a comedian, blogger and vlogger has come with trolls as well.
“For the most part men are the ones who have something negative to say,” she said, offended when she jokes about her husband. “Because I’m outspoken and a comedian.”
Usually she’s unfazed by this unless the commentary is violent. One follower told her he would “smash me in the face with a frying pan.” Another called her a “bloated pig.”
“I’ve had people call out my personal safety,” she said. “At that point, you block and report. But if you just want to come to my page and say I’m the most useless insignificant piece of poo and nobody would want to marry you, I don’t care.”
Often, too, her loyal followers will attack the trolls. And she says, “None of that matters. For every nasty comment, there are 100 nice ones of support.”
Occasionally, she has had fun herself with the trolls, including one who told her she “looked like a transvestite parrot.” She thanked him for commenting on her video. He responded with a comment about her face: “I just want to give you some shaving tips.” To which she responded, “I always use a sharp blade.”
Mostly, though, she lets it go.
“People are bullies, they’re awful,” she said. “They’re mean and they’re nasty, but I’m not going to let them dictate what I post and what I say. Because you can only control your own response.”
Growing up in public
Mercedes Gutierrez lives in Estero where she grew up, and followed the career path of a model and actor since age 6. Now 19, she has appeared in hundreds of TV and print ads from catalogs such as Kohl’s and Target to Vogue magazine.
But she didn’t get her first iPhone until she was 13. During high school, as her image became popular on Instagram @Mercedesg_ benz, her mom or “momager,” Sandra, who has also worked as a model, helped her navigate a newfound portion of fame as well as the business opportunities it presented. Being unusually good-looking helped on Instagram, but also inspired resentment.
“I guess how I feel is, why can’t people treat me like it’s just normal?” Ms. Gutierrez said. She adds, “I’m not ‘famous’… It’s not like I’m Kylie Jenner or something.”
Ms. Jenner is someone she admires. “I try to even make some of my selfies look like her,” she said.
But her experiences have given her a window into what someone like Ms. Jenner could experience, common experiences of fame on a smaller scale.
Girls at school were catty. Online, guys would get angry if she didn’t reply to messages. Some engaged in internet stalking including one who kept insisting they belonged together.
“He told me our genetics will be perfect together, just really creepy stuff,” she said.
At a high school football game when she was a cheerleader, a group of guys showed up in the stands to cheer her, saying they knew her from Instagram. She found that if she posted pictures of herself with a boy it could immediately cost her hundreds of followers.
A photographer in California refused to send her the images he had taken of her if she didn’t provide nude photos in return. She got in fights with boyfriends about comments other guys made about her pictures online. And last year, she surpassed 50,000 followers on Instagram, an exciting landmark.
Companies began asking her to promote their products online, and sending her samples. She got a contract with Bang Energy drinks (blue razz is her favorite flavor) which in part requires her to make YouTube videos featuring their products. For some videos, she has made up to $3,000. She did a short stint as a Univision host, in which she interviewed Miami Dolphins players.
Lately, she’s been working on becoming an actor, with plans to pursue that career in Atlanta — “the new L.A.,” her mom said — then later make the leap to Los Angeles. She was recently cast in a film called “White Slavery,” about drugs and prostitution in Sarasota. She is set to play the daughter of a woman who lives next door to drug pushers.
To continue gaining followers, she needs to post pictures and videos every day, she said, some of which can take eight hours to shoot. She worries about her diet, goes to the gym, and tries to find time to hang out with friends.
“Even though you have a big social media following, it’s hard to have a social life,” she said.
Modern Boca Mom
Michelle Olson-Rogers got her first Facebook account in 2005 when she moved to New York City after college, using the new network to keep in touch with friends. Through her marketing and public relations work in the city, it quickly became a part of her professional life as well.
After she moved back to Boca Raton in 2013 with her husband and newborn daughter, her personal and professional lives merged on social media with the creation of her blog Modern Boca Mom, and its attendant Facebook, Instagram, and other social media accounts.
Ms. Olson-Rogers, 35, brought some of that stylish big-city energy back from New York, cultivating a hyper-local and specific following of young moms in Palm Beach County, roughly ages 25 to 45.
“I want to be your mom friend, that’s what I’m trying to be,” she said, “Your cool mom friend to boot.”
She serves as a resource for events, businesses, products, travel, and support, be it information about swim lessons or the upcoming Boca Pumpkin Patch Festival. There’s a special section on her blog for “mompreneurs” like herself.
Most of her ModernBocaMom.com readers find her through social media, she said, or through Google searches. While she has the most followers on Instagram (11,700), she has found her most engaged audience is on Facebook.
“I think Instagram is the most fun for me because it’s not cluttered, it’s simply great photography, great captions,” she said. “In terms of actually driving traffic to my blog it’s Facebook by far because that’s where the moms are.”
And now, Instagram is owned by Facebook, she points out. “So worlds are colliding.”
Too, most of her mom following reaches her on the go, on mobile phones or perhaps tablets.
“They’re busy,” she said. “They’re reading my blog in car lines, while they’re waiting for their kids to get out of sports practice or band rehearsal…
“And social media also allows moms to save posts for later, which I’m grateful for.”
Her blog and social media expertise has led to other opportunities, including her job four days a week as director of communications and community outreach at Grandview Preparatory School, where her substantial Instagram following has lent her some street cred with high school students, who often eschew Facebook.
“Their parents are on Facebook so they don’t want to be on Facebook,” she said. “They are on Instagram, and they are on Snapchat.”
Modern Boca Mom also draws interest from companies that want her to promote their products, such as an invitation-only cruise or trip to Disney World, which her daughter Avery (#dailybocaavery) appreciates. Through her mom’s blogging and social media posts, Avery, 4, has become as well or better known than Ms. Olson-Rogers.
“(Avery) is kind of the famous one because she is the one I post about,” she said. “She’s the whole reason I started this because she’s the one who made me a mother.” ¦