People Are Hiring D-List Celebrities to Deliver Their Bad News

From a Wall Street Journal story by Lindsey Choo headlined “People Are Hiring D-List Celebrities to Deliver Their Bad News”:

The morning of her wedding, Jessica Van Wagnen was primping in her bridal suite in Scottsville, N.Y., when her sister interrupted to insist she watch a video right away.

Van Wagnen turned to her phone and saw none other than her favorite reality-show star, James Kennedy of “Vanderpump Rules,” with a personalized message to her, the bride.

“I heard you had a crazy time in New Orleans,” Kennedy said in the video. “Don’t worry, you looked great, and you did not look slutty, like a slutty skeleton.”

The message came via Cameo, an app on which celebrities sell videos and messages tailored to fans, commonly for birthdays or other milestones.

In an era when it’s now possible to outsource our most sensitive communications, such as using ChatGPT to write wedding vows, all sorts of topics are being transmitted via Cameo videos, including job resignations, breakup talks and apologies.

Months earlier, Van Wagnen, 31, a project manager at a payroll company, had her bachelorette trip to New Orleans. There, her sister, Courtney Gramza, called her a slutty skeleton during a drunken tiff. The comment had remained a sore spot.

Van Wagnen understood the video as her sister’s mea culpa—and it worked.

“Now I just find it to be like the funniest thing in the world,” she said.

Cameo users can select from a grab bag of celebrities, such as musician Kenny G, singer LeAnn Rimes or “Succession” star Brian Cox; Melissa Etheridge has been an option. Others are a few paces from the limelight, including former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. The talent set their own prices, which range from a dollar to as much as $2,000.

Last year, Christopher Gonzalez, a 35-year-old motion-graphics designer for television and film, quit his job by dropping into a companywide Slack channel a Cameo video from William Hung, who won over fans in season three of “American Idol” in 2004.

“Hello everyone,” Hung says in the video, “Christopher is going to put in the notice to leave the current job for a new job in two weeks. He found a new job. He’ll miss all of you but you are all amazing so don’t give up creating the life you want.”

And then, with the briefest transition—“Here is a song for you! “—Hung crooned a few lines from the tune “Just Do It,” which includes the lyrics “be what you want to be, do what you want to do.”

Gonzalez said the video was the best $30 he’s ever spent. “I just thought it would be such a weird, unconventional way to transition from a job,” he said.

Fortunately, his co-workers—including his manager—found the video funny.

Launched in 2017, Cameo was valued at more than $1 billion in 2021—though more recently a downturn has led to significant layoffs. It draws celebrities and social-media personalities, who turned to nontraditional ways to boost their incomes in the pandemic. Competitors include the U.K.-based Thrillz, which offers personalized messages, and California-based Vidsig, which specializes in live video chats between experts, entertainers and fans.

Cameo celebrity Robby Berger, a 30-year-old sports-content creator also known as BrilliantlyDumb, recently got a video request from a man who wanted help asking for a divorce.

“That was one of the most bizarre ones I’ve ever had,” Berger said. “The husband that requested it said that it would soften the blow that it came from me.”

Berger felt less awkward because he sensed from the instructions that both partners knew the divorce was coming and it seemed like they wanted to end on a light note. He recorded a message that made a few jabs at the husband and sent it along.

In the past three years, Cameo received almost 5,000 requests with the word “divorce” in the instructions, while almost 2,000 referenced “breakup,” according to company data. More than 5,500 requests in that time included the terms “apology” or “I’m sorry” in the instructions, and more than 1,000 mentioned quitting a job.

Klaudia Fior, a 25-year-old London-based freelance television presenter with more than 350,000 followers on TikTok, joined Cameo last August and said she’s received several requests to convey touchy personal messages.

One customer said he had a falling out with his best friend, and hadn’t had contact with him for two months. Could Fior mend the relationship?

“It might break the ice if this message comes from you?! He will love it,” the person said in his request, which Fior obliged.

In another odd ask, a Cameo customer told Fior she wanted to teach her husband “a valuable lesson.” His offense? He apparently kept replaying Fior’s own TikToks when the star was showing more cleavage. Fior agreed to record a video telling the husband off.

“If your girlfriend’s feeling insecure to the point where she’s writing in, you’re not doing something right,” Fior said.

Jaron Myers, a 29-year-old stand-up comedian, got a request in 2021 for a video to convey a woman’s disinterest in dating someone—the first breakup video he remembers being asked to record.

“Hey Ethan, last weekend you met a girl named Morgan,” Myers says in the video, which he posted to TikTok. “You had told her that I’m your favorite comedian and so she hired me on Cameo to break the news, that would hopefully hit a little softer.”

“Thanks for being a fan, man,” Myers wrapped up. “I really hope that you find somebody. Just not Morgan. Leave that girl alone.”

Wrote one viewer in the comments under the video: “Can you reach out to all my future exes in advance? Thanks.”

From there, Myers said, the requests for him to do similar personal videos kept coming.

“I hope that no one’s using content creators to break up with someone they’ve been with for like 10 years,” Myers said. “But if they are, my Cameos are cheaper than counseling I guess.”

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