The term “15 minutes of fame” was coined by famous artist Andy Warhol. In 1968, Warhol wrote: "In the future everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes." Perhaps Warhol knew the future; although he couldn’t have predicted exactly what form social media would take, he knew that the future would hold a plethora of short-lived celebrities.
The 15 minute celebrity comes in many forms nowadays, from the insane reality star to the unique YouTuber to the unthinking Twitter user. People become sort of famous, for better or worse, all over social media every day. They come into the spotlight for a brief moment for their ingenuity, incredible feats of athleticism, particularly cute pets, sex scandals, or sometimes the occasional racist or bigoted comment. People will share and share news about the viral stars, talk about them tirelessly, then they disappear. When most of these silly, insane, talented, or talentless almost-stars come into the fickle eye of the public, they don’t stick around too long. Here are the top 15 nearly-somebodies who managed to earn hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in their short tenures in the spotlight:
15 Mama June and Honey Boo Boo
There is no one in the world who has drawn out or abused her 15 minutes of fame more than Mama June. Mama June and her offspring, Honey Boo Boo, first came into the spotlight in 2012 when they appeared together on Toddlers and Tiaras, a reality show about the parents that force their children into beauty pageants. After ending up in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, TLC picked the two up for their own show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. After a few scandals and a less than watchable episodes, the very unfortunate Honey Boo Boo (real name Alana Thompson) and her mother had accrued about $1 million. After their show was cancelled in 2014 when “Mama” June Shannon started dated a convicted sex criminal, the family has spent more time spending their new money than anything else. Though they might have been famous and might have been wealthy, neither the fame nor the money seems to be sticking around.
14 William Hung
Even those of us who aren’t fans of American Idol remember the crazed 15 minutes that William James Hung Ching got from his audition. The man’s rendition of She Bangs, originally performed by Ricky Martin, was so exceptionally terrible that fans went wild. The man’s rhythm and voice was so off and his manner so goofy that the internet had an absolute field day. Hung loved the attention and was immediately signed for a record deal. Surprising to everyone, Hung made quite the killing off of his short time in the limelight, garnering himself nearly $1.5 million. He has since retired from making a fool of himself and is now rumored to be a technical crime analyst in LA.
13 Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky, even now, is still a household name. Her scandalous extramarital affair with a standing President of the United States was a shocker to the whole country. Twenty years ago in 1995 to 1996, this intern was caught having sexual relations in the White House, and she has milked it for all it was worth. From a Weight Watchers endorsement to writing a book to acting in TV, Lewinsky has managed to accumulate $12 million from her little stunt in the Oval Office. Although she is no longer associated with the White House in any way, Lewinsky, now in her 40s, is advocating for anti-bullying campaigns. Her own experience having her sexual misconduct talked about by the whole world has made her want to help others in the same situation. Get it, girl!
12 Rebecca Black
Do you have the world’s worst viral song, “Friday,” stuck in your head just reading Rebecca Black’s name? The teenager hit the internet hard with her poorly filmed, poorly sung 2011 YouTube abomination. Since then, most of us have the song pop into our heads every few months, much to our dismay. Black’s mother insisted her girl could be a star, so she did what any loving mom would do: pay someone to film an awkward video for the song and put it on YouTube. The 200 millions views that “Friday” earned paid back the initial investment of $4000 to make the video happen, and the internet was full of disdain. Black was bullied so badly at school, people constantly asking her what day it was, that she had to be home schooled. Her wounds might be salved a little by the $1.2 million bucks the song earned her. Guess Black’s the real winner in the end.
11 Omarosa Manigault
Omarosa Manigault was on the first season of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice. Her snarky attitude and her complete inability to act like a human being made her incredibly volatile on the show, sparking fights with almost everyone there. The fiery contestant returned for several other reality shows, including Celebrity Apprentice. Her time on air has piled on the paychecks year after year, and she has managed to compile more than a million bucks. This Apprentice was engaged to director Michael Clarke Duncan until his untimely death from a heart attack in 2012. In 2016, Omarosa is once again in the news and under the false impression that anyone has an interest in her opinions, backing her former boss Trump in his run for President of the United States.
10 Tila Nguyen
After modeling for Playboy, teeny tiny model Tila Tequila, real name Tila Nguyen, showed up everywhere. The openly bisexual porn star was huge on MySpace, becoming one of the first social media sensations. Pretty much every teenager in the world wanted to be with adorable, sexy, sweet Tila. So much so, they made a reality TV show about it. A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila was one of many in the long line of “finding love” reality shows like Flavor of Love and the Bachelor. It was a collection of men and women, vying for a chance to “date” the MySpace legend. After all that, a record, plus a book or two, Tila managed to wrack up nearly $1.5 million bucks for her short-lived celebrity. Tila occasionally still turns up in the news for crazy theories of karmic justice, claiming the Brussels attacks were the earth “cleansing itself of parasites” and that she is a god who was born on a different plane than everyone else. Just another celeb who has completely lost it.
9 Ruben Studdard
Kelly Clarkson rocked the world when she won the first season of American Idol. Everyone loved her, and her career was skyrocketing. Having high hopes for an even better singer to win Season 2, all of us were disappointed to find instead Ruben Studdard. Although he won a Grammy for his first album, Studdard fell into obscurity while Clarkson continued to succeed. He is walking proof that winning American Idol is only the beginning of the struggle. After completing in The Biggest Loser and grabbing a few forgettable acting gigs, Studdard has fallen almost entirely by the wayside. He isn’t a complete failure, however; his net worth is more than most of us will make in a lifetime.
8 Nicole Polizzi
When MTV started the “reality” show about Italian-American living in New Jersey called the Jersey Shore, people loved to hate quite a few of the characters. But somehow, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was always at the top of everyone’s hate/love list. Short, snarky, and silly, the Chilean actress was everything we hate in other people. Snooki was the highest paid actor on the show, pulling in nearly $150,000 per episode. After an unsuccessful spin off series, the dislikable Snooki is somehow still worth about $4 million. Snooki is now focused on her two children, but somehow inexplicably ends up in news from time to time.
7 Kevin Federline
Kevin Federline made a lot of money as a backup dancer and by getting his ex Britney Spears to marry him and have two babies. On top of all of the money he earned from his reality TV show with Spears, the lucky guy managed to get quite a settlement and a ton of child support out of the pop princess when they divorced just two years after marrying, leaving Kevin worth a whole lot of dough. Federline has been on two reality shows that focus on weight loss since, trying to battle his post-dance career weight gain. He is worth about $6 million bucks total.
6 Rachel Uchitel
Rachel Uchitel has the weirdest beginning of any viral star on this list by far. Her 15 minutes of fame started out when a photo of her from 9/11 went viral. She was a host for bars and venues, and the picture of her, holding the picture of her dead fiance who worked in the Twin Towers, was seen all over the world. Later, in 2009, her sort-of-fame allowed her to get close enough to bang some celebrities. The former sobbing girlfriend was now the homewrecker; she slept with Tiger Woods and was paid an incredibly amount of money to keep silent about it. She repeated those steps again with actor David Boreanaz. It seems to have worked out in her favor; her 15 minutes of fame sleeping with married celebrities and then allegedly extorting them for money has brought her net worth up to about $10 million bucks.
Despite the fact that foxes do make sounds and those sounds are similar to dog noises, the song "What Does the Fox Say?" still inexplicably went viral in the US. One of only a few songs Ylvis released in English for American audiences, the fox song was so incredibly catchy that people could not stop singing it. It spawned T-shirts and a sudden internet-wide interest in foxes. The comedy duo, although popular in Norway, had never made a dent in the American market and haven’t made another one since. However, the duo is worth a tidy sum, gathering hundreds of thousands of dollars from the US popularity of the fox song alone.
4 Star Wars Kid
The Star Wars Kid video from 2003 is still hard to watch. Viewed over 1 billion times, the video features a very awkward kid of 15 years pretending a broom handle is a lightsaber and fighting a very uncoordinated battle with an imaginary foe. The kid featured in the video, Ghyslain Raza, finds it even harder to watch. After the video was put on the internet by some friends of Raza’s without his permission, it went viral. Raza woke to an inbox full of hate mail demanding he sterilize or kill himself. The victim sued those so called friends who started this, claiming $250,000 in damages and $5,000 worth of money from a blogger who started a fundraiser. The Star Wars Kid used his new found fortune to fund his dream of going to law school in Quebec.
3 Vanilla Ice
Robert van Winkle, better known by his stage name Vanilla Ice released “Ice Ice Baby” in 1998 to much acclaim. The rapper pulled in millions of dollars, had a huge number of fans, and sold tons of albums. The one hit wonder, sure of his own career, blew most of the money on drugs and alcohol, leaving him broke when he never had another hit single. Since the 1990s, Ice has cleaned himself up and made a respectable business man of himself. He refurbishes old houses; Ice had a reality show on the DIY Network about his house flipping in 2010. The star is now worth about $18 million, and is thankfully now sober enough to keep it that way. Glad when he had problem, yo, he solved it.
2 Susan Boyle
When Britain’s Got Talent sensation Susan Boyle walked out onto the stage, not a single person in the audience expected the frumpy looking woman to have any talent. However, the moment she opened her mouth, the entire crowd went silent. Her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” was so beautiful, everyone in the audience immediately started bawling. For a short time, Boyle remained in the spotlight, releasing an album or two before falling back into very wealthy obscurity. The singer managed to pull in about $33 million from concerts and sales. She spends her days working minimum wage jobs to keep busy while carefully maintaining her wealth.
Though Psy had quite a bit of money before his big hit Gangnam Style, the singer and songwriter made it to even greater heights at the time his song was released and caught on in 2012. Stock in the brokerage firm his father left him skyrocketed at the same time that "Gangnam Style" caught the public’s attention. Between the huge hit, the subsequent endorsements, the YouTube views, and his business’s lucky break, Psy is now worth more than $40 million. The singer, real name Park Jae-Sang, his married with two children. He is still making music, dancing, and making crazy videos in South Korea where he was born and raised.