WASHINGTON, DC—According to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 32 percent of Americans are still not famous.
"Between Powerball winners, president-fellaters, 11-year-old elementary-school shooters, daytime-TV talk-show guests, and women who give birth on the Internet, a whopping 68 percent of U.S. citizens can be categorized as celebrities," Census Bureau director Gordon Tillinghast said. "The 'non-famed' demographic is among the most rapidly shrinking in the U.S."
The 32 percent figure, determined by the Census Bureau's July 1998 Current Population Survey, represents a 10 percent decline in the number of non-famous Americans over the past 18 months. At the current rate of celebrity growth among the general populace, census officials estimate, 225 million U.S. citizens will be famous by 2003.
"Just about everyone I know is famous," said Wichita Falls, TX, resident Frederick Trotta, who rose to national prominence in 1997 when he won The Today Show's "My Husband Has America's Funniest-Looking Beard!" contest after his wife Carla submitted his photo to the NBC morning program. Trotta added that his wife has been famous herself since October 1986, when, as a high-school senior, a home video of her and three friends lip-synching to Madonna's "True Blue" was featured on an MTV "Blue Monday"-themed video program. He also noted that two of his neighbors were profiled on Dateline NBC, as well as several other newsmagazines, after their respective UFO-abduction experiences were featured as dramatic recreations on the Sci-Fi Channel's Sightings.
Census officials attribute the rise in the number of famous Americans to the ever-expanding variety of ways a person can achieve celebrity status.
"Thirty years ago, if you wanted to be famous, you pretty much had three options: become a singer, an athlete or a movie star," said Census Bureau deputy director Tim Evigan, brother of B.J. And The Bear star Greg Evigan and recent guest on a "Siblings To The Stars" episode of Sally Jessy Raphäel. "Today, however, the number of ways one can achieve fame is staggering: You could win a contest, fall into a well, blow up a federal building, sleep with a senator and then pose nude, become paralyzed, kill a guitarist, give birth to a lot of babies at once, stalk a supermodel—the possibilities are endless."
So why are so few Americans opting for the traditional, old-fashioned, non-famous lifestyle? According to newly anointed celebrity and MTV "I Wanna Be A VJ" contest-winner Jesse Camp, the answer lies in Americans' fascination not merely with the famous, but with fame itself.
"Becoming famous is the ultimate dream for millions of Americans raised in our culture of celebrity worship, even for those who, like myself, don't really have an actual reason to be famous," Camp said. "Fame isn't the exclusive domain of those with a particular talent like it used to be. As my own meteoric rise to national prominence attests, fame is now well within the reach of even the least interesting."
Added Camp, "This is a great time to be famous."
With most industry leaders forecasting a 750-channel television landscape in the next 10 years, the number of non-famous Americans is likely to drop substantially.
"We're going to have to find something to fill all that new airtime," said Viacom vice-president of programming John Garrick, currently overseeing development of 35 new programs, including Those Amazing Septuplets!, The Heidi Fleiss Show and Unedited Footage Of Pedestrians Walking. "We just inked a deal for Mary Kay LeTourneau and Jessica Hahn to host their own talk shows, even though most people can't even remember how they became celebrities in the first place. Being famous has never been easier."
Douglas Bloomer, a Galveston, TX, data-entry supervisor who achieved celebrity by riding a roller coaster for five days to win a new Volkswagen Beetle, also expects the number of famous people to rise. "If I'm famous, then just about anybody can be," he said. "I just want to say to all my fans out there who want to be celebrities and are jealous of those of us who are, don't worry: You will be any day now."
Lynette Herlihy, executive producer of cable channel FX's upcoming The Soy Bomb Guy Variety Hour, agreed. "To those of you out there who have yet to join the ranks of stardom, hang in there; your time is coming. Just remember: One potato chip in the shape of Mother Teresa is all it takes."