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Pursuit of fame trumps most expectations of talent

2013 Miss USA Competiti- Show

2013 Miss USA Competition - Show

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Updated: July 22, 2013 2:45PM

‘This is America, where everyone has the right to life, love and the pursuit of fame.” — Ryan Seacrest, TV and radio host and executive producer of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

The actress Emma Watson grew up in front of the world, making her debut appearance as Hermione Granger at the age of 11 in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

Every year or so we’d see Emma/Hermione once again in another “Harry Potter” chapter. It was almost like running into a second cousin or a friend’s daughter at a family get-together. You half-expected her to roll her eyes as you remarked on how tall she’d gotten and wondered if she’d picked out a college yet.

Now 23, Watson appears in “The Bling Ring” (opening Friday in the Chicago area) as Nicki, a member of the band of fame-obsessed Southern California teenagers who raided the homes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and other celebrities, rifling through closets as if they were at a flea market and grabbing anything that suited their fancy.

Nicki’s family treats her arrest as a career break. After an arraignment, she faces the cameras and says, “I want to do something that people notice, so that’s why I’m studying business…I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.”

It seems like a moment of over-the-top satire in Sofia Coppola’s film — hyperbole to make a point. And yet in Nancy Jo Sales’ non-fiction book upon which the film is based, the real-life inspiration for Nicki, Alexis Neiers, is quoted as saying:

“I think that my journey on this planet is to be a leader. I see myself being like Angelina Jolie but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. …I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead a country, for all I know.”

The odds of this girl one day leading a country (is there a program for that?) are about the same as her learning how to levitate so she can sprinkle fairy dust on the masses, but she believes. Even though her Wikipedia entry states, “Alexis Christine Neiers is a television personality, aspiring model and convicted felon,” she believes.

Bumbling to mini-fame

When questioned by a journalist, the press or even their parents, the pretty little thieves in “The Bling Ring” sound like contestants in the Miss USA pageant—speaking in utterly unnatural tones, trying to sound grown-up, throwing in some relatively large words here and there to sound more authoritative, capping it all off with a triumphant smile that falls just short of, “ta-da!”

Of course, if you actually are a beauty pageant contestant, you’ll get more publicity with an inane answer than you will by knocking it out of the park. We heard our nearly annual “epic fail” moment at the Miss USA pageant last Sunday when Miss Utah, Marissa Powell, delivered her now-famous, nonsensical verbal essay about how we need to “create education better.”

(Never mind that pageant judge NeNe Leakes sounded like she was seeing the question for the first time as she read from a notecard. We’re not here to judge the judges, other than wondering what exactly went wrong with their careers.)

Boom! Just like that, Miss Utah was getting more press than the actual winner, who of course was Miss, um, hold on a second while I look it up … Miss Connecticut.

“After Flub, Miss Utah Outshines Pageant Winner,” was the headline from the ABC News website.

Powell appeared on the “Today” show, where she was given a “second chance.” Sticking to the talking points she likely memorized on the trip to New York City, Powell delivered a relatively coherent response, eliciting applause. It was as if the adults in the living room were applauding a child for coming back downstairs to recite a poem one more time.

Steal Paris Hilton’s shoes and Rachel Bilson’s underwear; stumble through an answer on a beauty pageant; swear up a storm on a live newscast in a tiny market; go tanning until you’re burnt to a crisp; become a teen mom and do a porno film.

There may be no limit to the number of ways in which one can achieve fame in the 21st century.

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