Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton has spent the past four years parlaying his hugely popular gossip Web site into a radio show, regular TV appearances and, most recently, a book.
Up next: a bona fide media empire. "I want to be the gay, Latino Oprah," Hilton declares by phone from his Los Angeles home.
Chasing that goal means brutally long days for 30-year-old Hilton, who ranks No. 1--for the second year running--on the Web Celeb 25, our annual listing of the Internet's most famous personalities.
Hilton has certainly worked hard for his fame. The blogger claims to be on the job from 4 a.m. until 10 p.m. working on his syndicated radio show, Radio Perez, and his eponymous site, where he uploads new posts approximately every 12.5 minutes.
This month's publication of Hilton's first book, Red Carpet Suicide: A Survival Guide on Keeping Up With the Hiltons, has kicked his schedule into overdrive. On this particular day, he is doing six phone interviews back-to-back, and his voice, while friendly, belies his exhaustion. "I can keep up the pace another two to three years but not forever," he admits.
While Hilton (his real name is Mario Lavandeira) skimps on sleep, he dreams up media projects. Despite the Oprah comparison, he isn't fixated on having a talk show (though he admits he'd love to do one, if offered). Instead, he wants to launch another Web site sometime this year and possibly another one in 2010. (Hilton declined to describe either site in detail.) He would also like to do another book, noting that the longer form shows people he "can write in full paragraphs."
Hilton has already leveraged his passion for music into a concert series. The events, which feature personal favorites like singer Katy Perry, have been held in New York, Liverpool, U.K., Toronto and Austin, Texas, and are marketed under the Perez Hilton brand. Hilton says he has contemplated other music industry gigs, such as producing. "I've never tried it, but I have opinions," he adds.
Anything is game as long as it meshes with the Perez brand, which Hilton describes as "fun, fresh and irreverent." On the site, that translates into posts about Amy Winehouse's antics, Lindsay Lohan's yo-yo-ing weight and Tom Cruise's Scientology beliefs. In the book, it means chapters about celebrity sex tapes, botched rehab attempts and untimely deaths. Photos are often unflattering and covered with crude graffiti and captions.
The acerbic style frequently riles celebrities, publicists and lawyers. Hilton says he simply gives his readers-- mostly female, 20-something audience--what they want. "I could be more grammatically correct and smarter if I spent more time on each post, but I don't want to," he explains. "Ultimately, what readers care about is breaking information and having something new every time they come to the site." In conversation, Hilton refers to himself repeatedly as an entertainer.
Media watchers say Web celebrities like Hilton can enjoy offline success as long as they maintain the same informal tone and accessibility that attracted their fans in the first place. "We've grown into a real participation culture; people enjoy the back and forth on these interactive blogs," says Karen North, director of the University of Southern California's Annenberg School program on online communities. "The risk for someone like Hilton is that he overextends himself or waters down his brand and loses that feeling of immediacy."
Hilton is keenly aware that readers crave what he calls "his filter on the world." It is a major reason why he has resisted adding other writers and editors to his site. (He does employ his younger sister, Barbara, as his assistant.) This year, motivated by the prospect of a "normal" 12-hour workday, he has vowed to hire outside help. "Maybe I'll have people look for stories and do drafts, and I'll come in and Perez them up," he says.
He is also mindful of the boom and bust nature of online fame. Anyone still remember Lonelygirl15, who ranked No. 1 on the 2007 Web Celeb list? Hilton says he is inspired by the longevity of some Web personalities like Matt Drudge and would be happy simply blogging if his other projects fall through. "I work on 20 things hoping that three will happen," says Hilton. "I aim big, but it may not get any bigger or better than right now."
It doesn't appear he needs to worry just yet. Web analytics service Quantcast says Hilton's site pulls more than 4.8 million visitors monthly. That puts it in the top 500 Web sites globally, ahead of competitors TMZ.com, PopSugar.com and Defamer.com. Hilton's book signings are luring crowds of hundreds. Says USC's North, "If he's waking up at five in the morning to make sure he's giving it his all, he's the right guy for this."