On the red carpets of L.A. and New York, a celebrity's value is measured in flashes and shouts. In person, the stars' poses look ridiculously unnatural. But they're not intended for the hundreds present at the event; they are posing for the millions out there who will read about it later.
Because if they're hot enough, and well dressed enough, one of those flash-lit moments might just end up on the pages of Us Weekly magazine.
And on a Manhattan morning, the woman who decides who will be worthy this week arrived at the office. She is editor-in-chief Janice Min, a 38-year-old mother of two and graduate of Columbia University's prestigious journalism school.
Each week, she sets out to show the women of America who and what is "in," and she is most interested in seeing how the stars spent the weekend off the red carpet.
"When we've talked to women who are big fans of the magazine they constantly describe it as 'me time,'" said Min. "They say they will lock the door in the bedroom or while they're in the bathtub — that it is the only time they get to themselves."
With more than triple the readership, People is still the king of the star-gazing magazines. Us Weekly skews to a younger, more affluent demographic, reminding readers that their favorite celebrities may be rich and beautiful, but "they're just like us."
A generation ago, we never saw this side of our icons. There were no pictures of Bogart buying toilet paper or Bacall working off the baby weight. And no one knew that Tracy and Hepburn were having an affair. But in the age of "reality" TV, anyone can be a celebrity. And with sources like Us Weekly, Americans can discuss the intimate details of celebrity lives as if they're family.
"There was a lot of depressing news out there, obviously, beginning with 9/11 and then a prolonged involvement in Iraq and a presidency that a lot of people felt very upset about," Min said. "I do feel like to some large degree, people look for escape and US Weekly was waiting for them. And it was just this great distraction from other issues out there."
Min says that Us Weekly has changed the way the celebrity beat is covered, showing "that it could actually be covered as news," but she also adds that, "it's just fun!"
"I think any woman who's questioned about her interest in celebrity should turn and ask her husband, 'Why do you want to watch the Yankees-Red Sox baseball game? What does it matter to you? It is man chasing a ball around a field. It is of zero consequence to you,'" she said. "And that's sort of the same as wondering, you know, if Jessica Simpson is dating Tony Romo."
The first order of business for Min and the staff is to close an issue and select a cover. On this day, the leading contenders were Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt, the villain couple from "The Hills," an MTV reality show made even more popular by eight Us Weekly covers.
And then there's singer Mariah Carey, whose roller coaster career is reaching another high with a new album … and a new body.
"A lot of people are wondering, what in the world did she do to lose all that weight?" said Min. "For this mass audience going to the grocery to buy Us Weekly, that's very relatable, I don't think there's a woman alive who can't relate to the idea of yo-yo dieting."
The singer didn't have time to sit for a shoot, so Min would only put her on the cover if Mariah's people could send them the right photo.