How Much Is That Celebrity in the Window?

Stars' popularity can be measured by the rise and fall of their appearance fees.

Dec. 7, 2007 — -- Who's making a guest appearance at your private New Year's Eve party this year? Elton John, Robin Williams or will you settle for Tara Reid?

That all depends on your wallet and the value of your guest's star stock. In the thriving rent-a-celebrity business, the price tag for having a celeb drop by is a telling barometer of who's hot and who's not.

This week, the going rate for Tara Reid, the chaste blonde from the teen cult-classic "American Pie," fell precipitously on the private party circuit. Her asking price dropped from $35,000 to appear at a "Hooker's Ball" with shirtless cowboys to $3,500 for some private parties, according to Australian tabloids.

"The people who used to be in demand are the good deals today," says Dan Barrett, entertainment producer for Millionaires Concierge, which calls itself the "yellow pages of the rich and famous."

Jessica Is Down

Reid is in good (or bad) company. Demand for Jessica Simpson and former husband Nick Lachey has gone the route of their three-year marriage -- down the tubes.

In an US Weekly survey of celebrity bookings in 2006, Simpson could command up to $400,000 for a private performance, and her ex went for $100,000. Today, the actress's price has fallen to $75,000, only a little more than Lachey's $60,000 a gig, according to Star Link Productions, which books celebrities for fundraisers and private parties.

Similarly, R&B and pop artist Usher, who once earned $1 million for a private appearance, can now get only $175,000, booking agencies say.

An increasing number of celebrities are relying on the private party circuit to enrich their paychecks. But as some, like Reid, see their star stock plunge, others are soaring in the lucrative and growing celebrity-for-rent business.

The hottest names garner the biggest price tags.

Mariah's on Fire

Mariah Carey earns a cool $3 million for a private appearance, up from $1 million in 2006, and Pamela Anderson's price has ballooned from $75,000 to $250,000.

Opulent affairs with rock heroes are common in hedge-fund central, New York City, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, where the stock-option windfalls of the dot-com era are still being spent.

Some of the top names in entertainment -- Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Christine Aguilera -- have also appeared at company-sponsored events. But as corporate indulgences have been reined in, the wealthiest executives are more likely to call in celebs for their own private parties.

In 2005, then Point Blank Solutions Inc.'s CEO David Brooks threw a lavish $10 million bat mitzvah for his 13-year-old daughter, Liza. He was later charged with fraud for allegedly bank rolling performances by Aerosmith, 50 Cent, Tom Petty, Kenny G and the Eagles on the company dollar.

Brooks reportedly sent the company jet to fly in Aerosmith to Rockfeller Center's Rainbow Room and paid the group $2 million so that his nephew could play drums with the band, according to published reports.

Other celebrities such as the Beastie Boys, David Lee Roth and even Kiss' Gene Simmons have done the bar mitzvah circuit.

Last New Year's Eve, British pop star George Michael earned $3 million an hour singing for a Russian mining and lumber magnate. The gig was 75 minutes, and he was home in London by lunchtime, according to press reports.

Typically, a celebrity who charges $300,000 for a public performance can bill a private client $400,000, often demanding a jet and accommodations for his entourage -- plus lighting, food and instrument rental costs, according to booking agencies.

The Price of Fame

There are still some bargains, according to Star Link's executive producer Katrina Berg Sussmeier. "Michael Buble has asked for $10,000 forever," she said. "I tell my clients, please book him now. His price will soon soar to $400,000 or more."

Celeb appearances can be pricey, but that hasn't stopped the average McMansion owner from calling Sussmeier. Television shows like "My Fabulous Sweet 16" have convinced some that they can indeed hire a big name for a teen party.

Though the hoi polloi sometimes overreach a bit.

"Stop calling me with crap you cannot afford," Sussmeier said. "I had one call from a woman who said if Madonna comes to my party, I'll pay half the airfare. But why would she want to come to your damn party in Ohio in your living room?"

Many celebrities won't even consider a party unless MTV is there, according to Sussmeier. Others, like Robert De Niro and Woody Allen, "just won't do it," she said.

Millionaires Concierge, which books stars for product placement, luxury services and publicity events, recently arranged for crooner Chris Issak to sing at the 40th birthday party of a top executive's wife in Mexico. For a 30-minute appearance, the bill topped $150,000.

"It's the wow, wow thing to do when your friends hear that Elton John or Seal is coming to your backyard to sing," Millionaires Concierge owner Doug Turner said.

Turner also sells the "meet and greet." Recently, he arranged a five-minute face-to-face with Donald Trump for a New Zealand couple for $15,000. "They ended up being buddies and doing business together," he said.

Another couple wanted a private dinner with Eric Roberts, brother of actress Julia Roberts, which cost them $25,000.

It doesn't take much to be a celebrity these days with reality television in vogue. Turner said even the runners-up on "American Idol" make the B-list.

Old favorites can still open up wallets. Any cast member from the 1960s "Leave it to Beaver" show can still get a gig, said Star Link's Sussmeier. Rue McClanahan from "Golden Girls" commands $25,000 to $35,000, "but she's worth it," she said.

Bad behavior can kill demand as quickly as a bad movie. "Somebody like O.J. is not bookable anymore," according to Sussmeier.

Star Link stopped booking Alec Baldwin, who had commanded $30,000 for an appearance, after he called his daughter a "pig" in a famous incident in which the recording telephone message by the actor turned up all over the Web.

Charlie Sheen was also dropped after he threatened his wife. "When they totally fall from grace, they cannot find work" on the party circuit, she said.

Rudy's Faux-Pas

Sometimes an agency won't touch a celeb because of bad form. Sussmeier said she will never again handle an appearance by Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani.

"He almost took us out of business," said Sussmeier, who booked Giuliani to speak at the Earl of Harewood's Castle in England just before Giuliani's marriage to Judith Nathan. She claims the company lost $30,000 over the airfare arrangements after Giuliani added 20 to 30 guests, which hadn't been authorized.

"He pretty much had his honeymoon on us," she said.

A call to the Giuliani campaign seeking comment was not returned.

Oprah Winfrey won't work with middle men, and Bill Clinton can't be booked for security reasons, according to Sussmeier.

The biggest trend in celebrity bookings is the surprise party, according to Dan Barnett, entertainment producer for Millionaires Concierge. He organizes 20 or 30 such events a year.

KC and the Sunshine Band brought its full production to a wedding, including the background singers and the mirrored ball, for $60,000.

For $75,000, Michael Bolton appeared at a couple's wedding and sang "When a Man Loves a Woman" to the bride. "We had a lot of fun when the bride dove into the arms of the groom," said Barnett, who has booked Bolton three times.

"Saturday Night Live" comedian Jim Belushi recently went onstage with a couple's wedding band and sang "Soul Man." Belushi's appearance "sent the party into outer space," said Barnett.

Renting out celebrities is a matter of personal taste, he said. Even the downward spiraling Tara Reids and Jessica Simpsons have some value in giving the millionaire exactly what he wants.

"There aren't too many falling prices," said Barrett."Private individuals look for something that is personal for them."