1. Octomom (2009)
People were pretty excited about Nadya Suleman (AKA Octomom) back in January, before it surfaced that she was a single lady with six other kids who was unemployed, on food stamps and living with her parents. Then the excitement turned into an intense and kind of morbid fascination. Octomom’s fame inspired a host of fan sites, at least one creepily sexy Halloween costume, a musical, a two-hour TV special aired on — you guessed it — Fox, and even some legit (?) art. Octomom even filed to have her nickname trademarked, so she could use it on “television programs, clothing and disposable and cloth diapers.” Yeah, we’re not sure if the paperwork ever went through on that, but even if it did, we’re pretty sure no one would buy Octo-gear. At least not anymore.
2. Joe the Plumber (2008)
Oh, Joe the Plumber. After being caught on tape questioning Obama about his tax plan during the then-Presidential candidate’s visit to JTP’s Ohio neighborhood, Joe the Plumber became a media sensation, with McCain name-dropping him at the final Presidential debate and being credited as “the real hero of the debate.” Inexplicably, JTP started appearing on news programs to offer his opinions on issue, and the Republican party pretty much used him as a puppet to represent the Everyman. Then he went to Israel? We’re still confused. Watch one of the many Daily Show moments featuring our favorite handyman. Even the newscasters are trying to talk about him seriously can’t help but laugh.
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3. James Frey (2006)
The man that made a fool of Oprah. On January 8 2006, The Smoking Gun ran an article outing James Frey’s “memoir” as being, well, mostly made up. Oprah had picked it for her book club, and even defended him for a while after the first accusations, so when she found out the dude was a liar she basically tore him a new one on the air and the whole world joined in on the Frey-hate (including Matt Stone and Trey Parker). As David Carr wrote in the NYT, “Ms. Winfrey turned on him with calculated efficiency, using him to mop up the floor and clean up her reputation at the same time.” You don’t mess with Oprah.
4. Terri Schiavo (2001)
Terri Schiavo, diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state, sparked a nationwide controversy when her husband petitioned to have her feeding tube removed, based on his claim that she had expressed wishes not to be kept on life support, and was opposed by her parents, who insisted that she was conscious. The story was picked up by pro-life and disability rights activists, and the issue was widely debated in the media, drawing the attention of Pope John Paul II as well as George W. Bush. Her feeding tube was eventually removed for good in 2005, and everyone who had been so incensed about the unfortunate controversy completely forgot about it two days later when the Pope died.
5. William Hung (2004) William Hung gained international fame after his completely off-key rendition of Ricky Martin’s “She-Bangs” during his audition for the third season of American Idol. In the vein of home videos and pretty much all Ben Stiller movies, it was so awful and embarrassing that we had to look away. And yet… William Hung’s received a $250,000 advance to put out an album of covers from Koch Records, and gained a huge cult following. Then we all forgot about him.
6. The White House Gate Crashers (2009)
Sad and shameless fame seekers Tareq and Michaele Salahi, who recently crashed a White House state dinner, cozied up to a clueless Joe Biden and shook hands with President Obama. How they got past the Secret Service, we don’t really know. Oh wait, we do: the guard who let them in cites their “manner and insistence as well as the pressure of keeping lines moving on a rainy evening.” Now there’s a lesson for the kids! You can pretty much get in anywhere as long as you’re annoying enough. And the reason for this nonsense? The pair wants to be on reality TV. Please no one let them on TV. Or anywhere else.
7. Chris Crocker (2007)
LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE! Chris Crocker’s tearful entreaty was viewed more than four million times in two days, which is pretty phenomenal. It also sparked a number of parodies, including one great one by Seth Green. We blame him for the current prevalence of people crying into their webcams and posting it on YouTube, and just for good measure, we’ll blame him for this too.
Watch the full video:
8. Susan Boyle (2009)
48-year-old Susan Boyle garnered international attention for being a dumpy lady with a great voice. Would she have gotten less press if she had been young and pretty? Totally. Everyone with talent is expected to be young and pretty. Does that make it offensive in any way? Somehow not. Regardless, people freaking love Susan Boyle.
9. Joe Millionaire (2003)
One of the pioneers of horrid reality TV, Joe Millionaire captured the hearts of, well, millions by starring in a reality show where women competed to marry him, their sole impetus being his supposed wealth. Only — psych! — he was really a construction worker! Over 40 million viewers in the US tuned into the season finale, making it the most-watched episode of any reality show since the season two opener of Survivor. Sigh. Don’t people have anything better to do?
10. Balloon Boy (2009)
We all know the story — six year old Falcon Heene’s parents claimed he had floated away in a homemade balloon in order to gain publicity for some reason or other. People got way into this story — “Balloon Boy” became the Number 1 search on Google within hours of news coverage of the supposed event, and 34 of the top 40 searches on Google were related to the story. Our favorite part? The rascist driving book penned by Balloon Dad. Why did you guys want publicity again?