Hanging out with a fame-hungry Kim Kardashian lookalike, a parody singer, the “Butt King of New York,” a tequila-selling Mafia wife, and the girl who got kicked off <i>Jersey Shore</i> for being too unstable.
The author with (from left) Tashera Simmons, Cheryl Caruso, and Myla Sinanaj.
D-list celebrities are different from you or me. The oft-derided “famous for being famous” folk who dominate reality television, make embarrassing pornography, and ponder bizarre schemes to auction off bits of their genitalia get some of the benefits provided by fame, but they also have to be willing to live in public and constantly reveal their flaws and thoughts. Whatever you think of these people—you might idolize them, you might feel vaguely nauseated by their very existence—you likely can't imagine what their day-to-day lives are like. Write a think piece about how awful Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is and what the show says about contemporary culture if you must, but first, imagine what it's like to be Honey Boo Boo, to live surrounded by cameras and have people you've never met saying all kinds of awful things about you and get encouraged, basically, to be insane for the world's entertainment. Keep in mind, the phenomenon of post–Paris Hilton reality TV is only a decade old—this is basically a new realm of human experience.
So, when celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Schulman and Gina Rodriguez, a manager who's worked with everyone from Octomom to Backdoor Teen Mom, contacted me on Twitter to say that they'd like to throw me a D-list celebrity Botox party, I couldn't refuse. It seemed totally reasonable that reality TV stars would all meet up to hang out and let doctors stab them with needles full of toxins, and if going to Matthew's office on New York's Upper East Side was what it took to enter their world, I'd gladly make that trip.
The party's guest list was pulled straight out of US Weekly: DMX’s ex-wife Tashera Simmons, I Married a Mobster star Cheryl Caruso, Kim Kardashian lookalike Myla Sinanaj, camp recording artist Adam Barta, and Angelina Pivarnick—the Jersey Shore cast member who was so unstable she got kicked off the show. OK, maybe not the cover of US Weekly. Still, these were definitely celebrities.
Adam and Myla were already there when I walked in. As I entered Matthew's office, I heard the refrain of Zedd’s “Clarity.” (“If our love is tragedy, why are you my remedy / If our love's insanity, why are you my clarity?”) I never imagined EDM would be used as a ritzy plastic surgeon office's background music, but as anyone who has ever watched Dancing with the Stars knows, the line between Staten Island and the Upper East Side isn’t what it used to be.
The office was scattered with books full of “before” and after “pictures” of body parts Matthew had operated on. Amanda, Matthew’s office “buttstatician,” welcomed me and told me that Matthew was “the Butt King of New York.” Matthew laughed and encouraged me to get Botox with the D-listers, even though I'm only 22 years old.
“There’s truth to it being preventative,” he said. “There are some [young] people who have really strong expressions that make them look angry.” I politely declined Matthew’s offer, and he understood—he considers 30 to be "the magic number” for a person’s first Botox injection.
As I waited for the rest of the celebrities to arrive, I chatted with Adam and Myla. Although Adam has been in the spotlight since 2007 and has become well-known for his novelty songs with other D-listers like Tan Mom and Kim G from The Real HousewIves of New Jersey, he isn’t a full-time musician—he lives in the Bronx and does “freelance marketing” work in midtown Manhattan. His next project, he said, is a single with comedian Margaret Cho called “See You Next Tuesday.” Adam joked that since Margaret is A-list, he may soon join the C-minus-list. Hope springs eternal.
Unlike Adam, Myla is a full-time celebrity—as baffling as that sounds—and a relative newbie to the TMZ universe. Since she became famous for dating Kim Kardashian’s ex-husband Kris Humphries after he and Kim separated in late 2011, the 27-year-old New Jersey (naturally) resident has made a steady income from hosting club events and the royalties from her porn film (obviously), The Anti-Kim, which was produced by Vivid Entertainment, the company that distributed the porn tape that made Kim Kardashian a household name. As she sipped Prosecco she told me Kim sent her subpoenas during her divorce in order to make it seem like Myla and Kris had slept together during Kim and Kris's notoriously short marriage. Kim may paint Myla as a wannabe celebrity a couple tiers below the Kardashians, but Myla has achieved at least some amount of fame, whatever that's worth—a copy of In Touch I saw in Matthew's office had Kim on the cover but also a photo spread of Myla inside.
Matthew explained that he did Myla’s breast implants and liposuction last summer, and the procedures brought a ton of tabloid attention. Since then, he said, patients have regularly come to his office requesting Myla’s body. Ten years ago, Upper East Siders would have wanted Nicole Kidman’s cheeks; today they want a Kim Kardashian lookalike’s breasts.
As I talked to her, Myla exhibited a self-awareness about the mechanics of celebrity and was refreshingly upfront about her efforts to remain in the spotlight. You wouldn't see Kim talking about her plastic surgery on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, or admitting she did anything solely to get and become famous, but these D-listers have no such hangups.
Cheryl Caruso showed up a few minutes later in a cheetah print top and pulled out a bag of Talero Tequila. Matthew told Cheryl he wanted to record a song with her and Adam about Botox, but she declined. “I don’t sing,” she said. “I drink tequila and make out with Angelina!” (A stunt she did in the music video for Adam’s song “Serendipity.”)
I assumed Cheryl brought tequila because she likes to party, but it turned out that Cheryl is the vice president of Talero and knew a story about a D-list celebrity Botox party would be a great place to promote her product. The moment I put my recorder in front of her, Cheryl ignored my question and said, “I’ll just tell you about the product. Talero Tequila is a 100-percent organic tequila grown in the highest altitudes of Mexico.”
I asked Cheryl to pose with a picture of her drinking the tequila, but she said she never takes pictures with alcohol. “Everyone thinks I’m an alcoholic,” she told me. However, she was more than happy to pose with Matthew and a bottle of Talero:
Cheryl brought along her best friend Tashera, who was her costar on the short-lived TLC reality show Starter Wives Confidential. Unlike the other celebs, Tashera wasn’t there for free Botox—she only washes her face with water, and she said this has prevented her from developing wrinkles. Tashera came to the party purely to support Cheryl, but after browsing through Matthew’s before-and-after books, she became interested in having work done on her butt.
Angelina was, unsurprisingly, running over an hour late, so we decided to start the Botox part of the party without her. Matthew led us down a beautiful long hall, which looked more like a mansion’s hallway than a doctor’s office, to a fairly standard medical-procedures-are-done-in-here room. Matthew didn't use standard Botox on the celebrities—he used Xeomin, a high-end brand of Botox made from a toxin that kicks in faster than Botox because it lacks proteins.
Matthew had a dark sense of humor about his occupation. Myla wanted to go first because “the first gets the best attention,” and Matthew told her, “The first gets the clean needle!” (For the record, Matthew was super professional and used clean needles.) This sense of humor might make many patients uncomfortable, but the D-listers loved it. I got the sense that going to a plastic surgeon for them was like going to the store to pick up some tomatoes. As Matthew showed them how he injects himself with Botox (“I don’t trust any [other doctors] because I’m the best,” he said), they looked at him as if he was a celebrity they had spotted on the street.
Adam knew exactly where he wanted his shots and ordered the doctor to inject Botox into his chin, forehead, and above his lip. Myla was impressed with Adam’s experience in the doctor’s office—although Adam’s only in his early 30s, he's had injections done before—and she asked him what the worst part about Botox was. “The crunch noise [when the needle punctures the skin] is the worst,” Adam said.
Watching Myla and Adam interact reminded me of sports movies like The Mighty Ducks where veteran athletes teach rookies about the game, except in this case, the game was cosmetic toxins and needles. As Mathew injected Adam with his crunchy magic, Myla exchanged numbers with Tashera and Cheryl, new contacts in the strange world she has found herself in since becoming famous.
After the girls finished exchanging numbers, they did the next logical thing for D-listers who had just met—they took selfies.
and more selfies...
and more selfies.
Immediately, the celebrities started to instagram their selfies. Apart from the fact that the D-listers have thousands of followers, in that moment, they reminded me of normal girls I went to college with—at least until they remembered their mutual manager, Gina, had asked them not to publish photos on the internet till my story was published. Hi guys, you can post them now!
Although these people were famous for their “reality” personalities, their entire existence seemed like a performance. Cheryl, who claims to have only had Botox done once before (and never any plastic surgery), smiled all night. After she received her injections, I pointed the camera at her and she immediately posed with the cotton Matthew had given her to hold against the spots where he'd poked her. It was like an instinctual response to the presence of a lens. She was always on.
Out of nowhere, we heard a bang and a scream down the hall—Angelina and her boyfriend, Anthony, had arrived. The Jersey Shore starlet was more than 90 minutes late, but she was more on-brand than any of the other celebrities. She floated into the room and everyone’s eyes naturally went to her. Even in a room full of semi-celebrities, Angelina was the center of attention. She was more like a D-plus-lister.
As Anthony stood in the background, Angelina caught up with her fellow stars. “You look like you got shot up!” she screamed at Myla.
“You doing Botox?” she asked Tashera.
“No. Are you?”
“Yeah. I wanna do it. We need the photos for [Mitchell’s] story.”
I have written about several reality stars before, and typically both the celebrity and I pretend we are having a normal conversation when of course I know they need good press, and the celebrities know I need a good story. Angelina cut straight to the point. This was 100 percent a business transaction.
She started to tell me about a video she and Adam had recorded of her twerking in a trash bag. I asked her to show it to me, and as I brought it up on my phone she complained that nobody had seen the video. “Nobody even cared!” she snapped before asking me to include it in this article. I told her I would love to hyperlink to a video of her twerking in a trash bag, and she smiled. “NOW THEY’RE REALLY GONNA SEE IT!”
In the midst of making sure I wrote about her, Angelina revealed an earnest side of herself. She and Tashera said they go “way back,” meaning that they met three years ago when they both starred in the first season of VH1's Couples Therapy (in reality television years, three years is a decade), and they waxed nostalgic about their time on the show.
“DMX is mad cool,” Angelina said.
“He just don’t give a fuck,” Tashera added.
“Yo, how much fun did we have on Couples Therapy?” Angelina asked Tashera. “Nobody made fun of me Jersey Shore–style.”
Tashera told me that she had had a blast with Angelina while shooting Couples Therapy, and she wasn't the nightmare Snooki and company made her out to be. “We got to know the real girl,” Tashera said.
Angelina agreed with Tashera and complained to me about her reputation: “A lot of people think I should take the bitch [role] and run with it, but I want to recreate myself.” I had watched Snooki and the other castmates mock Angelina, threaten her life, and call her “trash bags,” but it had never dawned on me how this had hurt her. Reality TV is so often assumed to be scripted, we forget that occasionally these things bleed over into real life.
But Angelina couldn't stay earnest for too long—she had work to do. She plopped in the doctor's chair, dangling her short legs above the ground, and screamed at me, “You want trashy? You want D-list? I’ll give you it!”
Although Angelina is only in her 20s and has normal skin, she has had Botox before. I worried out loud that Botox would make her look abnormal. “I know it’s supposed to be normal,” she said, “but we don’t want to be normal.” There wasn't much danger of that.
“I want to be frozen,” she told the doctor, as he injected her with Botox. I laughed. “Mitchell’s gonna write a great story about me! He needs a crazy story about how we’re all nutjobs,” she said.
After Angelina completed her round of Botox, she ordered her boyfriend to get some injections. She told him he had to do it so I could get a photo of a masculine “guido” receiving injections. “Tell them I’m a peer pressurer,” she told me.
As I watched the doctor puncture Angelina's boyfriend, I thought about another white-trash superstar, figure skater Tonya Harding. This month marks the 20th anniversary of Tonya being accused of hiring hit men to attack Nancy Kerrigan. In The Price of Gold, a new ESPN documentary about the scandal, both Tonya and CBS newscaster Connie Chung argue that Tonya wasn’t a national outcast because she may have recruited goons to attack another skater—she was exiled because she was a poor girl proud of her working-class roots who had overtaken figure skating.
“Tonya could jump higher. She could spin faster, and she was determined, but here she was, the ugly duckling with frizzy blonde hair from the wrong side of the tracks. It was hardly that little image that you have of a beautiful ice skater,” Connie said in the documentary.
Like Tonya, these celebrities hail from the wrong side of the metaphorical tracks—upstate New York, New Jersey, Staten Island, and Long Island—and have no shame about their class or roots. If Tonya's scandal took place today, her life wouldn't have been ruined. She would have landed a reality show, a Vivid Celebrity porno, and endorsement deals.
That's not such a bad thing. Although critics hate reality television, these shows have more women, gay men, and lower-class Americans than most scripted dramas or comedies. Whereas not many Academy Award winners pass the Bechdel test, nearly every episode of The Real Housewives does.
Today, lower-class would-be celebrity strivers don't have to attack yuppy competitors like Nancy Kerrigan to remain famous. They can just be famous for being themselves—albeit sometimes exaggerated versions of themselves. But unlike Tonya, these celebrities didn't seem like they'd ever hurt anyone. Yeah, Angelina and Anthony were getting Botox at an early age, but Justin Bieber's drag racing is much more dangerous than a 20-something receiving Botox.
After the party, they assembled in the lobby to take more selfies, eat delicious appetizers supplied by Brooklyn Fork and Spoon, and gossip about the D-list celebrity world.
I came to the D-list celebrity Botox party to find out what this world was like, but even the celebrities weren't sure what they were a part of. Is it an industry? A lifestyle? A religion? Nobody's sure yet, but I did come back with a better picture of the celebrities' relationship to the world at large.
When I told people I was working on this story, they said it sounded pathetic, but there was something to admire about the D-listers. Unlike people who work in Manhattan skyscrapers, the celebrities don't have to hide their class backgrounds or pretend they're not careerists. Their job is to be hungry for attention and exhibit their craziness, and unlike, say, many Wall Street traders, they're not hurting anyone in the process. The only thing offensive about Angelina is the way we look at working-class girls who party at the Shore.
Of course, I could never say this better than Angelina could. As she stuffed her face with food, she complained that she was breaking her diet.
“I’m gonna eat all of this!” she screamed.
“You don’t need to be on a diet,” I said. “What’s the problem?”
More of Mitchell's adventures: