Imagine waking up on your birthday to the usual barrage of well-wishes from family members and old classmates on Facebook. Your friend has posted a mysterious video, and when you click play, David Hasselhoff, 68, (or Fran Drescher, 62, or Billy Dee Williams, 83) is there, singing happy birthday to you, with a personalized message thanking you for being such a huge fan. You might wonder how your friend pulled off such a surprise (does she work with The Hoff's cousin or something!?), but thanks to a new app and website called Cameo, anyone can book one of these customized greetings. And don't be scared off just because the platform seems high tech: Cameo is a surprisingly easy and often affordable way to put a smile on someone's face. Here, we break down the ins and outs of this digital-age version of a fan meet-and-greet — and if we leave anything unclear, you could always hire Gilbert Gottfried (in video above), 59, to yell at us.
How does Cameo work?
The premise is simple: Visit cameo.com on your computer or download the app on your tablet or phone, create an account, and then search through the list of more than 40,000 VIPs. Once you've found someone you like, click the “Request” button and you'll be asked to fill in some information, including the occasion (pep talk, birthday, wedding, roast, etc.) and whether the video is for you or someone else. Here's where you can get creative. Ask the singer of your wedding song to croon a few bars for an anniversary message, request a joke or impersonation from your favorite comedian, or hire the host of The Bachelor (Chris Harrison, $399) to help you pop the question. Newer services even allow you to chat or book a Zoom call with the star for an additional fee.
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How much does Cameo cost?
The celebrities set their own rates, but the average customized video goes for about $60. Prices, as you might imagine, vary dramatically depending on fame level. You might find a lesser-known NFL player or stand-up comedian for under $10, while Caitlyn Jenner, 70, for instance, goes for $2,500. Love Shark Tank? Then you might not be surprised to hear that Barbara Corcoran, 71, and Kevin O'Leary, 66, drive a hard bargain at $950 and $1,200, respectively.
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What kinds of celebrities can you find on Cameo?
Participants run the gamut from A-list to Z-list: actors (from Oscar winners to soap stars to Broadway performers), singers, hall-of-fame athletes, comedians, politicians, newscasters, radio hosts, magicians, Real Housewives, and contestants from reality shows such as Survivor and Top Chef. Some zoos have even started signing up their most popular animal residents, meaning you can get a message from the likes of the Cincinnati Zoo's Fiona the Hippo.
So it's not just stars my grandkids’ ages?
There are certainly tons of internet-famous teens and twentysomethings, but you'll also find hundreds of folks who are firmly within the AARP demographic of grownups. According to a rep for Cameo, some of the most popular celebrities for users over 50 include Laugh-In's Ruth Buzzi, 84 ($225), The Nanny's Charles Shaughnessy, 65 ($75), and Oscar winner Richard Dreyfuss, 72 ($999). Other popular picks include Ed Asner, 90 ($200), Melissa Etheridge, 59 ($100), and Gottfried ($150), who was reportedly Cameo's top earner of 2019.
A Retirement Message From Ruth Buzzi
Are there any particularly great deals to be found?
For $50, you could get messages from Olympic gold medalist Nadia Comaneci, 58, The Partridge Family's Danny Bonaduce, 61, or Herman's Hermits lead singer Peter Noone, 72 — or spend that much or less for countless supporting actors from Game of Thrones and The Sopranos and finalists from American Idol and The Voice.
Does anyone use Cameo for charity?
Yes! As part of the site's Cameo Cares initiative, VIPs can partner with such charities as Baby2Baby (to help buy school supplies for kids) and NAACP empowerment programs. This spring, stars including Mandy Moore, Mike Tyson (54) and Debbie Gibson (50) helped raise $725,000 for charities supporting COVID-19 relief.
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How can I tell who's raising money for charity?
Just look for a small red heart on the talent's profile picture or browse through the Cameo for Charity page. Former Dancing With the Stars host Tom Bergeron, 65 ($100), for instance, is donating all of his earnings to the SAG-AFTRA COVID-19 disaster relief fund, while retired college football coach Urban Meyer, 56 ($250), gives 100 percent of his proceeds to his Urban and Shelley Meyer Family Foundation. Other generous stars who have partnered with nonprofits include Jane the Virgin's Jaime Camil ($100, GlobalGiving), Curb Your Enthusiasm's Susie Essman, 65 ($425, Actors Fund), Marla Maples, 56 ($72, First Responders Children's Foundation), Justin Long ($125, No Kid Hungry) and The Bachelor's Peter Weber ($149, American Red Cross).