Pop Culture

Want to be a Hilton? Only if I'm Paris

While some reality shows bludgeon you with repeated mentions of their fabulous rewards (that means you, “Top Model”), NBC's “I Want to Be a Hilton” has been remarkably dodgy about its so-called prize.

“Hilton” hopefuls vied for a $200,000 “trust fund” (which is funny, because I think of trust funds as money you don’t get to touch) plus a year of living expenses in Manhattan. You’d never know it, of course, because the show is almost silent about specifics, even on its Web site.

That’s nothing to sniff at, assuming that “living expenses” aren't based on the personal budget of the average New York editorial assistant. But the way the show’s 14 hopefuls have dreamily waxed about the chance to “live like a Hilton,” you’d think Kathy Hilton was surrendering her own personal black book and handing out invitations to party with P. Diddy.

As Newsweek recently disclosed, being a Hilton may involve lots of time in the public eye, but it doesn't exactly come with the Warren Buffett-like riches the show would have you believe. (Though “I Want to Be a Buffett,” complete with tawdry exposés of the Omaha A-list, just might work.)

So why are these miserable shlubs so desperate for acceptance by a family now primarily known for its elder daughter’s unauthorized video sex romps? About the time that contestant Ann, the former Miss Tampa, tried unsuccessfully to charm Kathy with her a cappella version of “Wind Beneath My Wings,” I began to realize that the contestants might be fibbing a bit about the alleged misery they suffered before the Hiltonian spotlight of fame shined on them. Being a bartender at a Steve Wynn hotel in Vegas or a Californian fashionista — do these sound like they're tortures worthy of Job?  And since Jackaay had enough class that you sensed she might use the show's prize wisely, why did she need to constantly need to remind us about her trailer-park roots?

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    TV personality Nicole Murphy and singer Brandy Norwood attend The Pump Group VIP Cocktail Reception at W Hollywood on Aug. 7 in Hollywood.

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    Actors James Wirt and Julia Stiles stand on stage during the opening night curtain call for "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

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    Actress AnnaSophia Robb attends the opening night performance of "Phoenix" at the Cherry Lane Theatre on Aug. 7 in New York.

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    A boy gives the wax figure of Selena Gomez a kiss at the unveiling of the new new, never-before-seen Selena Gomez wax figure at Madame Tussauds New York on Aug. 7 in New York.

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    Chris Martin of Coldplay performs during the Elvis Duran Z100 Morning Show at Z100 Studio on Aug. 7 in New York.

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    Actor Mickey Rourke is seen at "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

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    Actress Jordana Brewster waves outisde of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" on Aug. 7 in Los Angeles.

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    Akon

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Kathy's tutelage was supposed to turn these poor unwashed hopefuls into models of fine living. But her few tidbits of advice (show up for an 8:00 dinner party at ... 8:10!) paled in comparison to the wisdom of the sommeliers and party planners she enlisted as filler for most of each show's midsection. To their credit, most of the guest cameos looked classy. Lennox Lewis was gracious enough to impart a few good words about sportsmanship, even if they went unheeded.

The show lacked candor — aside from that one moment when Long Island chatterbox Jules asked Kathy how she felt when “the tape” came out. Mama Hilton proved her queen-bee status with a tactful explanation about keeping your head high and moving on, but who ever decided that the Hilton family should be official tour guides to New York's social stratosphere? And what was up with that fake little exercise about teaching the wannabes to handle the “media”? They should be so lucky as to face a squadron of paparazzi.

All about ParisFor that matter, wasn't it odd that Paris, reality diva that she is, would be all but absent from her own mother's show? I think it's a sign of Paris' true savvy that she steered clear of this train wreck. Because even by summer-replacement standards, “Hilton” seemed hacked together; Kathy suffered from a case of dubbing so bad that last season’s “Apprentice” looks like Kurosawa directed it. And who's to blame? I noticed that Hilton patriarch Rick stayed behind the cameras, earning his executive producer credit.

Kathy & Co. may want to fade into the background after Tuesday’s finale, because frankly … it’s all about Paris.  You may be the envy of the Upper East Side, the big catch of every party A-list but it’s the eldest Hilton daughter who we can't stop thinking about, even if we don't respect her in the morning. She is, after all, the one who demonstrated that with enough tact, you can turn your Internet-exposed private parts into a career boost.

Paris herself said it best when she told Newsweek that she’s become a “brand.” You can lay even money that she’ll re-emerge on the other side of her Paris-squared engagement as a shining star in the Celebriverse with a bright movie career (no thanks to “Pledge This!”). Her exact claim to fame may be dubious, but you could say the same about Pam Anderson — who was never fortunate enough to attend the Kathy Hilton School of Etiquette.

Since Kathy’s been so gracious as to share her secrets of social success, we figured we’d return the favor with a few humble suggestions on how to improve Hilton TV:

1) “Family show” means more than just you. No fair leaving Paris, Nicky and hubby Rick in the shadows as you're placed center stage. We tuned in because we wanted to see how the Hilton family functions behind closed doors. You gave us poorly edited pap.

2) Reality shows aren’t about dignity. We didn’t want to see a bunch of smack-talking, back-biting cheeseheads dine on caviar and sip Champagne. We want to see them be humiliated, Trump-style, in clown suits and Domino’s outfits.  The challenges on “Hilton” were pretty C-grade, the sort of thing that even Nicole Richie couldn't screw up. How inept must your competitors have been to not grasp the intricacies of rowing a boat?!?

3) When the Vegas showgirl shows up … run! If the rest of us could tell from first glance that Yvette was nothing but trouble (remember this was a big promotion from her previous reality gig on “Single in Vegas”), how come you never took her to task for basically screwing her teammates and then lying about it? Reality shows have their own sort of social justice, including a mandate for all hussies to get the occasional smackdown.

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    Image: Paris Hilton Promotes Her New Show "The World According To Paris" At Kitson At Santa Monica Place

    Paris Hilton

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    Back to reality

    Paris Hilton promotes her new docu-series on Oxygen, "The World According to Paris," at Kitson at Santa Monica Place in Santa Monica, Calif., on May 27, 2011.

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    The ruff stuff

    Hilton is pictured with a tiny dog in her show "The World According to Paris."

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    Quick entry

    Hilton arrives onstage on a motorcycle for a taping of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" at the NBC Studios oin Burbank, Calif., on May 27, 2011.

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    The gang's all here

    Hilton, left, joins her parents Kathy Hilton and Rick Hilton and sister Nicky Hilton at the premiere of "The World According to Paris" at Tropicana Bar at The Hollywood Roosevelt in Los Angeles on May 17, 2011.

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    Footwork for charity

    Hilton, second from left, and her sister Nicky take part in the Josh Duhamel and American Red Cross "Run For Red Cross/Japan" in Santa Monica, Calif., on March 27, 2011.

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    Well heeled celebrity

    Hilton displays shoe models from her new collection during a news conference in Mexico City on March 30, 2011. Hilton was in Mexico to promote her new collection.

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    Special protection

    Hilton arrives at the 18th annual Race to Erase MS Gala in Los Angeles on April 29, 2011. The event benefits the Nancy Davis Foundation for Multiple Sclerosis.

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    Too close for comfort

    Cy Waits, , left, boyfriend of Hilton, reacts as he is grabbed by an assailant while walking toward a court appearance with the heiress in Los Angeles on April 27, 2011. An unidentified man was restrained by Hilton's bodyguards and detained.

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    More trouble behind her

    Hilton talks with her attorney, David Chesnoff, before her hearing in Clark County court in Las Vegas on Sept. 20, 2010. Hilton pleaded guilty to reduced charges in her August cocaine arrest. Under the terms of a plea deal worked out with prosecutors, the heiress will serve a year of probation and avoid a felony conviction.

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    Mug for the cameras

    Hilton is shown in a booking photo released Aug. 28, 2010, by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department after being arrested on drug charges.

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    What a Tease

    Hilton and boyfriend Cy Waits attend the launch of her fragrance Tease at MyStudio in Hollywood, Calif., on Aug. 10, 2010.

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    'Paris, Not France'

    Hilton's life is examined in the 2009 documentary "Paris, Not France," a 68-minute film that chronicles Hilton's much-publicized professional successes and personal struggles. Hilton is the great-granddaughter of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton.

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    See you in court

    In July 2009, Hilton found herself in federal court in Miami, accused of failing to adequately promote her 2006 movie, "Pledge This!" The actress insisted she did her job.

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    Seeking a Middle Eastern pal

    Dressed in traditional Middle Eastern style, Hilton attended a press conference promoting her reality show, "Paris Hilton's Dubai BFF." In the show, the heiress searches for a friend in the Middle East.

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    You smell good

    Hilton and then-boyfriend Doug Reinhardt attended the 37th annual FiFi awards, honoring those in the fragrance industry, in May 2009. The couple broke up in June after six months of dating.

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    Not 'Hottie' at the box office

    Hilton starred with Joel David Moore in the 2008 romantic comedy,"The Hottie and the Nottie." The film, which was a major box office disaster and received extremely negative reviews from critics, won Hilton the 2009 Razzie Award for worst actress and worst screen couple with Moore.

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    Vote for me

    During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain likened then-Sen. Barack Obama to Hilton as far as celebrity status. Hilton responded with a spoof video, "Paris for President," in which she called McCain old and wrinkly and announced her own presidential campaign.

    SwagHouse Media via Getty Images / SwagHouse Media via Getty Images
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    Free at last

    Paris Hilton leaves the Los Angeles County Correctional Facility in Lynwood, Calif., on Tuesday, June 26. 2007. Hilton, who commanded as much attention behind bars as on the Hollywood party scene, regained her freedom after serving three weeks in jail for violating probation in a drunk-driving case.

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    Do not pass go

    Hilton leaves the Los Angeles Municipal Court Metropolitan branch with her father Rick on Friday, May 4, 2007 after a judge sentenced the hotel heriess to 45 days in jail for violating her probation.

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    Time to get paid

    Hilton knows what time it is while posing during a news conference introducing her new line of timepieces at the BaselWorld 2007 watch fair in Basel, Switzerland, on Saturday, April 14.

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    'Simple' pleasures

    Hilton, left, and Nicole Richie reunited to discuss another season of their reality television show "The Simple Life" on Monday, April 9, 2007 in Los Angeles. After famously feuding and filming their parts separately last season, the celebutantes were reunited as camp counselors for the show's fifth installment

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    Paris loves to accessorize

    Hilton and her then-beau, actor Josh Henderson, arrive at the Complex Magazine 5th Anniversary party at club Area in Los Angeles on Tuesday, April 10, 2007.

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    Having a ball

    Hilton attends the Vienna Opera Ball on Thursday, Feb. 15. 2007. The ball is Austria’s society event of the year and Hilton was invited to be the guest of Richard Lugner, a 74-year-old married construction magnate who invites a celebrity each year. His previous guests included Geri Halliwell, Pamela Anderson and Carmen Electra.

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    Booked

    In 2006, Hilton published a book, "Confessions of an Heiress: A Tongue-in-Chic Peek Behind the Pose." It featured more than 300 photos of the heiress.

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    Pulling back

    Hilton's then-boyfriend Stavros Niarchos leads the way at a Nov. 2005 cocktail reception to highlight diamonds from DeGrisogono. Yet Hilton's ring finger was diamondless, having ended her engagement to Paris Latsis two months earlier.

    Sipa Press / Sipa Press
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    Bunny power

    In a huge sartorial stretch, Hilton tries on a bunny outfit at the 2005 Halloween Mansion Party hosted by Hayley Duff.

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    Paris times two

    Paris Hilton and her then-fiance, Paris Latsis, smile as they leave the Arclight Theatre in Hollywood after catching a late night movie. Alas, the good times were not to last.

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    Having more fun

    Paris Hilton and Kimberly Stewart, daughter of Rod Stewart, attend a Los Angeles party. Stewart is one of Hilton's longtime pals, and reportedly was her first choice as a co-star on Fox's "The Simple Life."

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    Hungry?

    An image from Hilton's TV spot for Carl's Jr. The burger chain's new ad campaign features Hilton in a revealing one-piece black swimsuit, sensuously washing a Bentley. It plays on her trademark phrase, "That's hot." But some critics found the ad too hot, saying it shouldn't appear on television.

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    Some like it hot

    Paris Hilton poses at a photocall on the Carlton Hotel pier during the Cannes Film Festival in 2005. She visited the festival to promote her starring role in "National Lampoon's Pledge This!" She would later be taken to court for allegedly failing to promote the film.

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    Almost Eden

    Paris Hilton portrays actress Barbara Eden as Jeannie from the '60s TV series "I Dream of Jeannie" in a 2005 episode of NBC's "American Dreams." Eden couldn't show her navel on the original show, a broadcast policy clearly gone by the time Paris arrived on TV.

    NBC via Reuters / NBC via Reuters
  • US socialite Paris Hilton arrives for The Young Hot Hollywood Style Awards in Hollywood

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    Going brunette

    Paris Hilton arrives for the Young Hot Hollywood Style Awards in April of 2005. The party was hosted by "US Weekly" magazine and singer Jessica Simpson. We're not sure what prompted the change in hair color, but perhaps Simpson already had the blonde spot locked up.

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    All smiles

    Paris Hilton takes a photo of herself with a fan as she arrives for the European premiere of her film, "House of Wax." Hilton's boyfriend at the time, Paris Latsis, proposed to her after she returned from three weeks doing publicity in Europe. It didn't last.

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    Sister act

    Paris Hilton, left, and her sister Nicky Hilton leave the Luca Luca Fall 2005 fashion show in February. The two have been seen together less frequently as Paris' career has skyrocketed, but both are still enjoying plenty of time in the spotlight.

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  • HILTON RICHARDS

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    All in the family

    Paris Hilton poses with her parents Rick Hilton and Kathy Richards, and her brother Baron, left, at the "House of Wax" premiere in Los Angeles.

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    In the flesh

    Paris Hilton stars as Paige Edwards in Warner Bros.' "House of Wax," released the spring of 2005. In the film, she and her co-stars wander into a town filled with wax figures which turn out to be the wax-coated corpses of killers' victims.

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    Field hands

    Paris Hilton brings along friend Nicole Richie, right, to work on a dairy farm during an episode of "The Simple Life." The Fox reality show, which exposed the duo to the workings of small-town life, further propelled Hilton to stardom.

    Fox / Fox
  • CARTER HILTON

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    Nick of time

    Paris Hilton rests in the arms of then-boyfriend Nick Carter, of the Backstreet Boys, as they watch the second half of the NBA All-Star game in Feb. 2004. The two later broke up.

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    Puppy love

    Paris Hilton poses with her dog Tinkerbell. The heiress with the mostest caught flack in 2005 when plans were briefly revealed to ditch the chihuahua for a cuter dog. Ah, fashion.

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5) In case no one mentioned ... your daughter is hot. A Hilton family show without Paris is like a celebrity drunkfest without Tara Reid. I really hate to bring this up, Kathy, but … we love watching your daughter on screen. A brief Paris interlude in each episode could have scored you a few extra share points.

There is a happy ending here. The Hiltons' latest reality-TV gambit was a failure, but unlike Bobby and Whitney, they'll be be just fine without all that face-time on camera. So let’s all raise a glass to Kathy, who probably will have to spend all next spring in the Hamptons straightening out the bent noses her show caused among the polo set.

Then let’s tune in “The Simple Life,” because at least one Hilton knows what makes good TV.  Brand or no, we’ll always have Paris.

MSNBC.com lifestyle editor Jon Bonné wonders if ‘living expenses in Manhattan’ include the broker's fee.

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