And then came Paris Hilton, Kardashian's closest peer and most influential mentor. The two were childhood friends and fellow celebutantes who were often described as "socialite/party girls," came from wealthy families with famous last names, were romantically linked to famous men, had no discernible skill sets, and dealt with the releases of sex tapes just before the premieres of their reality shows. When Hilton's career was abruptly put on pause thanks to a DUI arrest, for which she took a glamorous mugshot and received a sentence of 45 days in jail (she served just over three weeks), Kardashian, who'd by then had a falling-out with her fellow nightlifer, took advantage of the vacuum in America’s yearning for a young, beautiful female icon to worship.
After hearing that Kardashian matriarch Kris Jenner was "interested in doing something with the family," Ryan Seacrest approached them with an idea for an Osbournes-like reality series. In August -- just two weeks after officially canceling Hilton's The Simple Life (and two weeks before Hilton's follow troubled celebutante costar Nicole Richie spent 82 minutes in jail herself) -- E! announced they would be picking up Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Two months later, on the eve of the show's premiere, New York Times reviewer Ginia Bellafante noted that Kim, the show's star, arrived at this point in her career "in the estimable way of the quattrocento masters: she apprenticed."
Learning how to become famous was the easy part. The most important lessons Kardashian learned from her foremothers were about how to stay in the spotlight. And the 10-plus years of breathless tabloid coverage that followed (from stories about countless failed marriages to Caitlyn Jenner's historic coming out and transition) is proof that she was taking notes.
Ever since her rapid ascent to fame, which was jumpstarted by the release of a sex tape with Ray J. Norwood, the rap on Kardashian is that she’s talent-free and, like Hilton, just famous for being famous. But it actually may have been a shrewd choice to reject the "demonstrable skill" model for celebrity that led to the downfall narratives of Lohan and Spears. When you’re an actor or singer, and your movie or album bombs, you can be declared "over" since you can inevitably be compared directly to someone newer, better, and more popular. But when your fame is exclusively a product of your own personal effort at being famous -- not reliant on industry metrics like box office receipts or Billboard charts -- it’s easier for your brand to remain unscathed.