How did George Santos use celebrity shout-out app Cameo to make more money as a budding influencer than a Congressman?

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George Santos made history as the first House member ejected by his colleagues without a criminal conviction since the Civil War. Now the former representative from New York is making history again for how much he’s earned recording personalized video messages via the website Cameo.

“I will have made more money [on Cameo] in seven days than I would’ve made in an entire year in Congress,” Santos told CBS New York on Dec. 10. Santos, who pleaded not guilty in October to 23 federal felony charges including conspiracy and wire fraud, was expelled from Congress on Dec. 1. Santos did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.

Over the months he spent as a member of Congress, Santos gained notoriety for allegedly lying about many things, from how his campaign finances were spent to appearing on Hannah Montana. Just three days after his expulsion, he joined the video messaging website Cameo where he now records personalized greetings for people for $500 apiece.

Cameo’s CEO, Steven Galanis, confirmed to Yahoo News that he surpassed his $174,000 yearly Congressional salary within a week of joining the site.

What is Cameo and why do people like it?

Cameo is a website through which people can request personalized video messages from a range of celebrities and other notable people in exchange for payment. Prices can range from $1 to thousands of dollars and tend to rise as creators on the site become more popular.

According to Galanis, our longing to get a greeting or a congratulation from another human is as old as civilization itself. We all have people we look up to in our own way — even if, say, we don’t all look up to Real Housewives cast members.

“Everyone has someone that they like, and through Cameo, you can get someone you admire to acknowledge you. It’s mind-blowing,” he told Yahoo. “There’s an aggregation of notable people creating bespoke content. It feels magical.”

For stars, Cameo provides an opportunity to monetize their fame with minimal effort. Galanis said that the “celebrities” don’t even have to be that well-known — just someone from a band you loved, or someone on a team you cheered for, or someone who elicits a feeling of nostalgia. Also, they might be part of a recent viral moment, so interacting with them makes people feel as if they’re a part of the zeitgeist.

The majority of Cameos are booked as gifts for other people, Galanis told Yahoo News. The company makes about 30% of its yearly sales for the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Christmas Eve is historically the biggest day of the year. Santos entered the scene on Dec. 4, just in time for his video messages to become a last-minute holiday gift.

“By all metrics, he’s a sensation,” Galanis said. “Also, his posts are amazing. He fits the archetype of what does well here — people who are funny, interesting and known for something … like [comedian] Gilbert Gottfried and [The Office actor] Brian Baumgartner.”

Some of Santos’s posts, including videos where he declares “haters are gonna hate” and congratulates someone for coming out as a furry, have gone viral. He’s recorded Cameos for Sen. John Fetterman and Jimmy Kimmel, as well.

Galanis said Santos is on track to break Tiger King star Carole Baskin’s record for having the best first month on the platform. He’s already broken Jon Bon Jovi’s record for the biggest first day on the platform. There are a handful of other politicians on the platform, like former Trump adviser Roger Stone and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, but Santos is by far the most popular.

Could internet celebrity be Santos’s next step?

Michael Hirschorn, a former head of programming at VH1 who oversaw career-launching shows like Flavor of Love and Rock of Love, told New York Magazine that Santos’s persona as a disgraced politician is “like Anthony Weiner times ten.” “There is just so much pleasure in watching him — the fashion, the cockiness, the unearned swag,” he said.

Santos might not have a ton of fans, per se — more like a legion of people who find him fascinating as a politician and “campy gay” icon, as Arwa Mahdawi wrote for The Guardian. But Cameo offers him (and other people in the middle of viral moments) an opportunity to build a fandom. His internet stardom arguably has already begun to surpass what clout he established as a national lawmaker.

No one from Cameo reached out to Santos to ask him to join. He just created a profile and added the link to his bio on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. Galanis said he didn’t even know that Santos had joined until news outlets started covering it.

“You have to strike while the iron is hot,” Galanis said. “In the social media age, 15 minutes of fame can last 15 years.” He cited another recent Cameo success story, in which Walmart employee Gail Lewis joined the platform after going viral on TikTok for quitting her job at the retailer. Her TikTok garnered 25 million views within 10 days, and now, she’s on the site’s leaderboard for how many requests she’s gotten to make videos at $150 per post. Lewis, like Santos, now has the opportunity to become a viral personality rather than the star of one viral moment.

Weeks after his Cameo debut, Santos recorded an interview with comedian Ziwe. “What could we do to get you to go away?” she asked, referencing his constant presence in headlines since being expelled from Congress. “Stop inviting me to your gigs,” Santos replied. ”But you can’t. Because people want the content.”

Apparently, he’s right. People want content from him so badly, they’re willing to pay $500 to make it personalized. Though it’s likely that the attention he’s getting on Cameo will soon fade, he’s proven that he knows how to go viral — and that’s the core of what it means to be an influencer.