By  on July 23, 2008

Welcome to a world of do-it-yourself celebrities.

It's no secret the lives of megawatt athletes and entertainers, such as A-Rod's divorce and rumored affair with Madonna, and Brad and Angelina's babies, keep grabbing attention. But when it comes to celebrities Americans trust and like best, there's been a groundswell for a crowd with a glow of the domestic and the everyday: chefs and home designers, according to a new NPD Group study disclosed to WWD.

This marks a sharp change from two years ago, when "you had to go way down the list to even get to a chef [as well known as] Emeril Lagasse," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. "There's a trend to celebrities who have become lifestyle brands, and away from fashion and beauty-focused females."

Indeed, just a handful of women rated in the top five in three different celebrity lists: Halle Berry (best liked), Paula Deen (most trusted) and Britney Spears, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna (best known).

"Chefs and home designers have insinuated themselves into the advice arena, a world once populated by women's magazines in the 19th century and Dear Abby in the 20th century," observed Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "Rachael Ray is about a lifestyle."

Chefs Deen, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Tyler Florence accounted for four of the stars in the ranking of the 10 most trusted celebrities by a representative group of 4,500 teens and adults NPD polled in March. Batali also turned up in the top 10 list of best liked, as did chef Ming Tsai. Home designer Nate Berkus ranked among the leaders in likability and in trust, where he was joined by home designer Ty Pennington.

One cook and home designer, Martha Stewart, was among the group garnering the greatest awareness.

"This could be a case of people seeing themselves reflected in another person's taste, much as people drive a certain car or wear a logoed shirt as a way to see or express themselves," strategic consultant James H. Gilmore, the author of "Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want," said of this newfound taste for chefs and home designers. "People consume celebrities like anything else," if not always with a deliberate intention, Gilmore added. "People might consume differently if they stopped and examined themselves."

It also reflects the fragmentation of American culture, according to Thompson. "Being a top 10 celebrity doesn't mean you've penetrated the broader pop culture," he offered. "You could ask a lot of people on the street who they are, and they couldn't say." For example, with the burst of new media (and cable TV shows for chefs and designers) Thompson noted: "You can be a very well-educated person and not know who Hannah Montana is, even though at the extreme, tickets [for her concert] were selling for $146."

Forty or 50 years ago, when mass media still reigned, he added, "even if you had no use for The Beatles or Elvis, you had to come to grips with them because they were on shows that everyone watched, like 'The Ed Sullivan Show' and 'The Milton Berle Show.'"

Chefs and home designers, who engage in activities tied to the domestic sphere, offer an escape that Gilmore characterized as "fleeing from some domain of life that's been tainted." People can do their own cooking, create the interiors of their homes and possibly enhance their feelings of comfort and security by doing so.

Back in the realm of the sometimes tainted, a handful of women entertainers were cited among the best-liked stars: Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore and Jaclyn Smith. Another actress, Jennifer Lopez, rated on the top-10 awareness list, as did Paris Hilton. Spears' profile has been raised since Friday, when custody of her children was awarded to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline. Deen was the only woman who ranked among the most trusted celebs.



America’s Most Likable Celebrities
1. Will Smith
2.Denzel Washington
3.Matt Damon
4.Halle Berry
5.George Clooney
6.Nate Berkus
7.Reese Witherspoon
8.Jennifer Aniston
9.Mario Batali
10.Ming Tsai/Drew Barrymore/Jaclyn Smith
 
Source: NPD Group poll of 4,500 teens and adults, March 2008

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