Somewhere in the world, a teenager named Stephen opened up a video message from former 'N Sync member Lance Bass.
"Your Aunt Heather [and] Uncle Jason ... wanted me to say happy graduation. They're so sorry they can't be there, but they sent me to help you say 'bye bye bye' to high school," Bass says into his phone's camera, standing in a T-shirt in front of colorful wall art.
Cameo lets you request a personalized video message from a celebrity and, within a few hours or a few days, you'll get a video. Bass, who didn't respond to a request for comment, is one of nearly 2,000 celebrities you can pick to deliver birthday greetings, words of encouragement or even just a hello. The price varies. A video from Teen Mom Kayla Sessler costs $10. Former NBA star Dennis Rodman will run you $1,000.
The talent, as they're called, include YouTubers, reality show contestants, musicians and Instagram comedians. You'll run into the likes of Terrell Owens, Tommy Lee, Tori Spelling and a whole lot of people you might not know, but someone does.
In an age when you can get famous for, or making jokes on Twitter -- and when social media blurs distinctions between the famous, kind of famous and the rest of us -- Cameo hopes to make some money and create some buzz for the famous-ish, too.
The new autograph
Co-founders Steven Galanis and Martin Blencowe came up with the idea for Cameo while driving home from Galanis' grandmother's funeral. The pair had founded a production company together but had since moved on. Galanis, who's now CEO, was working at LinkedIn, and Blencowe was an NFL agent.
The result was something of a fusion, connecting people with pro athletes.
Blencowe had gotten a player he worked with -- Cassius Marsh, who was with the Seattle Seahawks at the time -- to record a video for a friend having a first child. The video was a hit.
Galanis and Blencowe initially wanted to create a service that would let the hoi polloi (aka, you and me) schedule outings or tweets from professional athletes, but the logistics proved impractical.
When they recruited friend Devon Townsend, a former Microsoft employee and Vine star, to be their CTO, Townsend contributed his experience with limited celebrity. He regularly got direct messages from fans asking for shout-outs. That gave them the idea of expanding beyond athletes.
In a way, it's an evolution of the selfie, assuming you're lucky enough to (a) happen upon a celebrity and (b) take a photo with that person.
"When you run into someone famous today, you go and ask to take a selfie with them so you can post that on Instagram," Galanis said. "You no longer pick up the Sharpie."
But there's a difference between bumping into celebrity blogger Perez Hilton and just booking his time, available now for a mere $25. (Hilton didn't respond to a request for comment.) With Cameo, you don't have to leave things to chance.
Since its launch in March 2017, the company says, people have requested more than 36,000 Cameos.
Rapper Omarion wishes you well on your wedding day. Pete Rose says happy birthday. Real Housewife Luann de Lesseps hopes you have a great Mother's Day.
As for the celebs themselves?
Jillian Rose Reed, who played Tamara on the MTV show Awkward, first heard about Cameo when a friend started posting videos of Real Housewives congratulating him on his engagement.
She was pretty sure he didn't actually know them.
Now if fans want Reed to send them a message, like some encouragement before finals, they can. Reed can use Cameo to decide if she wants to accept or decline the request, get a prompt with all the pertinent details, and then record or rerecord the video. Cameo takes 25 percent of the booking fee.
"When you make that personal connection with a follower, they become a fan for life," Reed said. "And I think that's what's really important for the creators who are on that app, because we're all just trying to stay relevant in whatever industry we're in."
Plus, it looks like it might actually be fun.
Depending on the celebrity, you might get more or less ad-libbing.
The product is unvarnished, which might be part of the appeal: people lying in their beds, walking around their yards or down the street, sitting on their couches, riding in their cars.
And Galanis knows that the point of Cameo isn't really to land A-listers (though it's hard to imagine the company being upset if that happened).
Rather, there's value in reaching B-listers' dedicated tribes of fans.
"Anybody who has fans that care about them, we want them on Cameo," Townsend said.
First published June 8 at 5 a.m. PT.
Correction on June 11 at 8:09 a.m. PT: Updated with accurate numbers for celebrities available and Cameos requested.
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