A few weeks back, I saw a Tweet from my friend Melissa, who found herself alternately captivated and horrified by what she'd come across in her local Kroger. It was a sign advertising a line of Pinot Grigio from Ramona Singer (above), one of the many identical-looking reality stars from Bravo's Real Housewives shows.
Singer is far from the first celebrity, or the first reality star, to endorse a line of food or beverage products. Hell, she's far from the first Real Housewife (see: Frankel, Bethenny). This latest reality star-backed abomination made me think back on all the appalling celeb endorsements that we've endured over the years. But it also made me think of the good endorsements: classics that have stood the test of time and mindful endorsements backed with common sense.
Despite Julia Child's admonishment that commercial endorsements were demeaning to chefs, there have been a few truly great endorsements over the years from both celebrity chefs and celebrities that set precedents and made memories. Our list starts with the best celebrity endorsements below.
The 5 Best
No. 5 Celebrity: Giada De Laurentiis Product: Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce
This is a celebrity product pairing that makes sense: Giada De Laurentiis, longtime host of a popular Italian cooking show on the Food Network, and a line of Italian pastas and sauces. And the stuff actually tastes good, too. I'm not the only one who thinks so, either: Consumer Reports put the sauce in its "excellent" category along with fellow celeb chefs Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck's own version of the jarred sauces. What pushes it to the top, however, is its accessible price: only $3 at Target.
No. 4 Celebrity: Alton Brown Product: Welch's
While this pairing may have seemed odd at first, anything is better than the creepy kids that used to populate Welch's grape juice commercials. Besides -- as YumSugar points out -- other celebrity endorsements from the Food Network (aside from Giada and Mario) are for questionable entities: Rachael Ray for Dunkin' Donuts, Guy Fieri for T.G.I. Fridays, Tyler Florence for Applebee's and so on. At least Brown is endorsing a 100 percent fruit-based drink, instead of fat-, salt- and sugar-laden restaurant meals.
No. 3 Celebrity: George Foreman Product: The George Foreman Grill
Admittedly, this isn't a food -- but it's just as impactful of an endorsement. Foreman demonstrated to legions of fans that it's possible to have good food that's not drowning in fat, and he showed them how with his grill. He was successful at it, too: Over 100 million grills were sold in just 15 years.
No. 2 Celebrity: Bill Cosby Product: Jell-O
Lovable, sweater-wearing, problem-solving, barrier-breaking Bill Cosby convinced an entire generation in the 1980s that you "can't be a kid" without Jell-O pudding snacks. Cosby became absolutely synonymous with the brand, and Jell-O became synonymous with Cosby's image of family-first domestic harmony as a result. The company simply couldn't have picked a better spokesman to appeal to its demographic.
No. 1 Celebrity: Paul Newman Product: salad dressings
Paul Newman pioneered the celebrity food endorsement and became the model for charity-minded, conscientious endorsements with his line of Newman's Own dressings. Unlike many celeb food products, these dressings were initially of Newman's own creation, packaged and given to friends as gifts. He was ultimately persuaded to create a product line, with 100 percent of net proceeds going to charity. Since 1982, Newman's Own dressings have generated $300 million for charities like the Hole in the Wall Camps.
Click ahead for the worst of the worst celebrity endorsements...
The 5 Worst
No. 5 Celebrity: Ramona Singer Product: Pinot Grigio
As I understand it, Ramona Singer barely qualifies as a celebrity. She appears on the TV show The Real Housewives of New York City, one of the many baffling knockoffs of the equally baffling The Real Housewives of Orange County. So I assume that Ms. Singer is known by bored housewives, stressed-out soccer moms and camp-loving gays the nation over. All of these demographic sets are prime targets for the Pinot Grigio she just rolled out. One problem: Singer's drinking has been a disturbing story line in the series, prompting wide speculation that she's an alcoholic.
No. 4 Celebrity: Bethenny Frankel Product: Skinnygirl Cocktails
Speaking of Real Housewives and booze... Bethenny Frankel, from the same show as Singer, has promoted a line of Skinnygirl-brand books and booze since 2009. Notice she's not promoting a healthy lifestyle with any of her products; just a skinny one. There is a vast difference. Whole Foods felt so too, and yanked her Skinnygirl cocktails from their shelves.
No. 3 Celebrity: Dwight Yoakam Product: Bakersfield Biscuits
This one injures me deeply, because I love Dwight Yoakam as a singer and as an actor. And the guy seems to have his head on straight -- for a celebrity -- so I have a hard time understanding how he was coerced into hawking fried, frozen foods at 7/11 stores. His own website doesn't list the nutritional content for this crap, but Google does. Just seven of the Bakersfield Biscuits -brand Chicken Lickin's Chicken Fries have 200 calories, 12 grams of fat and 40 milligrams of cholesterol. The Breakfast Burritos are even worse, with 240 calories, 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat and 112 milligrams of cholesterol in one, tiny burrito.
No. 2 Celebrity: Paula Deen Product: Smithfield Ham
If you think Yoakam's off his rocker, that's nothing compared to the bizarre behavior that Paula Deen has exhibited when it comes to the "haaaaaayaaaam, y'all" she hawks for Smithfield. Despite being skewered on the unsafe and unsanitary working conditions at the Smithfield factory from the Human Rights Watch, the National Labor Relations Board and even The Diane Rehm Show, Deen insists that the workers at the troubled Smithfield packing plant are happy-go-lucky pig packers. Just because you don't agree with Deen's take on the situation doesn't mean you should go hitting her in the face with one of her Smithfield hams, though.
No. 1 Celebrity: John Daly Product: Wine
This doesn't require much explanation. John Daly is a known, troubled alcoholic. The golfer even has a drink named after him as a result: The John Daly, a version of the Arnold Palmer with sweet tea vodka. In 2006, when his wine was released, Daly was in the midst of a terrible struggle with alcohol. He exhibited visible signs of this struggle as early as 1998, but the problems came to a head when he was arrested for blacking out at a Hooter's (which he also endorsed) in 2008. His line of wines was yanked shortly thereafter and no mention of them is made on Daly's website or Wikipedia page. He is currently sober.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.