The name Perez Hilton is synonymous with Hollywood scandal, but before Hilton built his celebrity gossip blog into a multimedia and multimillion-dollar empire, he was a student in the Tisch School of the Arts.
Born Mario Lavanderia, Hilton grew up in Miami before coming to NYU. He said his favorite part of his college experience was living in Rubin residence hall and studying abroad in Madrid.
“The first year was my favorite memory just because it was all so new and there were so many firsts,” Hilton said. “Living with people, being on my own, not having to have a car, being so independent and coming out — it was all magical.”
Since graduating in 2000, Hilton has explored many career paths — writing the children’s book “The Boy with Pink Hair,” starring in music videos for Britney Spears and Rihanna and developing his website to its current rank of 9 million page views per day.
“I was really one of the first to use the Internet to talk about celebrities, because when I first started in 2004, there was no TMZ or magazines using their websites to break celebrity news,” Hilton said. “People and Us just used their websites to get people to sign up for subscriptions to the magazines. I would never take credit for all of that, but I did help take part in changing to the way people consume media.”
Hilton was able to connect with his readers in a new way by using a conversational tone on his blog.
“It was just unlike anything before. The tone was fresh and different, I was doing something new and doing it in a new way,” Hilton said. “I was very subjective, it was all about my opinion. The big difference and the consequences came from talking to my readers like I talk to my friends.”
Hilton has gained fame for his coverage of any celebrity-related news or sighting, trademarked by his signature doodles. His part in media scandals and false gossip has brought on conflict in his personal life.
“I have tons of regrets,” Hilton said. “I don’t want to name specific people or instances because I don’t want to open wounds for those people. Where I am today is wiser, but I would rather be less wise and not have hurt certain people.”
Along with his blog, book-writing and music videos, Hilton has used his background as a drama major at Tisch to guest star in many TV shows like “Hot in Cleveland” and “Glee.”
“Over the course of the last few months, I feel like I’ve almost come full circle because I’ve been doing a lot of acting which I didn’t think about or actively pursue, but just happened,” Hilton said.
Hilton now takes vocal lessons and dreams of being in a Broadway musical. He recently relocated to New York City to pursue this dream.
Offering a few points of advice to current NYU students, Hilton stressed the importance of internships and building contacts.
“Go to school where you want to live and work after you graduate,” Hilton said. “Once you are in school, intern every semester, beginning your freshman year, which I did not do. Even if your internship wants you to stay for an additional semester, don’t. Leave. Leave them wanting more. Do an amazing job, so that once you graduate in the city … you have an amazing network of contacts.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 24 print edition. Email Aicha Fall at [email protected]