Anyone and everyone can be famous, right? This sentiment is ever more true thanks to social media, where your 15 minutes of fame could be just around the corner. So what makes a famous person special, besides good timing, hard work, and good marketing and networking skills? I used to think the answer was: nothing. Celebs, they’re just like us. Right?

I’ve worked at high-end clubs, meeting and greeting many a local celeb and influencer; I’ve worked backstage at music festivals with international musicians; and interviewed famous faces, but I’ve remained unmoved. Perhaps this is the quality that allowed me to do these things, without being a liability; prone to gushing and fan-girling. Maybe it’s truly because I believe that [being a] celebrity is an illusion, or maybe it’s the inner Capetonian in me who refuses to be seen ruffled, who is too cool to act like they care. But on a recent trip to the US, this changed. 

Customs encounter

I’d been to Hollywood and LA, and the only stars I’d spotted were plaques on a pavement. This was disappointing, because I was ready to be wowed. If I was going to be touched by someone’s enigma, Hollywood would’ve been the place. While leaving LAX I was taking my shoes off at security thinking idly, ‘Odd that I didn’t see anyone famous here’ when two security guards pushed in the line.

I looked up and saw a tall woman in a grey hoodie and black trench coat with black leggings and curly hair next to me. Her body language was harried, rushed and a little abashed. I immediately clocked that this must be someone *important*. The look on the airport security woman’s face confirmed it. This was a *famous* person. So I peeped to my left. And she looked back at me.

I realised that I was locking eyes with Zendaya Coleman. No make-up, real, dressed down, in the flesh Zendaya. And I was shocked at my reaction. My heart-rate accelerated. I thought ‘I hadn’t realised til now how much I like her’. And then she smiled the smallest, wariest smile at me and proceeded barefoot through the security gate. I was in undeniable awe despite myself. I was touched.

Zendaya and I passed each other twice more in the departure lounge. I was tempted to introduce myself because there was an air about her that was at once bigger than her, but also easy to approach. But I didn’t, mostly due to the size of her entourage. I was just about to board a nine-hour flight, and I didn’t feel like being tackled by a bodyguard.

Fan-girl convert

Here’s what I know about Zendaya Coleman. She’s a former Disney star: my little brother used to watch her show Shake It Up. Then suddenly she was everywhere, with 52.7 million followers on Instagram. She has a voice that she uses to talk about respectability, politics, body positivity, and how important representation is. As a writer I’d covered her clapping back at haters on Instagram, her Barbie collaboration, her role in The Greatest Showman and of course, her style. There is a hype around her: ‘the voice of Generation Z’, as she’s been dubbed. She shifts between a 22-year-old and a Hollywood star seamlessly, but always authentically.

Did I buy it all? Not until I saw her, IRL, like this:

 

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Yes for my white shirt being the perfect light bounce.

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Once on the plane it got me thinking, what makes a celeb a celeb? Is it the god-like attributes we give them? Or is it that they really are different from your ‘average’ person? How could I explain the feeling that I had come into contact with something bigger than myself, when at 1.78m Zendaya is only like 18cm taller than me (okay, so a lot taller than me)?

 

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🗡

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The Zendaya factor

The concept of celebrity can be problematic, but not if those we put on a pedestal recognise their position and use it to uplift and empower others, and give airtime to causes that matter. Our idolisation can be the problem within itself, where we see someone as more than a human being and then drag them when we realise that they are not gods. It is this humanity that makes the A-List just that, too. Beyoncé, Angelina Jolie, Yara Shahidi and yes, Zendaya, are all celebrities that go further than lights, camera, action. If I was to be a fangirl, it may as well be for Zendaya. I mean:

 

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1/3 posts coming…just a warning, I’m feelin myself lmao

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So what gives someone that X factor? Is it their ability to connect with people on a wider scale, or is it their beauty, or their talent? Or is it really that intangible aura of something else-ness? I’m still not sure, but what I do know is that it exists. Because I saw Zendaya.

Ed’s note: Zendaya is currently the cover star of our November issue: grab a copy to get to know ‘the voice of Generation Z’!