On Halloween a year ago, Holly Madison was just the latest arm candy girlfriend of Criss Angel at the opening of his Cirque show, "Believe," at Luxor. She had just ended her relationship with Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, which made her one of the stars of the television show "The Girls Next Door" about life at the Playboy mansion and related environs. A few months later she and Angel split up, and it seemed Madison's life in the public eye was at an end.
But that is not what happened. Instead, in May, Madison joined the topless production "Peepshow" at Planet Hollywood. The show, created by Broadway producer Jerry Mitchell, opened with Kelly Monaco playing the role given to Madison three months later with the idea of rotating stars every three months. Madison had just enough name recognition, it seemed, to work a three-month run. But Madison soon got herself a one-year contract. Why?
Because Holly Madison, as unlikely as it seems, has become one of the most in-demand and beloved celebrities in Vegas. In fact, as one measure of her popularity, despite her brief time in her Vegas spotlight and being only one of the three original "Girls Next Door," these days on Twitter she has far more followers than Criss Angel.
Sign of the times: This Halloween Madison was the celebrity host and contest judge at a party at the MGM Grand's Studio 54. When she arrived, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, there was a red carpet of press waiting for her as well as her own screaming fans, many of them women.
Madison is far savvier in person than she appeared on "Girls Next Door." For example, she has noticed that blond bombshells like her don't often attract so many female admirers. And, she notes of her female fans: "I think it is unusual for someone in my category. And that is because 'Girls Next Door' was done in a cute, colorful and cartoon way that girls could enjoy, relate to and live vicariously through. A lot of girls would watch it and think if they had the spare time and the cash they would love to do whatever we were doing," she said in a bubbly mood in the VIP area on the top deck of Studio 54.
Reality fame can be even more fleeting than the old-fashioned kind, but that has not turned out to be the case for Madison, who has become a regular on Vegas red carpets and charity events.
According to Mayor Oscar Goodman: "Holly Madison does a great job promoting Las Vegas. She is a glamorous ambassador for the city. I always have my showgirls with me when I go out, but Holly has a standing invitation to join us in showcasing fabulous Las Vegas."
And while "Peepshow" is produced by an outside company, a spokesperson for Planet Hollywood now calls Madison an officially "unofficial" ambassador of the resort: Her voice is one of those customers who call the casino hear when on hold.
No one is more surprised by her current success than Madison: "I am totally surprised. It started out with my wanting to do a guest spot in Crazy Horse [at MGM]. But that would not have been a big deal, and then 'Peepshow' came along and it turned into a huge thing that I love doing."
Surrounded by Broadway-caliber dancers, singers and actors, Madison certainly is not the most talented cast member of "Peepshow." At times she seems awkward on stage. But without fail audiences find her just-one-of-us talents endearing. This also works for the show's plot (a very light plot, more a theme) since she plays the role of a shy, lonely and inexperienced woman -- not a natural fit for the stunning former model.
But Madison's real success here has come from her relentless work ethic offstage. She lives in Planet Hollywood and unlike some other headliners does not walk about escorted by security. She interacts with hotel guests' old Vegas style, constantly signing autographs, giving light hugs and posing for pictures with thrilled tourists.
In one of those full-circle moments, Madison's success in Vegas has attracted E! network, which aired "Girls Next Door," to start filming another reality show about her (the air date has to be set). "It is about everything I am doing here in Vegas. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised," she said. In fact, many already have been at the success, resiliency and, say it, intelligence of Holly Madison.