RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — As millions watch the sequin-clad samba dancers at Rio de Janeiro's iconic Carnival parade Sunday, at least a few eyes will turn toward the stars, or at least toward the VIP boxes hosting celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Fergie.
The Carnival parade has been attracting top celebrities for much of its 80-year-long existence. Many are brought in by attention-hungry Brazilian advertisers hoping to share some of the glow of the world's biggest party.
This year, beer company Brahma is promoting Lopez while hair care company Pantene is hosting Fergie. Neither will actually parade in the all-night-long event, but they're expected to watch and perhaps wave from the posh VIP seats at the Sambadrome as 13 samba schools pull out all the stops in a fierce, sweaty competition before tens of thousands live and many more watching on television.
The numbers of top-tier celebrities in attendance has grown as Brazil's star has risen — particularly since the South American giant was chosen to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 summer Olympics.
Recent guests at the two-day-long parade have included Madonna, Beyonce, Jude Law, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Kevin Spacey.
The celebs are generally not expected to learn to samba or take part in the actual parade: Their work consists in watching the event from their sponsor's "camarote," the plush, multistory VIP lounges with catered buffets and free-flowing alcohol, as well as on-staff makeup artists and masseuses.
But it's not all fun and games for the celebrity guests, who are generally hired to star in special, Carnival-themed TV commercials. A Brahma beer ad featuring J.Lo dancing in a fair imitation of samba's frenetic footwork has been playing here for weeks.
In an interview appearing in Quem gossip magazine, the commercial's director Heitor Dhalias said that Lopez picked up samba's notoriously complicated steps in a question of minutes.
"On the day of the shoot, Jennifer arrived, went to makeup and then learned to samba in half an hour," Dhalias was quoted as saying. "She has this Latin swing, and it was really easy for her to learn."
A rival beer company, Devassa, ran a commercial showing three sloppy, overweight Brazilian men worshipping at the slippered feet of a silk-robe-clad Hugh Hefner debuted in run-up to the festivities.
Hefner, however, apparently won't show up. Brazilian news media reported that the 85-year-old Playboy founder bowed out at the last minute due to health problems. Appearing in his stead are his youngest son, 21-year-old Cooper Hefner, and six Playmates, according to the reports.
Actor Richard Dean Anderson, who played the ingenious secret agency MacGyver on the 1980s TV show, was the headline guest in Salvador, the northeastern city with Brazil's second-largest Carnival celebrations.
"Goodness, what an event, what a celebration!" he wrote on his Twitter account.
A host of local celebrities also fill out the VIP lounges. This year's crop of local A-listers is to include soccer star Ronaldinho Gaucho and singer Daniela Mercury.