“You’d think that’s what he’d want, except it’s the exact opposite,” Natalie Star tells newbie cam model Ambree Lux. It’s Lux’s first week on the job, so Star is sympathetic to her confusion over a completely typical work situation.
“This guy started chatting with me, saying ‘Hey baby, I’m rock-hard and just three inches,’” Lux tells Star. “But when I responded with ‘That’s okay, you’re big enough for me,’ he disappeared?”
Star doesn’t bat an eye. Her career of recruiting, training, and mentoring thousands of cam models has included countless tutorials on “SPH,” or small penis humiliation, the fetish this particular client clearly had. “This is what you do for next time,” Star coaches. “Tell him you love SPH, but you don’t do that in public chat. And when he takes you private”—she lowers her voice dramatically—“you humiliate him.”
Lux, who’s not used to such role-play, wants to know how she can possibly be so cruel and inventive. “Try to think about that one person you can’t stand in the world. That one person you’d love to tell off, the one person you’d love to humiliate,” Star coaches with matter-of-fact encouragement. “Then, pretend it’s that person with the little dick.”
Welcome to the world of Natalie Star, 26, a top cam model who has emerged as a prominent face for a sector of the adult industry that shows no signs of slowing down its rapid growth. A savvy recruiter of new talent and compassionate coach, Star’s managed to build her Major League Cams into one of the most lucrative networks in the game.
If you’ve never clicked on a cam site before, here’s how it works. Customers cruise for models online (via portals like Flirt4Free), invite the ones they like into a private video chat, and use prepurchased credits to pay by the minute and tip performers. The amounts spent are often relatively small—$30 for a five-minute show is common—but they add up. “It would be safe to say that cams make up over 50 percent of the [adult entertainment] industry in terms of aggregate revenue,” says Alec Helmy, publisher of XBIZ, an industry trade mag.
In the past five years, largely thanks to the proliferation of high-speed internet, cam has gone from a minor player to the growth area in adult entertainment. Per analytics site Alexa, camming network Flirt4Free is currently the 1,500th most visited site on earth, compared to the 82,000 slot held by Vivid Entertainment, a famous porn studio. Some camming fans are switching over from traditional porn; others want to fulfill an extremely specific fantasy, or maybe even just talk. “Because live entertainment cannot be pirated—unlike recorded media—this segment of the market is poised to continually grow,” adds Helmy. It’s the job of recruiters like Star to find an endless supply of new talent, catering to every whim.
Affiliated studios like Star’s Major League Cams (MLC) provide different “categories” of models to their parent networks, from college co-eds and transgender performers to those described as “chubby” and squirters. Star keeps an eye out for models with vibrant personalities and unique looks, but above all she’s interested in hard workers. “In the case of some models, I can see very quickly that they have the ability, motivation, and drive to take it to the next level,” Star explains. “I try to teach the women who work for me how to make their money work for them.” For three of her most hard-working models, that even meant a managerial position within her network.
“For many women, cam is a blessing,” says Chris Moukarbel, who interviewed cam models as director of HBO’s documentary series Sex//Now. These models came from all walks of life, including working mothers who cammed while their kids napped in the next room. While other sex workers may worry about their clients ripping them off or attacking them, “cam minimizes these risks by essentially crowdsourcing sex work,” Moukarbel added. “You need to get a dollar from hundreds of people rather than [a lump sum] from one.”
But cam models aren’t immune from sex work’s familiar challenges. Some clients will inevitably be abusive or attempt to cross privacy boundaries. Just like porn performers and prostitutes, cam models experience discrimination when they attempt to move on to other careers—an inevitability for most given the competitiveness of the industry. Star herself signs up at least 100 new models every week, “but how many actually stick it out is another question.” Bottom-tier earners typically get cut so studios don’t clutter consumer options with inactive profiles, and Star is competing against thousands of other outlets to find the next marketable talent.
So far, she has come out on top, turning MLC into one of Flirt4Free’s top-ten earners out of the 2,000 affiliates in its network. “What [Natalie] has built from the ground up is amazing,” says Flirt4Free exec Eddie Bastian. “It takes a lot to be a model. And for her to be a model and also run an extremely successful studio is—well—it’s kind of mind-boggling sometimes.”
Before Natalie Star became a cam of entrepreneur, she was growing up in suburban Los Angeles, the only child of a Latino father and a Thai mother. Homeschooled to focus on gymnastics training, Star grew disillusioned with the sport “when it became more about bragging rights for my mom.” At 18 and unemployed, Natalie knew that she wasn’t the college type. “In today’s economy, college is America’s biggest hustle,” she told me. “You have teachers telling you how to succeed beyond the classroom, yet they themselves have never left.”
Without many options, Star soon found herself shuttling between mind-numbing jobs and an increasingly abusive fiancée. One day, she was overwhelmed and crying her eyes out at an L.A. Starbucks when “some random guy came up to me and said ‘You’re way too beautiful to be crying like this. What’s wrong?’” The man turned out to own a very large camming network. Within minutes he had offered Star an office job. Though it was a stereotypically creepy L.A. encounter, she accepted and was suddenly immersed in the behind-the-scenes world of camming.
“I started off as a model mentor and manager,” Star explains. “I would process new models and train them—give them tips and tricks about how to be successful. Things like how to conduct yourself with customers; [how] everything’s not always about sex; what’s a good amount of time to spend on cam; and where to get FAQs answered. Basic, but really important, stuff.
“As I’d get to know different models, I started to learn what would motivate them specifically and what I could do to encourage them to succeed,” Star continues. But as models came to her after being verbally abused by customers, “it almost turned into a form of counseling.” After two years, Star realized that there were problems she was not equipped to resolve. “One time a [model], after being called racial slurs on cam, asked me, ‘Well, have you ever been on cam, Miss Natalie?’”
Star realized she need to put her money where her mouth was. “I didn’t feel it was right, telling people what they should be doing, while I had never actually done the work myself.” After some soul-searching and consideration, she sat down in front of the computer to start filling in the same forms she had helped so many other models complete. When she got to the section to choose a stage name, she wrote in “Natalie Star.” Just like that, a star, quite literally, was born.
In adult content production, women move from performing to behind-the-scenes roles with increasing regularity. It’s far less frequent, however, to see a woman transition from an administrative job to a position in front of the camera. Natalie is fully committed to both.
Her days are spent in MLC’s command center, located inside her large-but-ordinary Las Vegas home—about eight hours camming each day and six more handling administrative tasks. She switches between four gigantic monitors running across two independent servers. “One is reserved just for model information,” Star explains. “We take privacy very seriously and take every precaution.” In just a few moments, three new queries—then a fourth, then a fifth—pop up in her inbox, a reminder of Star’s 100-plus applications per week.
“One of the quickest ways I can tell if a model is going to be successful is how they complete their [initial query] form,” Star says, filtering out the weaker applications as quickly as they’re received. “We ask them to come up with a realistic stage name. ‘Realistic’ is relative, but the person who puts something like ‘hunghuge69’ or ‘sexyhotkitty’ already isn’t taking the job seriously. They’re not paying attention to detail.”
The next test for applicants is a phone call. Star gets on the line with “Jeff,” a young man who seems promising but keeps asking if this is, in fact, a “real job.”
“And that’s it?” he asks. “If I send you the paperwork, I can be working in two weeks?”
“If you send me your paperwork and have the necessary internet connection, you can be working in two hours,” Star replies before hanging up.
Next up is “Susan,” who asks whether MLC lets models block their shows from airing in certain states (it does), then “Jennifer,” who complains about low earnings while making excuses for not being on cam. “I’ve been trying to sell my car this week,” she laments. “I’ve just been really busy.”
Star is miffed when they hang up. “Money doesn’t just come. You actually have to be on cam,” she says. According to Star, her top full-time models bring in $80,000 to $120,000 annually, camming 40-plus hours each week. (Most models work far fewer hours, and make far less.) “Out of 100 inquiries I get, maybe 50 percent will actually come back with the paperwork,” like a valid ID, says Star. “And out of those who I get ready to work, maybe 10 will actually take the job seriously. Those are the models I work hard to mentor.”
One of those models is Dita Voss, who signed up with Star through Candy Cam Jobs, one of MLC’s four affiliates. Voss had a successful but time-consuming career in finance and was looking for more autonomy, more money, and more time with her family. “Candy Cam was the first place I came across that came right out and said it—‘We pay you.’” Voss soon realized she had “hit the lottery when I ended up with Natalie,” who was nothing like the exploitative managers she’d heard about, explaining everything from invoicing and “ESP” (Eyes, Smile, Personality) to pleasing a client with a fetish for diapers. “Natalie was really kind and down to earth and gave me all the basics. But she’s also there to help me understand stuff like that”—Voss says, referring to diapering. ”Exactly what the clients need.”
“What’s the password? Tell us the fucking password!” Star orders Dallas Moore, the model bound to a chair in the middle of her camming room. Star’s been instructed by her client Ordinary Joe to tie Moore up and interrogate her about the imaginary password to an imaginary safe. Star’s been ordered to tickle Moore with a feather if she withholds information.
Joe is paying $9 per minute to have this elaborate fantasy acted out before his eyes. The fee from his usual 20 to 40 minutes (plus tips) will be split among Flirt4Free, MLC, Moore, and Star. As an added found-money bonus, longer shows like this one are often recorded and resold to other customers for a lower rate, typically $2 to $4 per minute.
Such lucrative cash flows have enabled Star to invest and begin saving for retirement. But she also works exceptionally hard and has almost zero time for a personal life. “I’m on cam so much that I begin to look at my clients as my friends, not just my fans,” Star tells me. “Many of [the guys] just want someone to talk about their day with. We have relationships that are just as meaningful as anything happening in ‘real’ life.”
That may explain why someone so successful spends so many hours in front of the camera when she probably could get by with less. Star seems genuinely motivated by more than money or the hunger to be the best. She’s invested in the relationships—in many ways, they’re all she’s got.
Back at the “interrogation,” Moore continues to plead with Star. “No, please no, I swear I don’t know!” Star inches closer, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
“Tickle her more!” the client commands. “She’s lying to us.”
“If you don’t tell us now, you’re going to get it,” Star threatens in a low, silken tone.
Moore twists and turns, in tears from laughing so hard, and screams, “I do not have it!” as Star proceeds to ravage her with feathers and fingers and the drama of playacting.
And then suddenly, after 20 minutes of faux torture sublime, he types “Cut!!!” as if directing his own movie. “Thank you ladies, we’ll have to do this again sometime.”
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is a sociologist living in Los Angeles. Her book Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment comes out in July. Follow her on Twitter at @drchauntelle.