This paper draws on a case study of celebrity campaigning during the 2012 US Presidential election to critically engage with the problem of how to understand and analyse the role of celebrity in contemporary democracy. In doing so, we draw on work that has considered how recent US politics has been underpinned by ‘competing populisms’. These have sought to articulate, and performatively enact, different versions of ‘the people’ to achieve cultural identification and electoral endorsement. We argue that although it is important to understand how populist politics are produced and performed, a problem that arises in studies of celebrity politics is that, too often, these also adopt a populist approach. That is, a division between ‘elites’ and ‘ordinary’ (or ‘everyday’) people is simply assumed as a fundamental and given division in society, rather than as a particular articulation of society, and democracy, whose particular histories and contemporary formations require deeper investigation.