Tina Fey, American Express Ad

American Express

What determines what a celebrity will get paid for endorsing a product? Is there like a minimum wage?
—Macaela, New Zealand

Minimum wage. That's cute. But no. A-listers can choose to shoot a craptastic Michael Bay flick or do a national ad campaign—either way, if the client is a giant brand, their pay can start at $5-$10 million.

Jerry Seinfeld charged $10 million to star in those ill-fated Microsoft commercials, and whatever Tina Fey's making for those AmEx ads should be 10 times that. Natalie Portman reportedly has turned down campaigns worth tens of millions of dollars.

Those offers depend on a mix of box office, visibility and the Q Score, a number calculated by Marketing Evaluations Inc. It's a go-to reference for advertising companies looking to hire the most desirable faces.

So who has the highest Q Score? The lowest? The answer will surprise you:

First, here's how the Q Scores work. The company surveys people, asking them whether they have heard of a certain public figure. If the person does know of the celebrity, the company then asks whether the star counts among his or her "favorites." So if a star is well loved among half the people surveyed, the Q Score is 50.

The actor with the highest current Q score?

William Petersen. Really. That guy who shows up on CBS to solve crimes and such right after Survivor.

"He's been the most appealing person for the past five years or so," the company's Steve Levitt tells me. After him comes the seemingly unstoppable Will Smith, Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington and Johnny Depp.

Among women, who generally Q about 10 points lower, Carol Burnett—yes, really—still rates among this country's most loved, along with Mariska Hargitay, Reba McEntire and, finally, Julia Roberts.

People with a negative Q score, in no particular order, include Don Imus, Paris Hilton, Snoop, Nicole Richie and Howard Stern.

God bless America.

Got a question about Hollywood? ASK IT!

Oh, and be my fan on Facebook, 'kay?

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