Confessions of a gossip blogger

Omri Hayoon, a hyperactive, gay teenager with a humble background, has managed to enthrall much of the country with his celebrity scoops.

Omri Hayoon 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Omri Hayoon 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Omri Hayoon is holding court at a trendy Tel Aviv café. As he eats a chicken sandwich and sips his orange juice, people twice his age approach the table to pay tribute to and shake hands with one of Israel’s most powerful gossip bloggers.
“People love to write that I’m just a boy, I’m only 19,” Hayoon says, rolling his eyes petulantly, like a teenager who thinks he’s seen it all. “So just put down that I’m 20; my birthday’s in August.”
Despite having the attitude down, Hayoon is anything but a typical teen. His own personal life has had enough upheavals to fill its own blog, but Hayoon has brought powerful Israeli media players to their knees with his reports on some of television’s biggest stars.
Hayoon began his online career at age 17, when he began to contribute to online fan forums for various Israeli TV shows. He decided to concentrate his efforts into a blog of his own, which he called “On the Way to Fame.” Since then, his blog has become the most popular in the country. He’s written a column for Ma’ariv’s youth magazine and appeared regularly on the Entertainment News television show.
The blogger’s biggest stories tend to involve the stars of the country’s top-rated reality shows, such as Big Brother, Survivor and A Star Is Born (Israel’s version of American Idol). In late April, Hayoon revealed who the finalists on this season of A Star Is Born would be – two weeks before the episode was broadcast.
“My first big scoop was about Omer Adam from A Star is Born,” Hayoon says. His blog was the first, in 2009, to reveal that Adam, a favorite to win first place, was actually only 16 years old and therefore ineligible for the competition. Soon after, Adam was dismissed from the show.
“This was way in the beginning, when I had no idea what I was getting into,” Hayoon said. “I got an e-mail about his age, and I didn’t think about why someone would send that to me. I just published the information, and everyone quoted it.”
This past February, Hayoon posted a sound bite that was heard across the country. Yoram Zak, an editor on Big Brother, had spoken into a microphone without realizing it was on, and viewers of the 24-hour Big Brother Live channel heard him say to contestant Dana Ron, “Good evening, Dana. You have half a minute to turn to the audience and convince them why you are the one who wants me to play with my [sex organ] between your breasts.”
The comments were not screened during the regular Big Brother program, but Hayoon publicized them on his blog, which has 20,000-30,000 visitors per day; his Facebook page, which has 90,000 “Likes”; and his iPhone application. Soon the local media was abuzz, replaying the clip over and over again, while publications like Haaretz published opinion articles on the scandal. A Jerusalem Post article on February 18 quoted a Knesset discussion aimed at “curbing what [MKs] view as the hit television program’s irresponsible messages.”
Hayoon also scandalized the country last July by publishing a revealing video of pop star and television personality Michal Amdursky. The 20-second video shows Amdursky by a pool hosting a program on Channel 24, the Israeli music channel, when the bottom half of her bikini falls off. The camera quickly pans to the people in the pool.
“Michal and I used to be friendly, but it all changed after that,” Hayoon deadpans.
“I don't think I’m hurting people,” he adds. “If someone lies and becomes a public figure, he should take responsibility for what he does. If Michal Amdursky goes on TV in her underwear and acts provocatively, then she’s asking for it.”
The blogger also has no qualms about his sources and their motivations.
“A lot of people send me scoops because they have something to gain [from the publication]. A writer doesn’t care if there are manipulative reasons – he just wants an item,” he says, adding, “I don’t think there should be any limits to free speech.”
Hayoon has been compared in the press to popular American gossip blogger Perez Hilton – perhaps because both are pudgy, openly gay and not afraid to be mean – but he’s reluctant to accept the title of “Israel’s Perez,” especially after Hilton’s public mea culpa, in which he promised to stop bullying celebrities.
“The difference between me and Perez is that he tries to fight with famous people. That’s not my thing,” Hayoon explains. “I had some fights with famous people, but it’s not what I’m looking for. I also don’t draw on pictures of famous people. It’s just not what I do at the moment.”
The blogger concedes that “everyone gets pangs of conscience. I even put up a video blog before Yom Kippur, but I felt like it was pathetic and unnecessary. I took it down after a little bit; it was more to pat myself on the back for all I’d accomplished until then,” rather than an apology, Hayoon adds with a laugh.
He admits he enjoys being provocative. He recalls with a smirk a photo he uploaded to his blog’s Facebook page, in which he put his face in place of a detained Arab sitting next to soldier Eden Abergil, who became infamous for Facebook photos of her IDF service.
“The timing was excellent. She commented that all Arabs should die,” he said, “and then my blog was mentioned on the news.”
Sometimes Hayoon uses his blog’s power for the greater good, like on Holocaust Remembrance Day, when he exposed an online hoax. A Facebook page asked visitors to choose a memorial candle to put on their profiles, but once they did so, their profiles showed that they “Liked” a different page.
“It’s disgusting. That’s not the way to advertise,” Hayoon says. After he posted the story on his blog, Channel 2 News interviewed him, and Facebook removed the application. “Holocaust Remembrance Day isn’t exactly the topic I usually write about, but it really bothered me that someone would take advantage of this important day.”
Hayoon squirms in his seat as the discussion takes a more serious turn, and begins to play with his two cell phones. He waves and yells, “How’s it going?” to a passing publicist.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m hyperactive. I have ADHD. I used to take Ritalin in school,” he giggles, and takes a picture of his lunch. “I have to put lots of photos on Facebook, for my fans.”
Then Hayoon jumps back into the conversation. "I’m not being self-righteous. This is my job. If I don’t put a story online, someone else will. I don’t have time for selfexamination,” he says.
“Like it or not, this is what I do,” he adds – and many people choose not to like him.
“A lot of reality-show producers won’t talk to me, but I don’t want to work with them anyway. They can direct their public relations at other gossip writers,” he asserts.
“Sometimes I think I may have burned too many bridges, but I don’t think I made too many mistakes,” the blogger states.
MISTAKES OR not, the Rehovot-born Hayoon worked hard to get where he is today. Soon after his birth, his father abandoned the family, and Hayoon did not make life easy for his single mother. At age 13, due to behavior and monetary issues, she sent him away to boarding school in Netanya.
“The situation at home was” – he hesitates, looking for the right word – “complex. My mother and I need our distance. We see the world differently. I was a crazy, difficult kid, and I just couldn’t be there anymore. Whatever happened, happened.” He shrugs. “It’s all for the best, I guess. No, I don’t guess. It was for the best.”
At 18, Hayoon enlisted in the IDF, despite being eligible for an exemption due to his disadvantaged background.
“I was supposed to get help, but they ignored me,” Hayoon says. “For six months, I didn’t do anything helpful, I was transferred from department to department, and they wouldn’t give me permission to get a job or pay me extra money for my rent, even though the army had promised.”
He recalls, “I couldn’t live at home, and the army didn’t offer me a place to live. They didn’t offer any help, and wanted me to live off of NIS 300 per month. Did they want me to sleep on a bench on the street? I had to take my life into my own hands.”
Hayoon stopped going to the army, and then turned himself in to military prison.
“So I went to jail. It wasn’t very nice, really, it was gross,” he remembers.
“My whole life, with my background, I could have already gone to jail. My situation could have easily deteriorated. Instead, I came to contribute, when I could have gotten out of going to the army like that,” Hayoon says, snapping his fingers.
“I was very disappointed,” he continues. “But luckily, because of an administrative mistake, I only spent 18 days in jail, instead of five months, and then I was out of the army.”
During his stint in the army, Hayoon continued to work on his blog to pay for what the army didn’t, and continued to receive a salary from the Tapuz blog-hosting site when he left jail.
“Usually, people coming from where I come from fall,” Hayoon notes. “I chose not to, and that’s it.”
The year Hayoon turned 18 was momentous not only because of his tumultuous army experience, but also because it was the year he came out of the closet. As his blog grew in popularity, he outed himself publicly last June, a step that was covered on many popular Israeli sites.
Hayoon is now participating in an advertising campaign for the 2011 Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade, which will take place in early June.
“It’s a really big compliment,” he said, “to have big stars next to me like [singers] Amir Fay Guttman and Corinne Allal. It’s amazing to be considered part of the major representatives of the [gay] community. It’s really cool.”
He explains that “the campaign wants to shed a positive light, and show people who can influence the way the public sees the gay community. I think people see me as a role model, because they can relate to my life story, that I succeeded despite all the odds.”