Just Who Is Maria Papadakis?

The daughter of the late Drexel president Taki Papadakis is the city’s new It Girl. Is she a budding Philly power player, or just another pretty face?

One sun-starched weekday afternoon, after Maria tapes a Flyers segment for Comcast SportsNet, she and I are standing outside XFINITY Live!, trying to figure out how to get back downtown. I suggest the subway, an idea quickly shut down. There are no cabs. Maria roams into the middle of Pattison Avenue and accosts a passenger-less black stretch limo, begging it to take her home. The skeptical driver eventually relents when she tells him she’s an “on-air personality.”

In the limo, the driver says her name sounds familiar, but he doesn’t recognize her. “Oh, you don’t need to,” Maria says. “I’m not famous.” This seemingly schizophrenic exchange captures Maria’s status pretty well. On-air personality? Yes. Famous? Not quite. In a celebrity-starved city, though, Maria passes for it. And that has the snobbier veterans of the gossip scene a little irked.

“I really don’t know anything about Maria becoming, quote, a ‘celebrity,’” Michael Klein says of his, ahem, colleague. “Not trying to be a jerk here, but I don’t even think she’s widely known among Philadelphians. She’s widely known among a crowd that reads HughE’s blog.” Jimmy Contreras, a pseudo-celebrity in his own right, betrays similar confusion. “How she relates to Feastival, no one really knows. You know, like, she’s not a chef, she’s not in the restaurant world,” he says. “In Philadelphia, anybody can be who you wanna be as long as somebody buys into your crazy.”

To a certain degree, Maria’s local brand of celebrity is the product of a new media landscape in which journalistic norms have been so corrupted that your best friend can also be your best material and nobody really raises an eyebrow. And if your best friend happens to have a loyal Twitter/Instagram/Facebook following, the incentive to promote her increases. Maria’s entrée into the media sphere of Philly.com is merely an update on the ultra-connected old-boy’s-club networking her father specialized in. Maria’s high-school pal Sarena Snider—daughter of Ed—helped set up her first TV auditions. Jesse Rendell—son of Ed—is her agent. Her boss at Philly.com is Lexie Norcross, whose father co-owns the papers and Philly.com. All of them bought into her crazy.

Maria works a room as well as Taki did. But while he did it with a clear goal—promoting Drexel—it’s unclear what Maria’s is.

Even the most loyal members of Team Maria seem unwilling to accept that “media personality” will be the fate of Taki’s only child. Especially if her rise coincides with—and helps enable—the downfall of Philadelphia’s serious journalistic institutions. As a former Inquirer staffer says of Maria, one of the “New Voices” Philly.com has hired in lieu of professional writers: “The fact that Maria Papadakis is a rising media star sort of makes me quiver.”

“You go through certain passages in your life,” Eliana says. “I don’t say, ‘This is where Maria will be in the next 20 years.’” Sam Katz, a Taki admirer, cautions me not to “write the final chapter for Maria Papadakis.” “There is something missing from her life—probably her father, who would be telling her probably [to do] something different. Probably telling her to go to graduate school by now.”

But Maria has already been to graduate school. That this fact has been obscured by her new role suggests she’s not so much an unworthy fauxcialite who’s climbed to the top of an especially gossipy house of cards, but rather a woman who, fueled by friends and associates eager to capitalize on her fame, has been penned into a role that reinforces Philly’s parochial self-love but doesn’t do justice to her capabilities. During an undergraduate business-consulting course six years ago, she led a team that created an ad campaign for a Subaru competition, “Fall in Love with a Subaru,” that the carmaker would pick up, tweak, and broadcast nationally within months. When she approached Gerry Lenfest with an idea one evening last summer at the Prime Rib, it was to save the newspapers, not to undermine them.

And yet it’s easy to see why the life of a Philly celebrity can be so tempting. In early September, Maria sent me a schedule of her upcoming tapings. She was particularly excited about a shoot during which she’d rappel off a wall with a local athlete. Trouble was, she couldn’t find any athletes willing to film it with her. One evening I got a text from her asking if I wanted to fill in; they were shooting a teaser segment, and I’d be on camera. Could be fun for the story, I thought. Besides, a little exposure never hurt anyone. So I talked myself into it, undone by a little celebrity status-seeking of my own. “U were the first person I asked. Ur special!” Maria texted. “Lol.”

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  • Robert Higgins

    This girl is everything that is wrong and bad about Philadelphia. First, she isn’t that pretty. She needs her teeth shaved down and her hair style that she walks around town with on a normal basis looks like the girl who works at the local Jersey diner HAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Funny about the one poster on this, but she has baba booey teeth. In fact, my friends are going to start calling her Baba Booey. Just another way to make fun of this girl who really does nothing and means nothing. It’s sad that Philly Mag has shrunk so low that they feel that this girl is worthy of an article inside of their magazine.The fact that the writer is making fun of her and her Mom, this girl is too dumb to see that. She’s the female Arthur Kade. Another low-life loser. If Philly Mag wants to do an actual newsworthy article about pseudo philly wanna-be celebs, you should find out how Arthur Kade actually has any money (or makes any money). While HugeE Dillon is a really nice guy in real life, he doesn’t get or understand that people are using him, as he’s probably using them too. Wasn’t it a few years ago that Sabrina Tamborino was the Philly “it” girl. . At least Sabrina is actually cool . Maria from what I’ve been told by multiple people was a really fat girl for the longest time and then dropped some weight and now considers herself pretty. I’m sure her husband, errr, I mean ex-husband (of 6 months) has some interesting stories. Philly Mag, you should tell your writer to dig deeper for the better story. How happy can her Mommy be of her to have a $300,000 wedding to have her daughter end the marriage 6 months later. My father would KILL me. But of course, the wedding wasn’t about them, it was about the “look at me” that her mommy installed. The writer did a good job of showing that and does make that clear.
    The world of Philadelphia doesn’t need Maria. The world of Philadelphia doesn’t want Maria. I’m sure if HugeE told Maria, “look hon, I’ve been paid $50K to not mention your name in any press or take a pic of you for 1 year” she’d drop him like a hot potato. Basically, fake friends. Self-promotion at it’s finest. Maria, take Webster and the whole Papakapolis family back to Drexel and please don’t think that you are newsworthly. You are a joke in Philadelphia. All the real power players and real people who have real meaning in this town know it. They either don’t even know who you are, talk behind your back, or they quickly shuffle away from you when you walk by. HugeE and Philly Mag, at least have a hot-ass chick like that Christina Honickman as the Philly “it” girl. At least, she’s hot to look at.

  • Amy

    I graduated Drexel with Maria. The way she was treated was insane. She had 5 majors, an entire floor of a dorm hall to herself and every teacher was scared to death of her. During graduation they stopped the whole ceremony just so she could walk on stage and get her diploma from her dad. No one liked her and she was very heavy. She is hardly an it girl….I agree there are better candidates out there.

  • Eileen Siways

    Philly Mag, you must really need readership and your desperation is showing. September’s issue featured ‘The Dead Girl in The Bathtub” and now in this issue you are trying to hype up pseudo Philly celebrities that are non-existent. Why don’t you act like a top tier magazine and start producing more substantive stories rather than this crap.

  • Chuck

    HughE Dillion a “Society Photographer”? Oh, Please.

  • kg

    I only read 3 lines of this article and it was a waste of my time. The fact that someone got paid to write this is shocking- or not. It’s phillymag, it’s not supposed to be good, and I have to remember that.

  • MB

    I think people are missing the point here, Simon included. Maria is just at the beginning of her career and has a lot going for her. Part of what people are missing is that today, the media is always changing. There is no one way to do things anymore. So what she is doing and has accomplished is much different than what what people are use to. A regular 9-5 job is not the norm now-a-days, especially in the line of work Maria is in. Simon missed some key points in Maria’s current life like where she works and what exactly it is that she does. You don’t need a 9-5 job to be successfull in today’s world. Her charity work is just one part of who she is and God bless her for taking advantage of her resources and using that to not only help her grow as a person, but to keep her family’s legacy in this city alive. Not everyone is fortunate to be able to have such resources in life but if anyone is so greatful and appreciative, it’s Maria. And shame on those who took a stab at what she looks like. She needs to shave her teeth? Unreal.

  • Charlie D

    I am a fan of Maria’s show, I think she’s a riot, and the
    writer touches upon how ridiculously down to earth she is. I met her at a
    Flyers game she was taping at; she stopped her shoot so me and all my friends
    could talk to her when we asked for a photo. She was the nicest, funniest girl
    I’ve ever met. Wasn’t expecting that.

    I googled her after reading this article and I found out she interviewed the
    Dalai Lama and Christopher Reeves?! I had no idea, because it’s not in the
    article. So I see why the writer says she does more funny segments like they do
    on the morning shows. But Katie Nolan is my girl for that sole reason. And she
    is a kid, and with a great personality; I’d rather watch her be fun and that’s
    not a bad thing to me. I do like the title of the article on the cover of
    the magazine, “who doesn’t love maria papadakis”. I guess some
    commenters on here don’t though lol. Me and my friends fell in love with her
    after talking to her. I see why some dude proposed to her on a first date.
    Maria, will you marry me? Charlie from Lehigh you met at the Flyers game. I
    follow you on twitter: Go orange and black!

  • Shannon Maria

    At 28, I think she’s doing well for herself in a city that is known for quickly turning on its own. If she had five majors, then it sounds like she’s got a lot of interests, many of which are combined into her current ventures. Thanks to the internet and social media, the world is no longer 9-5. My hat is off to Maria for making a living doing what she loves and promoting a city that obviously means a lot to her.

  • Dana

    As a patron of many charities Maria is involved in, and having helped run a few myself, I’d like to better highlight her involvement to to help this be a more enlightening piece. Maria started working with one of the organizations I am involved with over 4 years ago (a childrens nonprofit theatre group), and she started half of the city’s young friends organizations for non profits before they became “the norm”. I have seen support these organizations through website revision, accounting guidance, and fundraising. There were no cameras or publicity in most of what I saw Maria do, but she still helped from the ground up. . Although her now “famous” name can garner a powerful team to help in many ways, I saw first hand how she just wants to make a difference, like her dad whom I adored. If that means a charity who normally gets little publicity may get some now because of her fame, God bless her and them. She wields the fact that a city “loves” her (which is the cover page title) and follows her to help others. The article somewhat showed that, but not in the humble way I know Maria to be. For me, there was too much about a gala or celebrities (though I get that is what people like to read). It just would have been been nice to read more about the many organizations she’s helped so much, like FringeArts- which is why she emceed Feastival mentioned in the article. Maria has depth and heart – as well as a beautiful face and personality.

  • AL

    She’s fat with a skinny neck & jawline.

  • anon

    I believe the point of the majors was that she had 5 majors and a dorm room floor for free……

    • Cassie F

      Oh come on that was a ridiculous comment, obviously untrue…if Chelsea Clinton can’t get a whole dorm floor, no one can. Student rumors also said she had a helicopter and a jacuzzi. Really? You don’t think anyone would have noticed a black hawk picking up people at the dorms. LOL…And 5 majors, don’t you think the writer would have mentioned any of this. Seriously guys lol?
      You guys just turned this into exactly the point the writer is making, our city’s fascination with celebrity. Our own TMZ and gossip!