Vegas's Most Influential Instagram Stars & the Local Hot Spots They Love

By Andrea Bennett | November 21, 2016 | People Feature

It's a weekend night—or any night—in Las Vegas, and at least a few thousand people are enacting their #whathappensinvegas fantasies. On one end of town, Steve Aoki could be “caking” a few lucky fans among 7,000 packed into Hakkasan before spraying them with Champagne. Holly Madison might be busting out of a Monarch butterfly costume at the Electric Daisy Carnival. A newly married couple weaves its way through a casino floor; a massive, animatronic squirrel picks up an acorn in Bellagio’s Conservatory; an adult-sized Minion chats with a hirsute angel in pink pasties on Fremont Street as zipliners shoot themselves from a 77-foot-high slot machine overhead. You get the picture: Instagram seems purpose-built for Vegas. For the record, we’ll always dispute the idea that “Vegas doesn’t have character, it has characters.” But some of its characters are capturing the city and its surrounds at their wildest, wackiest, and most naturally beautiful. Watch them watch Vegas, and you’ll get some of the best insider views on everything from our nightlife and nature to fashion and food.

HOLLY MADISON | AUTHOR/ENTERTAINER
@hollymadison

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Few have mastered the art of reinvention like Holly Madison, who first seared America’s eyeballs on E!’s The Girls Next Door, but is better known now by fans as mom to two Insta-gorgeous children and wife of Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella, and a bubblegum-sexy social media presence. The two-time author—Down the Rabbit Hole, about life with Hugh Hefner, became a #1 New York Times bestseller, which she followed with the recently released The Vegas Diaries—isn’t stopping at writing books (though she’s currently at work on a YA novel). “I don’t put myself in a box,” she says. “After I’ve accomplished a goal, I move on to something new.” And if you’re not already among her 4 million social media followers, don’t expect “just ‘Hey, look at me in a bikini’ pictures.’ My followers and I bond over being a new mom, music festivals, travel, or our nerdy fangirl obsessions. I try to include all aspects of my life on Instagram.”

Inspirations: “Old Hollywood visuals. Also: Disney, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Game of Thrones.”
Most memorable image: “A photo of my newborn son’s hand on mine.”
Vegas love: “It’s a city full of interesting characters and eccentrics, and I love a good eccentric.”
Shopping with Holly: “I love Palazzo (they have my favorite Louboutin store) and the Dolce & Gabbana at Crystals stocks amazing pieces.”
20 minutes in Vegas: “Somewhere with an amazing view, like Lago at Bellagio.”
Most missed old school Vegas venue: “The Crazy Horse Paris. My friends and I used to go there all the time.”
Best season: “Fall in Vegas. The weather is nice, the city’s not too busy, and everything feels like it’s starting over.”

JEFF TIMMONS | ENTERTAINER
@jefftimmons

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He’s a singer, television producer, writer, performer, and host—but to any girl who grew up in the ’90s, he’s the Jeff Timmons (sob! wail!) of Grammy-nominated 98 Degrees, currently enjoying its renaissance from the recent MY2K Tour to nearly 40 cities across the country. Boy band devotees already know that he united with members of Backstreet Boys, O-Town, and NSYNC to star in and record a song for Nick Carter’s post-apocalyptic zombie western movie Dead 7 this year. But for Vegas locals, he’s also a neighbor and buddy who “started singing on a whim at a party in college” and now counts millions of fans from “concerts, TV appearances, collaborations with folks like Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder; performances at the White House, and for Michael Jackson, the list goes on.” The secret to his long-lived popularity might be that positive attitude and a combination of “faith, humility, self-belief, and an unrelenting work ethic”—but also smart use of social media and technology, he says, “to not only proliferate my own brand, but many of the television programs, live shows, and artists that I produce and develop.”

Inspiration: “Being creative, providing for my family, and fear of failure.”
Most frequent comment: “Most folks inquire when 98 Degrees will be in their city, or when they can come to Vegas to see a show I’m involved with.”
Vegas love: “It’s the land of opportunity for an entertainer. It’s not oversaturated like Los Angeles, but there is so much to do here as a fan and an entertainer. The weather is great, the traffic is better, and the people in the business are tight-knit and loyal.”
20 minutes in Vegas: “Grab breakfast at Bite in Summerlin and check out the views in Red Rock.”
Date night: “STK is amazing, but the Rio has a great steakhouse called VooDoo, and the views are to die for.”
Old Vegas inspiration: “Once in a while, I like to check out ‘Old Town’ Las Vegas. That’s where this place began. A lot of history, and a ton of nostalgia.”

JOHN UM | CHEF
@chefjohn

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At first glance, you might think John Um’s collection of Instagram images depicts a gorgeous collection of brilliant flowers, or deeply saturated photorealistic paintings. Take a second look, and like his 47K followers, you’ll get pulled in to post after post of sushi as art. After all, he’s the sushi chef for SushiSamba in Las Vegas, Miami Beach, and Coral Gables (though he makes Vegas his home), and the nature of his business, he explains, “is to have a perfect culinary experience by achieving a balance of taste and artful presentation.” Always looking for exotic ingredients as inspiration, he began documenting his creations, ultimately using his Instagram page as a career portfolio. “Now I like to provide information about these unique dishes, and even some art work that inspires me.” His rainbows of artfully plated sushi regularly command upwards of 1,500 likes apiece, but this purist is no prima donna. He presents a single, minimal, phallic-looking geoduck with the hashtag “#calmdownitisjustaclam” and his tagline? “CHEF because badass motherf*cker is not an official job title.”

Inspiration: “Everyone and everything. I hear my cooks and I get inspired, I experience other chefs’ dishes and get inspired, I simply look at the sky and get inspired.”
Toque solidarity: “I get a lot of compliments from different chefs around the world… wishing to try the dishes.”
Vegas love: “Come on, everyone wants to be in Vegas! Las Vegas is like adults’ Disneyland. However, what people don’t know is that this place is not only about casinos and parties. We have a lot of cool places with art, and an outstanding culinary scene.”
20 minutes in Vegas: “Put $20 in a slot machine, enjoy a bottle of beer while playing with a minimum bet, then go all-in when you have one minute left.”
Date place: “Seven Magic Mountains. This is where I asked my girl to marry me, so it is a special place for both of us.”
Local hangouts: “Downtown Las Vegas! #dtlv. When you have all these vibes and art works around the streets, you cannot ask for more.”
City view: “Mandarin Oriental Bar and Skyfall lounge at Delano.”

STEVE AOKI | MUSICIAN/PRODUCER
@steveaoki

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Social media platforms seem to bend to Steve Aoki’s will, since one of the most social of all international DJs was doing grassroots social media of his own long before the likes of Instagram. “Even in the MySpace days, I was throwing parties so I could DJ; I was on the ground, passing out flyers. I’m about the dissemination of information,” he adds. “That information was music, a new release on my label [Dim Mak Records, which he founded in 1996]. I was passionate about exposing Bloc Party to the world; party after party I’d give out CDs to people I knew. It starts with a genuine interest in how you present things.” In the Inst-era, Aoki says, “The presentation you give to people is as important as what’s inside.” That’s why his multimillion-follower social media presence is heavy on pictorial narrative. “You have to explain the story—the backstory and the labor that went into what they’re getting.” About his posts, he says, “I’m not selling things all the time. I’m showcasing different parts of my culture.”

Most memorable moment: “I was lucky enough to sit eye-view at the final presidential debate. And then I raced over to Hillary’s rally in North Las Vegas, and I got a selfie with her and Bill. It was so cool and of-the-moment. I garnered over 100,000 likes, and I made a big deal of that on Snapchat.”
Most frequent comment: “Usually where they’re from: ‘Come to Guatemala! Come to Istanbul! Come to Jakarta!’ The community that follows me is worldwide.”
Secret skill: “Recharging on a five-minute nap. I’ll sleep anywhere. There’s no shame to the game. And I can do it in any vehicle you can imagine. I try to get my team to follow the same protocol so we can all reschedule.”
Favorite local hangout: “I love Izakaya.”
Go: You have to go to these little guys off the Strip, in these strip malls undercover.”
Zen and the art of Vegas: “Local spots that are important for me have healthy options. I go to Protein House, Greens and Proteins, and Fruits & Roots is actually in my rider. When I travel their juices are always in my fridge ready to go.” 90
minutes in Vegas: “I’d go to Oracle, a gymnastics place where Cirque gymnasts train. I trained there and it was pretty amazing.”
Most inspirational place: “My studio—it’s in my house. You can see it on Instagram at #neonfuturecave.”

JAENNELLE VERGONIO | LIFESTYLE AND FASHION BLOGGER
@jnelv

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The design and production manager at the brand @KNYEW (Keeping NY Everywhere) and professional fashion and lifestyle influencer started working in fashion at 15 years old in streetwear boutiques, moving on to merchandising for American Apparel. “I was able to post about all my travels and daily outfits,” she explains. Once a hobby now a full-time job, “My blog also opened up opportunities to create content for local businesses and hotels in Las Vegas.” Perfectly framed moments—from a view overlooking the Las Vegas Strip to a neat pinwheel of Adidas to a celebratory drink before taking over Marquee Las Vegas’s Snapchat regularly garner 2,000 likes. It’s all about Vergonio’s version of the #goodlife, and everyone wants it.

Inspiration: “Women with talent and substance; music, movies, photography, art, and entrepreneurs. My job as a production and design manager at KNYEW, my family, and my boyfriend, @DJCrooked.”
Memorable moment: “The selfie I shared while I was in Kyoto, Japan, has got to be one of my faves. It was taken at the top of a hiking trail during the start of autumn. I’ve never seen such red and yellow leaves. Till this day I can’t get over it.”
Key to success: “I like to go by my favorite quote right now: ‘A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.’”
Most frequent comment: “Emojis! The top three are the heart eye, flame, and bomb.”
Vegas love: “Vegas is special for being Vegas—from the lavishness of the nightlife and food, to the hustlers here.”
Date place: “My favorite Japanese restaurant, Raku!”
Place for inspiration: “The Shops at Crystals. I get inspired by all of the current seasons’ fashions, and it inspires me to keep working so that I can one day afford it all.”

JOHN CARRACEDO | PHOTOGRAPHER
@johnnylace

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Surprising, off-kilter perspectives on Downtown Las Vegas, The Strip, and the mountains and desert around the Vegas valley have made John Carracedo a social media documentarian of sorts. A puffy cumulonimbus cloud dwarfs a Joshua tree in a dramatic desert landscape; the High Roller Ferris wheel bears down on a lone pedestrian. Carracedo’s unique perspective is, well, having a unique perspective. “I just go out into the world and shoot what I love and don’t worry about what others think,” he says, a modus operandi that has helped him land professional work with Sony, Dos Equis, and Jägermeister, and made him Time magazine’s choice in Nevada for its “50 Instagram Photographers to Follow in All 50 States” project. As for inspiration? “I am open minded about everything, but what inspires me the most are sunrises and sunsets. You would never catch the same sunrise or sunset ever!”

Memorable images: “A couple of my double-exposure shots in a project I dedicated to the cities of Los Angeles and Las Vegas.”
Most frequent comment: “I get a lot of cool emojis, but I always love the ones that say ‘You’re the reason I picked up a camera.’”
Vegas love: “Downtown Las Vegas is where I enjoy shooting street photography, because there’s always something interesting going on there.”
20 minutes in Vegas: “A helicopter ride!”
Date place: “Ohjah Sushi.”
Go here for inspiration: “Valley of Fire National Park.”
Ideal Vegas day: “Shoot all day and meet amazing people!”

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