At 50, Ken Is Sexy Again — And Back With Barbie

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Photographer: Paul Jordan Stylist: Mary Jordan Job Number:1047547

Suddenly, Ken Carson is the comeback kid. He’s been everywhere lately.

Aside from a role the Oscar nominated Toy Story 3, Barbie’s other half has resurfaced with a brand-new digital presence, his own reality competition show and a very public campaign to win back the (plastic) girl of his dreams.

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Since the big Barbie and Ken breakup in 2004, Ken has been in a rut. (But really, who hasn’t after a bad breakup?) That same year, ultra-sexy Bratz began to outsell Mattel’s prize fashion dolls and without the status boost as the boyfriend of the blond bombshell, Ken seemed out of touch. So how does a major toy company put their struggling male lead back on top? Get us (and Barbie) to fall in love with him again.

After his scene-stealing performance in the third Toy Story installment, Mattel decided it was time to drag Ken out of his funk. As a buildup to the doll’s 50th anniversary in March, the company gave everyone’s favorite “boy toy” one of its signature makeovers, updating his wardrobe and hairstyle, but most importantly his personality.

In August Ken signed up for Twitter, emerging as a tech-savvy bachelor tweeting about sports (he’s a Dodgers fan), weekend plans and even his new iPad. His new Facebook page got more than 40,000 likes. And so he did what any recently empowered social(network)ite would do: He used his digital following to get what he wanted: Barbie.

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An explosion of public groveling began, from romantic tweets and Facebook polls to grand gestures like taking out billboards in Southern California and creating custom cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery. And if that wasn’t enough to convince Barbie (and the world) that Ken was the perfect guy, Mattel fashioned a Ken-themed reality show which debuted on Hulu early this year. “Genuine Ken: The Search For The Great American Boyfriend” is a reality competition between eight chiseled perfect male specimens, all competing to be the human incarnation of Barbie’s boyfriend. Hosted by reality show alum Whitney Port, the men are judged on their abilities to display perfect acts of “boyfriendery” worthy of the teen queen herself.

To its credit, Mattel’s idea was brilliant. Make Ken the ultimate human and he’ll become the ultimate toy. Earlier this week at New York City’s Toy Fair, Mattel announced the new Sweet Talkin’ Ken, a doll that promises that “girls of all ages can have the ultimate boyfriend for every occasion.” The toy features a built-in microphone that allows girls to record compliments in Ken’s voice for him to repeat back to them. Literally, they’ve created the programmable man.

As for Barbie, she did finally take Ken back just in time for Valentine’s Day – and the biggest media toy event of the year.