"Omigod! Omigod!" a blond woman in a red coat screamed as she ran toward the stretch limo.

It was 11:30 last Saturday night and a long line had formed outside the downtown Minneapolis club Aqua. The temp had dipped to 32, but shivering clubgoers were still quick to whip out their cellphone cameras, ready to capture the cause of this sudden excitement.

Kim Kardashian had arrived.

And just who the hell is Kim Kardashian? Well, she's a buxom noncelebrity who became a celebrity by way of 1) her Paris Hilton affiliation, 2) her own sex-tape scandal and 3) a starring role in a reality TV show, E!'s "Keeping Up With the Kardashians." In that order, too.

On Saturday, she was at Aqua for two hours, but not because Minnesota is any cooler than Beverly Hills.

Nope, she was being paid to party.

Why? Because it brings in clubgoers who get a rush out of saying they partied with a celebrity, even if "partied" means not getting within 20 feet of said celebrity in his/her roped-off VIP cocoon.

This somewhat ridiculous but strangely exciting phenomenon has been popular for some time in Las Vegas and L.A. clubs, where almost every pop-culture diva, from Britney Spears to Pamela Anderson, is willing to hang out if the price is right. Hilton and her sister reportedly got $500,000 to appear at an L.A. club on New Year's Eve.

In Minneapolis, Spin has led the charge for celebrity nights, often favoring reality stars. In the past year, the club has brought in Lauren Conrad (MTV's "The Hills"), Kendra Wilkinson (E!'s "The Girls Next Door") and Brody Jenner (also of "The Hills"), among others.

Locally, celebs get paid between $5,000 and $100,000, depending on their degree of celebritude, said Spin's head manager, Danny DiNovis. Kardashian's check reportedly ranked somewhere in the lower-to-middle bracket.

Getting your own money's worth -- it cost $15 to get into Aqua Saturday, twice as much as usual -- depends on which celeb you're going out to see. Some take this job more seriously than others.

"It was pretty hectic for L.C.," DiNovis said of Conrad. "From the time she got here until the time she left, she was taking pictures and signing autographs. She definitely went out of her way to meet everybody."

Partying with Kardashian

At Aqua Saturday, the club's staff quickly ushered Kardashian inside. In the rush of it all, I bumped into maybe the only clubgoer who didn't know who Kardashian was. Mike Schoder, a wide-eyed twentysomething, said that after a friend told him a celebrity would be at the club, he felt compelled to come.

"I had never heard of her before, but she's friends with Paris, right?" Schoder said. "It would be the first celebrity I've seen in my life."

Once inside the club, Kardashian was brought up to the second-level VIP balcony where she could preside over the packed dance floor.

Her dark knee-length dress seemed modest, but couldn't hide her curves. (Her booty is currently challenging J.Lo's for tabloid notoriety.)

Below her, clubgoers snapped photos as they jumped up and down, gesturing at her, hoping for a crumb of acknowledgement.

Up in VIP, a few dozen lucky clubbers got a closer look. But even they had to stand on the other side of a red velvet rope, which gave Kardashian some space to herself. Regardless, people pushed up against the barricade (me included), gawking and flashing their cameras as if the starlet were a zoo attraction.

We just watched. We watched her dance around. We watched her wave to the crowd below. We watched her eat from a tray of hors d'oeuvres and then pull out a pocket mirror to check her smile (lest any photographer catch her with a wad of cheeseball between her teeth).

Aqua owner Jado Hark said that Kardashian was kind and courteous during his dealings with her before and during the night. Some of these paid-to-party celebs can be a little high-maintenance. One of Spin's celeb guests wanted the chauffeured car to be a specific color, DiNovis said. Kardashian's only request, Hark said, was no photos with pro football players -- presumably to avoid upsetting her boyfriend, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush.

While she did venture downstairs a few times to mingle with us common folk, she often was on her phone, texting.

Because of my press badge, I was given a quick word with Kardashian from her VIP perch. Over the vibration of the club's booming music, she told me that:

She "loved" her dinner at Manny's earlier in the night.

She'd never been to Minnesota before.

She didn't mind my stupid questions -- even when I asked if she was annoyed by the fact that everyone always stares at her. To which she replied with a head shake, as if to say, "Of course not, you idiot, I'm a celebrity!"

After our brief exchange, she walked downstairs, once again disappearing into a tsunami of camera flashes and fawning clubgoers.

And that was my night with Kim Kardashian.

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909