Stars of YouTube step away from the webcam
They shock, entertain and inform millions around the world - all through their own webcams. Now they are coming to Sydney to perform in the flesh. Will they still be able to hold an audience?PT1M57S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2q2qj 620 349 July 17, 2013
A collection of mostly American online celebrities who made their names (and fortunes) on YouTube are about to step out from behind their webcams and visit Australia - in person.
They include people like kooky 26-year-old New York comedian Jenna Mourey (aka Jenna Marbles), who has the most subscribed channel ever on YouTube; or 28-year-old gamer Toby Joe Turner (aka Tobuscus) whose videos have been viewed more times than Psy's (2.2 billion to be precise). Joining them will be the singing Korean-Australian twin sisters, Janice and Sonia Lee, who have more YouTube followers than Gotye, Hugh Jackman, Kylie and Delta combined – despite being unknown by most in the music industry.
These young performers are among an exclusive club of YouTube 'celebrities' who are followed by millions eager to see their latest weekly "vlogs" (video blogs). Forget the idea that these mostly Gen-Y showoffs are looking for a springboard into the mainstream; these comedians, musicians, dancers, gamers, models and beauticians are already there - they are the new mainstream, for tweens and teens anyway.
TV veteran Larry King with comedian Jenna Marbles at the 3rd Annual Streamy Awards in California. Photo: Getty Images
Next month it seems digital culture goes retro, as 31 of the world's most popular YouTube performers descend on Sydney's Darling Harbour for a "YouTubers" convention called VIDinc.
Do we really want or need to see YouTube stars on stage? Aren't they better off staying in front of their cams where their best work is done?
Ritchie Perera, VIDinc co-promoter, likens seeing them live on stage to seeing a band play live that you've loved on CD. Besides, he says, "when you see the crowd reaction and the fanfare that follows them you will be shocked".
Comedians like Marbles, Ryan Higa, Peter Chao and gamer/comedian Tobuscus, will have to endure the sweaty palms of a stand-up set, although they will perform in front of a maximum 8000 people, puny compared to their internet audiences.
Not that all the YouTubers will be playing live: American teen Keenan Cahill is actually best-known for his lip-syncing versions of huge pop hits performed in front of a cam in his messy bedroom.
Cahill's head-rolling poker-faced delivery became so popular that some of the artists he was miming began to join him in his clips including LMFAO, Justin Bieber and 50 Cent, whose cult rendition of Down on Me with Cahill has 49 million-plus views on YouTube.
"YouTube is an absolute media juggernaut, when we did research we found every second person who goes online goes to YouTube," says Perera, who co-promoted Mariah Carey's visit to Australia last year.
"It was only a matter of time before someone came up with this concept."
But is the convention one step back to take two forward for the performers? No way, says Perera, most of the headline acts not only have careers mapped out, some are already extremely wealthy because of YouTube; like comedian Kassem G, who after learning how to make his own videos co-founded Maker Studios, which creates and distributes clips uploaded to the website.
Last year Peter Kafka of website All Things Digital estimated Maker Studios could be worth US$200 million. In April, Amy O'Leary in The New York Times wrote that Marbles "embodies the future of celebrity", adding that she "could make a very comfortable six figures from advertising revenues that the video network pays out to members of the YouTube Partner Program".
One of the most fascinating aspects of the show is the appearance of 25-year-old twin sisters Sonia and Janice Lee, or Jayesslee as they are known online, who despite having Australia's most-subscribed YouTube channel (for their near flawless acoustic cover versions of pop songs) are unknowns in the music industry.
This is because the twins, born and raised in Sydney, are deeply religious and have played mostly for church audiences. Regardless, their talents have already taken them all over the world: in the last 18 months they've played in Thailand, the United States, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Hong Kong and New Zealand as well as touring Australia.
Much more open to the pop world is 15-year-old Gold Coast singer-songwriter Jordan Jansen who has overcome humiliation on Red Faces at the hands of Red Symons to command an army of young fans, 320,000 YouTube subscribers and 40 million views of his various clips.
Jansen, whose debut album is due out before Christmas, clearly remembers Symons "going mean on me" even though he was only eight at the time. "[Symons] was like 'how is this for an obnoxious child savaged by a TV critic?' I didn't even know what those words meant so I just stood there... I'd like him to see how far I've come."
If you are still struggling with the idea of YouTube celebrities, ask Jansen - he is about the perfect age to understand it so well that his explanation makes perfect sense: "Social media is the main gateway into any type of [entertainment] career. That is how people get found."
VIDinc, Sunday August 18, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, tickets are $39-$250 at www.vidinc.com.au, click the link for a full list of performers. Organisers are hoping to bring the convention to Melbourne next year.
Real name: Jenna Mourey
9.2 million subscribers
1.2 billion clip views
Real names: Janice and Sonia Lee
1.44 million subscribers
220 million clip views
8.6 million subscribers
1.5 billion clip views
Game critic, reviewer/comedian
4.5 million subscribers
2.2 billion clip views
3 million subscribers
350 million clip views
3 million subscribers
400 million clip views
1 million subscribers
200 million clip views
40 million clip views
450 million clip views