Tuesday, 10 April 2012

How to become famous on the internet.

I've worked in television for many years. I've sat in on casting decisions of famous faces, before they were famous and I always marvelled at the way a room of less than photogenic souls could so easily pick faults with seriously good looking people. On one occasion, a young actress, who has since gone on to gain fame, was one of two left in the mix after a series of long auditions. It came down to, "The one with the lazy eye, or the one with the crooked teeth." Their talent was equal, so were their ages, either would have been a terrific fit for the role, but in the end  it came down to a superficial question based on looks.

Television is a tough business. Just look at the news reporters and stop for a minute to consider how many of those reporters fall into the 'good looking category. Consider how many very talented young journalists are passed over because of the girl with the model looks or the guy who is tall dark and handsome.

The internet has been a revelation. It chose its celebrities for many years on nothing more than people's interest in whatever that person chose to do. Some were instantly famous - some infamous. The first time I remember online fame was the Star Wars Kid.

Since him there have been too many to count. Here's a few of my favourites - and everyone else's.
Starting with...
Susan Boyle.

Evolution of dance

David home from the dentist


Chad Vador sings Chocolate Rain

Even old classic moments from TV could be called up at will on the 'on demand' media of the internet.

Tim Conway's Elephant story

The internet was run by clicks, people choosing what they wanted to watch, when they wanted to watch it. It has given us the best of entertainment on offer from around the world for over five years, making stars of those with genuine talent, or terrible talent or just some quirky story to tell.

Charlotte and Jonothan from 2012 season of Britain's got Talent.

And it made stars of people who thought they had talent, but failed, and they failed because enough people around the world wanted to see the disaster as it happened. The wannabe artist had let their creation go viral and be judged and lampooned by anyone who wanted to take a jab. Brave, but foolish. Better to be in on the joke than to be the joke.

But the internet's brave new world of selective viewers could never last. Like so many other great things, they are great until they become mainstream and while there are still things to like about them when they reach that level of popularity, they eventually fall into line with the worst aspects of why the main stream, ruled by the masses, like and dislike things.

Boy bands are a great example of this phenomenon. They have for years shown us that you really don't have to be great musicians if you want to be successful, you have to look good and be well marketed - that means being seen by the maximum amount of people. People, especially young girls looking for a non threatening romantic attachment, will instantly be attracted to pretty faces and fall into line with the stories of those involved and by songs well marketed towards them. In the end these packaged young testosterone filled bands will make their managers, agents and eventually, the artists, very rich, by treating those involved like a product to be marketed and sold to the widest audience possible.

So now we reach a new age for the internet, where the same principles that have applied to TV for the last 40 years are being called into play. The good looking have a far greater chance to succeed. Any kid in their teens, or even a very cute pre-teen, can post something on the internet and be discovered by fans looking for someone to connect with. The fans project and believe in the personality being portrayed and fall in love with whoever it is. The slicker people are at marketing an image, the more successful they'll be, even if the image is a totally false one.

The first internet superstar will be a label always worn by Justin Bieber. I'm not a Bieber hated because I think he's talented and you only need to look at the raw talent of his first video posts to see that. Before the managers and producers began polishing and marketing him.

                                                                       Justin Bieber Busking

But there are countless others who have found fame - some a little some a lot. They posted themselves and found fans around the world, largely because the rawness of the internet made it hard for young kids to present an image that had been manipulated by professionals. We were being invited into bedrooms to see people chat without someone telling them what to say - and that honesty and vulnerability made us fans.

Charlie McDonnell - AKA Charlie is so cool like

And good luck to those every day folks who claimed their fifteen minutes of fame. Some faded, but others have turned it into a good earner, a career or just enjoyed the celebrity and had fun with it.

But last week the first in a new phenomenon has occurred on the internet. A star has been born for doing nothing. He didn't even mean to be photographed - yes, I'm talking about the 'incredibly photogenic guy' now - known to be Zeddie Little from New York.

He entered and ran in a 10k fun run and someone, unknown to Zeddie, took his picture. Then someone posted that picture to Reddit, the internet's version of a directory of cool new stuff, and from there people began clicking on the image and it spread like any viral disease - exponentially. And the people liked what they saw. He became the subject of adoration, jokes, captions and stories about why, in the midst of a whole bunch of sweating straining people, he could look like a GQ model.

Then the humour that so many people have hidden within, the creative genius that is let loose when it is allowed to express itself anonymously through the internet, got going because of the silliness of how Zeddie had found fame and the 'Incredibly photogenic guy' memes popped up everywhere.

So we come back to exactly where I started and that is the internet has now come to prove what TV executives and networks, through  research and focus groups, have known for decades. A great face is the most important thing to get an audience tuning in. Idol, X Factor and 'Got Talent' shows use the exact formula - if the person is attractive they are 50% there. A great story to back up their looks and make us like or feel sorry for the person, add another 25% to the likeability scale - give them talent as well and they become a triple threat and nothing will stop them. 

The ideal age to be discovered and touched by fame is 14 to 19, but remember, a person only needs too look that age, they don't actually need to be that age - a fact many TV execs can attest to. It's better to be a teenage guy than a girl because the teenage female fans are far more focused than the boys. The teenage girls looking for fame seem to be the best targets at gaining the ire and hatred of fans. So if you're looking to get noticed for the worst song ever, find a teenage girl, the better looking the better. Write them a song with a simplistic tune and lyrics that makes a poem by Paris Hilton look like a Pulitzer contender.


If you really want to make people hate you - get two hot girls, who can't sing but think they can, write them a bad song and make the lyrics paint them as pretentious, petty, and vacuous, riding in a limo and complaining how tough their lives are because of a non existent problem. And watch the hits keep coming!

If you look too young for puberty to have set in, there's no sex appeal. You may be considered cute, but looking pre-pubescent makes people liking you feel like they're doing something wrong. Looking past about 22 and, unless you've got something serious to say, or a stand-out talent, it's a little try hard. 

If you're a song writer, feel free to record your songs and put them online, see how many hits they get. Then go find a willing teenage guy with a pretty face who can do the song justice and put that online - you may have just created the next Milli Vanilli. - those faces sold millions and a won a Grammy before the internet! I'd love someone to do this experiment and see what happens. Come on all those 20+ talented singer songwriters - take the challenge and see what happens!

And of course the last thing to remember is that you need, at all costs, to come across as if you aren't looking for fame or recognition. If you're a singer, vlogger, or any other internet hopeful, recording from a bedroom or with parents or housemates poking their heads in is an ideal formula. Use makeshift equipment that tells people whatever it is you're doing is a hobby, a passion and fame isn't your goal but getting your message, your voice, your skills recorded is - even if no-one ever sees you. The more you look like you don't care, the more it looks thrown together and unrehearsed, even a mistake and an embarrassed laugh from you, the more the internet will love you.

If you can manage to get someone else, totally removed from you record it and get it on the net like you never even intended it to be seen, a naughty little brother with a recorder, you're 90% home.

This is one of my all time favourites - totally orchestrated, the whole family is in on the series which now is over 18 separate videos of this supposedly insane teenager freaking out. Brilliance! And notice how in the middle of his tantrum, his shirt comes off to show off how attractive he is. There's the formula used on TV with teenage guys for years!

The last thing to remember about fame via the internet - it's fickle. Just like those cheating on a relationship, the thrill is in something new, not about disliking the old. 

I hope Zeddie enjoys his 15 minutes. His response on twitter and tumblr makes him seem like a very genuine nice and humble guy. My guess is you'll see him next on Dancing with the stars or being fired by the Donald on celebrity apprentice - because he now qualifies as a star - at least an internet star. But he wouldn't be the first and he surely won't be the last to slide out of the net and go mainstream.

A few more Internet greats - just for everyone's enjoyment!

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