Breaking into show business can be a monumental task for entertainers, but as sites like YouTube provide unknown creative types with an outlet, and millions of viewers, the road to stardom is quickly being repaved. Now, people like Justin Bieber can skyrocket to superstardom by creating a homemade video presence online, showcasing their musical talent. But, what if that talent was the ability to sing horribly off key?
Colleen Ballinger has stumbled across a unique path to fame, thanks to Miranda, a zany tone-deaf character the 23-year-old California native created three years ago. What began as a mockery of YouTube musicians has turned into a career opportunity with global appeal.
“I had begun by posting some videos of my own performances, and then I started seeing these links from girls who would sit in their bedroom and sing into the camera,” Colleen recalled while sitting in a café on New York’s Upper West Side. “I thought it was so stupid, because I didn’t think anybody got famous off of YouTube.”
Looking like a modern day Roseanne Roseannadanna, mixed with a little Tony Clifton for annoying measure, Miranda is a deluded character that takes to YouTube videos and sings horrendously, much like those rejects on “American Idol” audition episodes.
Miranda videos were meant to be an inside joke between Colleen’s friends – the classically trained singer used to stay off pitch in college choir classes just to annoy her classmates – but a year and a half after she uploaded her first video, they went viral.
Her view count on YouTube shot up by nearly 70,000 in a matter of days, leading to some overwhelming attention. “I was terrified when it went viral, because I didn’t know what to do with it,” Colleen said. The Miranda videos now get anywhere from 30,000 to more than 1 million views.
Seeing as there is no manual for creating a career out of viral videos, Colleen opted to go it alone, acting as her own manager for the first 9 months. “I was trying to do contracts, and I was making mistakes and getting screwed over a lot,” she said, before admitting that she now has a professional manager for Miranda.
Three years later, and Colleen has brought her Miranda character to the Broadway stage – she was invited by the cast of Mamma Mia! to perform alongside them at Broadway’s Easter Bonnet competition – and around the world, as live Miranda shows have taken place in London, Australia and next month, Ireland.
“The fact that I went from making a minute-and-a-half video in my bedroom to doing an hour-and-a-half live show is just crazy,” Colleen said. Her first live performance took place at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, a weekly show at New York’s Birdland, popular amongst Broadway performers. “Jim reached out to me on email shortly after the Miranda videos went viral, and he’s now one of my dearest friends.”
The Broadway community has since rallied behind Miranda, with Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical In the Heights, collaborating with Colleen on a recent YouTube video and various theater stars performing with her on stage.
Despite millions of views on YouTube and Broadway in her corner, not everyone is familiar with Miranda or Colleen. She jokingly remembered a recent live performance that was filled with season ticket holders, rather than fans. “We’re talking 65 to 80 year olds who don’t own a computer. They were very confused and appalled. I had a lot of senior citizens walking out.”
But younger demographics are keyed in to what Colleen is up to, especially after Miley Cyrus linked to a Miranda video on Twitter. Colleen returned the favor in true Miranda fashion, but producing a horrendous homage of “Party in the U.S.A.” And that Miranda fashion includes poor visual choices, all done with sloppy precision. “Miranda is extremely tacky,” Colleen said. “I personally want to edit my videos well, but I have to keep Miranda’s character in mind, so there are bad angles, flashy cuts and sparkles everywhere.” And since breaking out of YouTube and taking to live performances, Colleen has decided not to bother upgrading any of her video or editing equipment. “Miranda is way too cheap to buy a new camera,” she joked.
Unlike her YouTube counterparts — top video personalities include the likes of Shane Dawson, Philip DeFranco and Lucas Cruikshank — Colleen’s videos aren’t eligible for the site’s lucrative partnership program. A recent TubeMogul study estimates that the most popular YouTube creators are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars through the site as uploaders with a certain amount of views get to profit share off of the ads running along with their videos. However, because Miranda’s videos feature the character singing other people’s songs, Colleen can’t earn money off of them, due to copyright issues.
With no examples to follow, Colleen continues to figure things out as she goes. “The balance is till on its way,” Colleen said. “Miranda is still the thing that is getting me work. When I’m in New York, I am going out on auditions as myself, but it has been hard, up until now, to do my own stuff.”