The Cut-Ups / Zay Zay and Jojo
Kids really do say the darndest things—especially when somebody trains a video camera on them and gives them a YouTube channel. Up-and-coming comedian Kevin Fredericks knew exactly what he was doing when he set up his precocious and adorable son Isaiah (known as Zay Zay) on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Five-years-old at the time, he told his dad he wanted to be the world’s youngest comedian. Zay Zay, now 7, and his 5-year-old brother Jojo may be the tiniest stars in the AwesomenessTV galaxy, but their influence and audience are growing. The telegenic pair serves up no-holds-barred performances in their show, Crazy I Say, as well as their individual channels, complaining to the world that their parents make them eat salad (probably true) and lie about their ages for free food (maybe a fib). They bicker like siblings do and point out the shortcomings of their caretakers for the amusement of 38,000 subscribers and other viewers who have watched their videos more than 3 million times. Some have even compared them to Jaden and Willow Smith for their breakout star potential. Indeed, Zay Zay just landed his first film role, playing Buckwheat in The Little Rascals Save the Day, out this fall.
The Girl Next Door / Jennxpenn
Jennxpenn has a million things on her mind—1 million subscribers for her AwesomenessTV channel, that is, on which she hangs out with friends, plays games like “intense musical chairs” and answers fan questions about embarrassing things. Jenn McAllister has amassed 765,000 subscribers, a whopping 347 percent increase since she joined forces with AwesomenessTV about a year ago. She would like more traffic for her videos, which have morphed from skits and play acting into her just being herself. “I talk directly to my viewers,” McAllister says. “It’s more of a blog style, and I think people have gotten to know me better this way. I feel like we have a personal connection.” She saw a noticeable uptick in views as her postings became more consistent, even though she’s had to deal with trolls and haters. One of her recent videos, dubbed Insecurities, deals head-on with criticism and gives her fans wise-beyond-her-years advice to embrace their flaws. “I struggled with negative comments at first, especially when I was younger, when people would say things about how I looked,” says the 17-year-old. “I just try to focus on the positive.” Like many of her AwesomenessTV cohorts, McAllister hopes to use the YouTube platform to launch a broader media career, maybe in acting or TV hosting. “I’ve always had that goal of 1 million subscribers, and maybe that will open up some other opportunities outside YouTube,” she says.
The Crooners / Cimorelli
Imagine a female Jackson 5 or an all-girl Brady Bunch that’s as squeaky clean as the sunny Southern California days are long. Add some brand savvy (a recent ad for Subway) and a rock-solid family foundation that includes five brothers and you’ve got Cimorelli, six singing sisters on the cusp of multimedia fame. The Sacramento-born, Malibu-based group, signed to Universal Records, is readying a debut album after cultivating a following for their a cappella versions of pop songs. The ever-smiling sisters have racked up 2.5 million subscribers and more than 600 million views of their covers of Top 40 hits like Call Me Maybe, Cups and Made in America, though their first album will feature original music they’ve written themselves. And everything is family-friendly (if their 9-year-old brother wouldn’t be allowed to hear it, then it’s off limits). And next, the sisters—Christina (23), Katherine (22), Lisa (20), Amy (18), Lauren (15) and Dani (13)—are in talks for movies and TV projects. They may even become animated characters. “People have tried to tell us to be more edgy, but we’re not going to do that,” says Christina. “We’ve figured out who we are, and we want the things we do to be inspiring, empowering and positive.”
The Go-Getter / Hunter March
The last few years of Hunter March’s life have brought a series of fortunate events—as well as some dues paying and hard work. While still seniors in high school, he and his buddies filmed a remake of Lil Wayne’s music video for Prom Queen, with March standing in as the sought-after prom king. While it didn’t make them YouTube stars, it did land March an internship at AwesomenessTV where he parlayed his grunt work into shooting behind-the-scenes footage of original productions—something that was his own idea. He would graduate to full-time staffer, but when sitting behind a desk proved too limiting, March once again ended up in front of the camera. Almost 23, March hosts three AwesomenessTV series: the celebrity- and gossip-centric shows Awesomeness Hollywood and The Daily Report and the advice program Dear Hunter. Having attracted 33,226 subscribers, March, ever his nose to the grindstone, has even bigger ambitions, hoping to develop a TV-style pilot out of material from his YouTube channel and his AwesomenessTV appearances. Despite the huge audience numbers on the Web, the big production budgets are still in television, he points out. “Not that being on YouTube forever would be a bad thing, but TV is definitely a goal,” he says.
The Chameleon / Lia Marie Johnson
Johnson once made a YouTube video that featured her slowly eating a bowl of cereal, staring directly into the camera while her alter ego pestered her off-screen. It logged nearly 1 million views. The 17-year-old blonde, one of the most popular kids on AwesomenessTV, loves the creative freedom of Internet videos, even when that involves shaky old clips of her singing in church recitals or in-character skits of her wolfing down breakfast. Her YouTube experience started inauspiciously, with her mom posting videos for family and friends. Then Johnson met the Fine Brothers and became a mainstay on their Emmy-winning series Kids React and later Teens React. She populates her own channels these days with her musings on life (pet peeves are a hot topic) and sketch comedy, for which she created Terry the Tomboy. The character is so in demand that boss Brian Robbins recently made a feature-length film starring the frizzy-haired, tough-talking kid. The movie, packed with AwesomenessTV stars, could go to traditional TV, a cineplex or an alternative distributor. “Sometimes I feel like I have multiple-personality disorder,” Johnson admits. “So my viewers don’t know who I am because I play all these characters, but they really do because I make other videos where they see my own personality. YouTube is all about personality.” Viewers like what they see, with Johnson racking up more than 705,000 subscribers and 39 million views.
Photos: Karl J. Kaul
Robbins: Amanda Friedman