The Dallas Suburbs Have Produced Some Massive YouTube Stars. But Can They Also Support A Scene?
A pack of multi-colored feathers sits on the grass of a yard in Celina. A container of fluorescent pink paint lies beside it. A bottle of Elmer's Glue rounds out the trio.
It's the paint that Payte Parker reaches for first, a sly smile forming on his face as he eyes two other boys — Taylor Baxter and Pierson Oglesby — who are standing in front of a nearby camera, rehearsing somewhat of a formalized video introduction to the “chicken massacre” that's about to occur.
The paint's going to be the icing on this comedic bit's cake — almost literally.
For all intents and purposes, this scene's just a couple of teenagers goofing around and covering each other in a mess of store-bought items — not to mention a rip-off from a late-night comedy sketch.
Soon enough, though, the five-minute clip will be posted to YouTube. And, when it does, footage of these teenage boys inflicting mild pain upon each other will be put out there for the world to see.
But this clip isn't likely to be wholly lost within the tens of thousands of new videos that are uploaded to the video-sharing network each day. Within minutes of going up, this seemingly pointless, G-Rated version of a tar-and-feathering will instantly pop up in the feeds of more than 50,000 viewers worldwide.
Yup: That many people currently subscribe to Baxter's channel (28,000-plus subscribers) and to Parker and Oglesby's combined channel (22,000-plus subscribers) on YouTube. So, though it might not exactly look it in this moment, this clip is clearly more than just another Youtube video of kids polluting their parents' lawn. It's representative of the greater boom that YouTube's currently undergoing, both in North Texas and abroad.
YouTube is very hot at the moment. Veteran YouTuber Grace Helbig just got handed her own show on the E! Network and the Fine Brothers got dished a similar deal from Nickelodeon. But screen-to-screen leaps aren't the only upward moves YouTubers are making these days. They're also taking their bits on the road: The ever-bubbly Tyler Oakley is embarking this summer on a national, headlining tour that will stop off at Dallas' Majestic Theatre on July 12.
It's clear at this point: The 10-year-old YouTube and its platform of quick, accessible entertainment has some gold at the end of its rainbow.
And maybe turning your friends into Technicolor chickens is a way of reaching that pot.
Parker, Baxter and Oglesby are by no means the biggest stars on YouTube. They're hardly even the brightest YouTube stars of North Texas origin.
Remember that Overly Attached Girlfriend meme? The one that spawned from a screen cap of a locally-shot fan response video to Justin Bieber's “Girlfriend” music video? University of North Texas student Laina Morris is still posting videos three years after getting her first taste of Internet celebrity. These days, her Youtube channel boasts a cool 1,256,143 subscribers and 136,430,990 total combined views.
Then there's the mostly Arlington-sprung a capella group Pentatonix, which spun its victorious run on the NBC singing competition show The Sing-Off into a Grammy win, sure, but also some bona fide YouTube fame. Their channel has amassed 7,983,358 subscribers and a jaw-dropping 917,441,085 total views.
Hell, even their spinoff channel is popular: In their downtime, two-fifths of the group — Arlington natives Mitch Grassi and Scott Hoying — run a goof-off channel called Superfruit that boasts 1,298,374 subscribers and a combined 106,498,531 views.
Also huge is the similarly Arlington- and reality TV-sprung Todrick Hall, a former American Idol finalist whose own comedy- and music-oriented channel has not only earned him 1,354,539 subscribers and 180,308,112 views, but the attention of Justin Bieber manager Scooter Braun, who has signed Hall to a management deal and, recently, helped him secure a development deal with MTV.
Granted, all of these successes still pale in comparison to the numbers earned by Youtube's biggest celebrity, PewDiePie, who has racked up over 36 million subscribers and more than 8 billion views to his gaming channel since launching it in 2010.
But the milestones reached by these North Texas-sprung YouTubers are still incredibly impressive. In Superfruit and Hall's cases, in particular, relocating their bases to Los Angeles played a major role in their successes. In L.A., these former locals have been able to work their way into the inner circles of such fellow platform stars as the aforementioned Helbig and Oakley, with whom they sometimes collaborate for content.
Parker, Oglesby and Baxter don't quite have that luxury: Parker and Oglesby, both 16, still live with their parents; the 20-year-old Baxter, meanwhile, lives on campus at UNT, where he's enrolled as a student.
Though young and outside of that inner YouTube celebrity circle, the fact that these three young collaborators are working toward establishing and sustaining a YouTube community here in North Texas is notable just the same. Especially since they're actually gaining a little traction as they do.
The first time we spotted them out in the wild, they were chatting up a storm at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport 's Terminal E, clad in vans and beanies as they awaited to board a flight to New Jersey. That trip would take them to Playlist Live, the biannual, Comic Con-inspired YouTube convention, where they'd simply hoped to pick up some content-creating tips they could employ in their own productions.
Just a couple months later, they were getting ready to head to Playlist Live once more — this one during February in Orlando. This second go was less exploratory; the group was actually booked to appear at this February convention, where they'd headline their own performance, operate their own merchandise booth and host their own fan meet-ups.
The guys in part credit their manager, David Graham of PressPlay Management, for their uptick in visibility. And, no doubt, the increases in social media reach and video views that Graham's helped them earned are tough to dismiss: When Graham signed Parker in December 2013, the young YouTuber boasted all of 326 Twitter followers; these days, that number's grown to over 32,000.
That, however, is just part of the Graham's greater, extremely calculated, multifaceted and cross-promotional attempt to turn these youths into the Next Big YouTubers. The plan, in short, works as follows: Parker, Oglesby and Baxter operate as part of a larger group of 10 PressPlay-managed web personalities, where they work together to coordinate their posts — often even appearing in one another's videos — so as to achieve their goal of continually snowballing the collective size of their individual fan bases.
Says Graham of his young stable: “They're selling merchandise and they're selling tickets to the shows. They're becoming a 'thing.'”
One “thing” about these three is that their fanbase growth hasn't come on the heels of something greater. Unlike Morris, they weren't catapulted into the YouTube limelight on the strength of any viral meme. And unlike Pentatoix and Hall, their efforts aren't the spinoffs of previous fame-grab attempts on reality television. Rather, these three have mostly earned attention for simply trying to enjoy themselves on camera. Their videos are a mishmash of pranks, challenges and musings on the day-to-day issues faced by American youths. There's nothing necessarily world-changing about the videos they create.
Still, it's what they represent that's eye-opening. For a certain set of young YouTube consumers, Parker, Oglesby and Baxter (and many others like them) are in many ways the new teen idols, the kinds of crush objects that would be plastered all over the walls of teenage girls in poster form were they not forever ready to be watched at the drop of a hat and the grab of a smartphone. And yet the perks are the same. Audiences regularly mail presents — and fan fiction — to P.O. boxes that each of these three had to set up specifically so as to meet fan demand.
To be sure, there's money to be made through this kind of fandom, too. At this point, on an almost monthly basis, Parker, Oglesby and Baxter hop in a plane headed pretty much wherever to host meet-and-greets where fans can purchase, among other things, the opportunity to dine with their favorite content creators or the chance to take an unlimited number of selfies with them over the course of a four-hour meet-and-greet session. The demand for this kind of interaction with his clients is what puts dollar signs in manager Graham's eyes, what gives him the confidence to say that Hollywood could come calling for his roster sooner than later.
A few weeks back, on a rare weekend off and over venti caramel macchiatos at a Tom Thumb-housed Starbucks in Frisco, I asked the Parker, Oglesby and Baxter what they themselves foresaw in their futures. They admit that they're still figuring that out, for the most part. In turn, their answers were vague, but ultimately boiled down to this: None of these three are altogether sure that they want anything more than increased YouTube celebrity in their immediate futures. They each genuinely appear to appreciate all that they've already accomplished on this platform, and they fear taking the support that their fans have thus far shown them for granted.
“I think a bunch of people use YouTube as a sort of stepping stone to being the Next Big Thing,” Baxter concedes, perhaps acknowledging Graham's grander vision. “A lot of them will go into acting or singing.”
Oglesby is quick to say that he doesn't see any move like that for himself — not right away, at least.
“Five years down the road,” he says, “I still want to be doing YouTube. That's the goal.”
Mostly, Oglesby and his collaborators says they'd like to see the quote-unquote Dallas YouTube Crew continue to grow into a rich and collaborative scene modeled in the image of the Los Angeles and New York YouTube communities. They say they like what scenes like those ones represent as far as bringing unique personalities together, and they point to their own diverse backgrounds as proof of YouTube's powerful unifying undercurrent. Oglesby describes himself as an awkward kid who's still figuring life out. Parker grew up a jock, and still very much looks and acts the part. Baxter self-identifies as a nerd. And yet, through YouTube, they found a common interest.
“It's just been, even just in one year, a complete blessing,” Oglesby says of his newly formed friendship with Parker and Baxter. “I would have never thought [I'd] be doing this.”
“You were a sheltered little boy,” Parker jokes, pointing out that Oglesby's parents largely cut him off from Internet access as a young child.
“It's just cool because I thought I'd end up as a weatherman or scientist,” Oglesby responds through a laugh. “This just came out of nowhere. I don't know. It's just still crazy to me that people pay to come see us.”
“It's weird to think about, for sure,” Parker replies. “But I wouldn't trade up this experience for anything, ever.”
His words hang in the air for a moment as all three of these YouTube collaborators nod their agreement.
Adds Baxter: “I'm an internet kid, definitely.”