Greyson Chance, 12-year-old YouTube and Twitter Superstar: How He Really Happened

Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week

By Published on .


First, take a look at the Trendrr chart above. Note that Greyson -- Greyson Michael Chance, a 12-year-old Oklahoma boy whose parents blessed him with an awesomely Twitter-ready, SEO-friendly first name -- has lately had more Twitter buzz than Jonas Brothers and Lady Gaga. On Monday, a peak of 2,530 tweets name-checked him in one hour (vs. Jonas Bros.' recent one-hour peak of 902 tweets, and Gaga's 373). A couple weeks ago, nobody had heard of this kid. I decided to rewind the tape on this rather stunning tale of instant fame:

1. On Wednesday, April 28, Greyson posts a video of himself singing and playing the piano on YouTube: "Me performing 'Paparazzi' by Lady Gaga at Edmond's Sixth Grade Festival." (Edmond is the Oklahoma town where Greyson attends Cheyenne Middle School.) Various female classmates in the audience, visible behind him, seem bored or amused, while others appear to be smitten.

Greyson Chance
Greyson Chance
2. People pass around links to the video. In fact, at 12:53 p.m. on Tuesday, May 11, my editor at Ad Age, Sheila Dougherty, sends me an e-mail with the subject line "Watch your back, Bieber" that contains a link to a post by Jezebel blogger Dodai Stewart titled "Sixth-Grade Boy Captivates Girls By Singing Lady Gaga." Stewart spotted the video that morning in a post by New York Magazine "Vulture" blogger Edith Zimmerman ("Sixth-Grade Boy Performs Stirring Rendition of Lady Gaga to Rapt Female Classmates"). Zimmerman spotted it earlier that day in an unbylined post at influential Internet meme spreader The Daily Wh.at ("Kickass Kid of the Day"), which spotted a Monday post by blogger Endswell at The High Definite ("The best part of the video is the female crowd visibly transitioning from wondering if this kid is gay to wanting to touch his penis. Also, nice job kid"). Endswell spotted it on social news website Reddit, which is owned by Condé Nast Digital. The video was posted by Reddit user icedev on Monday, May 10, with the headline "Lady Gaga's 'Paparazzi' + 13 year old boy = Awesome" (icedev apparently guessed at Greyson's age).

3. At 4:05 p.m. on May 11, Ellen DeGeneres tweets "Never been more excited to have someone on my show. This is a 12-year-old 6th grader. He'll be on Thursdays show." She provides a link to his YouTube video.

4. In a 4:17 p.m. post that same day titled "Little Lord Gaga: Greyson Michael Chance's 'Paparazzi' Is A Web Sensation," Yahoo Music blogger Lyndsey Parker spreads the news that this "mega-talented kid" has been booked on "Ellen." Parker notes that, "As of this writing, the video has gotten more than 36,000 views."

5. Also on May 11, Reddit user icedev adds a comment to his earlier post: "First Reddit submission about this video = 23 hours ago. First tweet about this video = 20 hours ago. First Digg submission about this video = 14 hours ago. YouTube hits when I submitted = 517 hits. YouTube hits now = 118,541 hits & will be playing on Ellen. Reddit, you just made this guy viral."

6. On Wedneday, May 12, a snippet of Greyson's star-turn makes "ABC World News" in a surprisingly lengthy (1:44) -- for the evening news -- report that marvels over the fact that he was not only the one boy in the school who had the guts to get up and do a solo at the Sixth Grade Festival, but that he sang "of all things, Lady Gaga's 'Paparazzi'." "A story that struck us part 'Billy Elliot,' part 'Glee," Diane Sawyer says in introducing the segment.

7. Ellen's producers fly the kid and his mom out to Los Angeles, and on Thursday, May 13, she devotes an eight-minute segment to the remarkably charming and self-possessed Greyson. Ellen stuns the kid by having Lady Gaga call into the show while he's sitting there, and Gaga tells him, "Don't be nervous today, you've already won over everyone's hearts.... Just have fun and give a performance of a lifetime." And you know what? He does!

7a. I'll just interrupt myself here and say that while Greyson's school video was impressive, my eyes actually welled up a bit by the end of his performance on "Ellen." Not so much because it was such a great performance -- which it was -- but because it was one of those rare moments during which you could see a person's life transforming in real time. Sure, it was cool that he got tens of thousands of views on YouTube, but watching him knock one out of the ballpark on national television you just knew this kid's life would never be the same again (with millions of YouTube views to follow). Amazing and terrifying.

7b. The boilerplate line about Greyson Chance is that he's "the next Justin Bieber." But I think he's more like the next... Cher. I don't mean that as a dis! Seriously, in his "Ellen" performance he totally sounds like Cher to me when he's really belting it out. He's got that kind of awesome, old-fashioned vocal power.

8. Throughout the weekend "Greyson" is pretty much constantly a Top 10 trending topic on Twitter.

9. Conspiracy theories begin to spread. On Saturday, May 15, The Christian Science Monitor runs a rather idiotic story titled "Is Greyson Chance's serendipitous YouTube rise a ruse?" and subtitled "His meteoric ascent to millions of YouTube views and maximum-exposure media tour have some questioning whether there's a Big Media hand behind sixth grader Greyson Michael Chance." The piece cites his "high-quality camera work" (huh?), "high profile, catchy material" (kids in school talent shows and on YouTube don't tend to cover funeral dirges!), "and an integrated marketing plan right out of the gate." Gimme a break. The boy didn't even start tweeting until May 16. (Sample tweets: "I am writing some new music! Hope it turns out into something..:)" and "On my way to my Semi-Final soccer game! I love soccer! I have played it my whole life! Wish me luck!") Yesterday The Christian Science Monitor backpedaled in a piece titled "Greyson Chance: What is real in an age of media manipulation?": "Reports so far suggest that the Greyson Chance YouTube video is legit. But media experts warn that the Internet is rife with staged events made to seem spontaneous." Duly noted.

10. As of this writing Greyson has nearly 18 million views for his original "Paparazzi" cover, plus nearly 3 million for "Broken Hearts" ("A song that I have fully written. The lyrics and music is all by me. It still needs lots of work but tell me what you think!") and more than 2.5 million for his other original (lump-in-your-throat) composition, "Stars" ("The story to this song is about a wife who dies of cancer but then she goes to heaven in the 'Stars.' Then the husband shortly after her"). There are unconfirmed reports that Greyson has signed with Interscope Records, but his family isn't talking.

IN CONCLUSION, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I have this to say: Though Greyson Chance will surely enter pop-cultural history as one of the great viral success stories of 2010, I just want to point out that his rise to instant fame just underscores the point of my "Media Guy" column this week: that a lot of what seems most intrinsically viral in our culture actually traces back to the simple power of television.

Let's review: Talented kid got a decent, but not breathtaking, number of views for his Lady Gaga cover, with a big assist from impressed bloggers. (Remember, Yahoo Music's Lyndsey Parker wrote that his video had just 36,000 views as word was spreading that he'd been booked on "Ellen.") Then Diane Sawyer basically told her millions of viewers to go on YouTube and watch the video. And then Greyson appeared on "Ellen," charmed and vowed everyone, and of course he spiked even more on YouTube and Twitter in the aftermath.

I'm with blogger Endswell: Nice job, kid.

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Dumenco's Trendrr Chart of the Week is produced in collaboration with Wiredset, the New York digital agency behind Trendrr, a social- and digital-media tracking service, and Curatorr, a social media filtering and publishing platform. More background here. Trendrr offers a free trial account; Trendrr Pro, which offers more robust tracking and reporting tools, comes in various paid flavors (get the details here).

Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco. The latest Ad Age Insights white paper is titled "Dumenco's State of the Media Report," and subtitled "From social media to search, print, broadcast and beyond, where ad-supported media stands now and where it's going." It's available right here.

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