I admit it – I may be a 13-year-old girl in disguise.
Thirty-four-year-old me subscribes to more than 300 celebrity YouTube channels and I check in daily for the latest comedy video, challenge or outfit-of-the-day.
Watching the YouTubers perform their antics, whether dyeing their hair in rainbow colours or stuffing their mouths with marshmallows, is often the highlight of my day.
When such stars come to Singapore, I carve out time to meet them for a hug, handshake or selfie. But, sadly, only a few have graced our shores.
That, fuelled by my crazed obsession with online celebrities, led me to VidCon, the largest online video conference in the world.
The way I see it, the trip was worth making because for four days – from June 21 to 24 – at the Anaheim Convention Center, I was in fanboy heaven.
Visitors can get to Anaheim by flying into Los Angeles International Airport. The total flying time from Singapore to Los Angeles is about 19 hours.
Several airlines fly the route. For example, Cathay Pacific does so with a stopover in Hong Kong while Korean Air has a stopover in Seoul. From Los Angeles International Airport, take a shuttle bus to Anaheim. I took a one-way Karmel Shuttle airport transfer, which cost me US$30 (S$41).
The annual VidCon, an online video conference, was first held in 2010 in the United States. It drew 1,400 people in its first year, a figure that has reportedly grown to about 30,000 this year.
This year also marks the event’s first foray overseas, with the inaugural VidCon Europe in Amsterdam in April and new VidCon Australia in Melbourne next month.
The American event typically attracts hundreds of YouTube celebrities who perform, appear on panels and meet their fans.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s senior tourism lecturer Michael Chiam, 56, says there is a demand among Singaporeans to attend such events. “Singaporeans, especially the young, do follow YouTube celebrities. The content these celebrities produce is a form of entertainment and it is generally free,” he says. “There will definitely be some who will make a trip overseas to see their celebrity idols.”
BOOK IT /VIDCON AUSTRALIA
WHERE: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Australia
WHEN: Sept 9 and 10
ADMISSION: A$125 or S$133 (community), A$175 (creator) and A$650 (industry), at an early-bird rate
WHERE: Anaheim Convention Center, United States
WHEN: June 20 to 23 next year
ADMISSION: US$100 or S$136 (community), US$150 (creator) and US$550 (industry), at a super early-bird rate
Hundreds of YouTube celebrities thronged the halls at the centre, including 10 on my “must-meet” mental checklist. These include Los Angeles actress and singer Whitney Avalon, famous for her online series of Princess Rap Battle videos; and American film-maker Zach King, known for his Vine videos that make him appear as if he is doing magic.
Many had flown in from places as far as Ireland and Britain to meet their fans, other content creators and industry professionals.
At VidCon, activities geared towards mingling and interaction were held non-stop from 9.30am to 10pm. Every few minutes, frenzied screams erupt, followed by a stampede of teenagers rushing to catch a glimpse of a YouTube celebrity.
The last time I saw such passion was at the peak of Pokemon Go madness here last year.
The luckiest fans secured wristbands for official meet-and-greet sessions with the biggest YouTube stars, such as American comedian Jenna Marbles, who has more than 17 million subscribers on the platform.
During such sessions, fans got autographs, took photos with the celebrities and chatted with them.
Followers of less-popular YouTube stars got to see their idols at more informal meet-ups, often over coffee or pizza. Ask nicely and you may even get a celebrity’s phone number.
At a Starbucks cafe, I had a rather deep conversation with 24-year-old content creator Mason Healy, known for his do-it-yourself videos in which he does things such as make his own bubble gum or cook food on an iron.
After our meeting, he followed me on Twitter which, to me, is the ultimate compliment.
When not meeting fans, many YouTube stars appear on panels to talk about their personal projects or issues related to online culture.
One panel, for example, featured blind motivational speaker Molly Burke and deaf vlogger Rikki Poynter, together with other content creators. The pair shared their personal experience with disability and how it has enriched their videos.
In the evenings, the celebrities performed concerts, giving fans the precious opportunity to watch their idols perform live, instead of on a computer screen.
A musical parody of Disney princess movies – depicting what happened to four Disney princesses after their dreams came true – broke the Internet in 2013. It was the work of musician Jon Cozart, who is from Arkansas, and he got among the loudest cheers.
A rousing performance by musical group The Gregory Brothers, originally from Virginia and known for their news-related comedy music, also met with thunderous applause.
Having watched, and re-watched, their videos online, seeing them perform in the flesh was a surreal experience.
Given the growing number of attendees at VidCon every year, even movie and music celebrities – such as American actress Anna Kendrick and American singer-songwriter Jason Derulo – made it a point to show up at this year’s event.
The sheer number of people at the venue, however, posed problems, making it difficult to get from one activity to the next.
There was also quite a bit of drama, given the intense adoration some attendees had for the celebrities. Several times, I saw frustrated, angry fans sobbing in public.
Thankfully, I have long accepted that celebrities have their boundaries and am content with whatever I can get.
My fondest moment was when American singer-songwriter Ricky Dillon let me into his official meet- and-greet session even though I technically “gatecrashed” the event without a wristband.
Trapped behind a line, I frantically waved his memoir to catch his attention.
Dillon saw me and instructed the security personnel: “Let him in.”
“You are so cool, Ricky,” I cried, running forward, arms in the air, feeling like an ecstatic teenage girl, but hopefully not sounding like one.
Best. Day. Ever.
TIPS FOR A GOOD EXPERIENCE
• Bring your own food There are food trucks at the venue, but the offerings are not cheap and time will be wasted queuing. I bought my food from grocery stores and fast-food outlets on the periphery of the convention centre instead. This probably halved my food expenditure. It also meant I could eat while waiting in line to meet celebrities, saving valuable time.
• Buy your ticket early The earlier you buy your ticket, the cheaper it is. For example, the cheapest tickets for next year’s event cost US$100 (S$136) now, the super early-bird price. As the event draws closer, these ticket prices will increase to US$125 (early bird price) and to US$150 (standard price). Tickets are available online until they sell out. If they do not sell out online, they will likely be sold on-site.
• Get wristbands for official meet-and-greets Before the event, a meet-and- greet lottery will take place, where participants specify the YouTubers they want to meet. Do take part in this lottery. You will get a wristband for each meet-and-greet you are picked for – this means that your spot is guaranteed.
• Follow YouTubers on social media for informal meet-ups Stars with smaller followings tend to have informal meet-ups at a location outside the venue – for example, at a nearby cafe. Details of such gatherings will be announced on social media, typically over Twitter. Another place you are likely to bump into celebrities is in the lobby of the Hilton Anaheim hotel, which is next to the convention centre. It is the accommodation of choice for many celebrities. Feel free to approach them for a chat or selfie.
YouTube celebrities in the flesh
This singer and vocal coach from Oregon, United States, is famous for her cover songs and Disney-inspired tunes, sung in a bright, sweet voice.
The mother-of-one’s most popular video is a Disney princess medley last year titled Evolution Of The Disney Princess, where she performed as 14 Disney princesses such as Snow White, Pocahontas and Mulan. The video has attracted more than 13 million views to date.
Hollens also created a popular 2015 musical mash-up, featuring Florence And The Machine’s Shake It Out and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off.
The wife of fellow YouTube musician Peter Hollens gave a delightful live performance at VidCon, showcasing her musical talents and crystal-clear pipes.
Trained in all styles of dance – from freestyle to tap – this 19-year-old American, whose real name is Courtney Nicole Kelly, is one impressive dancer.
Famous for her dance skills, she has appeared on talk show The Ellen DeGeneres Show and performed on several World Of Dance events as well as a string of music videos. With smooth moves and a rad robotic routine, the former cheerleader, who has an older brother, brought up the energy at VidCon’s kick-off show YouTube OnStage.
Her YouTube channel, which has more than 1.4 million subscribers, features videos of her demonstrating various dance moves and talking about her interests, such as Star Wars, chemistry as well as the colours pink and baby blue.
This cheeky South African YouTuber is known for his wacky comedy videos and collaborations with other celebrities – including actors Zac Efron and Dwayne Johnson and singers Ed Sheeran and Liam Payne.
The 23-year-old bachelor, who attended Crawford College in South Africa, uploaded his first video in 2012 and has become known for his outrageous sense of humour. He once pranked fellow YouTuber Oli White by telling him there was a Caspar Lee wax figure at a Madame Tussauds wax museum, when the “figure” was actually Lee standing very still.
I was fortunate enough to get a spot in his official meet-and-greet, where he was game enough to do a jump shot and recreate a scene from one of his prank videos with me.
JOEY GRACEFFA AND TYLER OAKLEY
Known for attempting crazy challenges and vlogging about their everyday lives, these YouTube personalities have amassed more than eight million and seven million subscribers respectively.
The two friends famously completed a 2013 challenge – which has garnered more than five million views to date – where they competed to answer trivia questions about boyband One Direction.
That same year, they also raced to see how many clothes pegs they could attach to their faces in a minute. Graceffa won with 19.
Graceffa, born in Massachusetts, began uploading YouTube videos at age 16. He also has a gaming channel with more than two million subscribers. Oakley, born in Michigan and an alumnus of Michigan State University, hosted the Web series The Tyler Oakley Show last year.
Both are currently starring in the second season of Escape The Night, a murder mystery Web series.
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