In a world where YouTube stars and celebrities have captured the zeitgeist, it should come as no surprise that some are gaining a foothold in television as well. Riding a wave of popularity and bringing with him a cascade of creative energy and enthusiasm, young YouTube sensation
In an exclusive interview, Todrick Hall talked about bringing his unique talent and love of life to MTV in TODRICK:
How did the MTV deal come about? What was the genesis of the television show?
TODRICK: I had been putting out a series of viral videos and it was something that was meant to be because Danny Rose, who has watched our show, had reached out to Scooter Braun and said, “You’ve got to see this kid” and he was like, “Okay, that’s great.” Then I went to meeting and they were both there. They then introduced me to Brian and said, “We think Brian Graden would be the perfect person for you to work with,” and Brian loved the work and he had a great relationship with MTV. When I started thinking about a network that I would want to be on, MTV was the one network that had the exact demographic that was already watching me online. So I felt like it would be the perfect working relationship for us to have and, luckily, they felt the same. It was just the perfect thing when we got an offer from MTV.
If you’re already a huge star on YouTube, why do you want to come to MTV in the first place since you already have an amazing platform?
TODRICK: I started making YouTube videos in the first place because I wanted to get a bigger platform, and I didn’t want to sacrifice the artistic integrity of what I wanted to create. I didn’t want to be on a competition show where someone was basically dictating what they liked and swaying America to like it. I felt like I had a different audience and not necessarily the audience that is watching AMERICAN IDOL. They might be people who are quirky and artistic, like the people who watch my videos. I just wanted to build my audience and build the Toddler Army (which is what I can my fans) and make a show that felt like what I was actually doing. That was the only way that I could express myself. I had lost so much confidence working on AMERICAN IDOL. Everyone goes on that show thinking they are going to have that moment with the confetti coming down and the fireworks and they are going get to sing “A Moment Like This.” But that didn’t happen for me, and I was like, “Maybe I’m just not talented.” I had a moment where I was very vulnerable and YouTube gave me the opportunity to stand behind the camera and get my confidence back and be able to do what I knew I could do. I just needed the courage to do it — and I needed to reignite the fire to really show the world what I had to offer. So I don’t feel I am coming off of YouTube. I just feel like now people are getting to see the hard work that goes on behind the scenes of someone becoming a YouTuber. Everyone goes on the site every single day — not just people in my demographic — there are huge people that have blown up there from Justin Bieber to Jessie J. A lot of huge artists and a lot of directors have been on YouTube and it just seemed like the perfect fit. So when I got the MTV show, I was adamant that we had to stay on YouTube and that people had to come back to YouTube to watch our videos.
So this is just expanding your empire a little bit then.
TODRICK: (Laughs) Yeah, and it’s showing people the hard work and all the people who have worked just as hard that may not necessarily be seen because they are off-camera. I think this is a really cool way to show every aspect of it.
It’s just turning the camera around a little bit to see what is going on then.
Are you comfortable with that? When you’re doing the YouTube videos you have it all staged and yet now that you are in a docu-series, it is more like exploring your lives a little bit more. Is that something you’re open and cool with?
TODRICK: It was a little bit odd at first, as anything new would be. I thought it would take us 4 to 5 episode to get used to it, but we got used to it on Day One. The truth of the matter is that we have so much to do that we have no time to even notice that the cameras are there. When we are shooting these videos, we are doing something that should take 72 hours to record, at the very least, and we are doing it in 12-18 hours. So when you are squeezing that much in with this tight group and there is not a lot of planning that is happening in the pre-production world that would normally happen, we do not have the option to be delicate about what they see. They see everything — from us changing to us having moments where we are super stressed out to us trying to figure out how we are going to make a certain angle that we thought in our mind would look good and now it doesn’t. So it wasn’t difficult at all for anyone on my team to figure out how to navigate through this new world we are in with cameras everywhere in our house. We just had a microphone on us and that was all we really had to get used to.
Sounds like you are kind of going for a combination of educational and inspirational. Is that one of the emphasis of the docu-series, or is there another theme or goal in mind?
TODRICK: I definitely want it to be inspirational. I feel the show is just educational by default. We’re not going in an saying, “This is what a green screen is and this is how to use it.” That would get kind of boring and repetitious after a while. But I do want to inspire people. When I was growing up there was not a guy I thought I could really identify with — and sometimes I feel like it is very easy to cast a typical person, like someone who could be on a cover of a magazine. So I’m super grateful and flattered that MTV saw something in me and that I’m going to be able to be a role model, for not just African American kids watching the show, but for everyone. I’m hoping it inspires people to pick up a camera and start controlling their own destiny because what we are doing is really a self-made thing. We would not be here if we hadn’t put in the hours, shot all the videos and put in the actual work that it takes to get the attention of MTV. It’s very difficult to have one viral video, let alone twenty viral videos, and it is very difficult to catch the attention of Scooter Braun or Brian Graden because there is so many videos. Not everyone can put a video on YouTube and hopefully get discovered. I am just grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to meet the team that I got and that they were willing to follow me, even when there was no show in sight. They were willing to do it because they saw it could be something bigger and they didn’t know what that something bigger was — but they were willing to join me and help me out because they saw some potential in what I had to offer.
What surprised you about this experience? What was the one thing that you were perhaps not anticipating?
TODRICK: I was not anticipating that the show would be so inspirational — that it would tug at people’s heart strings. I thought it was going to be just a comedy because that is what we do, we sit around and laugh all the time. But when I was watching the show, I found myself laughing and crying and being inspired by my own team. It was a crazy, surreal experience to step outside of it — like to look from the opposite side of a glass mirror and realizing this is really incredible what we’re doing. It’s new and like a turning of age. A lot of people have grown up with traditional media and entertainment and would not necessarily look at a YouTuber as a force to be reckoned with — and yet myself and my entire cast and crew are some of the best in the business — and we may be the new format for what a television director should be or a movie director should be or a choreographer for the Oscars or Tonys — things that people look at and are highly respected. People are also starting to see Broadway actors, movie stars and celebrities are turning to the internet to promote themselves, which I think is awesome — that we each have a voice with something we have created on our own.
The youth of today seem to be craving what I call “real TV” — they want to see what is real in the world. They don’t want to see anything that has been staged or scripted. They don’t want to be force-fed anything. So they are turning to YouTube as kind of a lens to see what is really happening out there with real people — which might be one of the things your audience has tapped into. They find you “real” and what you and your team are doing is much more real and exciting, even though you are putting on staged things and applying it to real performances.
TODRICK: And they know we are doing it on our own and I think they applaud those efforts. Like we get comments all the time saying, “These guys must work so hard.” When you get those comments it makes you feel good because we do put so much work into it. A lot of times, myself included, when I watch something, I am just judging it at face-value and I’m not seeing everyone person who did the make up or created the sets or the actors and the work they had to do staying up all night re-shooting. I think it will give viewers an appreciation for things they watch every day and take for granted — even a 30-second commercial. They will now have some kind of frame of reference of what it really takes to create something like that. And I think that is awesome. It is something they need to see and need to be aware of — especially if it is something they want to do. Everyone wants to be a star, but they do not stay up to 4:00 a.m. at the studio and then get up at 5:00 a.m. to get to make-up to be at an interview at 7:00 a.m. And our show will give them a real, honest, true grasp on what it is that they are going to have to do in order to make it in this business. That is awesome as well and educational without us even realizing we are educating them.
It is great that you are showing them what it takes — that it takes all this energy and creative people and in only such a short amount of time to do it. It also sheds light on the reality of what you have to work with to make it happen.
TODRICK: Yeah, definitely.
What would be your advice to somebody who wants to do what you do?
TODRICK: Every single morning I live my life remembering a quote from “Sister Act 2” — in fact, it is what inspired me to sing, I love that movie so much — there is a moment where Whoopie Goldberg tells Lauren Hill, “If you wake up every morning and the first thing you think about doing is dancing, then you’re supposed to be a dancer, or if the first thing you think about is singing, then you’re supposed to be a singer.” So every single morning the first thing I think about when I wake up is: “I wonder what Beyonce is doing today?” And then I think, “What can I do today to further my career?” So I think everyone that wants to do it should not look at it as if it were a race and instead wake up every single day and just get a bit further — and if it takes you a little bit longer to get to the finish line, it doesn’t matter. Just do something, every day, towards accomplishing your goal.
In working on TODRICK as a docu-series, what is the one thing you feel you learned from it?
TODRICK: I learned a lot about producing. I am an executive producer on the show and I learned a lot about that side of the business. I learned how to go into something prepared and also how to be more flexible. There are certain things that we are able to do on YouTube because there are parody laws that protect us that you cannot necessarily do in real life — and instead of being frustrated about it, I learned to use that to my advantage and find other cool ways to make the video still be successful, even if it is not necessarily directly related to something else. That was a huge challenge for me and that was probably the one thing I took away from it the most — and I am excited to apply that to the next season.
What would you like to encourage people to tune into your show for? What should they be excited about?
TODRICK: I just think everybody has dreams and yet in today’s society we are taught to have a plan or to be realistic. I think that there are not enough people who believe in pixie dust and fairies and Peter Pan or anything like that anymore. People used to believe that if you worked hard, you could make it — and I think, for some reason, that whole idea and concept of life has become watered-down. So I am hoping and praying that when people watch this show that they will believe again — that you can make your dreams happen whether that dream be to be the biggest super star in the world or you want to be employee of the year — anything you want to do is achievable, but you have to work hard. As cheesy as that sounds, I think people watching the show will be able to see that and be reminded every single week because they see us do it over and over and over again. I have watched so many inspirational documentaries, like Katy Perry’s “Part of Me” and Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” and I walk away with a fire to get up and be like, “Tomorrow I’m going to make this happen.” Somewhere along the line, things can dilute that thought or we get a dose of reality that makes us feel like it can’t be accomplished, but I think this project is so inspirational and undeniably uplifting that if people are watching that they will not only be laughing and learning, but they will also be inspired and re-fueled to go out and pursue their dreams again.
To see all the delightful, inspiring and hilarious escapades of Todrick Hall and his team embark upon, be sure to tune in for the premiere of TODRICK on Monday, August 31st at 10:00 p.m. on MTV — and for those looking for more scoop and exclusives, be sure to follow Todrick Hall on Twitter at @toddyrockstar
SENIOR ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER | Tiffany covers events such as San Diego Comic-Con, WonderCon and press junkets, as well as covering events at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills. She has a great love for television and believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored. Tiffany is one of the newest members to the prestigious Television Critics Association and is happy to be able to share her passion for television shows with an even wider audience of fans and her fellow critics..