Not long ago they were everyday people: a video game developer, a trial lawyer, a Gap manager, just doing their thing with little in common.
Then YouTube came along, their videos went viral, and they became Web sensations almost overnight.
You know these three prominent examples of the YouTube celebrity class of 2006: Matt Harding, the goofy dancer in the "Where the Hell is Matt?" videos; Stephen Voltz, one of the mad scientists in the "Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos Experiments" video; and Kentucky fashionista William Sledd with his flamboyant, witty, and brutally honest "Ask a Gay Man" videos.
But where are they now? Have they been able to sustain their success now that Web video has lost its novelty and has become a mainstay of our media diets? Or have they simply moved on?
Style maven turned social media adviser
It was the latter for Sledd, the former Gap manager whose latest story got us reflecting on early YouTube celebs in the first place.
Sledd, of Paducah, Ky., quickly attracted fans for his colorful--and sometimes harsh--videos lauding "man bags" and decrying toe rings and "mom jeans." His video series made up one of the most-subscribed YouTube channels and he soon found himself a guest on talk shows and featured in magazines and on Bravo's OutZoneTV.com site.
Sledd still posts the occasional "Ask a Gay Man" video to YouTube (and Facebook and Twitter, too). (A recent example is a makeover of his sister who lost 100 pounds by just exercising and eating better.) But he's also using all the knowledge he gained promoting his own work in a whole new gig for an unlikely entity--his local bank.
Sledd was hired as a social media consultant for Paducah Bank as part of the company's overall recognition of the changing world of communication. "Posting and tweeting and e-mailing are simply a new manifestation of word of mouth," says bank President Wally Bateman.
Immediately, Sledd got the bank on Facebook (1,573 fans so far) and Twitter (129 followers so far), and has been doing promotional gadget giveaways and online videos featuring bank employees. He was worried about how receptive a bank would be to broadcasting information on the Web.
"I was really scared...a bank usually protects peoples' information. They don't share," he said. "They're bankers. They're wearing suits and walking around, and I'm walking around and I'm loud and I'm funny...it's a weird combination."
But the bank and its members have turned out to be super receptive to his social media efforts. There's even some talk about putting a social media center in the lobby of the main branch, he said.
And for Sledd, it's the perfect way to leverage his skills and experience in a more sound, grown-up career.
"I'm not a spring chicken anymore," he said. "I'm going to be 26 this year, so I'm like "How long am I going to be sitting around the house making YouTube videos from the bedroom?'"
Harding still dancing (and writing)
Harding, on the other hand, who took the online world by storm in 2006 with a video montage of his signature jig in 39 countries around the globe, continues to ride his YouTube fame.
The Seattle resident had actually done a similar, more amateur video in 2005, in which he danced in locations he had visited. That video got in the hands of someone at Stride gum, which sponsored his longer trip and 2006 video, now viewed more than 14 million times on YouTube.
After receiving countless e-mails in response to his video, Harding went back to Stride with a pitch to do a similar video, but this time dancing among the residents (and now fans). Stride went for it, and Harding's 2008 video (above), was arguably an even bigger success, with more than 23 million views on YouTube.
That led to a book deal for the once video game developer, who never went to college. The book about his adventures is newly published and available on his site book store and on Amazon, among other places.
Next up for Harding, he said, is a new video that will involve cultural dances from one country being performed in a totally different country--furthering his broad message about the importance of cultural exchange. His videos aren't just about feel-good entertainment. "It has to say something," he said.
A career explodes
YouTube fame also turned into a full-time career for Voltz, a lawyer and performance artist and one of the co-creators and stars of that famous video of Bellagio Fountain-like Diet Coke geysers set off in the woods by Mentos candies. That video not only spread like wildfire on YouTube and other sites, it sparked a pop culture phenomenon in backyards and science classrooms around the globe.
For Voltz and his EepyBird.com partner, Fritz Grobe, it became a full time job. They've performed not only on shows like "Late Night with David Letterman," "The Today Show," and "Mythbusters," but also to live audiences in cities like London and Istanbul, and venues like Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and Maker Faire in San Francisco.
Next up, "fingers crossed," is a pilot TV show in the fall for a cable network Voltz declined to specify. A new video is also in the works, but its subject matter he also declined to reveal. He could only promise it would be in line with EepyBird's premise: "Taking ordinary objects and doing extraordinary things with them." And in the end, the Massachusetts resident noted, their goal is even simpler, "to make a fun video that will make people smile."
And that's what Voltz ultimately had in common with Melody Oliveria, aka Bowiechick, who was one of the very first video bloggers to climb the YouTube charts in 2006, when she was just 17 years old.
In her most famous post, "Breakup," in which she speaks to the camera about splitting up with her ex, Oliveria simultaneously changes her on-screen appearance using computer graphics. She inadvertently boosted sales of the Logitech camera that allowed her to wear Clark Kent glasses, strap on a gas mask, or be transformed into a cat.
Oliveria, of Oregon, is still posting videos to YouTube. But since her initial fame, her video blogging hasn't been life-changing--other than the fact that she's now engaged to one of her British-based viewers.
Oliveria is the first admit that her early fame was more about the novelty that was video blogging.
"I think viewers got distracted (from me) by people with actual talent," she said.