The Mainstreaming of Internet Celebrity

Internet personalities engage with fans with a level of intimacy many public figures and Hollywood celebrities have often aspired to.

Reality TV has spawned a crop of famous for famous stars, making “celebrity” increasingly difficult to define. But all the while, the Internet has been hard at work. As big name publications feature Instagram users, and vloggers hold their own conventions, the term so-called Internet celebrities are going mainstream.

“There is a parallel universe out there, on the Internet, of celebrity — true, valuable, vast opportunities for reach and audience connection,” writes Joe Coscarelli in New York. “Stars don’t just start online, they live there.”

Many YouTube stars have amassed huge followings by engaging with audiences. Jenna Marbles, a vlogger known for her skits and life advice, has gained over 13 million subscribers and regularly receives millions of views for her (occasionally NSFW) videos. Her secret? She responds to comments and requests from her audience.

To view the nexus of YouTube celebrity, you need only look to Vidcon. Created by Vlogbrothers Hank and John Green, Vidcon is part industry conference and part Internet celebrity meet-and-greet. Last year there were 12,000 in attendance, including many of YouTube’s power users. John Green is also a New York Times bestselling author and the first feature film to be based on his work, The Fault In Our Stars, is due for release in theaters this June.

Not only are Internet stars taking steps into the spotlight, the spotlight is searching them out. Jen Selter, an Instagrammer with more than three million followers, has been sought out by Vanity Fair for a photoshoot. Sage the Gemini, a Bay Area rapper who got his start on MySpace, has had two tracks top the billboard charts and received 100 million YouTube views.

By living their lives online, Internet celebrities give followers and fans a level of access that many in the mainstream aspire to. By gathering sizeable audiences, Internet celebrities have changed what it means to be famous.

*Photo credit: Gage Skidmore