When http://www.youtube.com/ was activated in 2005, it was clear that the founders, three former PayPal employees, had a great idea in creating a platform for internet users to upload, share and view videos online. What wasn't as obvious was just how prevalent personal videos would become - or how persuasive this online medium would be. For the personalities who rose to become its biggest stars, it's also been a career maker. Here we look at some of the unique career paths launched through YouTube.
In Pictures: Celebrities With Big Dreams That Paid Off
These days, throngs of young fans are literally storming police barricades to get closer to 16-year-old Canadian pop star Justin Bieber. The pop/R&B singer is currently on tour promoting his first album, "My World 2.0", and he appears to be spreading what the media calls "Bieber Fever" along with him. But this teen sensation may never have caught on (or at least not so soon) without the help of YouTube.
At only 12 years old, Bieber began posting homemade videos on YouTube, which were soon getting tens of thousands of views. His performances attracted the attention of music industry execs, who eventually signed him to a recording contract. By the time his first album hit stores in November 2009, Bieber was already a sensation, and the record was a smash hit. Bieber may be one of the biggest YouTube music stars, but he certainly isn't the first - and he won't be the last.
Michelle Phan (RiceBunny)
When American art student Michelle Phan began posting beauty how-to tutorials on YouTube in 2006, she was just following her passion as she worked her way through art school. But it wasn't long before her unique videos had garnered hundreds of thousands of subscribers on YouTube, making her one of the most subscribed to YouTube "gurus" of all time. By 2009, she was able to quit her job as a waitress to focus on her videos and thanks to YouTube's revenue-sharing program, she was earning money.
But it didn't stop there - as Phan continued producing videos, showing step-by-step how to recreate wild makeup made famous by pop star Lady Gaga (which garnered 14 million views!), or how to get that "romantic valentine look", the tiny Vietnamese beauty began getting significant press, appearing in several major newspapers and magazines. And, in 2010 she scored a major career coup - she was hired by Lancome as its online video producer. (Find out how an arts degree can contribute to career success in The Value Of A "Useless" Degree.)
Ben Steinbauer (and the "Winnebago Man")
When outtake clips from a 22-year-old Winnebago sales video went viral on the internet, film director Ben Steinbauer was intrigued. The foul-mouthed, hot-headed salesman feature in the video - Jack Rebney - combined with the old Winnebago footage was an obvious comedy classic. And, strangely enough, it circulated for years unbeknownst to its hilariously profane star.
Steinbauer's fascination with the "the angriest man in the world" persisted, and he eventually tracked Rebney down to learn more about who this man was - and perhaps why he was so angry. The result is what critics are calling an "insightful" documentary, which has been scooping up awards at North American film festivals and will appear in U.S. theatres this summer. (Find out what types of movies are the most profitable in Movie Genres That Make The Most Money.)
Jodie-Amy Rivera ("VenetianPrincess")
Jodie-Amy Rivera didn't just launch a career through YouTube, she turned her YouTube appearances into a career. As one of the most subscribed females on the site, Rivera, known as "VenetianPrincess", became one of the first YouTube celebrities invited into the company's revenue-sharing program. In her videos, Rivera plays a Venetian princess - along with all the other characters she encounters along the way - but she is best known for her spoof music videos, which have helped her garner hundreds of millions of page views.
Although her exploits involve shooting, starring in and editing her own videos with her home computer, the work has paid off. Besides earning an income through her YouTube channel, she also won Samsung's Juke Box Hero contest in 2008, which included having her original song "Somewhere Else" installed on T-Mobile cell phones.
Lucas Cruikshank ("Fred Figglehorn")
Meet Fred Figglehorn, a furious, fast-talking fictional six-year old. This character was American actor Lucas Cruikshank's ticket to fame. Cruikshank officially introduced his high-pitched character on YouTube in 2008. By 2009, Fred (and Cruikshank) were YouTube celebrities, and Cruikshank's channel became the first YouTube channel to hit one million subscribers.
In 2010, Cruikshank will star in a movie based on his YouTube character, which is to premier on Nickelodeon in 2010. He also promotes the Zipit Wireless Messenger device in internet and television ads, and has made cameo appearances in children's TV shows "Hannah Montana" and "iCarly". Not a bad resume for a 17-year old!
The Bottom Line
YouTube holds out the promise of instant viral fame, which has sent many aspiring singers, actors, comedians and others flocking to their webcams. But achieving fame and fortune - even in the digital realm - may be no easier than it ever was, and hitting on a winning formula may be as much about luck as it is about talent. Finally, even if you manage to produce a viral video, using it to generate real income is a big leap that, unlike the fortunate celebrities here, many YouTube stars never make.
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