YouTube’s Rising Star: Todrick Hall
YouTube has changed the way we consume digital media – it has also become a massively successful platform for content creators. Whether it’s comedy, hair and makeup tutorials, DIY projects, cooking, technology – you name it, there’s probably someone producing content about it. One trend worth noting is the popularity of Internet musicals.
Content creators such as AV Byte accomplish the impressive feat of putting out a new musical each week on YouTube. They’ve covered everything from Hipster Disney Princesses to Sherlock and Breaking Bad – and their videos have over 58 million views in total. That brings us to the subject of today’s column: singer, songwriter and choreographer Todrick Hall.
After a brief stint on American Idol, he’s now known for his original musicals such as Cinderonce and the Wizard of Ahhhs, and intricate flashmob videos that have gained him more than 670,000 subscribers and over 79 million views on YouTube. Hollywood has taken notice, and he has since landed gigs writing the song that is performed in Virgin Airlines’ in-flight safety video and choreographing a video for Beyonce from her latest self-titled release. He has also been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 to watch in entertainment.
Recently, I had a chance to talk to YouTube’s latest rising star. Here’s what Todrick had to say about his unique career…
JET: Let’s talk about your background. How did you become involved in so many aspects of entertainment (singing, songwriting, choreography)?
Todrick Hall: Well, I grew up on a farm in Plainview, Texas and there wasn’t a lot to do there. I was an only child growing up, so I didn’t really have a lot of friends. I would go in the backyard and figure out how to make costumes, and then I would dance, then I would go sing. I would choreograph dances and teach them to the neighbor’s kids, even if they didn’t want to be a part of it. I think my boredom helped fine tune my craft, to be honest. Now I’ve used every tool that I’ve learned and every gift that God has given me to be able to create full concepts, so I’m really proud of the fact that I was bored as a child. My mom put me in ballet when I was 8 years old, so I could be in The Nutcracker and my dad taught me how to do backflips in the yard, so I became a gymnast. Obviously, I was in church every Sunday morning, so I learned how to sing that way. It all happened naturally and organically.
JET: Speaking of choreography, how did you end up working with Beyonce on her video for “Blow”?
TH: I have done two viral videos for Beyonce. I’m a huge fan and I love to support her. Since I wasn’t on her team, I said the least I could do was make viral content for her to help promote her album. So when she was at Target and she was exclusively re-releasing her last album [titled 4] I decided to do a flashmob to “At The End of Time” – that video now has 10 million views [on YouTube], and she shouted that out. Then I decided to do “Cinderonce” which was an African-American retelling of the classic fairy tale “Cinderella” [set to Beyonce songs]. She saw it and she loved it, so her team reached out and they were like “we would love to see what Todrick’s interpretation for her new single ‘Blow’ would be.” So they flew me out to Houston and I got to work there for four days; I got to work with her, meet her team and meet her family. It was an awesome, awesome experience and she was amazing to work with.
JET: You wrote the song that’s performed in Virgin Airlines’ new on-board safety guidelines video. What was the most challenging aspect of that project? That’s pretty specific.
TH: With this song specifically, people had to be able to easily understand the words that we were singing. That was a challenge as well, but I’m so happy. This is one of the things I’m most proud of – as a songwriter, if I can do this I can do anything! I wanted to make sure it was a musical experience, not just a song. I wanted it to jump from genre to genre, I wanted to make sure there was something in there for every audience. We did rock, we did hip-hop, we did dub step, Latin music. We had ’50s music that was kind of like musical theater – I have a musical theater background, so that was one of my favorite parts. It was really fun to try to make this song…I’m really, really proud of it.
JET: It’s been noted that the popularity of your musicals is a part of a larger trend of Internet musicals blowing up on YouTube. What do you think is behind this trend?
TH: I think that people have always been interested in musicals, but for some reason the people who are making the movies stopped doing it. You can tie it in with emotions, so when you go on YouTube and you can see something that is kind of like Broadway and it’s relating pop culture references with music they grew up watching when they were kids…I think it’s just one of those things that hits home. They really love to remember the good time that they had when they sat down and watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time, or The Sound of Music or Singing In The Rain. I’ve always loved musical theater, my first show was The Color Purple – the Oprah Winfrey [production] starring Fantasia. Since I did that when I was 20 years old, my heart is always on Broadway. Since I can’t live in New York, I like to bring Broadway to YouTube so I can still have the best of both worlds.
JET: What is next for you?
TH: I want the EGOT – to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony – so I’m kind of playing chess with my career to see how it’s possible to go about those four things. In short, I want to create a successful TV show, reality and scripted. I would love to create a Broadway show that wins Tonys and a successful Broadway show. I love being a content creator, but I also love being in front of the camera. I would love to follow in the footsteps of people such as Martin Lawrence, Tyler Perry and Jamie Foxx, who have create franchises on their own.
JET: So what are you working on right now? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
TH: I’m working with What The Funny, which is Marlon Wayans’ company, and some of the people who created Funny or Die. I’m working on 30 original video musical extravaganzas for them. I’ll hopefully be working with Beyonce a lot more in the future, and I would love to work with Nicki Minaj, she’s one of my favorite artists. I just want to make sure that people don’t pigeonhole me in one corner, I guess. That’s the difficult thing, everyone needs a way to title you. I would like for people to title me “One Of The Most Talented People On Earth” to be frank…just an all-around entertainer.
Don’t just take his words for it – Todrick’s work speaks volumes on its own. Get lost in the glorious rabbit hole that is his YouTube channel, and you’ll see exactly what I mean. If YouTube isn’t enough, you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @toddyrockstar and “like” his fan page on Facebook. Do whatever you need to do to remember the name Todrick Hall. He is well on his way to becoming one of your faves, and you will deal.