Downloaded: YouTube Celebrity Showcase

By Pearl Chen

I heart YouTube. Hours and hours of my life have been spent blissfully and unconsciously clicking away on this website, the destination for many unexpected video discoveries, karaoke sing-alongs, and trips down memory lane. When I don’t know where to start though, that’s when I turn to my trusty YouTube celebrities — larger-than-life personalities on the web whose videos have garnered hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of page views. Go to their channel, and you’re guaranteed to leave with a lighter mood.


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YouTube celebrities HappySlip (top) and Kevjumba

YouTube personalities HappySlip (top) and Kevjumba

My favorite people online include HappySlip — a funny, Filipino-American gal named Christine Gambito who has made a chameleonic art of imitating her heavily accented family members – and Kevjumba, a cute Chinese-American dude called Kevin Wu who makes hilarity out of seemingly mundane high school (and now college) life. Don’t believe me? Watch this bizarrely endearing video about his elbow zit (yes, elbow zit), a clip that has garnered 617,000 page views and counting.

When I heard that both HappySlip and Kevjumba, along with a host of other Youtube celebrities with cult followings (such as the Obama impersonator and “Chocolate Rain” singer), were coming to New York and staging a live musical/comedy showcase on June 3, 2009, I was there faster than you could say “buffering.” Presented by Digital Content Partners, “Downloaded” was a chance to see these people, who have a combined 400 million page views on YouTube, outside of a little box on my laptop. Would they be as charming live as they are online?

Kevjumba and Happyslip give away free stuff at the Highline Ballroom. Photo by: Pearl Chen

Kevjumba and Happyslip give away free stuff at the Highline Ballroom. Photo by: Pearl Chen

The minute I stepped onto the floor of the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea, I knew I was in for a very, very young, tech-savvy night. The standing-room only concert floor was scattered with kids in high school or college, each sporting digital cameras or camera phones that lit up the dark like fireflies. Onstage, a DJ kept the atmosphere pumped up with all the latest hip-hop, techno, pop tracks — with an occasional throwback to some old-school hits. A giant screen on the wall played the live streaming video of this event being broadcasted to the world — but ironically froze up repeatedly when it tried to play some YouTube videos. So much for being tech-savvy.

Host Kevjumba burst onto the stage to wild cheers and asked everyone, “How many of you spend more time on the Internet than you do on TV?” Every single hand shot up. Yup, we were so past Generation Y. At a self-proclaimed “6 feet,” Kevjumba did appear taller than most everyone that night — something we could’ve never learned in a video. His signature mannerisms/tones of voice were all instantly recognizable and likable, and the crowds adored him. He didn’t come prepared with any kind of monologue or set though, as some hosts do, and that was disappointing. But he stayed onstage longer than any of the performers.

Alphacat performs Obama parody "Blame It"

Alphacat dances to Obama parody "Blame It." Photo by: Pearl Chen

By far the most entertaining of these performers was Iman “Alphacat” Crosson, the man behind Barack Obama parodies “Single Ladies” and “Whatever You Like.” This guy was the real deal. He exploded onto the stage first with the hysterically choreographed “Single Ladies” and ended the night with “Blame It,” a defense of Obama’s three months in office, fused with his outrageously funny hip-hop/pop style and unmistakably commander-in-chief voice. The man was pure energy. I wished he had time to do some extended talking impersonations too.

Later, Tay Zonday sang a funky remix that started off with his viral-video song “Chocolate Rain,” which then morphed into a few other numbers — all done in that freakishly rich bass of a voice. He talks like that too.

Tay Zonday performs "Chocolate Rain."

Tay Zonday performs "Chocolate Rain." Photo by: Pearl Chen

Acoustic singers Kina Grannis (the Michelle Branch of YouTube) and David Choi (a Jason Mraz/John Mayer-channeler backed by Wong Fu productions) each brought us sweet, mellow ballads before teaming up later in the show for an aww-shucks duet.

HappySlip goofs off with Kina Grannis and David Choi during their duet. Photo by: Pearl Chen

HappySlip goofs off with Kina Grannis and David Choi during their duet. Photo by: Pearl Chen

And Christine Gambito, aka HappySlip, turned in one of the most gracious appearances of the night. She did a short comedy routine that was mostly a rehash of things we’ve seen on her channel — like the origins of her HappySlip name — before doing what she does best: classic impersonations of her aunt, mother, father, and cousin with that golden accent. Those grade-grubbing, child-comparing relatives she portrayed were such a dead-ringer for the stereotypical Asian parent, something that the heavily Asian audience could undoubtedly relate to. At the end of her set, at the request of audience members, Christine threw both of her slippers into the crowd.

Christine Gambito performs a HappySlip comedy routine. Photo by: Pearl Chen

Christine Gambito performs a HappySlip comedy routine. Photo by: Pearl Chen

The most boring parts of the show included the Olde English “sketch comedy” trio — I say “comedy” with hesitation because nothing about their randomly hatched-together set was particularly funny. You know a group’s in trouble when the live chat feeds streaming in over on the giant screen (”Get them off the stage!”) are more amusing than the jokes under the spotlight.

Then there was a makeup demonstration by YouTube’s queen of beauty Michelle Phan, an ill-conceived segment that was impossible to really see or hear clearly and had poor Kevjumba awkwardly making up things (including some semi-mean jokes) to fill the time. I’m a huge fan of this kid, but I have to say improv isn’t his strong suit. I think I like him a little more online.

The last performer of the night turned out to be a real tease. We waited 40 minutes for Esmee Denters in the dark, with only the heroic DJ keeping the show on its last string, before she finally made her way onstage (no apology or explanation given). Denters, a YouTube mega popstar who has appeared on Oprah and recently signed with a label to produce her first album, was talented without question. But no amount of Mariah Carey-like vocal runs was really worth waiting nearly three hours on our feet to see.

Overall, Downloaded was a mish-mash of talent and expectations. Just about everyone onstage had some kind of talent that is worthy of being celebrated/followed. But for some of them, their act is probably best kept primarily online, where they can truly work their magic. There is something about the quirkiness and intimacy of a cleverly edited YouTube video that doesn’t quite get translated live. And that’s perfectly fine… because as Christine says, “There is a whole other audience on the web.” In the age of YouTube, you don’t have to be a mainstream actor or musician to be a star.

Last 5 posts by Pearl Chen

Posted on 09 Jun 2009 at 4:24pm
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1 Comment

  1. [...] http://www.cityscoopsny.com/?p=1651The most boring parts of the show included the Olde English “sketch comedy” trio — I say “comedy” with hesitation because nothing about their randomly hatched-together set was particularly funny. You know a group’s in trouble when the … [...]

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