Local YouTuber Tyler Oakley finds a big audience online
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
Ann Arbor- and East Lansing-based YouTube video blogger Tyler Oakley thinks it is hard to predict which of his videos will get the most views.
The Michigan State University senior, who lives in Ann Arbor, regularly vlogs on two channels of the video-sharing site YouTube. Videos on his tyleroakley channel have been viewed almost 15 million times, in total. All his videos get at least tens of thousands of hits, and some get hundreds of thousands; one has broken the one million views mark. He also vlogs on Fridays for the 5awesomegays channel, which also has around 15 million video views to date.
The videos on Oakley’s channel are all different, but most of them feature him talking on screen about his personal experiences and opinions. Sometimes he makes jokes or goofs off, while other times he tackles serious social issues.
“I really don’t have a formula. Whenever anybody asks me about what I do on YouTube, I just say, I make videos about things I like, my life, and things that happen to me.”
The 5awesomegays channel has a bit of a formula. The five YouTubers post videos each weekday on the same weekly theme or topic. “But it’s still my own take on things, which is fun,” Oakley says.
The vlogger never planned to be a massively viewed internet personality. He originally started posting to YouTube in order to keep in touch with his best friends from Okemos — his hometown — after going off to college. He is currently finishing up the last semester of his communications degree at MSU.
“During my freshman year, I saw that people were on Youtube talking about themselves. Sure we had Facebook and email, but I thought what would be cool would be to make videos and talk to each other that way,” Oakley says.
To his surprise, a couple of months later, he had more than 100 subscribers. “I was like, OK, I don’t have 100 friends, so these people can’t all know me. It hit me that it wasn’t just my friends watching,” Oakley remembers. He decided to ‘private’ the videos that were meant as personal messages to his friends and has been addressing the public ever since. Now he has almost 100,000 subscribers.
His first big "OMG" moment was waking up one day freshman year to find that one of his videos was featured on Youtube’s homepage. The video, “Speak Out Against Hate Speech,” is social commentary about derogatory terms used to describe homosexual people. It was also “the first time I got what I would call involuntary viewers,” who would not have necessarily viewed the video had they not seen it featured on Youtube’s homepage, Oakley says. (Note: contains offensive language)
“It was a little bittersweet,” because “some of the comments people leave are really mean or hateful. But I learned early to take those people with a grain of salt,” he says. Generally, he is glad when his videos get so much exposure, for better or for worse.
Oakley’s most viewed video to date is “HOW TO: Be A Bad Bitch,” which features him lip-syncing to pop diva Nicki Minaj. The video has been viewed more than 1 million times. He was just “goofing off” when he made it — like when people dance around and sing while they are cleaning the house or driving in the car. Even Nicki Minaj herself saw the video and tweeted about it, which brought in more views.
One day, Oakley got a surprising phone call from a friend who told him that a clip from his “It Gets Better” video was playing on ABC News. Diane Sawyer was doing a report on the nationwide campaign to increase awareness about gay teen suicide. He had no idea that part of his video would appear on the news report along with other clips from YouTube. “You never know who’s watching,” he laughs. Apparently someone who works for ABC, in this case.
Oakley last summer in Los Angeles working two internships. It was celebrity gossip mogul Perez Hilton who convinced him to come out to L.A. in the first place — he helped Oakley get an internship at his PR firm. Oakley also interned for The Trevor Project while he was out west. The founders of the gay youth crisis and suicide prevention organization had spotted a video he made about the Trevor Project. “I made the video for ‘Project for Awesome,’ a day on YouTube were everyone was supposed to make a video about a project or charity they support. When the founders saw it, they called just to say hello. I decided it would be a great place to intern — it’s a great cause,” he says.
One of his most recent videos, “Fairy Doors and Wanderlust” takes us on a walking tour of some of the small “Fairy Doors” that are placed around downtown Ann Arbor for people to find. He had done a few travel-related videos in the past, but exploring downtown on video was something new he tried and enjoyed.
One of his favorite videos is “How To: Take Over Tokyo,” which captures some of his adventures in Japan.
Aside from making YouTube videos, Oakley also sells several types of graphic T-shirts and cloth handbags with different text printed on them. The idea to sell T-shirts happened after he made t-shirts for his 21st birthday pub-crawl, but it is also not uncommon for YouTubers to have merchandise. See his T-shirt and bag designs online.
Oakley graduates from MSU this spring, and his plans after that are uncertain; working for the Trevor Project or another nonprofit organization is a possibility. We can probably find out what comes next on YouTube.