How YouTube turned 13 ordinary people (and 1 cat) into superstars

In the 10 years since YouTube's inception, the platform has launched the careers of some unlikely stars. Here are just a few of them.

YouTube's first video was posted on April 23, 2005

Grumpy Cat, who recently starred in a movie called Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, arrives at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles, Calif. (Danny Moloshok/Reuters)

YouTube's first video may have been an awkward 19-second clip of the platform's co-founder standing in front of some elephants at the zoo, but in the 10 years since the service's inception, some savvy video makers have figured out how to launch multimillion-dollar careers.

Here are some of the people who have risen to fame through YouTube.

1. Justin Bieber

The new face of Calvin Klein has sold millions of albums and played New York's Madison Square Garden when he was only 16. But the pop star's beginnings can be traced back to an accidental click on one of his mother's YouTube videos.

In 2007, Patricia Mallette uploaded a video of her 12-year-old son singing Ne-Yo's hit So Sick at a Stratford, Ont., singing competition. Legend has Bieber's current manager, Scooter Braun, stumbled upon the video while looking for something else on YouTube. Braun was so impressed by it and other uploads of the pint-sized, guitar-playing busker performing that he tracked Mallette down.

With Braun's help, Bieber landed a recording contract and has since amassed more than 11 million YouTube subscribers and 63 million followers on Twitter. He's also released two documentary movies, 2011's Never Say Never and 2013's Believe.

2. Jenna Marbles

Jenna Mourey, known to many as funny girl Jenna Marbles, is a self-proclaimed "maker of the YouTube videos on the internet machine."

The New York native's comedic clips have amassed a following of nearly 15 million subscribers since she started five years ago. 

In 2010, she uploaded a video titled "How to Trick People into Thinking That You're Good Looking." It has been viewed more than 61 million times.

Marbles now hosts a weekly radio show on SiriusXM about what's trending on YouTube and sells paraphernalia adorned with her most famous quotes, such as "Team Legs!" and "What are this?"

WARNING: Some viewers may find the language in the video below offensive.

3. Grumpy Cat

It all started with a photo posted on Reddit in September 2012 of an especially dour-looking feline. When skeptical Reddit users wondered if the cat's grumpy face was somehow PhotoShopped, its owners uploading a video to YouTube as proof that her sour puss was real.

Grumpy Cat's YouTube video was viewed more than 18 million times and spawned a media circuit as the cat made appearances on various daytime talk shows. Since then, Grumpy Cat has released two books, a festive film called Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever and even a namesake coffee (Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino). The cat's achieved all that before even hitting her fourth birthday.

4. The Gregory Brothers

Michael, Andrew and Evan Gregory started creating comedic mixtapes as kids in their Radford, Va., family homeTheir comic and musical talents eventually led to a YouTube channel called Schmoyoho, where they capitalize on trending news topics to make "songs out of stuff that wasn't intended to be a song," according to their web site.

Recording as the Gregory Brothers (which also includes Evan's wife, Sarah), they're also known as Auto-Tune the News. Their most popular track is The Bed Intruder Song, which remixes a local Alabama news interview of a man describing a break-in. It has been viewed more than 126 million times. 

But these guys are no one-hit wonders. Winning, a song about Charlie Sheen, has been viewed more than 55 million times, while Double Rainbow Song reached nearly 34 million views.

They continue to songify the news, and recently recorded the theme song for Netflix comedy series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

5. Lennon & Maisy

These precocious sister starlets from Oshawa, Ont., who now appear on the TV show Nashville, got their start as a singing duo on YouTubeTheir first clip five years ago showcased the elder one, Lennon Stella, playing the piano and singing John Lennon's Imagine. Their second video introduced the younger sister, Maisy, singing Ingrid Michaelson's You and I while her sister plays along on the guitar.

The Stellas' big break came when their version of Call Your Girlfriend went viral, accumulating more than 26 million views. That led to their spot on Nashville, where they've played sisters Maddie and Daphne Conrad for three seasons alongside actors Hayden Panettiere and Connie Britton.

Nexweek, the Stella girls – who are now 15 and 11 – are releasing In the Waves, a picture book based on one of their original songs.

6. Bo Burnham

​Bo Burnham has long enjoyed serenading his friends with his musical comedy, and in December 2006, he uploaded two songs to YouTube. My Whole Family... has been viewed more than eight million times, while My "little" secret... has nearly three million hits. My Whole Family... features Burnham playing the piano in his bedroom, his messy bed in the background, singing about how his relations think he's attracted to men.

He has continued uploading musical comedy videos on politically incorrect or off-colour subjects – such as a ditty about a rehab centre for fictional characters – and amassed nearly one million subscribers.

Burnham has also released three albums featuring his comedy and done several tours, including one that was filmed for his Netflix special What. He also co-wrote and starred in the TV series Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous, which ran for one season on MTV in 2013.

WARNING: Some viewers may find the subject matter in the video below offensive.

7. Havard Rugland

Havard Rugland's NFL career would never have happened were it not for a four-minute YouTube compilation.

The video, which earned Rugland the nickname "Kickalicious," shows the Norwegian making all kinds of tricky kicks with a football, including booting it from a beach to a man in a slowly drifting boat and kicking two balls, one after the other, so that they hit each other in mid-air.

The video was viewed more than five million times and caught the attention of some NFL teams. He eventually signed with the Detroit Lions and competed for the starting placekicker position.

While he was eventually cut and no longer plays in the NFL, Rugland teamed up with Pepsi to release a sequel to the video. Kickalicious part 2 shows Rugland making trick shots around Norwegian landmarks.

8. Sophia Grace (and Rosie)

Sophia Grace Brownlee, eight, and her sidekick (and cousin) Rosie Grace McClelland, five, may not look like much as they don pink tutus and tiaras in their first YouTube video in September 2011. But when Brownlee belted out the lyrics to Nicki Minaj's Super Bass, the internet took notice. The video of her singing, while hype girl Rosie dances and lip syncs along, has been watched more than 48 million times.

Their video led to a guest appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where the host said the video "just may be the cutest thing I have ever seen." She also introduced the pair to Minaj. They continued to make guest appearances on Ellen's show, hosting a tea-time segment where they met celebrities such as Justin Bieber and performing a number of covers.

With DeGeneres's help, they starred in a made-for-TV movie, Sophia Grace & Rosie's Royal Adventure, and released a picture book, Tea Time with Sophia Grace & Rosie.

More recently, Sophia Grace seems to have parted ways with Rosie – at least creatively. Brownlee has released a single on her own called Best Friends, which has more than 14 million hits on YouTube.

9. Tetra Ninja

Nic Truong is known on YouTube as Tetra Ninja for his Let's Plays videos, where he uploads clips of him playing new video games with colour commentary. Nearly 900,000 followers watch Truong maneuver through games such as Bloodborne and Mortal Kombat X.

His channel shot up in popularity after his 2011 series of Let's Plays of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Gamers who upload Let's Plays make most of their profit from ad revenue. It's unclear how much YouTubers make from ads, but several sources estimate that 1,000 views on a video can generate about $5. (The YouTuber keeps half of that.)


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