Meghan Camarena, a Modesto-raised YouTube star, just added another accomplishment to her long list of achievements: She is a contestant on the new season of CBS' "The Amazing Race," which begins Sunday night.
The 25-year-old and her 21-year-old friend and fellow YouTube star, Joey Graceffa, who both live in Los Angeles, are among 11 teams that race around the world to compete for $1 million. They completed filming the show a few months ago but aren't allowed to say how far they got in the contest.
Camarena said it was Graceffa's idea to audition, and both were thrilled they were chosen. "We were freaking out!" she said. "It was the coolest thing in the world."
In the first episode, the pair and the rest of the teams sky dive into the French Polynesian island of Bora Bora.
"I had no idea what Bora Bora was," Camarena said. "I was like, 'Is that a place in Africa?' We get there and it is beautiful a tropical island to the max. I felt like I was in a dream; it is so gorgeous there."
Camarena said she wasn't nervous about sky diving because she had done it before. She always has been athletic and loves extreme sports. She and Graceffa trained for months, running, doing Pilates and working with a trainer in hopes that they would be chosen for the show.
Davis High graduate
Camarena, who graduated from Davis High School in 2005, makes her living on YouTube, producing her own content on her Strawburry 17 channel. She and Graceffa also are hosts on Teen.com's YouTube channel.
Camarena has interviewed many celebrities, including Nolan Gould from the TV series "Modern Family" and members of the casts of the movies "Step it Up" and "The Hunger Games." In the past year, she also has filmed reports all over the world in New Zealand, Australia, India, Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Austria.
She and other YouTube content creators recently were interviewed by actress/comedian Amy Poehler for her "Smart Girls" YouTube channel for being young women changing the culture. "It was the coolest thing ever," Camarena said.
She was in a government-sponsored anti-drug commercial that aired nationwide and also began planning her own clothing line, all because of her involvement in YouTube.
Audience of millions
Camarena started making YouTube videos in Modesto in 2008 when her parents got her a camera. A friend taught her the basics of video editing and she taught herself the rest. She began by asking record labels and artists for permission to use their music to make videos, then started lip-syncing to their songs, with her brother dancing in the background. She eventually got 16 million views of her videos and 3 million people to look at her YouTube channel.
In 2011, YouTube selected her as one of 25 people nationwide to be part of the Web site's first Next Up Program to encourage new talent. She won $35,000 and a trip to New York to learn new production techniques.
Shortly after that, she moved from Modesto to L.A., following Graceffa, who moved to the city from his native Boston. The two had known each other since Camarena started making YouTube videos. Graceffa made video parodies. "When you're in the YouTube community, all your friends are YouTubers," Camarena said.
At first, she hated being in Los Angeles and missed her friends and family in Modesto, but she quickly began to enjoy the close company of so many creative people. She still visits Modesto on the holidays and when she can get away.
Camarena plans to continue with YouTube, moving from music videos to writing and acting. She wants to create her own online series.
"It's the best place for me to be creative and to put my work on such a large platform where everybody can see it," she said.
"I know I have an audience where I can create my own stuff and I can act in rather than going out and auditioning for someone else."
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313. Follow her on Twitter, @MilleganRenner.