Rowland: Turlock student rides viral video wave

06/05/2014 12:00 AM

06/05/2014 3:43 PM

Fame, like everything else about life, is ephemeral.

Only the biggest movie stars make it past two generations of household-name status, and more than one parent has had to explain to her grade-schooler that those songs on “Glee” were actually by a band called the Beatles.

So imagine yourself in Brett Nichols’ position. The 17-year-old Turlock student hit the viral-video jackpot three weeks ago when video of him dancing to Michael Jackson at the Pitman High talent rally raked in millions upon millions of hits in a matter of days. To date, the post has had more than 15.7 million views. To put that into perspective, the “American Idol” finale last month had 14.3 million viewers.

The video caught fire via social media and national news sites; it was shared on TMZ and “Today” and Perez Hilton and even your grandmother’s Facebook feed, albeit two weeks later. All marveled at the lanky, red-haired kid from a small town moonwalking like the late King of Pop himself. Heck, even Jackson’s official estate tweeted out congratulations and sent him a CD, tickets to the Vegas show and other swag in appreciation.

Unlike many other videos that attain viral fame, Nichols’ video was based on a discernible skill. While the bunny eating a raspberry (12 million views) or the kid who fell off a chair in excitement about the ice cream van (11 million views) might quibble at that statement, at least Nichols’ popularity was based on talent and not just cuteness/clumsiness.

Of course, one can never predict what goes viral, so talent alone will not guarantee clicks. The stars have to align right and the right people have to share the link, and so forth and so on. The circumstances that led Nichols, who isn’t even the only person featured on the video and doesn’t even pop up for a good minute, to gain acclaim could probably not be replicated if you tried.

But try we will.

Nichols has hired a publicist to try to capitalize on his viral fame. Who can blame him? Might as well put those 15 million pairs of eyeballs to good use. Last week, official Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube feeds were launched for Nichols. (In true publicist fashion, my email asking for an update on the teenager was not returned.)

Still, on Monday, exactly two weeks after his first video went totally bananas, the teenager posted a new video. This one is him dancing to Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” TMZ even had “exclusive” video of Nichols practicing for the shoot. So I guess that publicist is working hard after all.

His sophomore effort, so far, has done modestly. Midweek, it had scored some 100,000 views and climbing. It wasn’t the 2 million views in 24 hours of his original, but the story had enough legs to get mentions again in national and local media outlets.

When I talked with the unassuming Pitman junior the day after the first video was posted, he told me about his aspirations behind the camera. Nichols remained calm amid an onslaught of interview requests. My time with him came right after a Sacramento news crew asked him to bust out his moves. He politely obliged, and did again when we asked. But now, he admitted, he wouldn’t be opposed to spending more time in front of the camera, or onstage. And he will get his chance for the latter soon enough.

On June 22, Nichols will appear at the Who’s Bad Michael Jackson Memorial Concert at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. He was invited to be part of the show, which marks the five-year anniversary of the performer’s death, alongside a group billing itself as “The World’s No. 1 Michael Jackson Tribute Band.” I can neither confirm nor deny the veracity of that claim, but there you have it.

The here today, gone tomorrow nature of viral videos makes what Nichols is trying to do seem herculean. But you can’t help but root for him to catch Internet lightning in a bottle once more.

But if nothing else, I hope Nichols enjoys it while it lasts. Because you never know when it will all end and the next thing will … oh dude, you have got to see this video of a kitten riding a tricycle.

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