Marijke Rowland

Online stars add to celebrity constellation


Since the beginning of time, it seems, we’ve been staring up at the same constellation of stars.

Not the ones in the sky, mind you, but those on the screen and stage and stadium who have earned our awe and worship over the years. Your movie stars, your TV stars, your rock stars, your sports stars. These were the stars everyone knew. These were the stars we all agreed were stars.

But more recently, an entire new constellation of stars has risen to confuse those of us accustomed to the old maps of the sky. There are stars many people don’t even realize are stars in their own right. But they are stars nonetheless. I’m talking about your social-media stars – your YouTube stars, your Vine stars, your Instagram stars.

Now, at this point, those of us accustomed to the old galaxy might scoff or scratch our heads. But the reach these new stars have is no joke. The top YouTube star, a Swedish video-game commentator, has 27.6 million subscribers and 3.69 billion (yes, billion) views. With those numbers, he makes up to $8.5 million a year from ad revenue sharing, according to CBS News.

Two stars from Vine, Twitter’s six-second looping video service, recently signed a movie deal. And the service’s biggest stars reportedly pull down $20,000 to $50,000 per ad created on their channel. That sort of native advertising, guerrilla-style ads that are made to look like regular programming, has grown to a $4 billion-a-year business, according to ABC News.

In short, these folks make bank.

And among them is Los Banos native and current “Dancing With the Stars” finalist Bethany Mota. The 19-year-old is a bona fide YouTube star with 7.7 million subscribers and more than 500 million views of her channel, Macbarbie07. ABC certainly considered her a big enough star to be picked for the celebrity dancing competition, paired with professional dancer Derek Hough. This week, the couple made it into the final four and will face off for the championships Monday.

The teen who started out as a fashion video blogger from her bedroom, has grown her brand into a lifestyle empire. In 2013, she launched her own clothing collection for apparel brand Aeropostale. In a Yahoo! news feature on her earlier this year, it was estimated she makes $40,000 a month from her YouTube channel alone. Do the math and that’s just under $500,000 a year for someone who isn’t even old enough to buy herself a bottle of champagne to celebrate.

So now the question becomes, do big money and big followings really ad up to big stardom? Are people stars if a large segment of the population wouldn’t recognize them from a hole in the wall?

Certainly, you have to admire their do-it-yourself celebrity. Like Mota, most of these stars started humbly in their bedrooms and now have millions of fans following their every move.

In the end, only time will tell. But time is on the side of this new breed of stars. The majority of these social-media stars are young and appeal to young audiences. Ask anyone over the age of 35 who Mota is and you might get a blank stare. Ask any teenage girl and you’d get quite the opposite reaction.

But those teen girls, and boys, who idolize these self-made online celebrities will get older themselves. And to them, maybe a Mota and a Jennifer Lawrence will become indistinguishable. Famous is famous, after all.

Perhaps the ancient constellations of celebrity can make room for these Internet interlopers. If people are willing to watch them shine, who are we to say they aren’t stars?

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.