This is an excerpt from my book, Don't Wait, Create: How to Be a Content Creator in the New Digital Revolution.
Stories about women, people of color, disabled people, LGBTQIA+ folks, and others with backgrounds that have historically been marginalized by mainstream media are often deemed too risky or not commercially viable—even though they pull huge audiences online. Up-and-coming creators are changing this status quo by bypassing the traditional route into television, which is still heavily dependent on running the gauntlets established by the major studios’ gatekeepers. As many digital pioneers are demonstrating, there is plenty of room for people with fresh perspectives and stories to tell.
While racism and homophobia continue to plague the entertainment industry, Todrick Hall believes that platforms like YouTube have allowed him to fully express himself. Despite many accomplishments—including composing an original Wizard of Oz screenplay in high school, cultivating a large community on YouTube, and performing on Broadway—Hall still feels like an outsider in the industry, but found his groove creating content online:
“When I moved to Los Angeles, I had to make a very conscious decision because producers behind the scenes kept saying things like ‘make sure you appeal to middle America’ over and over again. Being an openly gay black man was not a thing you’d say on national television in 2010. I remember having a boyfriend that I loved so much, and I didn’t let him in. It still breaks my heart that I didn’t let him come and stand outside the door when I got my golden ticket, because if you look back at the tapes, I had a girl standing there just in case people thought, ‘Oh that could be his girlfriend.’ I was at a point in my life where I had to shield myself from who I actually was in order to be successful."
After he was eliminated from American Idol, Hall made a decision: “I’ve made a vow to at least be myself and do everything in my power to trail-blaze a path that young people of color and young queer people would be able to follow. Maybe I’d be able to kick some rocks and shield them from some of the things I’ve had to experience in my life."
Thus inspired, Hall created his YouTube channel where he reaches over three million subscribers who enjoy his extravagant videos, parodies, and original music. It’s not surprising considering his hustle. He explains, “I’m always swindling to get a cheaper price, to get a location for free, to get celebrities who don’t know me, who have no reason to be coming and volunteering their time to feel like this is totally a good idea for them to do it.” Hall’s videos have featured celebrities like Nicole Scherzinger, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tiffany Haddish, and RuPaul.
Now, he says: “I look at all the little kids that are at my events with their straight parents holding a pride flag and watching me perform, and it makes me so hopeful for the future where my kids and grandkids will live in a world where they don’t have to experience the bad parts. It lets you know that the things you’ve been doing haven’t been in vain."