Photo Credit: Courtesy of Todrick Hall. From Left to Right: Katie Stevens, DeStorm Power and Todrick Hall
By now, you've heard of the Disney parody that has everyone talking about, "Beauty and the Beat." I, myself, loved it so much that I told everyone who would hear it that they had to watch the video.
It was truly genius in every sense of the word and I believe we are in the midst of someone with a great future. I've interviewed everyone from Hugh Hefner and Stan Lee to Fergie and Enrique Iglesias, but I have not been this excited about interviewing someone or worked this hard to hunt anyone down for an interview before. I simply had to know, who was this genius that created this video? The answer? Former American Idol semi-finalist and YouTube star, Todrick Hall who has since gone on to create a YouTube channel with hundreds of thousands of subscribers.
In my interview with Hall, he discusses the video that has caused such a stir on the Twittersphere, what he has to say to the critics who accuse him promoting racial stereotypes, why his Youtube agent didn't want him to do the video at first and what he says the songwriters of the original Disney Beauty and the Beast song said when they first saw it.
First of all, who came up with the idea for this particular video?
Hall: I come up with the ideas for my videos, and I write the lyrics and choreograph them, and I direct them and tell everyone what to do and how I want them to sing the parts and do the tongue pops and eye rolls and stuff like that. I directed everybody because these are characters, people that I grew up with in Texas. I know well. I've been getting a lot of flak about stereotyping my race, but I'm like, "This is a caricature." Yeah, it is a stereotype, but unfortunately these are people I grew up on a daily basis with. Some of these characters are based on people that are in my own family, so I don't feel like I'm stereotyping a race. A lot of comments have been made, and a lot of people have made videos on YouTube talking about how I sold out my race to make money. I'm not monetizing this video; it's not helping my finances at all. It's just a video I wanted to do that's really funny, you know? I'm just telling a story of a neighborhood that I grew up in and how people would react and what people would say if y'all were to come there, and if that's stereotyping people then it is what it is, but I personally think it's hilarious.
It is hilarious. When you created this video, what did you hope was going to happen? Why did you create this video?
Hall: Well, I create videos all the time, and I always put just as much effort into each one of them. I just hope that it's going to entertain my Toddlerz; that's what I call my fans. I love Disney, and I actually was inspired to make the video by the SNL skit that they did with Kristen Wiig and Lindsay Lohan. I was like this is so funny, The Real Housewives of Disney, and I would love to do a Disney spoof but there are no black characters for me to play. Even in The Princess and the Frog, the prince is kind of like a mulatto or more Puerto Rican kind of character, so there were literally no characters for me to be. So, I was like, fine, well I'll just bring the princess to the hood, you know? And that was kind of my inspiration for doing it. I hoped that it would get a lot of views and we got a million views in the first day and a half, so I was very flattered and honored that people liked it and that people understood the work that I put into it.
So, how do you do that? I mean, how do you get a million views?
Hall: Well, in all honesty, it's something that you just have to hope and pray that people are going to like it, because you can't make people share something. You can tweet and say, "please share this," but people aren't going to share it unless they like it. You can always tell when you have a viral video on your hands because I just noticed I put it up and the next day it had been shared 24 or 30 times on my Facebook wall, and so I was like this is going to be huge because I put up videos all the time and they don't get that response, and so I was like this is something people want to see. People go to YouTube to laugh, and as a YouTuber your job is to figure out a niche and feed people what they want to see. Now that I know what kind of stuff people want to see, then I will keep going down that road and creating videos that are going to make people laugh. It definitely helped that we had some of YouTube's super stars in the video that pushed it through their social outlets. We also tried really hard to seed the video by sending it to websites, blogs, and tastemakers. We were lucky enough that some blogs and World Star Hip Hop picked it up. After The Huffington Post featured the video it went very quick from there. It became the No. 1 shared video in 24 hours, then the number one in seven days with 600,000-plus shares on Facebook alone.
It's funny, even though I have over 135,000 subscribers, my YouTube agent didn't allow me to put this video on my channel, so I put it on a channel that literally had no subscribers and now that channel, in less than a week, has 11,000 subscribers on it. So, I think it's genuinely about the content of the video and if it sparks something in people to make them want to share it.
Wait a minute. So, you're saying your YouTube agent didn't want you to put it on your channel? Why?
Hall: No, they wouldn't let me put it on my real channel. I was really upset about it at first. It's because they had certain legal concerns about the song, and couldn't clear it on time. They gave us the green light, but to protect everyone involved decided to release the video on an unlinked channel. I mean, I understand. They were worried Disney would sue them or something, and I was like there are rules of YouTube that protect parodies and satires and spoofs, and it's not up to Disney to decide whether something can live on YouTube. That's the beauty of YouTube. You can take whatever you want and create a video from your home and put it up, and you're just sharing it with your friends. There's nothing that Disney can do about it. I've done spoofs on Disney and used Disney music before, and nothing happened. I tried to make sure that we weren't cussing and saying a bunch of sexual innuendos that were just way too inappropriate because then I think Disney would ask us to take it down, but I found out that the writers of the song saw this video -- Alan Menken saw it -- and loved it. Anyway, I literally had to go into a meeting and fight for it because I knew that it would be something that a lot of people would want to watch and be into, and so I went and fought for it to be released.
What did it cost to shoot this video and did you fund it yourself?
Hall: Yeah, I fund the videos myself. It cost me about $1,000 to make the video, after we paid to re-create the track, and then I had to pay for the wigs and rent the costumes and things like that. It wasn't super expensive, especially considering YouTube land. If I was monetizing this video, I would have definitely already made the money back times nine times already.
So, what's next?
Hall: I can't quite say yet, but let's just say people will be talking.