YouTube star Cynthia LuCiette likes to tell the story of the first time she got recognized by a fan.
"It was a horrible experience!" she recalls. "I found myself in this awkward, long, drawn-out conversation, and I was just kind of like, 'So what are you into?'... It was like a first date!"
But Jon Scarlett, her co-host on the hip-hop gossip and sketch comedy show BRKDWN, knows her too well to believe this.
"She loved it," he says. "She tells me this whole story, and I'm like, 'So did anybody [ask about me?]' And she was like, 'Nope. Nobody said anything about you. But me? I felt so awkward when this fan came up to me. You're so lucky nobody cares about you.'"
After building an audience of almost 30,000 subscribers on YouTube in the past year, BRKDWN will begin airing tonight in 65 million homes on BounceTV, an African-American broadcast network established in 2011.
Like most YouTube stars, LuCiette blends warmth, candor and whimsy, charming the viewer into grinning submission with her fast-paced delivery of the latest news about stars like Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar and Amanda Bynes. Scarlett, also known as Two T's, serves as the Bert to her Ernie. Watching the two tease and provoke each other while debating the merits of 2Chainz is half the fun of BRKDWN.
But unlike most other YouTube stars, Scarlett and LuCiette aren't best friends who developed their show in a garage or bedroom. When LuCiette, 20, left the suburbs of New York for Tinseltown with her entire family in a red Dodge Durango two years ago, she knew she wanted to be famous, but she had never heard of online superstars like Shane Dawson or Ray William Johnson.
How'd she end up hosting BRKDWN, then? She auditioned, after the LuCiette clan settled in Santa Clarita and started searching for Cynthia's big break. And Scarlett, 26, was a production assistant who got bumped up during his first week of work.
YouTube is no longer the wild west of media platforms. Monetized views produce six-figure salaries for over a thousand YouTube stars and Google provides millions of dollars to Hollywood execs to create premium online content. Savvy showbiz vet Peter Griffith, the CEO of YouTube-sponsored Alchemy Networks, says he created BRKDWN to appeal to "the urban market." From the start the idea was to create something that could migrate to TV, so he partnered with Bunim/Murray Productions, which produces shows like Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Project Runway and Bad Girls Club. The show is filmed at Bunim/Murray's studios in Van Nuys.
And as more of the stars who built their brands on YouTube publicly revolt against oppressive contracts, Griffith's choice to cast charismatic unknowns is seeming particularly prescient.
"There's drama that comes with someone who's extremely successful," Griffith says.
Besides, it wasn't a difficult decision. With her pink bangs, fist-sized hoops and eloquent passion for pop culture, LuCiette blew everyone away at the audition.
"It wasn't even a second," says Daniel Tibbets, who runs the digital side of Bunim-Murray. "It was just like, that's her."
As for the bemused Scarlett, who grew up in Inglewood, he doesn't quite seem to believe yet that he's a YouTube star, let alone that he's going to be on television. After the Bounce deal became official, he told his friends that he had some news about his job, as they watched a Lakers playoff game at a bar.
They assumed he'd been fired.
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