Rochelle Hutchinson, 18, came to VidCon to cheat on her girlfriend.
With permission, of course. The catch is that the only girl Hutchinson is allowed to cheat with is YouTube sensation Hannah Hart.
Hutchinson discusses her strategies for getting Hart into bed with her friend and high school classmate Yoshi Robinson as they wait in line to meet the 26-year-old star of the “My Drunk Kitchen” video series at the back of the Expo Hall at the Anaheim Convention Center this past Friday. Robinson and Huchinson both wear Vans and have dyed hair that splays across their foreheads in an emo swoosh, like Miley Cyrus' bouffant but flat.
“I'm going to persuade her with the entire back of [my name badge] and tell her that she can do whatever she wants with it, and hopefully she's like, you know what I'll do with it? I'll set it aside while we have sex,” Hutchinson says.
At another convention, Hutchinson's goal would sound farfetched, but at the 4th annual VidCon, anything is possible. Last year, Hannah Hart was the first person Robinson saw after he got out of the car from Sacramento; they chatted for a while and then ran into each other a handful of other times at parties in the hotel or in the hallways of the Convention Center.
This past weekend, 11,000 of the most influential people in the online video world converged: Hollywood executives looking for the next big thing, vloggers, gamers and comedians looking to grow their brands and, most of all, YouTube superfans looking to get tantalizingly close to their idols, if only to snag a selfie.
The goal is ostensibly to discuss and celebrate the industry. But perhaps more importantly, guests were determined to Tweet, Instagram, Vine and Snapchat evidence of what a totally awesome time everyone was having and how accessible YouTube stars really are to their hundreds of millions of worldwide subscribers, collectively, and the 6,000 people stuck on the convention's wait-list.
Behind the long lines to meet the talent behind channels such as Smosh, Miranda Sings and danisnotonfire, you could take photos of yourself in the ball pit, the bouncy castles, or the inflatable gladiator pen. You could take photos getting a free makeover or using the “tweet-activated vending machine” at the bareMinerals booth. And you could hardly avoid taking photos with the gigantic inflatable Sharkzilla, which was promoting the Discovery Channel's upcoming Shark Week but felt a little like the Jessica Simpson to Sharknado's Britney Spears.
According to a comScore Video Metrix estimate from February 2013, 41 percent of YouTube users are between 12 and 34, but the fans at VidCon were nearly all under 21. As marketers now know, teens often watch two or three hours of YouTube a day, clicking feverishly from advice vlogs to Ke$ha parodies to screaming goats while homework lingers undone. Content aimed at teen girls includes classic Seventeen fare such as make-up tips from girls with artificially curled hair and comedic commentary from what seems to be a never-ending fount of attractive boys with British accents. But there's also significantly more ethnic and gender diversity than in any other medium aimed at teens. On YouTube, it's much easier for Hutchinson, who declares her passions are “lesbianism and Jesus Christ,” to feel at home.
Popular YouTube stars who develop a loyal, niche fan-base can make six figures a year, so many aspiring Hannah Harts headed to the conference rooms above the Expo Hall to take notes at panels that asked: Should I join a network or stay independent? How do I find fans abroad? Do I have to live in L.A.?
Other rooms hosted meet-ups with stars. Some opted for simple Q&A sessions, outquirking each other by way of introduction (“I like fruit snacks and sloths!”). Others decided to use the time more creatively. When musical comedy duo Rhett and Link announced to their followers, who call themselves the Mythical Beasts, that they wanted help stacking chairs to clear space for “a massive group picture that we can all point to and say, 'There I am!'” 200 people cheered.
Down the hall, at the much smaller industry breakout sessions, there was no cheering. Guys in t-shirts and blazers sat around talking about success metrics instead of awesomeness, monetized views and best practices instead of squeeing and pranks. As panelists preached the benefits of engaging consumers online, every suit in the audience was silently absorbed in a phone, tablet or laptop.
Back on the fan side, however, phones were used as recording devices, not escape hatches. A few stars seemed to feel naked without a screen shielding them from so many eyeballs. On YouTube, Mikey Bolts is suave and edited, but instead of performing his famous impressions or silly faces, as Hunter March, the emcee of the AwesomenessTV panel, commands, Mikey tried to level with us, solemnly explaining what he tries to accomplish with his humor.
Bigger stars knew how to play the game and spent the weekend charming and posing with everyone in sight. The best vloggers ape the confessional, hilarious tones of the ultimate best friend, sending what feels like a private message from their bedroom to yours. Even if a popular YouTuber has only ten seconds to talk with a fan, he or she needs to recreate that intimacy, in a way that Johnny Depp or even Kim Kardashian would never be expected to.
The easiest way to accomplish this is by allowing a fan to take a selfie with you, but the best YouTubers go the extra mile. At last year's VidCon, Robinson called Hutchinson, who was sitting in her bedroom back in Sacramento, to put her on the phone with Jenna Marbles, whose channel has over ten million subscribers. Hutchinson got so excited that she took off her pants and told the megastar she had done so. “And [Jenna] was like, 'Wow, I wish I could take off my pants!'” Hutchinson remembers.
The VidCon guidebook advises attendees to “remember that everyone else is, like, totally just a person” and to avoid overwhelming the YouTubers, especially if they seem to be in a rush. But the weirdest thing about VidCon is that these brief, long-awaited moments of in-person contact can seem far less sincere than the extended, on-demand revelations and advice available online.
Outside, near the food trucks, a girl in chunky glasses runs up to a muscular boy on a blue skateboard with green wheels.
“Jooosshh!” she wails. “I've been waiting to meet you all day!”
He looks distracted and hungry. “I love you,” he says, pausing to let her snap a selfie with him.
“I love you so much!” she shouts as he skates away, moments later.
Back in line for Hannah Hart, Hutchinson tells Robinson that her feet don't hurt as badly as they did waiting for over an hour to meet comedian Grace Helbig because she is more excited for Hart than she was for Helbig. Robinson gushes that Helbig remembered his face, his name and that he had proposed marriage last year.
“She said, 'It's our one-year anniversary!' So she remembered all that. And I changed my hair. She remembered!” Robinson says, grinning.
“I just want to see if Hannah remembers me,” he says, “because that would mean they both remember me.”
And that would mean that the entire trip to Anaheim was worth it.
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