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Why do social media stars struggle to transition to TV stardom?

  • Charli D’Amelio, TikTok's biggest star with 124 million followers, is the latest social media influencer to attempt to translate her massive following to television via Hulu's The D’Amelio Show. She's co-starring in the Keeping Up with the Kardashian-style reality show, now available to stream, with older sister Dixie (54.5 million TikTok followers), father Marc (10.5 million) and mother Heidi (9.5 million). "Traditional media is salivating at the prospect" of D'Amelio having mainstream TV success, says Travis M. Andrews. "Social media’s young followers, who eschew traditional entertainment platforms, are still a largely untapped market." But so far, social media stars have struggled with the transition, most notably Lilly Singh, who -- despite having more than 14 million followers -- failed on NBC's late-night with her A Little Late talk show. "The path to traditional stardom for the creators who have made their names on the Internet is littered with failures," says Andrews. "After being named one of the most influential people on the Internet by Time magazine in 2015, Vine star Brittany Furlan embarked on an acting career that still hasn’t taken off. YouTuber Tyler Oakley has tried several different paths to the mainstream — including competing in The Amazing Race — but is still known mostly for his vlogging. Fellow YouTuber Jack Maynard broke free from the Internet by going on the U.K. reality show I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! only to be removed after his past offensive tweets surfaced. AwesomenessTV’s Next Influencer, a reality show about a group of TikTokers trying to become famous on the app, has an astoundingly low 1.7/10 rating on IMDb. Their primary hurdle has been the cultural mismatch. Online media is 'such a unique environment. YouTube had a difficult time translating to traditional media spaces, and I think TikTok will even more so,' said Jamie Cohen, a digital media and media studies professor at Queens College. Online platforms have their own visual style — a filter that superimposes dog ears onto a person’s face wouldn’t be out of place — that doesn’t always translate to film to television. And they offer their popular personalities the kind of flexibility and freedom unheard of in traditional media, allowing creators to react quickly to the feedback of their viewers." In a video published shortly after Singh's debut titled "Leaving the YouTube Bubble," YouTuber Drew Gooden explained why her transition to TV didn't work, namely that NBC misunderstood her popularity that was mainly a hit with children. He also notes that online personalities like Singh can lose creative control when working with a large network, hampering the freedom that made them successful online. With a network, the creator is no longer in charge, no longer making niche content for its niche audience. Andrews adds: "Despite the perils, mainstream fame continues to be a draw for those that have made their names online. Networks and movie studios have access to greater resources to promote and share their content, not to mention that they can reach larger general audiences than social media." Gooden also points out that despite social media becoming mainstream, influencers are still viewed as inferior, even if they earn a lot of money. “You’ll be a successful YouTuber, and you’ll talk to someone, and they’ll ask, ‘What do you want to do next?’” he says. As Andrews points out, Bo Burnham, an early YouTube star, is the "gold standard" for achieving mainstream success. Yet with his acclaimed Netflix pandemic special Inside, "Burnham wrote, shot, directed and edited the series — the way a YouTuber or TikToker might. But instead of putting it all online, it was released on Netflix."

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    • The D’Amelio Show fails to be an insightful exploration of internet fame: "Even with more than 100 million people subscribing to her channel on TikTok alone, Charli’s well aware that her particular kind of internet fame is conditional," says Caroline Framke. "No matter how many millions of people follow her, many more aren’t on TikTok at all, or else served a completely different set of content by the almighty algorithm. Despite becoming one of the most prominent faces of an undeniably huge social-media app, Charli D’Amelio is the kind of famous that means she’s either completely swarmed by attention or completely ignored, depending on who’s looking. It’s a genuinely strange, fascinating dynamic for a docuseries to explore — and yet, not one that this doc is either interested in or well equipped to handle. Instead, The D’Amelio Show settles for a general peek behind the curtain that focuses on the basic frustrations of sudden fame."
    • The D'Amelio Show is primarily concerned with the question of professional likability: "What does it do to someone, especially young women, and what do you do with it? Can TikTok fame work anywhere else?" says Adrian Horton. "In timing, family focus (including parents Heidi and Marc D’Amelio) and subject of beautiful young women famous for being themselves online (the next iteration of 'famous for being famous'), it’s hard not to see The D’Amelio Show as the heir apparent to Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the reality TV dynasty which concluded its 14-year run in June (before they also come to Hulu in a major new deal). But whereas that E! show existed as a launchpad to ubiquity for the Kardashian-Jenners, and eventually as mechanism for narrative control, The D’Amelio Show is aimless, restrained and unsure. (It also contains far less drama, manufactured or otherwise.)"
    • The D'Amelio Show aims to be a throwback: The Hulu reality show is "the latest iteration of a now well-established genre exposing the fights and flaws and foibles of famous families in their habitats," says Alexandra Jacobs. "There were the Osbournes; there were the Gottis; and most inescapably there have been the Kardashians, who ended their show after 14 years in June, creating an opening. Sisters sell: the Olsens, the Hiltons, the Hadids and so on. Stabbing at a soup can with a knife in one episode as her boyfriend, Noah Beck, watches dismayed, the dimple-chinned, goofy Dixie conjures Jessica Simpson in Newlyweds, wondering if her Chicken of the Sea tuna was chicken."

    TOPICS: Charli D'Amelio, Hulu, YouTube, The D'Amelio Show, A Little Late with Lilly Singh, Dixie D'Amelio, Heidi D'Amelio, Lilly Singh, Marc D'Amelio, Instagram, Reality TV, Social Media, TikTok, Twitter




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