So yeah—basically if 25-year-old Meghan McCarthy had been a star at Auburn, she wouldn’t be the star she is today.
McCarthy enrolled at AU in 2010 and studied theatre. She had acted in high school. She was good at it. She wanted to act in college. She barely did.
“I think a lot of it was because they (Auburn’s theatre department) were doing shows with older characters, so obviously I wasn’t great for that,” she says. “I didn’t feel like the parts were right for me, and obviously the directors didn’t think so either.”
McCarthy looks younger than she is. She sounds even younger. Much younger. Almost what’s wrong with her? younger. Her voice is so cartoonishly high-pitched her high school math teacher couldn’t hear her answers in class. My five-year-old daughter just heard it and said “she sounds like a three-year-old.”
Maybe it’s her abnormally small throat. Maybe it’s her abnormally large tonsils. Whatever it is, it’s natural. It’s not–repeat, not–helium. It’s not anything. She doesn’t do anything to her voice but use it. She just didn’t use it much at Auburn, at least not on stage.
In April 2013, her junior year, a friend introduced McCarthy to Vine, the looping video app Twitter launched that January. Like Twitter, Vine’s appeal lay in its brevity, only instead of just 140 characters of text to convey your thoughts, you had just six seconds of video. Vines automatically played on repeat until you scrolled away. It was easy, it was addictive, and it quickly became McCarthy’s creative outlet.
In lieu of the stage, she turned to her cell phone.
At first, she performed mostly for friends.
“But the summer before my senior year I really tried to start making vines that other people besides my friends would watch,” she says. She posted at least one each day. Six-second songs. Six-second Pokemon impressions. People ate it up. Her wit was a major reason why–she’s funny–but so was her voice.
“On September 1, I checked the app and I had 1,000 followers,” she says, still amazed.
By the end of the year, she had one million. By graduation day, she had a career.
That September, ABC’s Nightline featured a segment on brands targeting young customers via Vine rather than million-dollar TV commercials. And there’s micro-movie star Meghan McCarthy, two months before graduating with her theatre degree, dancing in a six-second skit that Tic Tacs paid her to post. Not long after that, she did the same thing for Coke.
As of this writing, McCarthy has 3.5 million followers on Vine. Her vines have been looped more than 1.5 billion times. That’s billion. With a “B.”
“I was not being cast in shows at my school. I was a theatre major, so I was like, dang, OK, maybe I shouldn’t have been a theatre major. Maybe acting isn’t for me… and then Vine came around and, like, changed my life.”
That’s McCarthy talking to her fans in a video late last year about the impending demise of Vine, the thing that changed her life.
In October 2016, Twitter announced it would shut down the app (or at least the ability to upload videos) in early 2017. McCarthy saw it coming. Unlike other Next Big Thing social media apps, Vine never figured out how to monetize. It was sad, McCarthy said, but it was OK. It was OK because she was mourning Vine on YouTube. The video has logged 300,000 views in three months, which for her, stat-wise, is middle-of-the-road.
McCarthy is among dozens of popular Viners to have successfully transitioned their talents to Instagram, Snapchat, and the lush, lucrative promised land of YouTube.
She’s spent the two-and-half years since graduation in Los Angeles becoming “a YouTube superstar.” That’s how Lenovo’s Chief Technology Officer addressed her at Lenovo Tech World. The China-based tech company hired her as a spokesperson for the June 2016 event. McCarthy stood up in the auditorium, pretended she had no place to put her new Lenovo cell phone, and then proceeded to blow the audience’s mind by wrapping it around her wrist and wearing it like a bracelet.
The other spokesperson in attendance? Ashton Kutcher.
While McCarthy was bending tech in San Francisco, Sara Hopkins was bending elbows in Tel Aviv, all on Israel’s shekel.
Hopkins, 25, is AU’s other fruit of the Vine. In the summer of 2013, rather than salvaging her acting ambitions, the Media Studies major used the app to stave off loneliness during an internship at a North Carolina news station. Her videos were quirky and creative. She started gaining a few followers each day. When a popular Viner mentioned her in a post in August, she started gaining a few hundred.
In December 2013, her jaw-dropping, cup-dropping dolphin impression at a family Christmas party held the day she graduated from Auburn—she got fellow graduate Chris Davis to pose with her in cap and gown for a video—elicited what Buzzfeed called “The Most Hilarious Vine Reaction Ever.”
Her most viral Vine shows her lip syncing to the 2009 hip hong song Ice Cream Paint Job. In less than two years, it’s been viewed—and this isn’t even counting the copies posted to YouTube and other sites—nearly 100 million times.
But Hopkins also saw the text on the wall sometime in 2015.
“I noticed it just when the interaction started to go down on Vine for videos that would have done well,” she says. “People (who recognized her in public) would say, ‘yeah, I used to watch you on Vine.’ It wasn’t ‘I watch you on Vine,’ it was ‘I used to.’”
Like McCarthy, she slowly used her Vine audience (which currently stands at more than 1 million followers) to build a social media safety net to preserve and grow her personal brand.
Her presence across pretty much every social app there is—these days she says she’s actually mostly known from Snapchat—has been enough to land sponsorship deals with dozens of companies… and at least one country.
In the summer of 2016, Israel’s Ministry of Tourism paid her and a handful of other social media savants to fly to Israel, pub crawl across Tel Aviv, swim in the Dead Sea, and generally showcase to their followers just how hip the Holy Land has apparently become.
When I talked to her at home in Atlanta last October on the day we learned Vine’s days were officially numbered, she was in the middle of a women’s lifestyle campaign for TJ Maxx and gearing up to create content for Anheuser-Busch.
“I have my own little LLC, SayHop LLC, so I do a lot of consulting and I still do creation for brands,” she says. “But it’s mostly on Snapchat and Instagram.”
The one frontier she’s yet to conquer—or at least to dominate—is YouTube.
“I’ve tried doing it, but I would never refer to myself as a YouTuber since I haven’t put in effort into growing my following,” she says. “I’ve posted stuff just for fun, but it’s what a lot of the big Viners have done—move over to YouTube because they make money with every video they post.”
She means people like McCarthy, who is now so YouTube famous, her dad (who occasionally appears in videos to swear his daughter’s voice is real) even gets recognized.
“Yeah, she’s doing really well with that,” Hopkins says. “She’s really killin’ it.”
Killing it doesn’t really describe what Ricky Dillon is doing to YouTube.
Dillon, 24, has 3.2 million YouTube subscribers and the looks and charm to front every boy band ever formed.
He started his YouTube channel while attending Hoover High School. It didn’t get big until he got to Auburn, where he majored in Media Studies from 2010-2013.
By the fall of 2012, he had a stronger social media presence than Auburn football.
In May 2013, he dropped out of school, got an agent, and bought a home in Los Angeles with members of Our 2nd Life, a popular six-member YouTuber collective he helped start in 2012.
“I wanted to be in front of the camera, not doing the production behind it,” he told Business Insider for a 2014 profile.
Since striking out entirely on his own in 2015, Dillon has grown from a moon orbiting YouTube supernovas like Tyler Oakley, Joey Graceffa, and Jenna Marbles (all of with whom he now frequently collaborates) into his own planet of personality: www.RickyDillonWorld.com.
In 2016 alone, Dillon 1) created a card game (Ricky Dillon’s Twisted Truth or Dare, retail price: $24.99) based on one of his massively popular YouTube channel’s favorite recurring themes 2) wrote a New York Times best-selling memoir (“Follow Me”) published by an imprint of Simon & Schuster 3) released a pop album (“Gold”) that somehow features guest vocals by Snoop Dogg (that Snoop Dogg, who also stars with Dillon in the video for the single “Problematic”)
This is real.
The video has 1.8 million views.
As of this writing, his latest YouTube video, EXPOSING RUDE CELEBRITIES I’VE MET (I may regret this…), has been watched 900,000 times. It was posted yesterday.
His most popular YouTube video, a three-minute comedy sketch on dating, has 9 million views.
But despite Dillon’s massive stats, the Auburn-educated hashtag heavyweight with the single most-viewed video (at least of those that don’t loop automatically) is actually McCarthy, who plans to spend 2017 not only continuing to own YouTube, but pursuing voice acting (she’s already been cast in a couple of web series) and even “hopefully something in film and television as well”—opportunities that theatre majors still fresh out of college would kill for.
The video has 9.5 million views.
It’s titled “TALK IN YOUR REAL VOICE!”