5 stars who made it big on YouTube

Justin Bieber, Amy Heidemann of Karmin and SNL's Jay Pharoah. (WENN.COM)

Justin Bieber, Amy Heidemann of Karmin and SNL's Jay Pharoah. (WENN.COM)

Sean Fitzgerald, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:21 PM ET

For a long time, there was a big difference between being ‘YouTube famous’ and being a genuinely famous person. A video with tens of thousands of views wouldn’t necessarily guarantee an invite to Hollywood’s mainstream realm. But talented amateur video editors, with visions of creating big-budget TV shows or appearing on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, kept doing their thing.

And now the situation is starting to change. According to Nielsen, YouTube reaches more U.S. adults in the 18-34 range than any cable network. And last week, Disney purchased Maker Studios – one of YouTube’s largest networks – for $500 million.

Kevin Mayer, Disney’s executive vice-president of corporate strategy, confirmed to the Associated Press that he plans to find talent for Disney’s TV shows and movies from Maker Studios’ channels.

“They have the biggest audience on YouTube,” he says. “It’s very hard to replicate.”

YouTube clips associated with Maker Studios earn 5.5 billion views a month. That’s a lot of eyeballs.

This acquisition gives the streaming site even more legitimacy, in terms of acting as a breeding place for talent. Do you get blank stares from people when you tell them about your love for YouTube stars like Smosh, Kassem G and the Shaytards? That’ll change soon.

So who’s already made the crossover from YouTube into mainstream pop culture? Here are five acts that come to mind:

JUSTIN BIEBER:

Before ‘Bizzle’ became a badly behaved pop star zillionaire – and before he dominated the Juno Fan Choice category, winning for the fourth year in a row this past Sunday to a chorus of boos – he was a floppy-haired 12-year-old performing in Stratford, Ont. His mom posted performance clips on YouTube for friends and family members that couldn’t make it to his shows, and once Scooter Braun found Bieber’s cover of Chris Brown’s With You in 2008 – becoming, in a sense, the first Belieber – the rest is history.

KARMIN:

Pop group Karmin, featuring Amy Heidemann and Nick Noonan, first found fame on YouTube with another Chris Brown cover – a quirky version of the song Look At Me Now. The 2011 video led to big buzz on Reddit, a post on Ryan Seacrest’s blog, an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres show and a deal with Epic Records. Their single Brokenhearted flirted with pop radio in the summer of 2012, and their full-length debut, Pulses, hit stores last week.

JAY PHAROAH:

This man has become known as the master of impressions, and by now you’ve probably seen his near-perfect imitations of Will Smith, Jay-Z, Eddie Murphy and Denzel Washington. Pharoah first earned kudos when his impression of Barack Obama went viral during the 2008 presidential campaign – and now we see him every weekend on Saturday Night Live.

FRED FIGGLEHORN:

Everyone loves to hate this character. Actor Lucas Cruikshank’s YouTube channel, which followed an annoying six-year-old boy with anger management issues and a high-pitched chipmunk voice, led to three movies and a TV series with Nickelodeon.

WORKAHOLICS:

Workaholics, the hilarious sitcom about three college dropouts, originated from a Los Angeles sketch group called Mail Order Comedy. In 2010, Comedy Central ordered the show after an executive saw a series of videos they posted on YouTube. If it wasn’t for YouTube, we’d never be familiar with the lovely tornado of curls atop Blake Anderson’s head.


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