Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, October 24, 2016

By Karen D’Souza, San Jose Mercury News (TNS)

Issa “Twaimz” Tweimeh got his big break two years ago at Vidcon, the annual YouTube convention in Anaheim, Calif. He stood in line for four hours to meet his idol, YouTube sensation Shane Dawson, and present him with a drawing of Dawson’s beloved dog.

When Dawson later raved about Twaimz on social media, the 20-year-old from Hercules got on the cyber radar himself, and another YouTube star was born.

“I was so inspired by it that I wanted to do it myself, I wanted to inspire people like that,” says Twaimz, who performs humor- and music-laced video monologues about pop culture, self-esteem and sexual identity.

Now Twaimz (pronounced Twames) has his own massive fan base. We’re talking more than 1.4 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, Twaimz, and nearly 70 million views to date.

His Hollywoodesque rise from obscurity to pop-culture stardom is hardly unique on YouTube, which has become the place where comedians, musicians, lifestyle and beauty gurus and others go hoping to get discovered, like the Tinseltown starlets of yore. The top five YouTube stars _ the most popular people you have probably never heard of _ now have more subscribers than Mexico has people.

Most YouTube personalities, of course, will never achieve red-carpet status.

“I have spoken to teens who were convinced if they kept working on their YouTube channel, someone would come across them and make them a star,” says Scot Guenter, professor of American studies at San Jose State. “Many youth think they are extremely talented even when they aren’t. … I’ve checked out the YouTube channels of some of the would-be stars I know personally, and my critical sense is they better keep their day jobs, if they have any.”

Still, some do grab the brass ring. Meet the next generation of stardom, digital celebrities who cash in directly from their YouTube popularity or, like the comedy duo known as Smosh, parlay it into a movie deal.

The Bay Area has more than its share of YouTube stars. Twaimz has become famous for his smart-alecky sense of humor, his love of llamas and his candor about his life and his sexuality. There’s also Joey Hernandez, a San Jose-based fast-food critic who chomps down on burgers and fries from the comfort of his car, whose views are closing in on the 10 million mark. And Meghan Rienks, a Marin-raised 21-year-old beauty video blogger, specializes in makeup, hair and fashion tips laced with perky commentary.

Twaimz, who shoots his videos from his studio, ahem, bedroom, in his parents’ house, is part comedian, part musician and all snarky. He shares the details of his life in a freewheeling commentary. It’s the kind of raw and uncensored stream of consciousness that you might share with your BFF, which is part of its appeal.

“I do vlog about boys I am crushing on and things like that,” says Twaimz, whose August video titled “The Crush Song” has netted 2.7 million views. “But mostly I vlog about how you have to love yourself first before you love someone else. I like to try and get a message out.”

Hernandez wins over viewers for his channel, JoeysWorldTour, with his unpretentious appeal, reviewing Whoppers instead of haute cuisine, cracking jokes and sharing his struggles with his weight.
Rienks started vlogging from her bedroom at the age of 15. She shares beauty secrets, her love of unicorns and her bubbly personality with 1.9 million subscribers to her self-titled YouTube channel. She traded in her childhood love for theater for a chance to have a global audience online.

“I started doing this because I felt like I didn’t have any friends,” she says, “and then I went on YouTube and suddenly I had thousands of them.”

Her most popular video is a tutorial on how to create a waterfall braid (nearly 3 million views) that she filmed when she was 16. Now she has her own line of temporary tattoos and a budding acting career. All of that has its roots in her YouTube wattage.

“I am very fortunate that I was able to make enough from YouTube to be able to leave college and know that I could make a living,” Rienks says, “but being on YouTube has never been about money for me. This is my passion.”

Many YouTube stars make a lot of their money from the advertising sold on their channels, which is based on the number subscribers one has. Indeed, YouTube, which has been owned by Google since 2006, now owns about 20 percent of the growing U.S. digital video advertising market, according to eMarketer. Perhaps the biggest YouTuber, a Swedish comedian-entertainer known as PewDiePie, pulls down an estimated $7.4 million a year for posting videos of himself playing video games.

On the other hand, Hernandez, who started vlogging about drive-thru fare when he was out of work, doesn’t have big enough YouTube following yet to quit his day job as a personal chef.

“Unless you get lucky and have that one video that goes viral,” says Hernandez, 45, who sprinkles his reviews with comedy, “you have your work cut out for you.”

That sense of connection is the key to hooking viewers. Twaimz, Hernandez and Rienks all have loads of authenticity, the secret sauce of online fame.

“You have to be yourself on YouTube because you are your brand,” says Rienks, who often gives her followers supportive advice such as, “Don’t give up, young grasshoppers!”

That’s good advice for YouTubers as well, because competition is stiff: YouTube estimates 300 hours of video are uploaded every minute.

The biggest YouTube channels, based on number of subscribers
1. PewDiePie: aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, Swedish comedian and producer, 39.7 million subscribers
2. HolaSoyGerman: aka German Alejandro Garmendia Aranis, Chilean comedian, 24.5 million subscribers
3. YouTube Spotlight: YouTube’s own channel featuring top videos and other news, 23 million subscribers
4. Smosh: aka American comedians Andrew Hecox and Anthony Padilla, 21.2 million subscribers
5. Rihanna: pop/R&B singer, 17.6 million subscribers

(c)2015 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Issa Tweimeh is photographed at his Hercules, Calif., home on Aug. 18, 2015. “Twaimz,” as he is know in the Internet world, has become a YouTube celebrity with a fanbase of more than 1,270,922 subscribers, and his work has attracted over 62,418,338 views. He is a self-described comedic personality. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group/TNS)