15-year-old Brendan Jordan tells us what it's like to wake up famous
But in Summerlin, Nevada, a Las Vegas suburb where the Jordan family lives, a mall opening is kind of a big deal. Especially this mall, which, for six years sat unfinished, a nine-story steel frame looming over Sahara Avenue as a reminder of the disastrous economy. When it finally opened on Thursday, October 9, 2014, the city threw a four-day street festival to celebrate. Local news crews were on site to cover the event.
"It was going to be a big deal," Tracy told Tech Insider. "And my kids love to shop."So they loaded into the family car and went, unaware that Brendan's life was about to change. That night would set into motion a chain of events that catapulted the 15-year-old into internet fame.
We spoke with Brendan and his parents, Tracy and Chris, at VidCon, a YouTube-sponored convention held in Anaheim, California, to learn what it's like to become an overnight celebrity.
It hardly surprised Tracy when her son - goofy, loud, and wildly unapologetic - positioned himself dead-center in front of the KLAS-TV Channel 8 crew outside the Downtown Summerlin. When the cameras rolled and the reporter described the opening-night scene at the mall, Brendan broke into dance.
You might have seen it.It was the most epic showcase of "video-bombing" in viral internet history. Brendan shook, shimmied, and vogued, channeling his pop culture idol, Lady Gaga, and clapping his hands to the rhythym of her song, "Applause." He wore a black button-down and skintight, geometric print leggings.
A much younger child attempted to edge her way forward, and Brendan looked down on her with "stank face," a grimace given with narrowed eyes and a curled lip.
His mom texted him. "Nice face," Tracy wrote. Then they returned home, not thinking much of it. Tracy guessed it would air on Channel 8 that night, so she contacted the news outlet with request for a copy of the segment.
"Within 48 hours, it didn't matter," Tracy said. "I could watch it anywhere on the internet."
A member of the crowd taped the scene, centering Brendan in the shot, rather than the reporter, and uploaded it to YouTube the next day. Others recorded the segment live on TV and shared that footage.
The first Brendan heard of it was a direct-message on Instagram, which arrived on his way home from school. "They're calling you the 'Downtown Summerlin Kid,'" a friend wrote. He raced to his grandmother's house, and tracked down the video."It had only 1,000 views at the time, and literally within two hours," he said, "the entire drag community picked it up."
Drag queens RuPaul, Pandora Boxx, and others shared the video to social media. Brendan canceled his Friday night plans and sat with his mother in the halo of a computer screen, refreshing the pages. He didn't even have a Facebook account yet.
News of the "fierce little boy" with "sassy dance moves" spread quickly. The Today show, Good Morning America, The Daily Mail, POPSUGAR, and more covered the viral moment by the time Brendan returned to school on Monday. Lady Gaga tweeted that she loved him.
@jordvnhaus i love you baby! you really showed the world when that camera was rolling! A real monster, grabbing life by the face for a kiss!- Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) October 16, 2014
"It was weird because, I didn't expect anything of it," Brendan told us. "I was being myself. I just thought, 'Let's laugh about this later with the family.'"
But nothing about Brendan is typical.
His dad Chris, who works in media sales, kept some contacts in television and radio who put him in touch with Chuck Field, a talent manager who works with YouTube star Andrea Russett. Through Field, Brendan landed a spot on "The Queen Latifah Show" and a contract with Fullscreen Creator Platform in March of this year.
Brendan has now parlayed his 15 minutes of fame into bona fide stardom, evidenced by the hordes of teenaged boys and girls who ambushed him at VidCon for photos. He's amassed nearly 60,000 followers on Twitter and 20,000 subscribers on YouTube, where he uploads content weekly. His channel covers everything from surviving high school and Caitlyn Jenner, to the Kylie Jenner lip tutorial and "5 annoying things straight boys say to gay boys."As a member of the YouTube Partner Program, he earns money on relevant ads that appear on his videos. Brendan and Chris, who handles "the business stuff," did not disclose how much the teen rakes in.
An "old soul since preschool," according to his mom, Brendan grew up fiercely independent. He refused to let others feed him as a small child. He got along better at the adult table.
Jordan, who identifies as both male and female, was teased in middle school for his effeminate voice and light makeup use. But the support of his family helped him persevere, and Brendan came out to the world on YouTube in November.
"It meant a lot to have my sister and mother right by my side supporting me all the way. Support is probably the greatest thing a person could ever have I probably wouldn't be anywhere without the support of my loving family. I love my family for being an amazing support system, and I thank God every day for them." - @jordvnhaus ???????? #InstaPride #HappyHippiePresents @HappyHippieFdn
Fame suits Brendan, though it constantly surprises him. "People dressed up as me for Halloween," Brendan said.
He keeps a running list in his head of places he knows he will be recognized (and will "have to dress up and look pretty"): the Las Vegas Strip, the mall, amusement parks. His family recently drove to California for a concert and witnessed a screaming girl pointing at Brendan and pressing a camera-phone to her car's window.
It's mostly fun and games. But in the aftermath of Brendan's viral video, the media built him up to be the face of something much bigger than himself.News outlets applauded his "courage" and "bravery." American Apparel recruited him to model for its November print ad because it liked "the way he uses his platform to raise awareness for the LGBTQ community." The Happy Hippie Foundation flew Brendan and his family out to Burbank, California, for a photo shoot with Miley Cyrus. The organization raises awareness of injustices facing LGBTQ youth.
Thrust into the spotlight, Brendan now speaks for a hugely underrepresented segment of the American population: gay and trans teens. That comes with a lot of pressure for someone who can't legally drive a car yet.
"I do feel like I'm afraid to say the things that I want to say," Brendan said, dialing in his aura of eccentricity for a moment. His voice slowed. "The topics that I talk about - like how feminine I am - are very controversial and sensitive. The last thing I want to do is offend someone."
"Wording everything correctly," as Jordan said he must do, is a challenge for presidential candidates, movie stars, and law enforcement - let alone a 15-year-old who's still finding himself.
Of course, there are haters. But for every internet troll, there are others who are grateful to Jordan for the example he set."I know what I am, and who I am, and the most important thing to me is to be my genuine self," Jordan declared. "People don't agree with that? They can go away because I really don't care."
Said like a true teenager.