from toronto to l.a. - A Youtuber Parent’s Journey Down the Highway to Fame

Meredith Orlando – mother of YouTube sensation Johnny Orlando – has enough lessons learned on fame, privacy and the business of YouTube to fill a book. The kidsmediacentre talked to Meredith about the wild ride that is YouTube success and #BrandofMe.

johnny and meredith orlando

If you’d told Meredith Orlando 4 years ago that she’d be living in L.A., with a famous celebrity, she would have laughed in your face. If you’d told her that celebrity would be her 13-year-old son Johnny, and that her 17-year-old daughter Darian would be his business manager, videographer and editor, she would have had you politely escorted from her house in a pleasant suburb west of Toronto.

But there she is, with her husband and kids, living in L.A. and watching her son’s popularity continue to soar on YouTube. Those “goofy little videos” her kids were doing for fun have turned into a somewhat lucrative business. Her son now goes to a school for kids in the entertainment biz, and her daughter is working 20 hours a week managing his social channels and his YouTube business. Make no mistake; John (or Johnny Orlando) is mega popular. He’s got two YouTube channels with more than half a million subscribers and some videos have 7 million, 8 million, 11 million views. Johnny’s main channel is mostly music videos. Many are cover versions of famous artists like Drake, or Maroon 5 or Bruno Mars, but he’s also started to record his own original songs. So how did it all get started?

Here’s the kid’smediacentre researcher Stephanie West who asked Meredith to take us back to the beginning.

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Read Meredith Orlando's full Interview Transcript - here

Lauren,  MEREDITH and johnny ORLANDO

When John and his sister/videographer Darian started making videos four years ago, they’d get a few hundred, maybe a thousand views. Slowly the audience grew, started asking Johnny to do certain songs, started leaving feedback on his videos. But the videos were posted intermittently; it was a hobby not a business. All that changed three years ago when American Idol host Ryan Seacrest ran a contest and included Johnny’s cover of Justin Beiber’s song “Boyfriend”. Johnny was just 9 years old at the time. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of growth. Johnny now works with an agency that connects him with brands, and he’s done sponsored videos, which have included clothing and everybody’s favourite breakfast food – Nutella. 

His younger sister Lauren has also become involved with YouTube and is developing a following of her own. In the process, says Meredith, her kids have become brands – they’re very clear about what their images are, and the kind of products that “fit” with those images. kidsmediacentre researcher Stephanie West asked Meredith how the money and branding part of the business works for Johnny and even for her youngest daughter Lauren.

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Ah yes, the safeguards.

Perhaps the most challenging piece in all of this is protecting her kids. Privacy is a real challenge when your goal is to grow audience and become more famous. The move to LA hasn’t exactly made that easier. Meredith has had to think a lot more about safety and privacy, and she’s learned a lot about technology- cell phones and the lengths to which rabid pre-teen fans will go to, to meet and connect with the stars they follow on YouTube. Fame does have its upsides, and the kids (it’s mostly young girls who follow Johnny) can be very supportive and generous. But she also concedes that it can sometimes get a bit creepy, especially when you’re not really prepared for it.

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So there are privacy challenges. There are others as well. As much of a business as this is, the Internet can be a nasty place, and the family has had to spend time talking about how to handle the “haters” – people who leave, nasty or even obscene comments. Meredith has had to teach Johnny, Darian and Lauren that they have to shrug it off and focus on the positive, and let’s face it, they’re all still kids.

meredith and johnny orlando

Still, on balance, she views it as enormously beneficial for her kids. Darian has become a bona fide business and social media manager. She’s also her brother’s producer and videographer, shooting and editing some incredible videos. She plans to turn what she’s learned into a career.

Johnny is being exposed to both the creative and business side of fame, and he’s living in a community where lots of young people do the same kind of performing and creating.

Meredith is not sure how long it will all last. They’ve lived in the US for a year and have to decide soon whether they’ll stay there permanently. Much depends on how successful they all continue to be, and how much fun they have continuing to make these “goofy little videos”.