YouTube star Todrick Hall is taking his viral-video expertise to MTV with his series, Todrick. Each week, he and his team will hustle to create an all-out production, complete with new hair, makeup, choreography, and music. With little time to spare, the show must go on – no matter what craziness comes their way.
EW caught up with Hall before the premiere to chat all about Todrick, the special guests (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt!), and the behind-the-scenes wildness that helped Hall land his very own show.
Todrick premieres Monday at 10 p.m. ET on MTV.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me a little bit about the show.
TODRICK HALL: The show is called Todrick, and the show follows my life and the friends that I’ve gathered over the past few years making YouTube videos. Every week, we’re taking a brand new concept — a brand new original song, brand new hair, makeup, choreography and making a video come to life on our shoestring budget.
Can you walk me through the process of creating a typical video? How long does it take to put together?
It just depends on the video. I always tell people the life of a YouTuber is very unpredictable. You never know when the next viral thing will happen — when the next Rebecca Black moment will happen where she’ll come out with a video or Miley Cyrus will do something at the VMAs. Then, you have to figure out how do I take that and twist it up and make it appropriate for my audience — and do it quickly. Sometimes you have a week to put together a video, and sometimes you have three days. But the sooner you get your video out, the more viral it’s going to be and the more impact it’ll have on your YouTube channel and YouTubers live for subscribers and views — so it depends. On the show, every week we’re creating a new video within that week, so in about five to six days total.
How did this whole idea for the show come about? When did the whole journey kick off?
A producer who had created a bunch of TV shows — mostly scripted TV shows — found me online and was like, “This would be a really interesting TV show.” And he reached out to me and ironically, it was the same day that Scooter Braun reached out to me after seeing my video, “Beauty and the Beat.” Obviously, he’s known for creating the successes that are Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Psy, and Carly Rae Jepsen. So, I obviously jumped at the opportunity to have a meeting with him. I think it was fate that when I got there, Danny Rose, who had also just emailed me about having a show on MTV, was there at that same meeting. We all started talking and they started asking me questions about my life and how crazy it is to put together these videos. I started explaining to them stories of specific instances that have happened behind my viral videos. They were like, “If this isn’t a TV show, I don’t know what is?” So, they basically, at that very moment, decided we would go ahead with it and we started pitching it to networks. Once MTV came along, it was just, to me, the best fit because it’s the same demographic as my YouTube channel.
What were some of the stories you told them about your process?
In my flash mob, I’ve been known to do anything from unplugging the ATM at a Target to be able to play my music because we had no other option. Or asking a random person if I could borrow their baby for a video shoot — and they totally lent me their baby. I mean anything from the craziest things to the most simple things — you have to go ask people if you can shoot a scene in their house because you need to use their fireplace. I mean, crazy things that have happened to us in order to make these videos happen. Getting someone to loan us their horse and let us ride it for a video — people we’d never met, but, we’re on a time crunch and there’s no way we can afford to go get a trainer to bring a horse to ride for a shot that’s going to be eight seconds long. So, we go out and ask if that’s what it takes, until someone agrees to be crazy enough to let some crazy black man get on top of their horse. People are so nice and so willing to do those things if you just ask. It’s crazy.
You’ve had some familiar faces pop up in your videos before and we saw in the trailer that Joseph Gordon-Levitt will appear on Todrick as well as GloZell. Can you tease any other famous guests?
Well, even in the commercials that are out, they show Aubrey O’Day is a part of it and Jenna Marbles. Those are two names I can tell you because they’re already in the trailer that’s airing right now on MTV. But there’s a lot of cool, familiar faces, that you’ll see just for a quick second. In every episode, you’ll see a face or some sort of reference to pop culture that you didn’t know we were going to do. I think that’s kind of what makes it really fun and that’s kind of the spice to what makes a video really viral. They click on a video of mine, not realizing they’re going to see Amber Riley or Adam Lambert or Lance Bass. You just never know who’s going to pop up in the videos and that’s part of the cool thing and why people watch it all the way through the end. It’s why the virality of them is so strong because it’s just eye candy for four or five minutes, you know?
Is there a particular episode that you’ve shot that you’re excited for people to see?
To answer that question, I’m really excited for each one. I mean, every time I bring a new audience member — like any of my friends that have gotten to watch show because I’ve just wanted their opinion — they say, “Which episode should you watch?” and I legitimately can’t decide. There are some episodes that really tug on your heartstrings that are great story episodes. And some videos that I’m like, “This is my favorite video but not necessarily my favorite episode.” Each episode has moments in it that I can’t really choose an episode that I like more than any other. I would have to say “Epic Love” would have to be my favorite episode, because it allows each member of my cast to shine. A lot of the videos, you see a lot of the cast members helping out and doing their own specific jobs. But in that episode, you see every single person shine in their element. The finale episode — which I can’t tell you what it’s about, but it’s awesome — those two episodes are the ones I really feel like all of my cast members and friends are featured. For that reason, those are probably my two favorites.
You’ve done so much in the past and have had a lot of different types of success. Is there something that you want to be able to do that you haven’t yet?
I would love to start doing music now. When I originally moved to L.A., I had no intention of blowing up on YouTube. I just thought this is the best way to get my voice out there at a louder volume so that more and more eyes are seeing my work and people are attracted to my YouTube channel, and then I can put out original music. But I ended up falling in love with it so much and having so many ideas that I wanted to bring to life. So, it became impossible to stop. I have no intention to stop making YouTube videos in the near future — at all — but I would love to start putting out more original songs and hopefully be a voice that’s constantly heard over the road and be able to go on tour. My own music — that would be my biggest dream. But I want an EGOT — Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony — I would love to be able to one day before I rest myself, that would be a dream come true.
Do you have a dream collaboration, either for your videos or someone you’d like to work with in the future?
I mean, hands down it would be Beyoncé. I would say Nicole Ritchie is a close second, which people would never think that but I love Nicole Richie, she’s one of my favorite people in the world. I think I would be the most starstruck ever if I met her above anybody else on the planet. That’s a little fun fact about me, I love her. The Simple Life basically changed my entire life and made it a lot less simple. I think hands down the number one person I would love to have in a video is Beyoncé. I think the perfect video for me — I could die happy and I could never make a YouTube video again — would be to do a video called Bey-Oz-cé and mix The Wizard of Oz and Beyoncé together because those are my two favorite things in the world. If I ever get to make that video, I would literally, officially be the happiest person in the world. I would probably get a tattoo saying, “Kill me now, because what could be better than this.”
Is there anything else you’d like fans to know about the show?
Just that I’m proud of the show. A lot of the times, we go on tour with our live show and parents are like, “I didn’t know what to expect but I’m so glad I brought my kids to watch this show.” This is not a show where people will be tuning in to see people drinking and fighting each other — this show is not about drama. This show is about people who artists trying to find our way and everything single day, doing something to get closer to our goals and the reason why moved to L.A. It’s about family, it’s about people being accepting and being who they are. I just think that’s a message people need to hear and watch.
I’m so incredibly proud of what we’ve created because I think it is the poster child for all of those things that kids need to hear right now — to build people’s confidence and to inspire people and make them happy and confident in who they are. I think this show does that and it reminds you every single episode. There’s not one episode when those ingredients aren’t woven into the storyline. So, I just think it’s important and impactful and I hope and pray that everybody watches it. Especially anyone whose kid or anyone who is an artist that has a dream and doesn’t really know how to accomplish that.
I think this show is going to be life-changing for those people because they’re going to see how this crazy kid put together these people and found a way out of no way — as the commercial says. People would just think we would be the least likely people to make it in Hollywood. Yet, here we are with our own reality show. If we can do it, anyone can. I think that’s the message that I would want people to know going in.
When it’s all said and done, do you think that’s your biggest hope for the project? That people understand anybody can do it if your team can make it happen?
Absolutely. Growing up in the Bible Belt of Texas, I thought for sure there was no way — if I’m 100 percent true to myself and come out as a gay, African-American person in 2015 — that people are going to be able to accept that and understand it. When I was on American Idol, I really tried to hide and suppress some of those things in hopes that people would like me more or understand me. I realized that people didn’t really like me because they didn’t get to know me. They didn’t know anything about me. They knew a fake facade of who I was presenting myself to be.
I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned is that audiences can understand they can sense — like a dog that can smell fear — they can sense people not being genuine. I think that now, people will be able to see the real me who I really am and hopefully fall in love or not like me. But, no matter what, if they don’t like me, I know from doing this show that they won’t like the real me. But I think American Idol was like a bad misinterpretation of who I really am, and I’m hoping and praying that I’m a voice for — not just African American people, and not just for gay people — for any artist or anybody who’s been told that they couldn’t do something or what they weren’t good enough.
If you choose to prove people wrong and get up every day and try to make something of yourself and make it for yourself, I think that speaks volumes. We live in America where each and every person has the equal opportunity to take their iPhone or a smartphone and create something and put it online and have the equal ability to blow up and be successful. It’s a tool I hope we inspire tons of people to pick up and go after their dreams. Because if I can do it and if the people in my group can do it — with as quirky and unconventional as they may be — anyone really can do it. I think that’s the whole message of the show and I hope my whole message as an artist. It’s something I really believe in and it sounds cheesy sometimes but it’s something that’s really near and dear to my heart and I think it comes through in the show.
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