Haters, back off: an interview with the gal behind YouTube sensation, ‘Miranda Sings’

Colleen Ballinger (left) and her creation, Miranda (right).

Pretend you’ve made some silly YouTube videos that you posted as an inside joke for your friends. For months, these videos got a few hits, maybe 100 at the most. And then one morning you discover one of your videos has topped 70,000 plays. Overnight. That’s exactly what happened to Colleen Ballinger about a year and a half ago, when her videos of Miranda, a highly unique character she created to humor some friends, started to go viral.

It was around this time (March 2009) that I stumbled upon Miranda (thanks to my friend Jamie, who’s always ahead of the curve). The tipping point, as it were. Two videos — “Free Voice Lesson” and her music video of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” — immediately grabbed the public’s attention. And by “the public,” I mean theatre nerds. And now, with her videos getting more than one million views each, audiences outside of the theatre circle have started to take notice of Miranda. As a result, Ballinger, a talented singer and actress in her own right, has been booked to recreate her youtube character in a one-woman show all over the world.

Her next gig is in Highland Park, IL, where she’ll be playing at the Music Theatre Company’s space this Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2 and 8 pm. Check her out! I’ll be there.

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with the charming Ballinger over the phone about Miranda and this entire experience, including how it’s impacted her both professionally and romantically. Below is a highlight of that conversation:

For the uninitiated: who the hell is Miranda, and why does she think she’s so awesome?
Miranda is a character I created three years ago in response to some of the girls I went to college with who had a lot of … interesting characteristics. I was a voice major at a small private college, and there were a lot of really cocky girls in my program who were completely oblivious to the fact that they couldn’t really sing, and they would record YouTube videos of themselves performing with the expectation they would soon be famous. So the videos were initially an inside joke for me and my friends. And I guess that joke hit a nerve with others.

Oh, yeah. When I saw the “Free Voice Lesson” video, I couldn’t stop laughing, nor could the friends I sent it to.
Thank you! Yeah, that was the one that got this whole thing started. I’m not sure how it got that huge number of hits, but it probably had something to do with the word “free” in the title. People like free things. And I honestly think people like the fact that Miranda is so unlikeable. She’s really quite rude, and my goal was to get people, who Miranda calls “haters,” to post mean things in the comments. That’s where the comedy is.

Have you seen this video?
Hilarious. Yes! That kind of video is completely my inspiration for Miranda. The obliviousness, the weird camera angles, the crazy clutter in the background…

Do you find it ironic that you posted the first Miranda videos to make fun of people who thought they could get famous via YouTube, and now that website is exactly why you have this unexpected career?
Oh, it’s completely ironic. I remember when my first set of Miranda videos got maybe 36 views, and I would thank all my fans, jokingly. Now, it’s not really a joke.

I gotta tell you, it wasn’t until a few videos in that I was finally convinced it was a parody. Do people still think Miranda is a real person?
On the internet, oh yeah. Just read the comments under the videos! But in my live shows, not as much anymore, but it still happens on occasion. I’ve had people walk out of my shows because of how abrasive Miranda is when she gives her “voice lessons” to others. Not to mention how unique her singing style is. I’ve also had people, usually elderly people, who genuinely think Miranda is a real person, and come up to me after the show encouraging me to keep doing what I love. I love that.

As Miranda, you’ve had the opportunity to perform alongside some really great performers, including Ann Hampton Callaway, Cheyenne Jackson and Shoshanna Bean. Who’s on your wishlist currently?
I actually was lucky enough to perform with my all time wishlist performer: Sutton Foster. It was for a benefit a month ago for the Alzheimer’s Association, and it was so exciting. After she gave an amazing performance of “On My Own, I came out to give her a voice lesson. I told her she couldn’t hit high notes and needed to work on her lower notes, and if she needed to hit those high notes, she should just lip synch. It was so much fun! So, I guess I need to get a new wishlist person…

Do you think Miranda is surprised by the level of attention she’s getting?
Oh, she’s totally not. In her mind, it was just a long time coming. I mean, you put these videos on YouTube and you get famous, right?

I guess so! How has this experience opened doors for you, Colleen?
It’s been very exciting – my entire life has completley changed! I’m from Los Angeles, and I worked at Disneyland when Miranda first started taking off – a job I loved [See Ballinger in full Disneyland mode here]. Since then, I’ve started traveling to perform as Miranda, and casting directors have called my agent with interest. So that’s been exciting on a professional level. On a personal level, I met my boyfriend through Miranda. He saw one of my videos, and we met in person when I performed in New York, and we’ve been together for a year and a half.

So, what can people expect to see when they come to your show?
It’s a lot of fun! I like to describe it as a standup comedy show. Be prepared to laugh! I realize that listening to Miranda actually sing for an entire evening could get annoying, so I try to mix it up. I read mail from “haters,” give “voice lessons” and tell stories. And I will sing and perform some of the YouTube favorites. It’s a great time, and other audiences have really seemed to enjoy themselves.

What’s next for Miranda?
Magic! My brother is a magician, and I’ve teamed up with him recently to put together a “Magic Miranda” show. I think the cheesiness of amateur magic combined with the Miranda character just fits. We even created a “Miranda Sings Magic Kit” coming soon for the holidays where Miranda and my brother show how to do magic tricks on DVD, and then we do some street magic. So keep an eye out for that. [Update: the Miranda Sings Magic Kit is available for order here.]

Miranda Sings performs Saturday, Nov. 20 at 2 and 8 p.m. at The Music Theatre Company Space at 1850 Green Bay Road in Highland Park. More info here >

6 thoughts on “Haters, back off: an interview with the gal behind YouTube sensation, ‘Miranda Sings’

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