Last year at this time, now 23-year-old William Sledd was working at the Gap. Now he's got millions of fans, a TV deal with Bravo, features in fashion magazines, and a Rolodex that includes Broadway stars.
"I live in Paducah, Kentucky. There's not a lot to do. And YouTube came along and my Mac came along and they just fit… great together," recalled Sledd. Another perfect marriage was his fabulous fashion sense and his raw honesty. Mix this all together and you have "Ask A Gay Man," a video blog about fashion do's and don'ts that is mostly shot and edited from Sledd's bedroom.
If you look closely at any one of his video blogs, you'll notice that Sledd's bedroom door is always closed. Not only does he live at home with his parents' and shoot most of his videos in the middle of the night, but he also wasn't sharing his videos with his friends and family the way he was with the rest of the world.
"When I started making videos I didn't tell anyone at all. I didn't tell my sister, or my family or my friends, my co-workers. No one knew…. it was kind of like my secret video diary." Then one day the "Tonight Show" called his parents' house asking to speak with Sledd. This came as quite a surprise to his mother who had no idea that her son had the 5th most popular video blog on YouTube.
"Makes you think what your kids are doing at home. If I can make videos and become YouTube famous and [an] internet celebrity, and my mom has no clue, like what are your kids doing in their bedroom?" Sledd questioned.
When not shooting in his bedroom, Sledd is also known to pop up at shopping malls and busy sidewalks, armed with a camera and a strong opinion about the fashion faux-pas unfolding around him. "I feel like everybody should have their own individual style and be the best at it. And "crazy" is not an individual style," said Sledd.
Pedestrians and shoppers adorned in carpenter pants, overalls, and crocs have been the unsuspecting subjects of past videos. "The jeans we hate more than anything are carpenter jeans for men. If you need to carry a hammer, carry it in your man bag," he states in his video blog entitled "Ask A Gay Man: Denim Edition." This is by far the most viewed video of Sledd's, receiving over 3 million hits to date.
With millions of viewers and 45 videos posted on his website, Sledd has accumulated a captive audience of adoring fans, including some people that even have fans of their own.
"I think the main thing that really struck me was his honesty. There's nothing phony about him ... He's always William Sledd and that's what's so appealing about him…. and besides, he's really funny," says Christine Ebersole, Tony award winner and star of Broadway's "Grey Gardens."
Ebersole stumbled upon Sledd's videos and thought that his "artistry [was] immense." She then decided to donate $50 to his site, and Sledd named her "Supporter of the Week," without realizing that she was a well-known actress.
"Once I found that out, I was like 'Oh my God.'" Sledd continued, "It's insane the people that actually watch my videos that are like, on television or on Broadway, or work for ... a major fashion magazine ... It's crazy that ... this caliber of people and this diverse group of people ... watch my videos. It's pretty outrageous."
This past June, Sledd decided to reach out to some of his diverse fans by posting a video called "Show your Pride." He says in the video, "Coming out is always a risk, I mean, you never know how anyone will react because of our society."
Sledd is clearly proud and confident of the person he is and it seems to gives many others the courage to come out, or at least consider coming out. "I had [received] so many emails asking, "I think I'm gay. Please help."
"I think it's really big for people to see that I live in a small town and I'm gay and I don't care and I'm not afraid. I think it shows them, 'Hey, I could do that'." Therefore, in honor of Gay Pride Month, Sledd called for people to post their own videos, "Leave a video response, even if its two seconds. Everybody come out. Show your pride!"
Within no time, he received hundreds of videos from people all over the world, showing their support and voicing their stories and opinions, both gay and straight. Sledd said, "I'm opening doors. Or maybe opening windows, maybe I haven't gotten to doors yet ... " After all, he still works part-time at the Gap.
Only time will tell what the future holds, and what kinds of doors Sledd will open for others. However, it is safe to say that at this point, the Internet has opened more than just windows for William Sledd.