When Using Social Media for Do-It-Yourself Fame Leads to Big Breaks

PHOTO: Actor Frankie J. Grande takes a bow during the curtain call for his debut performance in "Rock Of Ages" at Helen Hayes Theatre on Nov. 10, 2014 in New York City.PlayJ. Countess/Getty Images
WATCH Turning Social Media Fame into Big Hollywood Breaks

When Frankie Grande made his debut this year in Broadway’s megahit musical, “Rock of Ages,” it was one of the biggest nights of his life.

But it wasn’t just a great audition tape or a hot headshot that landed him the role of Franz, the eccentric German character who steals the show.

No, it was his YouTube videos. And his Instagram posts. And his tweets.

Early on, Grande, 31, had a hard time breaking into fame the traditional way. Before he landed the part of Franz, Grande had auditioned for “Rock of Ages” three times but never made the cut.

So he took matters into his own hands and started tweeting, Instagraming and YouTubing everything from the random to the silly -- #FrankieFridays. Over time, he accrued millions of fans -- he has more than 1 million followers each on Instagram and Twitter -- propelling himself toward mainstream success.

“I’m a people’s person,” Grande said. “I would always wanted to, kind of, be like the politician. ... I want to kiss babies and hang out with people.”

It also didn’t hurt that his baby sister is pop sensation Ariana Grande.

“I’ve been working towards this for such a long time, and I feel like when people have this kind of drive, passion and light, something like this important to share, that I think that, you know, it doesn’t matter what your last name is,” he said.

Like Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber, who both were discovered through YouTube, Grande is part of a whole new breed of celebrity, one that earns a massive social media following and then turns that into a real selling point.

YouTube juggernaut Todrick Hall is another social media success. The incredibly choreographed flash mob videos he posts on YouTube earned him millions of fans and caught the attention of producers in Hollywood.

PHOTO: Todrick Hall attends the 6th Annual Shorty Awards, April 7, 2014, in New York City. Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Todrick Hall attends the 6th Annual Shorty Awards, April 7, 2014, in New York City.

Hall was recently tapped to star in his own reality show on MTV, set to air next year. Prior to that, he opened for the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Awards this year and starred in a safety video for Virgin America.

Hall is now managed by Scooter Braun, the producer who made Justin Bieber a star, not to mention Ariana Grande. And, at just 29, Hall has made Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Hollywood list.

“I think that people realize that social media is such a huge important part of today’s [culture] -- like, you have to be relevant on social media,” Hall said. “It doesn’t matter how famous you are.”

Frankie Grande also landed big breaks after becoming a social media maven. Prior to “Rock of Ages,” he was cast on CBS’ “Big Brother” this summer, pushing him to the next tier of celebrity: reality star.

But Grande still had big Broadway dreams, so he came back to do a fourth audition for “Rock of Ages” -- and this time, something stuck, and he was cast as Franz.

Grande admits that his stint on “Big Brother” probably helped “Rock of Ages” producers pay closer attention to him.

“Do I feel like me being on ‘Big Brother’ has put a fire under their butts and they’re like: Maybe this is now the time that we get him out here? Absolutely. Hands down. But no, I’ve been working towards this role for many, many years,” he said.

One of those producers, Jonathan Linden, said bringing social media stars into the show is “an extension of what we’ve been trying to do” since the show opened.

“It never hurts to have somebody who’s got an increased profile and creates a lot of buzz and attention,” Linden said.

For Todrick Hall, becoming a viral sensation wasn’t exactly what he grew up in Texas dreaming about.

“It’s funny that when I was a young kid ... I just want to be a costume character at Disney World,” he said. “That was my goal in life.”

Pursuing that goal is what led Hall to the performing arts and, eventually, his creativity would lead him to a short stint on “American Idol.” But his path to Hollywood hit a roadblock when he was sent home.

“It was a horrible feeling. I remember just being so depressed the day after I got cut,” Hall said.

But, Hall said, the experience forced him to take an unconventional detour and turn to social media.

“I started making YouTube videos,” Hall said. “I had no idea of what I was even doing ... and I put a video up of me singing at McDonald’s. And the rest is history.”

That video has received more than 8 million views and was followed by many fast food jungles and flash mobs. But none were as successful as the flash mob he did in a Target, called “Cinderonce,” a choreographed dance story told through Beyonce songs.

After Hall posted the video, it took off. Eventually, Beyonce herself saw it and invited him to choreograph the music video for her song, “Blow.”

But beyond the money, the thing Hall said he is most proud of is inspiring kids like him who grew up feeling like outcasts. He said his song, “It Gets Better,” struck a chord with a lot of his young fans.

“I’ve gotten thousands upon thousands of emails from kids all over the country and all over the world saying that that song saved their lives,” Hall said. “And, to me, that reminds me of why we’re here making art and why we’re making music.”

Both Hall and Grande agreed that, in the social sphere, success comes when you take matters into your own hands.

“Honestly, it’s [as] cheesy as it sounds -- but because of YouTube, I believe in myself," Hall said. "And when I post things, I’m confident and I know what I stand for.

“And the most amazing thing is that I don’t have to be on a panel and have judges telling me what I did, whether it was great, because I can put it on YouTube and the world can decide whether they like it or not," he added. "It will organically become viral or it won’t. And that’s a true testament of what my art is.”

Tune in to "Nightline" TONIGHT at 12:35 a.m. ET to see exclusive behind-the-scenes access with Frankie Grande and Todrick Hall.

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