April 15, 2010— -- Sweaty-palmed, tongue-tied teens take note: If you want to score a date to the prom, asking the simple question just might not cut it anymore.
Hallway conversations and handwritten notes might have worked for previous generations, but with prom season under way, high school students across the country are turning to YouTube to give an age-old rite of passage a new media moment of fame.
In February, a Colorado teenager made headlines when he invited a Maxim model to the prom via YouTube and she agreed. But he's not the only one to let YouTube do the asking.
Dozens of video invitations have appeared on the online video site over the past few months, wooing would-be prom dates with music, dance, animation and more, in very original -- and open -- ways.
When it came time to ask his girlfriend to the senior prom, 17-year-old Adrian Newcomb of Simi Valley, Calif., took a particularly creative approach. With help from a friend, he spent six hours stringing 625 digital photographs into an "underwater" stop-motion proposal video.
"The girl that I'm asking, she really likes sea horses," he said. "I wanted to somehow incorporate those into how I ask. I knew I couldn't get a real one so I figured I'd animate my own."
Using a light blue sheet as a background, he took a series of photos of himself pretending to swim through cut-out fish and other underwater decorations. Sea horses bearing the letters "P," "R," "O," and "M" cap off the homemade video.
After he made the video, he posted it to YouTube and then to her Facebook wall. Her answer? Yes.
Newcomb said he attends a magnet school for the arts and that every year students try to outdo their classmates' prom proposals.
"There's a bit of competition to see who comes up with the most creative idea," he said. "Everybody's trying to find the new way to ask."
Students at other schools say the appeal is in the storytelling.
"All of this is for fun. We just like being creative, and hearing the different ways people were asked to prom," said Jesse Sheehan, 18, a high school senior in Cheshire, Conn. One classmate sent a potential date on a scavenger hunt, another used candy to spell out "Prom?" on classroom desktops, he said.
His own story is sure to be a contender for best prom proposal. He posted a YouTube invite to a popular video blogger (who was, at the time, a virtual stranger) and succeeded in winning a "yes."
Teen Invites Popular Video Blogger to Prom Via YouTube
Sheehan said he stumbled across his date-to-be last summer when he searched YouTube for tutorials on how to use a new MacBook laptop.
Instead of finding a video on the popular Apple computer, he found a video on Mac make-up, featuring Blair Fowler, aka "juicystar07," a 17-year-old video blogger who has attracted more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers with her make-up tutorials.
After telling his friends about the "cute" blogger he encountered on YouTube, he said it became an inside joke that he would ask her to prom. So he did.
In January, he made his 2.5-minute video plea, complete with his own rendition of a popular Semisonic song, and posted it to YouTube.
The video of Sheehan strumming the guitar and singing "I Know Who I Want to Take to Prom," not only got him more than 140,000 views, but a date to the big event.
The pair has been talking and e-mailing since January and Blair plans to fly from Tennessee to attend Sheehan's prom.
"I was so surprised," he said. "I didn't expect it at all. It was mostly a joke."
Pop culture observers say that for a generation that has grown up with Facebook and social media, it's only natural that once-private milestones are going public online.
"I think there is something about the idea of putting your feelings online that people are very comfortable with," said Karen Sternheimer, a sociologist at the University of Southern California and editor of the Everyday Sociology Blog.
And she said that, in some ways, the YouTube proposals are similar to marriage proposals splashed across JumboTrons at sporting events.
"Historically, people have reserved those big questions for public gatherings," she said. "But public spaces are so easy to access now that it's opened it up to smaller questions."
Reality Television Boosts Profile of the Creative Prom Proposal
Montana Miller, an assistant professor of popular culture at Bowling Green State University, said reality television has also given a huge boost to the prom proposal.
In particular, she said, one episode of the MTV show "Laguna Beach," from about five years ago mainstreamed the creative prom proposal. In that episode, she said, the boys used costumes, signs and practical jokes to impress potential prom dates.
The repeated airing of that episode -- and the positive response from teenagers on and offline -- changed the trend, she said.
"What really may have sparked this change is now the models that kids see reflecting their own culture on TV are these 'reality' shows," Miller said. "Now they think, 'That can easily be me, I can translate that. I'll come up with my own prom asking and put that on YouTube.'"
Whether they come off looking foolish or feeling embarrassed doesn't matter, she said, because they realize that our fame-obsessed culture rewards notoriety of any kind.
"The way they see it, the most valuable capital in our culture right now is fame," she said.
And for YouTube, all that's needed is a camera, a cause and maybe a healthy dose of confidence.
With just a couple of weeks to go before his high school prom, a date-less Josh Reeves decided to create a rap video to invite a classmate to the prom.
The 17-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., recruited a friend and the two spent three days re-writing and performing the lyrics to the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."
But he said the time and trouble were worth it when he received his answer.
"She said yes, of course," he said. "How could she say no to that?"