How do you create a character that’s based on everything you dislike(narcissism, overconfidence, talentlessness) and have that character earn you a Netflix show, 10 million fans and over 2 Billion views?
Here’s the story of Colleen Ballinger and her alter ego, Miranda Sings.
The Birth of Miranda Sings
Colleen Ballinger was born on 21st November 1986 in Santa Barbara, California. Growing up, she and her siblings would put on musical shows for their family. Her brother and grandfather were her biggest cheerleaders and supported her love for singing and theatre.
Doubling down on her interests, Collen majored in Vocal Performance in Azusa Pacific University. It was an Arts University like any other- there were some people in her class with talent. And some…well, who were not so lucky.
In Colleen’s words, these unlucky classmates were “self-entitled, talentless” singers who posted videos on the internet-all in a desperate bid to be famous. It got so bad that one day, she decided to make a video herself-parodying the qualities of these classmates.
And that was how Miranda Sings was born.
Miranda is officially a YouTuber
With her head cocked to one side and wearing enough bright red lipstick to rival a clown, Colleen played Miranda as a glorious idiot. Someone who has the self-awareness of a broomstick and the singing ability of one as well. Her confidence in her abilities however is sky-high.
Miranda’s first video, a rendition of Arethra Franklin’s ‘Respect’ has all the qualities that we’ve come to expect from a Miranda vlog. The singing is off-key; Miranda is socially awkward yet stupidly confident and the whole thing is performed in her bedroom. At the time, the video was only meant to be an inside joke for Colleen and her friends. However, whenever other people found the video on YouTube, they bought into the farce of Miranda. The viewers would then make their displeasure known and they would leave negative comments on the video.
It spurred Colleen on.
She continued posting videos, using the negative comments as inspiration. She said, “I thought it was fascinating that someone who didn’t know me would take the time to say hateful things about me. Whatever haters didn’t like, I would do more of it in the next video.” Her videos in 2008 consisted mostly of her version of popular hits in her signature tone-deaf style with terrible dance moves and incorrect lyrics. Some of them included Genie in a bottle, Single Ladies and Loveshack.
At first her videos got only 20 to 100 views. But then one day, those numbers just exploded. On 11 May 2009, she released the video “Free voice lessons” where she attempts to teach people how to sing “better” like her. The video became widely shared in the theatre community and almost overnight, it got over 100,000 views.
Miranda Sings was officially a YouTuber!
Look Miranda, you’re famous!
“Free Voice Lesson” spread through the New York Theatre community and Ballinger suddenly began getting offers to perform at cabarets and clubs. Once the shows were booked, Ballinger (who had until then no background in comedy)- had to turn her 2-min, improvised videos into one-hour-long live shows. Miranda took well to the stage. In these shows, she would do covers of well-known songs with made-up lyrics and her signature stiff dance moves. Her shows were well received with critics even saying that it wasn’t online but the stage where Miranda really came alive.
At first, she would have to book the spots herself but as her following got bigger from her videos, people reached out to her. Pretty soon, she was doing longer versions of her live Miranda act in countries all over the world. Miranda’s online audience had led to offline ticket seats. On these tours, she also got the opportunity to perform with well-known singers to give them “singing lessons”. By 2011, she had performed alongside Ariane Grande, Tori Kelly and Lin Manuel-Miranda.
A silly joke from 3 years ago was now her ticket to entertainment success.
Her profile outside of YouTube may have exploded but she was doing well within the platform as well. By early 2013, she had a 150,000 subscriber base and had over 20M views on the platform.And as she put out more videos every week, this base just kept growing. By April 7, 2014, Miranda Sings had hit 1 million subscribers. With the fan base came more opportunities in the YouTube sphere. She collabed with some of the biggest YouTubers of the time like Rhett and Link, Lilly Singh and Tyler Oakley. By the end of 2014, she had nearly 2.5M subscribers.
But her biggest collab would come up next.
In Dec 2014, Miranda got the opportunity to shoot with JerrySeinfeld on ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’. Most importantly, Seinfeld made an appearance on her channel.
In the same month, she also made her first appearance on Fallon. Miranda Sings had hit the big time. Throughout 2015, Miranda kept hustling. She kept cranking out vlogs while going on tour & collaborating with other Tubers. She also released a parody book called ‘Self Help’. It was on the NYT bestseller list for 11 weeks. Around this time Colleen also won her first Streamy. The bigger she got however the more hate Miranda received. Most of it was from people who thought that Miranda was a real person. Things people would never dare say in person were sent via comments and physical mail.
The only response Miranda had? Haters back off!
The Youtuber goes to Netflix
This chant would become the title of her Netflix special in 2016. Written by and starring Colleen as Miranda, the 8 part series showcases the home life of the character. It also introduced her parents and her best friend.
The second season was released a year later. Since then, Miranda has had 1 Netflix special; has launched a lipstick and has gathered close to 30M fans (called “Mirfandas”) across platforms. Something that started off as a joke by Colleen now had been viewed over 2B times on YT alone.
Why was Miranda was such a hit?
“The whole reason Miranda went viral is because people were making fun of how stupid it was. If I didn’t get hate mail, I wouldn’t have a job.”, says Colleen.
But is the character only meant to be an online punching bag? Not exactly.
“I’ve received thousands of letters from kids who are a little different and a little weird, and they thank me for teaching them to be confident in who they are. That’s a great lesson Miranda teaches everyone.”, says Colleen.
What does the future look like for Miranda?
Colleen says, “Miranda will live as long as the audience wants to see her. I’m fine with that. It’s fun to play. It’s fun to just be an awful human being.” This Mirfanda for one, is glad that this awful human being exists. And if you don’t agree…well hater, you better back off!