Toronto to host YouTube's first North American FanFest in May (Toronto Star)

A new breed of celebrities is rocketing to superstardom using YouTube channels, and Toronto fans will get the chance to see them live in May.
Some of YouTube’s most-watched Canadian and international personalities are coming to Yonge-Dundas Square for North America’s first-ever FanFest, where they will perform, do meet-and-greets and premiere new content live.
The six creators participating in FanFest have a combined total of nearly 40 million channel subscribers. That online prowess has drawn tens of thousands of admirers to previous FanFests in India, Singapore, Thailand, Korea, Australia and Japan.
In its North American version, the free live showcase will be half Canadian, featuring appearances by YouTubers like Toronto-born crafter Lauren Riihimaki, also known online as LaurDIY; music producer and artist Mike Tompkins, who grew up in London, Ont.; and Markham-based comic Superwoman, also known as Lilly Singh.
Other online celebrities in the lineup include American content creators Michael Stevens, the man behind the Vsauce channels; Jenna Mourey of Jenna Marbles fame; and Bethany Mota, who makes videos about hair, makeup, fashion and do-it-yourself projects.
Riihimaki, whose page’s 66 million views is on par with pop star Beyoncé, said that while Hollywood celebrities are untouchable, that’s not the case with YouTubers.
“Beyoncé’s, like, Beyoncé, queen of the world,” the 21-year-old told the Star ahead of the announcement. “We’re more relatable than a celebrity because we’re just a normal person that has regular interests — and we just happen to make content.”
Laura Lee, the global head of top creators at YouTube, said FanFest began when the company realized it could do more do promote its creators’ brands in some of its most popular markets.
“Our creators are truly the lifeblood of YouTube,” she said. “We realized that what we needed to do was invest” in them.
Canadian content creators have huge international audiences, Lee said. On average, about 60 per cent of a YouTube channel’s views come from outside the creator’s home country. In Canada, that number is closer to 90 per cent, higher than any other country on the platform.
Lee recently attended her first FanFest in Mumbai, where Markham native Singh, the 25-year-old behind Superwoman, “shut it down.”
“When she got off, half the stadium filed out, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is terrible for the closer.’ But it just goes to show you the power of Lilly and her brand.”
Singh posted her first YouTube video, a spoken-word piece, in 2010. Since then, her channel has amassed more than 5 million subscribers. Earlier this month, she announced her debut world tour, “A Trip to Unicorn Island,” which will hit four cities in India at the end of May.
She previously told the Star it’s the feeling of intimacy that exists between YouTubers and their audience that’s behind their popularity.
“It’s because people see us twice a week, once a week. People see us at the malls. We don’t have security guards at the malls; we’re so accessible to them. We do live shows; we reply to them on Twitter. It’s like having a celebrity that’s a friend,” she said last September.
Mike Tompkins, whose channel has 1.4 million subscribers, is known for posting a cappella performances of popular songs such as a mashup of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” and Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are.”
Tompkins, who gets most of his subscribers from the United States and Canada, followed by Saudi Arabia and Germany, says he’s still not used to being recognized by fans, despite having toured with the Jonas Brothers in 2013.
He admits he doesn’t know what to expect from FanFest, but promises a heightened version of his videos.
Toronto native Riihimaki is on the same page; she’s never done a meet-up with more than a few hundred fans.
“It’s awesome being able to put a face to a username,” she said. “Everything’s not anonymous online, but obviously it’s not the same as a face-to-face interaction.”
She’s sure FanFest will be “pandemonium, in the best way.”
And it’s fitting that Riihimaki’s first big YouTube-sponsored event will take place just down the street from her home.
“It feels like everything is in California or somewhere in the (U.S.), so it’s really awesome that the YouTube community is gong to come to us for once.”
The Toronto event takes place Saturday, May 2, at 8 p.m. after a red carpet gala at 5:30 p.m.
With files from Eric Andrew-Gee