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Miranda Sings . . . Terribly: An Unlikely Rise to Stardom

by Shannon Linton

Donning a crooked smile and wearing messy, bright red lipstick while crooning off-key, Colleen Ballinger ’08 became an overnight YouTube sensation. Today, more than two years after her first video went viral, fans still can’t get enough. Ballinger’s unexpected journey began in 2008 when she created the hopelessly awkward, utterly self-absorbed character Miranda. She posted videos showcasing Miranda’s “talent” as a singer under the YouTube account mirandasings08.

“These videos started as inside jokes with friends,” she explained. “I was poking fun at people who post videos online of themselves singing, hoping they’d become famous —I thought it was ridiculous.” During the first year, Ballinger’s videos received fewer than 100 views. Then, in April 2009, she uploaded “Free Voice Lesson,” a video in which Miranda offers helpful tips to aspiring singers hoping to become as talented as she. In one day, views skyrocketed from 20 to tens of thousands. “I got a lot of hateful comments, which was just hilarious,” she said. “It was amazing to me that people thought Miranda and this voice lesson were real.”

Fortunately for Ballinger, a large number of viewers got the joke, including many in the New York theater community, where the video first caught on. Jim Caruso, host and producer of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party, a cabaret variety show held weekly in New York City, invited Ballinger to bring Miranda to his show. “I told him I had tentative travel plans, so he started telling people that I was coming to New York!” she said. “I started getting emails saying, ‘I heard you’re coming to town—will you perform at my venue too?’”

Ballinger took the plunge, spending all of her money on a plane ticket to New York City. “I knew I’d never get a chance like that again so I had to take it,” she said. “I stayed for a week and performed every night, starting with Jim Caruso’s Cast Party that first evening.”

Despite her whirlwind week, Ballinger returned home convinced that her trip marked the end of Miranda. Little did she know the connections she made with agents would keep her career as a performer, and her character Miranda, alive and well more than two years later. Since then, Ballinger has improvised to keep her act fresh, taking it to fans in Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, and throughout the U.S. She’s performed with the Rock of Ages cast and given a dance lesson to the kids in Billy Elliot. While Ballinger said she loves every performance, her highlight came when she sang with her idol, Broadway legend Sutton Foster, at a 2010 benefit for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Longtime friend Kory DeSoto ’08 explained Ballinger’s magnetic quality. “Colleen is an amazing singer, performer, and comedian,” he said. “She created something new with this character and put her stamp on it. People can’t help but love her.”

Ballinger takes her success in stride. “I see this lasting for a long time because I approach each day as the last time I might perform,” she said. “If it ended tomorrow, I’d be so satisfied with what I’ve already been able to do. For now, I have my dream job.”

Shannon Linton ’07 is a freelance writer and editor living in Covina, California. shannonlinton2286@gmail.com

Originally published in the Spring '12 issue of APU Life. Download the full issue (PDF).