Reviewed by Juliette Capomolla
YouTube sensation James Charles released the first episode of his new reality show Instant Influencer on YouTube last weekend – and just so you didn’t have to, I got up bright and early Saturday morning to review it.
There’s not much to say about the first episode, other than the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to watch the rest of the season. If you’re like me and are highly invested in the YouTube beauty and make-up scene, you will probably feel the same about the show.
Interestingly, many reality TV shows exist under the guise of love or some unique skill sets, but most contestants are there to gain influence and a following. James directly tells us that these people are here to become an influencer. This aspect of the show is somewhat heartening and demands respect – the candour of these contestants is rather admirable.
But ultimately, the show begs one fundamental question: how can someone become an instant influencer?
The whole concept of ‘influencers’ is based on the fact that, as their followers, we trust their endorsement of products and their reviews. It is the relationship with their following that makes these influential people so powerful. In fact, it often takes influencers years to amass the audience that they have. Some of the biggest Australians in the influencing game have been at it for around a decade.
Shani Grimmond uploaded her first video to YouTube at the end of 2012and now has1.56 million subscribers and1.4 million Instagram followers.
Lauren Curtis started on YouTube over eight years ago and now has 3.48 million subscribers and 1.3 million followers on Instagram.
And then we have Aussie fave, Troye Sivan, who started on YouTube over 12 years ago and now has over seven million subscribers.
Evidently, our fan faves are not instantly made. These people have put years of their lives into the influencing industry and built a rapport with their followers. According to Forbes Magazine, one of the crucial features of ‘Influencer Marketing’ is the personal connection that these people establish with their audience. They say that ‘“influencer marketing is word-of-mouth at scale, where people listen to those they trust and those who can use storytelling effectively’”. How can we trust a person that we only just met online?
I believe the whole premise of the show rests on this question: can we be told who will influence us? Can James Charles truly tell us who should influence our purchases, what we wear, how we do our makeup, and what our trendy catch phrases are?
Perhaps the influencing game shows us that a powerful influencer such as James Charles can do just that. Throughout the influencing game, many have collaborated and formed groups to boost their followings. Just take a look at the Sister Squad comprising Emma Chamberlain, James Charles and the Dolan Twins. Their videos received record numbers for all of their channels at the time. Maybe James Charles’ influence over us is such that our inherent connection with him will transfer to the person he validates as worthy of our trust. This appears to underpin the production.
Needless to say, we have seen it before. After Jeffree Star endorsed creator mmmmitchell, his following skyrocketed. It was really Jaclyn Hill who set James Charles up to be the star he is now, giving him links to Morphe and providing a platform for him to gain a following. Evidently, a successful influencer has a lot of power to create a new popular influencer. So even if they do not make it through the whole season, perhaps a collaboration on James’ channel is enough to spark this influencer’s career.
But if the winner doesn’t take off and James’ endorsement is not enough for us to blindly trust this person, can his reality TV show continue? The premise of the show would be revealed as an illusory promise where the winner gains little to no influence at all. The winner would not become an instant influencer and it would all be a scam. But that has never stopped reality TV before.
For example, take Married at First Sight, the most pervasive delusion on our screens right now. Of the seven seasons and sixty couples on the Australian series, only five couples remain together now. Nonetheless, Nine has renewed the show for an eighth season, as we all pretend that people can in fact find love with a stranger they have never met before. Evidently, whilst the premise of the show is undermined, we as the audience remain as invested as ever in the drama and tribulations of all the couples. Perhaps then, it won’t be too much of a stretch to follow this instant influencer on Instagram and maybe subscribe to their YouTube channel. So, maybe the show could go on, even if the premise is undermined. What does that mean for influencers across the globe? Does this thwart all their years of work to get to their esteemed position? I wonder if the instant influencer’s peers in the influencing industry will be so kind to them when they take on their new role. After all, it is a cutthroat business. You don’t have to have been invested in the makeup world for long to realise that most YouTube cliques and collaborations have crumbled as mightily as they were created.
The infamous trio of Jeffree Star, Tati Westbrook and James Charles made mainstream media with their downfall. The Sister Squad hasn’t featured on each other’s channels since 2018. The scandalous Jeffree Star, Manny MUA, Laura Lee and Gabriel Zamora feud cost most of them thousands of followers and presumably thousands of dollars.
History reveals that big influencers endorsing smaller influencers has a short expiration date and afterwards, spoils awfully horribly. It appears that, sometimes, YouTuber cliques and endorsements don’t end up so well for these smaller creators. In fact, James Charles could be considered one of the most controversial YouTubers after last year’s scandal with Jeffree and Tati. Could his endorsement end up more harmful for the winner than good?
I have so many questions for this show, but only time will tell. Good luck James, and good luck to the winner – may your influence be truly widespread and profitable.