THR's Top 25 Digital Stars

1:22 PM 7/10/2015

by Natalie Jarvey and Benjamin Svetkey

Don't recognize anyone in this story? Sorry, the answer is no longer, "Don't worry." Those 18-to-24-year-olds fleeing the TV and movie theaters are now interacting online (in spurts as short as six seconds) with the faces here on THR's Top 25 Digital Stars list, mega-talents whose influence only increases as linear and second screens converge.

Claudia Lucia
  • Lloyd Ahlquist & Peter Shukoff (Epic Rap Battles)

    The Hip-Hop Historians

    Also known as EpicLLoyd and Nice Peter, their YouTube channel, Epic Rap Battles of History, has been serving up witty videos of historical and pop cultural figures duking it out in freestyle verse since 2010. Batman vs. Sherlock Holmes, Gandhi vs. Martin Luther King Jr., Darth Vader vs. Hitler -- the videos, produced in L.A. (Ahlquist, 38, and Shukoff, 35, now repped by CAA, met while doing improv in Chicago) have attracted 12 million subscribers and some get about 50 million views each (Mitt Romney vs. Barack Obama got more than 100 million).

    Where Ahlquist gets his news: "A combination of Reddit and Last Week Tonight With John Oliver."

  • Andrew Bachelor (Viner)

    The Vine King

    With 12.9 million followers and 4.5 billion loops (that's Vine-speak for views), 27-year-old Bachelor is the most successful entertainer on the 3-year-old shortform video-sharing platform. Vine's limit of six seconds per movie makes for creative challenges, but Bachelor -- also known as "King Bach" -- uses his NYU Film School training to pack full dramas into each post (even if the story is about nothing more than keeping his new Air Jordans from getting dirty). Expect to see more of this guy: Repped by UTA, he already is signed for a movie with Martin Lawrence and is talking to Key & Peele (who've appeared in several of his Vines) about developing his own TV show.

    Last big splurge: "I bought a Tesla for my sister."

  • Colleen Ballinger

    A Demented Dear Abby

    This struggling actress found fame when she put on a silly voice and gobs of red lipstick and turned herself into self-help goofball Miranda Sings (who offers useless advice on things like how to pet a cat). The 28-year-old has 7 million YouTube subscribers across her channels, has appeared on The Tonight Show, The View and Jerry Seinfeld's Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and soon will publish her first book, Self Help.

    First screen name: "Imacatlvr13. Of course I had to spell 'lover' without the vowels. It kind of looked like 'I'm a cat liver.' "

  • Flula Borg

    The European Import

    Germany-born Borg, 33, doesn't have a big online footprint -- only 599,000 YouTube subscribers and 65,000 Twitter followers -- but his amusing takes on American idioms and other cultural observations have caught Hollywood's eye. He landed a small part in Pitch Perfect 2 and soon will be appearing in Killing Hasselhoff, a comedy co-starring -- yup -- David Hasselhoff.

    Favorite L.A. hangout: "My auto. I drive everywhere in L.A. Sidewalks? More like, 'Side-why-do-you-exist-nobody-uses-you-in-this-city, you-boring-concrete-slabs-of-flatness' -- am I right?"

  • Burnie Burns

    The Early Adopter

    The oldest vlogger on this list -- he's 42 -- Burns has been posting comic content longer than anyone. His parody of Apple's "Switch" campaign was his first video to go viral, way back in 2002, before YouTube even existed. Now, his video game spoof, Red vs. Blue, is the longest episodic web series in history, still going strong in its 13th season. His YouTube channel, Rooster Teeth, has turned into a full-fledged production company.

    Favorite L.A. hangout: "The Waffle in Hollywood. [My crew and I] order the red velvet waffle, the chocolate waffle, the chocolate chip waffle."

  • Cameron Dallas

    Johnny Knoxville for Preteens

    A series of affable videos of this native of Chino Hills, Calif., playing harmless pranks on strangers and engaging in other mildly wacky antics (like a pickle-eating contest) has made Dallas, 20, one of Vine's bigger stars. He's got 7.8 million followers and is starting to stretch beyond six seconds with parts in December's direct-to-digital release Expelled and Fullscreen's upcoming baseball drama Outfield.

    Last big splurge: "My trip to France. I'm still saying 'Je t'aime' in my head."

  • Benny & Rafi Fine (The Fine Bros.)

    YouTube's Harvey and Bob

    The brothers have been posting videos online for 10 years. And now the Fine Bros. channels -- one of which features the popular React series, in which kids offer funny insights on current topics -- have more than 17 million subscribers. Repped by WME, Benny, 34, and Rafi, 32, also are starting to see their videos go mainstream: They produced a version of React for Nickelodeon and recently sold a comedy series to truTV.

    Last time they watched linear TV: "Sometime in January, when one of our TV shows was on," says Benny.

  • Brittany Furlan

    The Kristen Wiig of Vine

    Furlan, 28, started posting her Vine sketches -- like her impersonation of Lorde peeing -- to pass time between auditions. Now the Pennsylvania-born, Los Angeles-based actress is repped by ICM and is the most followed female on the platform with 9.4 million subscribers and has started to book guest spots on TV shows such as The Mysteries of Laura.

    When she realized it wasn't just a hobby: "When Benefit Cosmetics offered to pay me to do a Vine for them. I was like, 'I can get money for this? That's crazy!' "

  • Connor Franta

    The Renaissance Man

    In 2014, when Franta broke from YouTube's Our2ndLife channel -- an online collective of young-male vloggers that was hugely popular with teen girls -- it sent shock waves across social media. A few months later, he shocked again (sort of) by coming out in an emotional six-minute video. But Franta, 22, has emerged stronger than ever; he's got 4.7 million YouTube subscribers, a book that debuted in April (A Work in Progress), his own coffee brand and a clothing line at Junk Food in Venice.

    App he wishes existed: "I wish there was an app that would let me control every appliance from bed."

  • Joey Graceffa

    Bridget Jones (With Better Hair)

    His video diary on YouTube -- 4.9 million subscribers -- chronicles everything from the mundane (what he's wearing and eating) to the deeply personal (he came out in May in a music-video-themed vlog). But the sweetly charismatic 24-year-old from Massachusetts, who signed with UTA, is expanding to more narrative forms with his Storytellers series (kids sharing scary tales around a campfire) and his memoir, In Real Life, a best-seller this spring.

    Last big splurge: "I'm a crystals fanatic. I've bought a few expensive ones -- a couple of hundred dollars. I've never gone over $1,000, but that will happen."

  • John & Hank Green

    The Teachers You Never Had

    The "Vlogbrothers," as they call themselves, have collected 2.6 million YouTube subscribers by being the voice of reason of YouTube, explaining current events, like the Greek financial crisis, in ways that don't make teens' eyes glaze over. Both have day jobs: John, 37, is an author (you may have heard of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, out in theaters July 24), and Hank (pictured), 35, is a musician.

    Whom John would put on the 10-dollar bill: "I'd leave Hamilton on the $10 and put Harriet Tubman on the $20."

  • Nash Grier

    Vine's Teen Heartthrob

    His seemingly spontaneous video diaries are actually meticulously crafted and edited (even if many of them co-star his 5-year-old sister). And they've made this 17-year-old North Carolina-born vlogger (the David Cassidy of the Internet) one of the biggest stars on the Web, with 11.9 million swooning followers on Vine and 4.1 million subscribers on YouTube. He's leveraged that celebrity like an old pro, signing deals with such major brands as Virgin Mobile (rumored to be paying Grier up to $100,000 to plug its products in his Vines). He'll also star alongside Vine sensation Cameron Dallas in Fullscreen's Outfield.

    The last time he watched linear TV: "What's TV? Seriously, I don't watch. I use the Internet as my primary source of entertainment and news."

  • Hannah Hart

    The Wasted Gourmet

    Ramona Rosales

    Her My Drunk Kitchen channel -- in which she posts videos of her­self preparing meals while sloshed, sometimes with such guests as Mary-Louise Parker -- has 2.1 million subscribers. But Hart, repped by UTA, does more than cook: The 28-year-old has published her first book and will star with pal Grace Helbig in a digital remake of Sid and Marty Krofft's Electra Woman and Dyna Girl. Expect many more.

    App she wishes existed: "You know what would be cool? An app that told you what to make for dinner based on the contents of your fridge."

  • Ian Hecox & Anthony Padilla (Smosh)

    The Goofballs

    These two 27-year-old vlogging pioneers -- they posted their first video in 2004, on MySpace, no less -- have mastered the art of turning goofy adolescent high jinks (recent video: an attempt to draw dirty pictures with an Apple Watch) into high finance. Their online empire, Smosh, includes multiple YouTube channels with 35 million total subscribers, production facilities in L.A. and Sacramento and, coming in July, a direct-to-digital full-length feature, Smosh: The Movie, from Defy Media and AwesomenessTV. Even cooler: This month, they'll become the first digital stars to be immortalized in wax at Madame Tussauds.

    The last time they watched linear TV: "Probably four or five years ago," says Padilla.

  • Grace Helbig

    Chelsea Handler 2.0

    Ramona Rosales

    When Handler bolted for Netflix, E! hired this 29-year-old Silver Lake resident -- one of YouTube's higher-profile personalities -- as her replacement. But it's been a rocky transition to cable TV for Helbig, who's repped by WME: Her show barely cracks 200,000 viewers. Good thing she has 2.4 million subscribers, a best-selling book and a podcast that debuted at No. 1 on iTunes to fall back on.

    Where she gets her news: "Twitter. Huffington Post. Tumblr. E! News."

  • Kian Lawley

    The Observer

    Since moving to L.A. from San Clemente, Calif., two years ago, Lawley, 19, has amassed a following of 2.7 mil­lion YouTube subscribers, all by doing nothing more than swapping funny stories and cute observations (like "Types of People at the Gym") with his vlogger pals on YouTube's now-defunct Our2ndLife channel (see Connor Franta). But Lawley, repped by CAA, is the one former member of the channel making a move toward conventional stardom. He has roles in two upcoming VOD releases: a horror flick called The Chosen and a comedy called Shovel Buddies.

    Hollywood career he most admires: "Jim Carrey. Growing up, my dad and I watched all his movies."

  • Jenn McAllister

    The Virtual BFF

    This perky 19-year-old from Pennsylvania (she's been living in L.A. since 2013) has built an online empire with her bubbly videos on such topics as "The Weirdest Thing in My Room" and "Getting My Wisdom Teeth Taken Out." She's one of the fastest-rising online stars, doubling her fan base to more than 2 million YouTube subscribers in the past 12 months. Like a lot of YouTube sensations, she also has been branching into acting, starring in an online action comedy called Bad Night (out July 21 on Vimeo).

    Where she gets her news: "I watch the news [on TV]! And the Internet, of course."

  • Harley Morenstein (Epic Meal Time)

    The 5,200-Calorie Pizza Maker

    It started in Montreal in 2010, when Morenstein, now 29, had a friend film him eating a Wendy's hamburger with six patties of beef and eight bacon strips. That death-defying stunt sparked the idea for Epic Meal Time, a YouTube show that serves up insanely high-calorie dishes like "the fast-food pizza," topped with everything from KFC popcorn chicken to A&W onion rings. The show, shot in L.A., has 6.8 million subscribers (some episodes have drawn as many as 25 million views, and Tony Hawk and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been guests) and has spawned a series on cable's FYI.

    App he wishes existed: "A live feed of the sun setting. The sun is constantly setting somewhere in the world, so you set up camera feeds so that you could pull out your phone and see the sun set all day long."

  • Bethany Mota

    The Personal Shopper

    The Northern California native, repped by CAA, has become the online shopping pal for a whole generation. Mota, 19, has more than 9 million YouTube subscribers, and her beauty and fashion "haul" videos (in which she dissects her latest purchases) have racked up some 727 million views. She started vlogging in 2009 when she was 13; by 18, she was launching a fashion line at Aeropostale.

    Favorite L.A. hangout: "I recently went to Crate & Barrel to only get towels. But I ended up walking out with two new shelves and a sofa."

  • Ingrid Nilsen

    The Next-Gen Martha Stewart

    Her DIY videos on everything from packing tips to making your own eye shadow have attracted 3.7 million followers to her YouTube channel. Last year, the Orange County-born makeup artist, 26, signed with CoverGirl and became the first vlogger to represent a mass-market makeup brand. In June, Nilsen, repped by WME, took a break from fashion and shot a video in which she came out as a lesbian. It's her most watched so far, with 10 million views.

    App she wishes existed: "One that makes high-speed Wi-Fi available anywhere."

  • Tyler Oakley

    The Activist

    Sometimes he vlogs about nothing more than a bad meal at Chipotle. Other times he's offering teens guidance on coming out. But the affable 26-year-old online diarist with the sometimes blue, sometimes blond pompadour has 7 million YouTube subscribers logging nearly 500 million views. Since moving from San Francisco to L.A. in 2013, his mainstream profile has been surging, too, with appearances on Ellen and a gig covering the Grammys red carpet. His work to prevent suicide among LGBT youth also has earned him kudos; he visited the White House in 2014.

    Craziest interaction with a fan: "When Ellen DeGeneres tweeted me saying she was a fan. It may not have been crazy on her part, but I definitely went bonkers."

  • Michelle Phan

    The Oprah of Beauty

    The 28-year-old beauty guru from Florida practically invented YouTube's gigantic makeup tutorial category. She's by far the most successful to come out of it, with 7.8 million subscribers (and 1.1 billion views). Phan now has her own L'Oreal cosmetics line and a beauty subscription service (Ipsy) and has opened a 6,300-square-foot office and production facility in Santa Monica.

    First screen name: "Ricebunny, which I still use as the name of my production company."

  • Lele Pons

    The Fall Girl

    She just graduated high school last month, but the 19-year-old Venezuelan-American from Miami is already a record-holder: This month, her pratfall-filled Vine videos ("I've almost broken my nose and leg," she says) became the first to reach 6 billion loops. Naturally, she's moving to L.A. as soon as possible (she's already repped by UTA and 3 Arts).

    Whom she would put on the 10-dollar bill: "Shakira."

  • Lilly Singh

    India's Voice (from Canada)

    Singh, 26, started her comedy vlog when she noticed that there weren't any English-speaking Indian female comedians on YouTube. Clearly the niche needed to be filled: She has racked up nearly 6 million subscribers with her videos exploring topics such as "Indian Parents Explain How Babies Are Born." The Canadian citizen, who is repped by WME and posts under the nom de vlog Superwoman, is planning a move to L.A. soon.

    Craziest interaction with a fan: "I went onstage in India two years ago, and the ovation I received was just crazy. That was the first time I thought, 'Wow!' People were connecting with my videos even in India."

  • Freddie Wong

    YouTube's Roger Corman

    Just how popular was Wong's hourlong web series Video Game High School? Its final episode, which went up on YouTube in November, drew 3.3 million viewers, the same number Mad Men got for its finale. His production company, RocketJump, crowdfunded the series with a $900,000 Indiegogo campaign; Wong, 29, is now making online action shorts while he focuses on more mainstream Hollywood fare (he has a film deal with Lionsgate and is working on a Hulu series).

    The Hollywood careers he most admires: "Werner Herzog and Nicolas Cage. Cage because he can do whatever he wants. And Herzog because he can do whatever he wants."

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