October 17, 2008, 4:19 PM — The Internet has transformed the world--connecting cultures, streamlining commerce, and revolutionizing communication. Oh yeah, and turning dudes bawling about Britney into international celebrities. Not unlike a mosquito-infested swamp, the Web has been a rich breeding ground of viral phenomena. But no sooner do they become worldwide stars than these cicada-lived celebs cease to exist. Or so it might seem.
I tracked down some of the Internet's biggest overnight/one-night sensations to see what they've been up to since their 15 minutes on the Warhol clock expired. Some have settled into lives of quiet anonymity; others are now making grand livings off their Net-based notoriety.
But enough talk--ninjas, dancers, and a Turkish guy who just wants a kiss await. Let's get caught up.
Fritz Globe and Stephen Voltz: "Coke and Mentos"
Two unexpected pairings led to an explosion of success in 2006--a lawyer and a professional juggler coupled with Diet Coke and Mentos candy. The dynamic duo of Fritz Globe and Stephen Voltz are credited with first bringing fizzing fun to the masses--and they made a cool $30,000 from their now-infamous experiment, which involved dropping discs of the minty candy into the cola, and then manipulating the resulting sprays.
The experimentation hasn't stopped for these two Maine men. The pair's latest clinical trial, which premiered on ABC Family, involves a quarter-million sticky notes--and a whole lot of office chaos.
"We're constantly experimenting with things you can find down at the corner store to see what surprises are there to be found," Globe says. "It's been an amazing ride, and we never expected this kind of attention."
Judson Laipply: "Evolution of Dance"
Choreographing the "Evolution of Dance" through the ages earned Judson Laipply a place in the Internet superstar hall of fame. The comedian's 6-minute routine, showcasing dance moves from Elvis to N'Sync, has amassed tens of millions of hits and has been discussed on everything from "Inside Edition" to "Rolling Stone."
Now, the evolution continues. Laipply, who keeps himself busy by speaking at schools and corporations, is preparing to unveil a second compilation of twists and turns--and a book to go with it. "It has been a long road getting song rights and the like, but everything is finally in place, and I am excited for the launch," he says.
Watch for the revamped routine in early 2009.
Gary Brolsma: "Numa Numa"
A very animated lip-syncing and dancing performance known as "Numa Numa" catapulted Gary Brolsma to Internet fame in 2004. Brolsma's simple clip of himself silently singing along with a tune by the Moldovan pop group O-Zone became one of the Web's most popular viral videos, spawning countless parodies and sequels.
Four years later, "Numa" remains focus of Brolsma's life. Since his initial performance, Brolsma has been busily working on a complete "Numa Network," which he describes as an online channel "almost like a television station, only broadcast right on YouTube." He also runs a computer repair and Web design company and sings for a band called Nonetheless.
"It's all fun," Brolsma says. "I enjoy making people smile." I resisted the impulse to ask whether Brolsma's band actually covers (or for that matter, lyp-syncs) "Numa."
Randy Constan: "Peter Pan"
Take a too-small Robin Hood costume, add a Prince Valiant haircut, and you have Randy Constan, the guy at the center of Peter Pan's Home Page--a Web site devoted to Constan's love of all things Pan. His first brush with fame came in 2001 when he swept aside such formidable challengers as Bigfoot Field Researchers and Weird N.J. to capture the coveted Webby Award for Best Weird Site of the year.
But the man in green was just warming up. The next step was to turn a page of his bully pulpit into a Mr. Lonelyhearts outreach project, detailing his search for a like-minded lady. His unusual approach earned Constan viral status and even time on late-night television.
Rest assured, Constan has found his Tinkerbell, and she definitely shares his fondness for faerie--and his fashion sense, too. "We both love to spread joy through our costuming, wherever we go," Constan says.
Costumes aside, Costan independently sells his music--donating much of the proceeds to children's charities, he says--and works a day job in computer software and electronic design. (Casual Fridays must be an eyeful.) Guess a little pixie dust sometimes goes a long way.
Chris Crocker: "Leave Britney Alone!"
It's hard to forget Chris Crocker's emotional plea for the world to "leave Britney alone!" (Believe me, I've tried.)
Crocker's show of support for the floundering pop star set off a media frenzy that he somehow managed to turn into talk-show appearances and an international following. So what's our gender-bending friend up to now? Brace yourself.
Crocker--whose official Web site boldly boasts: "That's Ms. Chris Crocker to you, bitch!"--indicates that he has moved on to a music career. His newly released single, said to be getting plenty of radio play, is called "Mind in the Gutter." (Darn! My money was on a cover version of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?") Crocker says that he has done a "lot of growing off-camera" and, though he's "still Chrissy from the Crock," he is "no longer the funny video guy."
Hey, come on. Leave Chris Crocker alone.
Jay Maynard: "The Tron Guy"
Jay Maynard's costume made him a household name for a short time in 2004. Maynard, who proudly dressed up in a lit-up likeness of the character from Disney's 1982 movie "Tron," parlayed his inspired duds into talk-show appearances and even a "South Park" parody.
Today, the Tron Guy is holding tight to his memories. Maynard--who by day works as a computer consultant and project manager for the Hercules Project, a Windows-based emulator for IBM mainframes--still makes regular appearances in the Tron suit.
"It's really on its last legs and showing its age," he says. "The unitard is about worn out."
Not to worry, though: Maynard has several more waiting in the wings, ready to be painted and prepped for wear. And speaking of wings, Maynard also bought his own plane this summer and had it painted as--take a guess--the Tron costume. "I'm not going to try to drop it," he says. "It's part of who I am by now, and I enjoy doing it. I doubt it'll ever go away entirely."
Mahir Cagri: "I KISS YOU !!!!!"
The Borat-like guy with a whole lotta love is still looking for lip-lock action. Mahir Cagri got his first taste of fame back in 1999 when his photo-filled Web site grabbed America's attention.
These days, Cagri is keeping busy--too busy, it would seem, to have time to answer my questions in person. Cagri's manager informed me that his client wouldn't be available for several weeks. He indicated that I could try e-mailing questions to Cagri at his Yahoo account (because "I have no telephone connection availability to Mahir as you have to try your chance"). Regrettably, Cagri did not see fit to reply--talk about a kiss off!
Nonetheless, I was able to learn that the mustachioed man continues to travel and work as a "profession jurnalist." He plans to visit the United States on an "invitaion" this fall and is mulling "making some promotional PR arrangements." Cagri also continues to "make psycolojy doctora" and, of course, enjoys taking photos of "nice nude models."
Vincent Ferrari: "AOL Cancellation Call"
Millions of people related to Vincent Ferrari's hellish customer support experience, shared worldwide via the Web. In 2006, the New York man recorded and uploaded his phone-based struggle to cancel an AOL account--a seemingly endless loop of call center scripting that could drive anyone mad.
Ferrari, thankfully, hasn't endured any comparable calls since then. "My friends think it's because people recognize my name and don't want to risk becoming the next 'Jon,'" he says, referring to the call service employee ridiculed as a result of the recorded incident.
Ferrari now spends his time working at a cellular phone company, running a hosting company, and video blogging about whatever comes to his mind.
As for the infamous call and the Internet fame that ensued, Ferrari says that he's only been recognized once. "My wife cracked up, and I was totally mortified," he remembers. He hasn't returned to AOL for Internet service, however. In fact, he says that he never even wanted to use it in the first place.
"I kept it mostly so that I had an account I could use to troubleshoot AOL installs at work," Ferrari reveals.
Some things never change.
Kent Nichols and Douglas Sarine: "Ask a Ninja"
A ninja with knowledge changed Kent Nichols's and Douglas Sarine's lives forever. The comedy duo's "Ask a Ninja" Web site, in which a ninja answers all sorts of e-mail queries from viewers, took off in 2005. No matter the question, the outfitted ninja always seemed to have an answer related to his singular passion. (You know...ninja-ing.)
Nowadays, the ninja is doing better than ever. The initial buzz may have died down, but Nichols and Sarine have built a full-time business from their zany idea. They've even produced a book that's already available in stores: "The Ninja Handbook." "The book is awesome," Nichols says. "It's a full parody of the 'Boy Scout Manual' and guides the non-ninja along the ninja path to enlightenment."
Jennifer Ringley: "JenniCam"
For a girl who used to be on-camera around the clock, Jennifer Ringley has done a swell job of disappearing from the public eye. The now-all-grown-up Jenni shot into the spotlight in 1996 when her JenniCam Web site introduced the then-unusual concept of a 24-7 Webcam. Still images captured Ringley in any activity--sitting, reading, having sex--with shots taken and updated every 3 minutes. The saga lasted for seven years.
Since shutting down the cam in 2003, Ringley has returned to private life in Northern California--either as a social services worker or as a computer programmer, depending on whom you ask. She shuns media attention, though, and rarely pops up in formal interviews.
Ah, how we miss her.
Wei Wei and Huang Yi Xin: "The Back Dorm Boys"
Whether you think of them as the Chinese Backstreet Boys or as their more recent moniker would have it, the Back Dorm Boys, these two Asian dudes were tearin' up their hearts for the world back in 2005. The duo used a college dorm Web cam to capture heartfelt, coordinated performances of the Backstreet Boys' biggest hits.
Though they may have dropped off the radar stateside, these lip-synching sensations have by no means mothballed their careers. Wei and Huang graduated from college in 2006 with two corporate deals already in their pockets: one as spokesfolk for Motorola in China and another as bloggers and podcasters with Chinese Internet portal Sina.com. They're now in the midst of a five-year deal with Beijing media company Taihe Rye that's made them full-fledged TV stars, with appearances in commercials for major vendors such as Pepsi.
Their skill? Lip-syncing, of course.
Matt Harding: "Dancing Matt"
Traveling and dancing made Matt Harding an Internet superstar. Harding turned his Where the Hell Is Matt? Web site into a worldwide phenomenon by doing little jigs in front of various landmarks worldwide.
These days, Matt is still traveling and making videos--though the dancing doesn't happen as often. "In the rare occasion that I do that, all of a sudden people are waving to me from windows and things like that," he says. Harding hasn't had a "real job" in three years, he confesses: The traveling videos take up all of his time and even pay his bills. He also just landed a book deal and is getting ready to put his journeys onto paper.
Noah Kalina: "Everyday" Photos
One guy who still keeps careful records is Noah Kalina. Kalina's face became awfully familiar when he started his "Everyday" project back in the year 2000. He took a photo of himself daily for six years, leading to ample attention and even a parody of his endeavor on "The Simpsons."
The daily photos haven't stopped, but a lot of other things have started. Kalina now works as a professional photographer, snapping shots for such publications as "New York" magazine, "Forbes Life," and "Blender." "I do a mix of work--portraits for some magazines, interiors for others," he says. As for the Everyday exhibit, it's currently traveling around the world--and continuing to grow. The project is now up to eight-and-a-half years' worth of morning mugshots.
Kyle MacDonald: "One Red Paper Clip"
Proof that anything is possible, Kyle MacDonald stepped into the international spotlight when he sought to trade a single red paperclip for a new home back in 2005. After a year of bartering and 14 trades later, MacDonald did it--swapping a role in a movie for a two-story farmhouse in Canada. His quest was covered by major media outlets and even won MacDonald a spot in the "Guinness Book of World Records" under the heading "Most Successful Internet Trade."
Fast-forward to today, and Kyle's back on the trading block. This time, he's trying to see what kinds of interesting things he can get for the house he worked so hard to earn. "My wife Dom and I lived in the red paperclip house for some time and then decided we'd like to live near our families," he says. "We'd like to trade the house because it's kinda sitting empty most of the time, and it'd be great if somebody was in there!" As to his barter options, MacDonald is playing his cards close to the vest. He will reveal only that he has received 300 offers so far. "I'm keeping them all a secret until I make my decision who to trade with," he says.
MacDonald also keeps busy promoting his recent book about the adventure and renovating houses in his Canadian community.
Tay Zonday: "Chocolate Rain"
Make no mistake, our next crooner hits all his own notes. Tay Zonday first made a splash with his 2007 smash, "Chocolate Rain."
Zonday's surprisingly deep vocals and seemingly cryptic lyrics resonated with the world, transforming him from student into superstar.
For Zonday--born Adam Nyerere Bahner--"Chocolate Rain" opened plenty of doors. The baritone belter popped up on everything from CNN to "USA Today" and even found himself being imitated by real-world rock stars. Now 26, Zonday is working hard to show that he's no one-hit wonder. He has released more than a dozen Net-driven singles and has expanded his vocal prowess into the world of commercial voice-over work.
"The hardest thing about being an Internet celebrity is you don't get any vacation," he says. "There is no off-season."