‘I would say, no matter what people tell you, anything can happen.”
That’s the message YouTube singing sensation Austin Mahone says he’ll deliver to 20,000 peers in the We Day audience and to tens of thousands watching the live stream of the event on MTV.ca/weday.
But when the 17-year-old appears on stage at the Air Canada Centre on Friday, likely to the excited screams of teenage girls, it won’t even be necessary for him to sing or say anything in order to deliver his message.
The teen who was named “artist to watch” at the MTV Video Music Awards last month won’t even have to open his mouth.
Quite simply, Mr. Mahone has changed the way the world perceives him. He’s living proof that every teen attending We Day in Toronto can, as he says, make anything happen. He’s done it using social media.
When he was a 14-year-old living in La Vernia, Tex., just outside San Antonio, Mr. Mahone and a friend began uploading covers of pop-star songs to YouTube.
“I was just doing it because me and my best friend were bored, living in a small town.” His hometown, he notes, didn’t have a bowling alley or a movie theatre.
“I’d either check Billboard or iTunes Top 10 for the hottest songs, and I’d record my own versions,” he explains on the Republic Records website. “That’s how people began to find me online.”
His videos got millions of hits and he signed with Universal’s Republic Records on the Chase label. Chase recently joined forces with Cash Money to bring out Mr. Mahone’s debut full-length solo album, Junior Year.
While it seems like a meteoric rise for the teenager dubbed “Baby Bieber” by the Hollywood Reporter, Mr. Mahone admits the early days were not always fun. He says he experienced bullying at school and taunting by his peers for posting his videos on YouTube.
“A lot of people in my high school thought it was a foolish thing to do,” he says. “They said it was stupid and pointless. They said I’m never going to make it.”
Yet the bullying and taunting didn’t deter him. “I kept working hard. I was passionate about it.” And the hits on his YouTube videos kept coming.
Mr. Mahone eventually dropped out of school to focus on his career and opted for home schooling to finish his high-school education.
His experience of being bullied at school, his passion, his perseverance and his achievement all make him a perfect fit for the message of We Day.
After all, the mandate of Free The Children, the international charity and creator of We Day, is “to empower and enable youth to be agents of change.”
Even Mr. Mahone’s remarkable rise by way of social media fits with the way Free The Children operates and raises funds.
“Millenials don’t tune into Sunday morning commercials [for charities,]” says Craig Kielburger, co-founder of Free The Children. “They do check their Twitter accounts.”
The fact that Mr. Mahone has four million Twitter followers who will learn about Free The Children when he tweets about his We Day appearance is an important contribution he can make to the charity, in addition to his presence at the event as a message of empowerment.
As well, he’s a hot commodity as an entertainer for exactly the demographic that attends We Day. He’s planning to perform his hit single What About Love.
While We Day is certainly benefitting from his participation, it’s a win-win situation all round. Mr. Mahone gets to burnish his image as someone who volunteers his time and talent for a worthy cause and show that he cares about making the world better place.
He’ll also have something meaningful to tweet about to his fans, who were recently told on Twitter how he failed his driving test but finally got his licence.
Asked how he came to connect with Free The Children, Mr. Mahone explains, “My manager told me about it. They made a couple of calls.”
He’s looking forward to We Day, he says, because, “I like to try new things, to travel. I get to perform, to meet new people.”
Dubbed a “Justin Bieber heir apparent,” could it also be that he’s hoping to win over thousands of fans in Mr. Bieber’s home territory? Does he mind being compared to Mr. Bieber?
“It’s definitely a compliment,” he acknowledges. “But I want to show that I’m an artist, too.”
His goal for the future: “Hopefully win a couple of Grammys and be on my own world tour.”