A Conversation with Tyler Oakley

Adam Reilly chats to YouTube sensation Tyler Oakley about the influence of internet stars, meeting with the Obamas and his LGBT* advocacy work.

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Without a doubt 2014 has been the unofficial “Year of the Internet Personality.” Dozens upon dozens of our favourite internet personalities have made the jump from computer screen to mainstream media and many have officially been awarded the title of full-blown “celebrity.” None have made the jump more seamlessly than Motley Magazine’s old friend Tyler Oakley. We spoke to the Michigan born star last year about his success on video-sharing platform, YouTube, but nothing could have prepared him for what 2014 would bring him. While we saw several online personas surpass the competition by releasing their very own product lines, including everything from clothes to cosmetics, films and even a number one record or two, Tyler Oakley dominated the online world in the last twelve months; winning a rake of awards including two Teen Choice Awards and two Streamy Awards but it didn’t end there.

Rainbow-weaved Oakley attended a conference in the White House where he acted as an advocate for the LBGTQ* community, speaking with President Barack Obama on various social issues and topics – showing a more serious side to the quirky social-media junkie. The Obamas were so impressed with Oakley’s compassion and input that he was invited to return to the White House to film a one-on-one video with First Lady Michelle Obama. The two sat down to talk education, social issues and The Reach Higher Project; preaching the importance of third level education. Oakley admitted to Motley that this was one of his proudest moments.

“Both opportunities were an absolute dream come true. The fact that our current administration recognizes digital influencers and the impact they can have on youth is incredible. Both the President and the First Lady were so charming and personal and I’ll never forget either experience.”

When the digital diva isn’t busy hanging with the Obamas you can find him out fundraising for his various charities; Oakley has worked with several youth-oriented charities, but his main focus has always been The Trevor Project. The YouTuber has always raised significant amounts for his charities but outdid himself in 2014 when, for his 25th birthday, he rallied up his large online following and raised over $500,000. According to Oakley he “works with organizations that both hit close to home personally and directly affect my audience. Knowing that The Trevor Project, which is the leading national organization for crisis and suicide prevention, can literally save the lives of today’s youth encourages me to continue to support them in any way I can.” Aside from fundraising for The Trevor Project, he has also hosted the star-studded red carpet event Trevor Live – an event hosted annually by the charity interviewing prominent LGBT* celebrities like Neil Patrick Harris and Jane Lynch.

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Michelle Obama, Tyler Oakley

There’s no denying that Tyler Oakley has established his place in the hierarchy of online personalities, so is the next natural step in his career to move to television? We asked the YouTube sensation to imagine he was filming “What I Did in 2015” and what might it look like and his future with YouTube.

“There are plenty of projects I’ll be working on in 2015 outside of YouTube, but I’ll always recognize YouTube as an incredible platform that has given me so much. I’ve always said I’ll do YouTube until I no longer like it and I still love every aspect, even seven years later.”

Nowadays, even the biggest celebrities are not oblivious to the powerful platform that online streaming has become. Stars like Lisa Kudrow took to the web to host their own shows with overwhelming success. The late comedy legend Joan Rivers used YouTube to launch her own casual chat show, In Bed With Joan, giving celebrities the chance to get busy under the covers with Joan herself. The sharp-tongued comedienne was very aware of the rising stars of the digital world and had several YouTubers feature on her show including Tyler Oakley.

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In Bed With Joan

“Being interviewed by Joan Rivers for her web series was an electrifying experience. Typically, with a collaboration you’ll know the direction that the video will take. With Joan, however, she was fresh, raw, and real – with surprises throughout the entire interview.”

Oakley jumped straight out of Joan Rivers’s bed and straight into his own American tour, The Tyler Oakley Slumber Party Tour, offering a fans an intimate setting where they witnessed everything from skits to Q&A sessions. So what’s involved in creating an interactive tour, you ask? Well, according to the man himself; “When it came to creating a tour, I wanted to make sure I was offering something worthwhile, unique, undeniably me, and an all-around good time. ‘The Slumber Party Tour’ is a huge production with so many incredibly talented people coming together behind the scenes to put on a show.” Naturally, a tour of any kind is a nerve-wrecking process but Oakley assures Motley that “the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Meeting fans all around the world has always been a dream so being able to go on tour and meet so many of them is just the best.” Overall the tour has been a commercial success, hitting over 40 cities in America.

Oakley went on to speak about how important the influence people in his position have and addressed the abuse of such power in the case that saw fellow YouTuber Sam Pepper sexually exploit women and said, “All I can do is try to be my best self and encourage my viewers to be their best selves as well. As far as the YouTube community goes I will always support other creators who have the same mind-set. I have zero tolerance for anyone that doesn’t use their influence for good.”

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Lady Gaga, Tyler Oakley

Recently, the internet was submerged in the tragedy that saw a young transgender girl, Leelah Alcorn, take her own life due to severe depression caused by anxiety surrounding her sexual-identity.

As an LGBTQ* spokesperson Oakley expressed his sympathy exclaiming; “It’s devastating to know there are people out there who feel alone and unsupported. Tragedies like this only encourage me to be more inclusive and understanding.”

Even though a darkness was left on the web, hope was soon returned when online sensation Connor Franta spoke openly about his sexuality for the first time in a YouTube video entitled Coming Out – which has almost received 7,000,000 views to date. Commenting on Connor Franta’s coming out story Oakley encouraged others to do the same, assuring his fans that “being unapologeticly yourself encourages others to do the same, I’m supportive.” Oakley even went on to speak about the forthcoming same-sex marriage referendum due to arrive in Ireland next year and assured us that equality for everyone was on the horizon and he tells his Irish fans to:

“Keep fighting. I believe in you!”

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