Which came first: the Miranda or the Colleen?
Which is to say: the satirical You Tube darling whose 300-plus videos have brought empowerment and tears to some 1 million subscribers; or the former musical theater student who carved out her own corner of fame and work on her own stage?
Both Colleen Ballinger and Miranda Sings –her last name, or her affirmation, who knows? –brought their acts to Helium on Monday night for a sold-out room of screaming teens, patient (but laughing) parents and plenty of millennials brought up on Internet celebrity.
Ballinger is the real-life performer, of course, whose Miranda character has sparked in 4½ years a phenomenon on YouTube.
Miranda Sings but not well, you see, and her four other touted skills – she’s a self-proclaimed “5 threat”: singing, dancing, acting, modeling and magician – leave plenty to be desired.
But even with seven coats of lipstick, a signature outfit consisting of a demurely buttoned-up top and unflattering red pants, and a ton of smiles, she’s not terribly attractive, either.
Nor is she particularly kind. Which is exactly Ballinger’s salient point: You don’t have to sound good, look good, or even be a good person to be a celebrity.
And yet, with more than 115 million views, her YouTube videos have created a comedic goldmine for aspirational comedians, self-obsessed musical theater nerds and, remarkably, the disenfranchised bullied.
With this quixotic combination of defiance and self-love, Ballinger has infused a character who was at first an inside joke among fellow drama students into a champion for those who naively believe they have what it takes.
It doesn’t matter that they don’t; that they think they do will take them farther than any line item on a résumé.
Dubbed “Mirfandas,” the singer’s followers resemble that of Lady Gaga’s “Monsters,” a wild pack of pubescent kids eager to make their way on the world in whatever outfit, with whatever talent, and on whatever stage or screen they can.
It’s an awesome (and loud) audience to sit among.
Miranda’s stage show – a quixotic blend of melodramatic pathos, lightning-speed wit and cultural literacy – is no mere “live on stage” reproduction of her Internet channel. It is as theatrical as it is musical, comedic as it is inspirational.
A handful of audience volunteers were brought up to help with various songs and bits, and some even outshone their host.
Miranda being Miranda, she scoffed them off as showoffs or flukes, ever polishing the veneer of a self-righteous mantle.
“I’ve always been famous,” said Miranda. “It’s just now people know.”
Ballinger’s brief opening act hilariously morphed into Miranda’s headlining slot during the triumphant chorus of “Defying Gravity,” transitioning from legitimate stage singer to bedroom crooner.
As Miranda, Ballinger pulled off the hard task of purposefully singing off-key, with a vibrato that could shake the Golden Gate and facial tics that could swing a baseball game. Ever painful, it’s impossible to resist.
The show is hilarious enough to cycle through the next many years of teenage fans and their younger siblings.
Ballinger’s message will never be unnecessary, and even if Miranda’s shtick loses steam, there’s talent to turn virtually any character into somebody – even if it’s a nobody.
It’s not easy being good at being bad, but at least it’s better than the alternative. At least then you’ve got a chance.