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Jon Cozart has over 1 million subscribers on YouTube. He’s also studying film at the University of Texas at Austin.
In most cases, being Internet famous isn’t like being an actual celebrity. Red carpets are replaced with crocheted living room rugs, and fancy champagne’s swapped for a six-pack from 7-Eleven. Internet stars may have thousands of fans online, but most live rather ordinary lives—and some are just trying to get through another semester in school.
Jon Cozart, 21, known as “Paint” on YouTube, has over 1 million subscribers, 62,000 followers on Twitter, and nearly as many on Instagram. That puts him in the upper echelon of YouTube stars, according to the video analytics site, Vidstatx.
He’s also a sophmore film student at the University of Texas at Austin, trying to balance a normal college experience with his newfound Internet fame.
“The great thing about Internet fame is that it is for a specific audience,” he told me. “I mean, it’s not like I go on the street and get mobbed.”
Cozart’s a one-man barbershop quartet and comedy act. (He’s auditioned for Glee. Twice.) He loops and layers his voice with various instruments to create exuberant pop musicals.
His first major video success was a Hogwarts-themed spoof “Harry Potter in 99 seconds,” in which he takes the audience through all of the J.K. Rowling franchise with witty humor and catchy music. He released it the day before the 2011 premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.
When he awoke the next morning, his video had about 100,000 views. The video had made its way to Tumblr, attracting eager Harry Potter fans. By the end of the week, it had a few million views. Cozart had gone from casual YouTuber to Internet celebrity—just like that.
“I get a lot of inspiration from other people who make what I make,” he said.
Born in Arkansas and relocated to Texas when he was six, Cozart started making videos when he was in middle school for class projects. He works as a standalone operation: He thinks up the idea, shoots, edits and does all of the vocal work for his videos.
His individual approach to making content does comes at a price. Unlike other successful YouTubers that can produce multiple videos a week, Cozart is sporadic.He produces videos only a few times a year. But what he lacks in content, he more than accounts for with quality and virality.
His latest and most popular viral video, “After Ever After,” reimagines the lives popular Disney princesses in the wake of current events, like the BP oil spill. The video hits on issues of ocean pollution, beastality, the War on Terror, and the treatment of Native Americans—not exactly what you think of when you hear “Disney princesses.”
Cozart said that he grew up with Disney movies and could relate to their symphonic music. The video launched him into another level of Internet popularity—quadrupling his audience since it was uploaded in March.
“I was on the front page of Yahoo, and doing interview for all of these newspapers. It was crazy,” he said.
While other college kids might be spending their summer working a summer job or studying abroad, Cozart has taken advantage of his most recent video success by nailing down performances around the world.
Later this week, he will be doing a live performance at VidCon in California, and he’ll appear at VINinc in Australia.
Despite his recent success, Cozart says he’s just a normal guy. He’s a member of Gigglepants, an improv comedy troupe on his college campus, and enjoys performing in local productions of musicals and plays.
“I think my real friends, they don’t really care that I have a YouTube channel,” he said. “They just like me because of my personality.”
Screengrab via YouTube
Cody Permenter is a social media strategist and content creator. His work has appeared in Thrillist, Digg, and Cheezburger, Inc.