Here’s a list of people and bands in YouTuber Keenan Cahill’s Rolodex: Carmen Electra, Christopher Lloyd, Eric Judor, Electrovamp, Gym Class Heroes, Cheyenne Jackson, Sean Kingston, Cobra Starship, Flo Rida, Tyra Banks, Perez Hilton, Cody Simpson, Katy Perry and celebrity gunshot-receiver 50 Cent. To say that this young man has a lot on his plate is a colossal understatement. Ever since pop superstar Katy Perry tweeted that “THIS …is my Teenage Dream” in response to Cahill’s YouTube upload of him lip syncing to her song “Teenage Dream,” the 17 year-old performer’s days have been filled with appearances on “Chelsea Lately”and MTV. Cahill isn’t just spending time with celebrities though; he is also involved with raising awareness for Maroteaux-Lamy syndrome, the disease that Cahill suffers from himself. Cahill recorded a video lip syncing “Dynamite” with the San Francisco Giants’ Cody Ross and Brian Wilson to promote a charitable event called “Dynamite: A Fundraiser For Keenan Cahill.”
Luckily, Cahill had some free time to speak with NMR in Los Angeles while he was waiting to film a commercial for AXE with Carmen Electra and personal friend of Marty McFly, Christopher Lloyd. We caught up with the lip syncing sensation to talk about his original songs, working with his idols and going from high school freshmen to viral sensation.
If you could pick one superpower, what would you pick?
Oh god. I guess super speed because I don’t run that fast.
Alright, we’ll break it down to two powers: invisibility or the ability to fly?
With most entertainers, they always say invisibility because they’re always in the spotlight.
I would just want to sleep in so my mom won’t figure out.
Do people recognize you a lot now on the streets?
Yeah, people do occasionally know who I am. Everywhere, at least a couple of people will be like, “I know who you are.” Some will know my name, and some will be like, “YouTube?” Okay, I’m not a corporate video company. I have a name.
Any pet peeves?
I hate when I’m walking in the hall and all of a sudden somebody stops. Like, why? There’s no reason. You’re walking, and someone stops in the middle of the hallway or they slow down where they’re basically hogging the entire hallway. Or if you’re walking on the right and you’re supposed to be walking on that side, and someone is coming the opposite way. Why are you coming?
What’s the strangest thing someone’s ever said to you fan-wise?
I remember I had this stalker on YouTube. She was from Brazil, and she changed her last name to “Cahill.” She creeped me out. I had another one too, who was French, and she emailed my manager, “Can I have his address so I can send him mail?” and he was like, “No,” and she was like, “Wait. I don’t understand why you won’ give me his address?” Well, because you may kill me.
What are you doing in L.A. right now?
I’m in L.A. for an Axe commercial. It’s sort of a viral commercial with Carmen Electra and Christopher Lloyd. I’m also out here to record. I’m trying to transition into an artist, so I’m out here trying to record songs.
How’s that going?
A lot of the radio stations are happy about it. A lot of people are excited. A lot of artists that I’ve told, they were like, “I can’t wait to hear something. Hopefully, we can work with you in the future.” I’ve put singing videos out, and there’s a lot of good feedback and a lot of people are excited. Some haters are actually saying, “Oh my gosh. You can actually sing!” Hopefully, it transitions well and goes well, and hopefully, it goes for a while.
You’ve worked with a lot of people who are huge musicians and huge singers, like 50 Cent. Have they given you any advice on transitioning into your own career and making your own music?
They haven’t really given me any advice. A lot of them were like, “Maybe we can work sometime?” So it’s support like, “I know you can do it. You have a bright future, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to go well and everything.” That’s basically it. Not a lot of words of advice. They just said, “Do what you want to do.”
Right, they’ve got to keep some secrets for themselves.
When you’re creating a video, you do a lot of webcam stuff. What is your creative process when you’re first conceiving the idea to actually putting it out on YouTube? What’s your creative process in terms of that?
Usually, I take a song from top 100 on iTunes that’s being played a lot on the radio. I listen to it a couple of times, and then I just shoot it. It’s usually just one or two takes, and that’s it.
With shows like “Glee,” where they’re basically making their own renditions, like you are, what do you think about that appeals so much to the public? Why does the public like other people taking popular mainstream songs and making them into their own?
I think it’s seeing other people’s talent the way of them putting it in the genre of what they want to sing it like, more poppy or more rap-ish or something like that. There’s so many other people on the Internet singing and stuff like that, and why wouldn’t you make a big “Glee” show like that? It’s songs that everybody knows.
In school, is there anything that you’re psyched to go to class about?
Music production is pretty big. If the artist thing does go well, I’d like to just know how to produce things. I know that Chris Brown is starting to actually produce a little stuff for other people. It doesn’t hurt to know how to produce a little.
A lot of your videos are completely raw; it’s just you having a good time and just you letting it all go. Is it hard going to school and having people watch that and have people see a side of you that’s completely uninhibited and having fun? In school, you try to conform and fit in.
It basically happened over the summer as I was in 8th grade. I was turning into a freshman, and it kind of just happened like that. That’s one of the big stuff that happened. More people are freaking out about it, but they’re just like, “Oh, it’s just Keenan.” They don’t treat me differently or anything.
Want Keenan as your wallpaper? Click on the button below to download.
Is that the kind of attitude or aura that you bring to school, this upbeat guy that’s always dancing?
I’m not like that at school at all. I think they just think, “Oh, okay, he’s doing what he’s doing.” A lot of people are like, “Where are you going to go this weekend? Who are you going to meet?” But that’s basically about it; they don’t really treat me differently. They don’t think oddly about me.
Most people’s computers have webcams. What’s making your videos more compelling than the next person’s? Why do people want to watch yours more than anyone else’s? It’s clear that it’s a sensation, but people have been lip syncing for a while.
I really have no idea; that’s the thing. I know a lot of people are of course just like, “Lip syncing is not a talent.” I’m like, of course it’s not a talent. Why do you think it’s a talent? When a lot of people say “talent,” I think it means the saying that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can be what you want to be. I remember I had a guy from O’Hare, and he came up to me and said, “My wife has brain cancer, and she’s been going through hard times. All of a sudden, she started watching your videos, and she’s starting to feel so much better about herself. And she’s actually starting to get better, and I think it’s because of you and all the positive stuff with it.” That’s the reason why I still do my YouTube videos and everything like that. Even though there’s a lot of haters, I still don’t care. Obviously, with the singing, I have a lot of people that are like the same people who watch videos and who back me up a lot of the times. It’s going to be really cool and everything.
How do you deal with the haters?
There are so many bad comments like, “I can’t wait for your disease to kill you.”
You seem so positive.
I know. Everybody’s like, “Dude, does that ever creep you out? That people are like that?” No, not really. I’ve been getting it for three years now, so it doesn’t really matter. As long as I’m doing things that if they’re jealous about it or they just don’t like that I’m doing it, then who cares. I mean, I’m doing what I want to do.
50 Cent, Pauly D and all of these people that you’ve worked with, were you approached by them or did you reach out to them? How does it usually work?
Chelsea Handler saw my videos, and she said, “We have to get him on my show.” 50 Cent actually had his song with Jeremih out, and it wasn’t doing so well, and so they were like, “How about you and Chelsea do a song?” Chelsea was in and out, and then they said, “How about 50? Get him in there.” He kind of was in on it, but at the last second he was like, “Let’s do it.” He went in, and he did it. Literally, they took that song off because it wasn’t doing well, and Jeremih was about to get dropped from his label. So right when we put that up it went to #28 on iTunes, and in a week it went 10 on Billboard.
How does that feel when it makes a huge impact on your career and also on another guy’s career?
It’s really cool. We really thought that we were even influencing radio because the radio was playing the exact same songs that I was doing on my channel. It’s really cool, especially with the artists. If I can do that for them then why can’t I do it for myself?
Oh, absolutely. There’s no doubt you can.
It happened with a lot of artists. Andy Grammer, who did “Fine By Me” and “Keep Your Head Up,” we actually broke him and everything, and now he’s starting to go out there and he’s on tour with Colbie Caillat and everything like that. So it’s really cool to start off artists which in the back of my mind I kind of wanted to do and help people out. It’s really cool.
That kind of leads to my next question: what inspired you to start making lip syncing videos?
I actually did it because I was in singing and acting lessons. I kind of wanted to just have when I went to an audition people would kind of feel like, “Oh, I’ve seen your videos. I know who you are.” Just a better chance. Then I did it just because I wanted to be out there and try something on my own. I didn’t really know what YouTube was; I kind of just tried it out. And I did singing and lip syncing, and lip syncing kind of took it’s own toll, and then I did more of that. Then Katy Perry found it and tweeted it and Facebooked it, and it started from there.
From that period of time when you first recorded Katy Perry’s song to when she tweeted it, it was almost a year’s time? How long was it?
I think it was 2010. It was the summer of 8th grade going into freshman year. It literally happened in a day. She tweeted it, and then all of a sudden, three weeks later, Chelsea found it.
What was it like? You had this video up for a while, and yeah, people were looking at it, but it wasn’t this huge sensation, and all of a sudden, literally in a day, it’s viral.
Deep inside I thought I knew; the reason why I had this disease was for something. I knew one day something would happen where I’d be an actor or a singer and this kind of happened random. I didn’t expect it. I remember the beginning of that year on New Years, I said, “Let this year be something different. Let it actually happen.” And by the end of the summer, it kind of happened. I just knew deep inside something would happen I just didn’t know when it would happen and what it was.
So you were almost prepared for it.
I kind of was and I kind of wasn’t. All of a sudden, the views and the followers and the Facebook fans just started jumping. I was just like, “Wait, what’s going on?” I saw Katy tweeted, “This is my teenage dream” and the link of my video, and I was just like, “Alright, this is just a stupid link. It’s not mine.” And then she tweeted, “I heart @KeenanCahill,” and it was like I had a feeling that she kind of did it. That’s the way that I didn’t think it would happen, especially from Katy. But I knew who she was, and I knew she was starting to get bigger and bigger and bigger, but I didn’t know it was going to be her. It could have been someone else, and I didn’t even know it was going to be her.
So far, working with celebrities, do you have one that’s been your favorite to work with?
See, I can’t pick a favorite [laughs], because they’re all so nice, and they’re all very supportive of what I’ve been doing. I mean, 50 was really nice, Jennifer Aniston was really nice, and Katy was really nice. It’s cool because all of them were like, “Oh my gosh, I’m such a big fan!” It’s weird because I’m just like, “That makes no sense. Why are you doing this to me?”
Have they given you any advice? What’s the best advice you’ve gotten?
I remember Katy, when we met her in Philly, she looked at my manager and said, “This guy is a really good guy. You should keep him.” And when she said, “Are you still in school?” and I said, “Yeah,” and she said, “You’re not home schooled?” and I said, “No,” she’s like, “Wow.” A lot of people have asked me that. They’re like, “Are you still in school?” Yes, I am. “Isn’t that really, really, really hard?” Not really. It’s just that trips are on the weekends, and school is in the week. Nothing has drastically changed.
Except for when you go to school and they’re like, “What’d you do this weekend?”
That’s basically it.
How do you balance everything? Do you just work really hard on the weekdays to get all of your homework done?
Basically, the week is just school and everything. I just do homework and everything, and then it’s the weekend. Some days, it would be like, “You have to take the day off to do this,” and then I’d have to pay for it when I get back, but it’s not totally to the point where it’s overwhelming. It’s a lot of talk, especially with the transition if this does go well. My manager is like, “Just be careful. If it does do well, then there’s going to be big drastic changes where you may have to stop school.”
In terms of lip syncing videos, essentially you’re mimicking someone else’s work. How do you make that your own? How do you make that into something that’s your creation?
It’s hard to explain because I really don’t know how I do it. I just make really weird faces, and I guess that’s just how I do it. I just goofed around and made it my thing.
Do you think that people just like to see that free spirit and the fun you’re having with it? People like seeing other people have fun.
I guess it’s just that I’m different, and I’m not a normal person. I guess a lot of people say it’s inspiring and everything. I guess that’s basically it. With a kid who has a disease and has gone to school and all of this bad stuff, I still just don’t care about it. People are just drawn to it.
How supportive have your parents been, and what do they think about your career?
My mom really likes it. At first she was kind of like, “This is a lot,” because it happened so quick. But she’s very supportive, and now I’m actually just travelling with my manager. She just wanted to travel a lot with me, but now she just lets me and my manager do it.
How about role models? People you really look up to?
I have no role models. That’s the thing. I don’t really look up to anyone, really. There’s no one that does the same thing as me and is going through the same thing as me.
How about people whose work that you admire?
I know I’m really really late on this, but “Get Rich or Die Trying.” I just saw that, and after seeing that, I kind of felt more like, okay, 50 has been really going through a lot. I kind of admire him a little bit more. I admire mostly a lot of the artists that I’ve met, and that’s basically it.
What would you say has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since going into entertainment and doing all this work?
Live everyday like if it was your last. Work as hard as you can, because you never know who can be watching and may want to work with you. That’s basically it.
What about the days that you know you have to put out a video or you know that you have to do stuff and you’re not really feeling it? What do you do to pull yourself together on those days?
I just think, “Keep on going,” because you don’t want it to end so quick. As of right now, I am in a way kind of getting sick of lip syncing, and I kind of want to start singing. It’s been four years of lip syncing. Right now, a lot of people are getting excited, and in my mind, I’m thinking maybe it will go well. That’s just basically the most nerve-wrecking is how people are going to take it. It’s completely different. A lot of people have heard me sing, and a lot of people haven’t heard me sing. Some people did, and some haven’t. I think it’s kind of a safe way. It’s hard to explain. Maybe it’s going to go well because no one has really heard me sing. Hopefully, it works and it’ll go well.
Say the music thing didn’t work out — what kind of career do you think you’d pursue?
I still really like music, but my mom is like, “You need to think of another career.” Maybe business, I was thinking about this, because a lot of music people do have businesses. They do have a lot of products and stuff like that. I still like music; it’s kind of buried into me, and I can’t get it out.
You’ve lived a rare life for a 17-year-old. Most people are going to school, going to parties and applying to college. You’re putting out songs and working with producers and managers. What’s that journey like?
It does kick you into an adult really, really quick. Because you are working with all these people, they are expecting you to be mature and serious about your work. In the back of my mind, I was always ready. You got to keep it together. Usually, when it does come to producers, I’m mature about it and everything. I always wanted to have that kind of opportunity. I guess in a way I felt like I was ready. Especially transitioning, you gotta be more mature.
Do you feel like you might have lost some time to be the crazy 17-year-old in this process? Do you regret any of that?
I think in a way it wasn’t so quick. It’s not like, “Okay, you gotta stop everything. No more school. Now you have to go here and go here and everything like that” I still have a childhood and everything. I’m still on the way to transition to take it seriously and not be a kid anymore.
You’re just enjoying the ride.
Yeah [laughs.] I’ve always wanted it, so why not just let it happen.
Do you think regardless of what happens you’ll still be putting out YouTube videos?
Definitely. I’ll keep having the thing that always started everything. We’re definitely going to be putting music videos out. If the artist thing does go well, in the back of my mind I’m thinking maybe putting vlogs to show people what’s been going on. I’ve always watched vloggers and stuff like that. I’ve tried doing that before where you have to stick the camera out fully. It looks stupid, but it’s a cool way to show people what’s been going on.
What can we expect from you in the future?
It’s more just songs, I guess. I’ve got one with a British band called Electrovamp. They’re two Welsh girls, and they’re big in the UK and everything. Then, we have a fun song, so we’re kind of hitting both aspects from Europe and here.
Now that you have recorded your own singles, how has your audience responded? Do people like your original songs?
The audience has been great. I know there is a transition between lip syncing and singing. The lip syncing had the bigger audience, so in a way I am almost starting over with singing. “Hands Up” is a great song. I heard it at the beginning of summer, and the way it came to use was very unique. We had a promoter in Ireland claim to be my cousin. He had the girls fly to Chicago to shoot a viral with me. I heard “Hands Up” and loved the song. My manager asked if I could be added to the final mix before they released it. We had to record it in New York City with the lyricist. It’s slowly catching on. We have started to add radio stations in the US. We have four stations in Mexico playing it, and we’re just starting to work on Europe. A song like this is going to take 6 to 12 months to break. YouTube is definitely the best place to introduce a song, but you need radio to really get it out there. We’re also hopeful to have a music video in the next 30 days. The feedback I have gotten from “Hands Up” has been amazing. People are slowly starting to see me as a singer versus a lip syncer.
You might be working with Justin Bieber soon. What are you two going to be doing together?
Justin Bieber is my goal. We don’t have any set plans to work together, but Scooter had reached out to my manager last year…it didn’t work out. I finally met Justin at the American Music Awards last year. I was walking into the bathroom, and he called out my name. I turned around, and he asked, “When are we doing a video, bro?” I saw him again backstage before the LMFAO performance. He went on during “PartyRock Anthem,” and I went on during “Sexy and I Know It.” So, there will be an opportunity to work with Justin. It will just be one of my long-term goals. Justin is very busy, and it will be great when we do finally connect.
Photography by Melly Lee