The Mad Hatter, Michael Jackson and Katy Perry; you name the person or character, and the odds that YouTube’s resident transformation guru, Promise Phan, has transformed herself into them are in your favor. From painting her entire body blue while undertaking an “Avatar” transformation to donning a men’s wig to become Drake, Phan will stop at nothing when it comes to completing a look for her various YouTube tutorials. 9GAG has called Promise Phan the “Mother of Makeup,” and NMR can’t help but agree given that her unmatched talent seems to solidify that title with each new transformation she undertakes.
Although Phan did not receive any formal makeup training, her passion and unmatched talent has transformed her childhood hobby into a full-time career. Besides Phan’s highly successful YouTube channel, she has recently teamed up with her YouTube celeb sister-in-law, Michelle Phan, for an ever-expanding beauty empire. Promise’s makeup tutorials and expertise are now featured on Michelle’s YouTube beauty network FAWN and monthly makeup subscription service MyGlam.
After a long day spent battling the elements, which included both rain and freezing temperatures for an underwater photoshoot with Promise, NMR sat down with the beauty guru over a hot bowl of pho to discuss how YouTube and her exceptional talent has taken her from humble beginnings in Nepal to Internet stardom in America.
What takes up most of your time right now?
Promise Tamang Phan: Right now, maybe My Glam and FAWN and just thinking of different ideas for my videos.
Your go-to snack?
Well, it’s actually–I don’t know if you guys know it, but it’s an Indian snack that I have posted pictures on my Facebook of. It’s kind of like dried nuts with raw onions and chili and lemon, so it’s pretty good.
What is it called?
It’s called chanah chat phat. It’s a spicy snack.
Whats your favorite YouTube video that you’ve done?
Angelina Jolie; that probably has over 12 million views. That is probably the best one that I have done and my favorite.
What about one that is not yours?
Oh man, there are so many good ones! What is another good video? I like animal videos. I like pet videos, so a lot of that sneezing panda video…
Which real life celebrity would you like to collaborate with?
Adriana Lima. I love Adriana Lima. She is just such a charming personality, and she is just so gorgeous. She inspires me a lot. I would love to collaborate with her.
What is the craziest thing that you’ve ever done?
Craziest thing…all I can think of is my transformations [laughs]. That’s the craziest it goes.
No skydiving or stuff like that yet?
No, I’m scared of heights. Something I would never do is sky diving, and anything heights–no heights, please. Can you think of any crazy things I did, baby [her husband, Steve]? Rock climbing! Okay, just recently I did rock climbing, and that was a pretty crazy experience for me. First time.
Give us a fun fact about yourself.
I used to dance a lot growing up, and I have kind of stopped dancing because–I don’t know, as you grow older–
What style of dance?
I did hip hop, breakdance and I did my cultural country dance, so growing up I always did dance competitions. I participated in those, and yeah, I loved to dance.
What’s a funner fact?
Oh man, funner fact. Can I say “pets?” A lot of pets? I love animals, and I think I have had a lot of exotic pet animals so far in my life. I have had a monkey and a bat once, and it only survived for like, a day because I was like–I don’t know if I should set a short summary?
Wait, do they sleep upside down?
Yes, they sleep upside down. It was in my grandparents’ village, because they have bats come in wooden openings, and the bats would come in at night and just hang down your ceiling. So I was like, “Grandpa, I want to have a bat pet,” and he was like, “Oh yeah, I will grab one for you.” I had never seen one; it was so mysterious. So he grabbed a baby one, and he showed it to me, and I was like, “Oh, I am going to take this home, and I am going to make him a pet,” and I’m dreaming of having a little pet bat walking around me and my shoulder. My grandpa was like, “Be careful; it bites. It has its little teeth,” and I was like, “Oh no, grandpa. What can we do? I really want him to be my pet, and I don’t want him to bite me, right?” So he is like, “I don’t know,” and I was like, “Why don’t we clip its teeth, so it can not bite me, right?” And I was like 12 or 13, and he was like, “Yeah, go ahead.” I brought this nail clipper, and I clipped the bat’s teeth, and guess what? I didn’t think it was going to hurt; I thought it was going to be like nails, but he started bleeding and like, died.
Any other crazy pets after that?
Um, pet monkey. Owls, turtles, birds. I don’t know; maybe I should find another funner fact. It is kind of creepy. Yeah, maybe people won’t like that that is animal cruelty right there; they will be like, “I hate Promise now.”
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
Typical day, I am usually doing makeup, shopping and lot of girly, fun stuff. Thinking of new ideas and meetings here and there. It’s just very normal, I guess, like simple, ordinary peoples’ lives. Eat, sleep, go out and enjoy the world.
So you mentioned you danced, right? Your oldest video on your channel is you dancing to Michael Jackson, so was this the start to you doing celebrity makeup videos?
Yeah. Well, how I started doing videos was when I did an “Avatar” makeup on my regular Facebook page, and I just used some regular eye shadow, and I did this “Avatar” look after I watched the movie because I got so inspired. I was like, “I want to be one of those Navis,” so the best I can do is transform myself and see where it goes. I just did this makeup look; I posted a picture of that on my Facebook, and all my friends were like, “Oh my gosh, you did really good.” I didn’t really think it was that great, but I got really great feedbacks from people. After that, they shared on their pages, and their friends started really liking it. Then Michelle [Phan] saw it, and she shared it on her fan page, so I had a crazy amount of people adding me everyday on my Facebook. They requested me to do a step-by-step tutorial of that. I have never edited a video in my life, so it was really hard for me, and I tried my best. That is how I started YouTube. I did my first “Avatar” makeup tutorial video after the dance video; that was my first tutorial.
You had no formal training in cosmetics, so where did you kind of begin to master this craft? Was it just after that video happened?
I have always been interested in makeup since I was young. I would run into my mom’s room when she is gone when I was 14 or 15, and I would run into her makeup bag and start going over and doing my makeup, and when she comes back I would act like no one touched it and put it back. I always loved doing makeup, and one of the reasons I started doing makeup was I didn’t feel like I was pretty enough. I felt like I needed to start putting makeup on and starting new different techniques to enhance my features. So after that, I think practice made me better, and it turned out good. So now I have learned to love myself naturally and just accept how god has made me. So yeah, just practice, I guess.
You joined Youtube in 2009, so technically you are still relatively new on Youtube. What made you initially decide to share your love for makeup with the world through Youtube? Is it just the popularity of it?
Yeah, I just feel like a lot of my viewers, after they saw my “Avatar” videos, they would request for more fun looks. I was like, “Wow, I really want to do that,” and I want to help them out because that is fun to do, and if they love watching it, then why not? That’s how I kept on going and doing more videos, and now I enjoy it a lot.
After the “Avatar” video, what was the thing that they requested after that?
I think it was the Mad Hatter, because “Alice and Wonderland” just came out. Then we did, and that was a lot of fun, so yeah, Mad Hatter.
As in Johnny Depp Mad Hatter, the crazy one?
Yeah, Johnny Depp from the movie. After the movie came out, I did that one. I didn’t do it on myself though; I did it on a model, and he looked similar to Johnny Depp, so it was really fun. He was a good model.
At what point did you realize that doing what you love and putting it on YouTube could be your full-time job?
Well, I guess since they start paying you. [laughs] I don’t know how to say it in good words. Okay, so how do I say it? I think just after people requested so many tutorials, it was just so time-consuming, I guess. I don’t know how to explain it.
We watched one of your videos where you let Steve do your makeup, and we thought it was pretty hilarious. What does he think of you sharing your talents with the whole world, and how supportive is the rest of your family?
The rest of my family is really supportive. Steve is supportive, and all of my family is supportive. Steve helps me when I’m free; he helps me to set the lights, and you know, get the stage fixed for the tutorial and the lighting stuff. Overall, my family is really supportive. My mom and dad are still in Nepal, and they still watch my videos, and they are always so proud of me. If I don’t put one video up, my mom will freak out and call me and be like, “Promise, are you okay? Are you sick? Why are you not putting videos up?” My families are really supportive.
Do they follow you on Twitter and all that?
They don’t know what Twitter is yet. I tried to explain it to them, but I think so far they barely understand what Facebook is now. So far, they are just email. Just emailing is how far they know.
We heard that you have a pet owl, so please explain.
Okay, so my pet owl. My aunt works and lives in this village that is kind of remote in Nepal, and she had a little boy neighbor who had a pet owl. He said he found it in the jungle, and it kind of fell out of its nest and stuff, so he took him into his house. One day, my aunt saw him, and she knows my parents. We love birds–especially my mom. She’s a big bird fanatic, and she had parrots and lovebirds and owls before and all that, so when my aunt saw that pet owl she asked the little boy, “What are you doing to do with the pet owl?” He wasn’t really taking good care of it after that, because it is hard in the village to get fresh meat everyday, because they don’t really get fresh meat like here in the cities where we can just buy it. So he said he didn’t really want to take care of the owl, so my aunt was like, “I have a family in the city that loves animals and owls, and if it’s okay, I will take the owl,” and he was like, “Yeah, yeah.” So my aunt brought it to the city and gave it to me and my family, and the little boy really trained him well, so the owl is super friendly. That’s how we got him. He really loves humans; he is very tame, like if you are just sitting, then he will perch on your shoulder and fly to the people around the room. We feed him chicken, and I guess that’s not really anything crazy. He’s not eating a bird; because he is a carnivore, and because I remember when I put the video, everyone was like, “You’re feeding him chicken? He is eating bird!” But he eats chicken and cockroaches and stuff. He is a cute pet.
What’s his name?
In Nepal, we call him “Lata,” which means kind of like dumb, but that is what it means in the language. It’s like dumb, so I didn’t want to name him “dumb” or translate it to “dumb,” so I just named him “Dumbo,” which is kind of cute.
What inspires you to do a transformation? Do you ever try viewer suggestions?
Yeah, I get my inspirations from magazines, new movie releases and my viewers–the requests in my comments sections in my videos and then on my fanpage. They send me pictures and requests, which is usually how I get inspired. I look at the pictures and Google the celebrity’s name if I don’t know who they are and check them out and watch their movies and listen to their songs to get more inspired.
What is it about them that makes you want to choose them? I know we were talking outside an event, or Steve mentioned that you were just listening to a Drake song and was like, “Oh, I want to be Drake.” How does that work?
Yeah, that is one of the reasons. When you are listening to the music–I don’t know, you just want to be them. Imagine what it would be like to be that celebrity for a day. I don’t know–it is just fun, it is fun to just transform your face. I just do it because first of all, I just like to challenge myself to see if I can do that celebrity that I am fascinated with. If it turns out good, then I just post a picture on Facebook, and if I get good comments and people really like it, then I will do a tutorial for it.
What was the most challenging transformation that you have done?
Challenging…there are a lot of challenging transformations that I did. I think Megan Fox was a little challenging because it was really hard to create her nose, which was very different–just the shape was. I don’t know, it was a little different than mine and I had to do the transformation three times to actually get it.
What’s the process of doing the transformation? How do you break down what to attack first?
Usually when I decide to do a celebrity, I Google their images and just look at a good picture that has the clear picture of his features and her features. Usually, black and white pictures are really great because that shows the shape of their features and stuff with good lighting. I look at those pictures, and then I just study their features a lot and see how I can manipulate my features to look like theirs. So I just read their features for a while until I feel like I’m really comfortable to do it, and then I just go ahead and do it.
The transformations are crazy, like the Johnny Depp video that you did with the really chiseled cheekbones. That is all just makeup? That is all just shaded?
That’s all makeup, yeah. It’s a lot of contouring; especially in transformations its all about contouring.
No matter how talented you are, people seem to have haters who are trolling their pages and voicing their negative opinions. We noticed on your Facebook that you say, “All unkind comments are banned,” so what made you decide to ban these negative comments and what actions do you take to control negative comments?
For Youtube, I just have too much going on, so I don’t really get to go through all the comments. But this is something recent that I did for my Facebook, because I feel like the more people that I have on my fan page, the more haters. So as you get more popular, you start having more haters. I don’t get a lot of hate comments on my Facebook–maybe once in a week, two or three comments in a week, which is not much. But I just feel like, if I was in somebody else’s shoes and I was on their page, and somebody was saying mean things to them, what would they do? They would definitely delete it–you know what I mean? But I take constructive criticism because they are helping me out in a good way, but haters that just write mean words and bad words directly at you, like “You’re this…”–those get erased. Mean things are definitely blocked in a second, in a heartbeat. Definitely, negativity–just keep that away from my page and just be with people that love and encourage and inspire each other.
How do you connect with your fans? What do you do to still connect with the fans that are really positive and supportive?
Well, I have two other private pages that I add my fans on, and I try to update there a lot. And then I have, you know, my fanpage. I started with those pages, but I figured out later I was adding too many people. I have another private Facebook just for my family and really close friends, but I do have two other Facebook pages that I have just added fans. Different outlets: I have Twitter, I have Instagram. I just started Twitter and Instagram.
What was your response when you saw all the Reddits and 9GAGs about you like “Mother of Makeup”?
Yeah, I’m a big fan of 9GAG; I always have subscribed to them. I follow them on Twitter, and I always read their posts. So every time they have my posts–funny posts–I just love it and get really excited.
How did you find yourself on there?
Usually, people tag me on Facebook fanpage. They are like, “Hey Promise, look! You are on 9GAG again!” It is great. My viewers just let me know; that is the only way I know.
Let’s talk about FAWN now. How do you feel about being a part of the For All Women Network, and how involved are you with makeup content?
Yeah, FAWN is an amazing network. Michelle has really thought of something to–it’s just a network where–what is the question again? [laughs] I got confused.
How do you feel about working with FAWN, and how are you involved with it in terms of making content?
So far, FAWN has been really amazing, because I have done interviews with people, and I never thought I would interview a person in my life. I just did a makeup tutorial for Effie Trinket transformation from “Hunger Games,” and that just got put up yesterday on FAWN Channel. I have done a lot of videos that you guys will see soon; it is going to be very great, and I think the girls are going to love it. And you get to travel too, and everything that I love to do, I’m getting to do on FAWN, so it’s very exciting.
How is FAWN as a channel different from just the regular Youtube channel?
Well, FAWN has talk shows. They are going to have a show called “Cinderella Project,” which I am really excited about. They are going to find a girl that has a really good story behind her; maybe she had a rough past and stuff, so we are going to give her a transformation, kind of like “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” but where you go and transform the girl. So I am like, “Wow.” [laughs] Extreme girl transformation.
Was that the Youtube thing that you were involved in? I know that Youtube did “Youtube’s Next Beauty Guru.” I am not sure if that is more Michelle’s thing.
No, that is not a Michelle thing. I think that was actually a makeup company; NYX, yeah. I think that is theirs, and you have to submit a video, and they would pick out and help you to be a next popular beauty guru. But this is just like a regular Youtube channel, you know, because every time I say it is like a network and stuff, people get confused and they are like, “Is that a website, or where do we watch it?” In simple words, it is just a regular channel called Fawninc helping out women, things that women love. We will have travel shows; the girls are going to be traveling to New Zealand tomorrow, and I think Michelle already did some where she was in Hong Kong and the one in Italy with Andrea’s Choice. They are going to have travel shows, talk shows, beauty tutorials, hair tutorials–all those things that girls love that are really fun shows.
For the channel, are you going to be doing more celebrity transformations or will we be seeing you doing different things?
I think I will be doing some celebrity transformations, and then I will be doing travel shows with the girls. Some girls will be going to one country, and then let’s say in the future maybe Macbarbie and I will go to a different country. Then all the girls will have their chance to travel to their country that they want to.
You have your own channel, obviously, and now you have fawninc. What would you say are the biggest differences? Is there a difference in terms of yourself?
There is a difference working with a group. Working in your channel, you do whatever you want. It is working with a group that is great, and it is fun because there are great girls that are part of FAWN. If you guys know, there is Jessica Harlow, Bethany, Chrisselle, Daven, Michelle and me. It is just like every time we meet, we have a bunch of YouTube gurus who do that same thing, who love to do the same thing. It is fun having people to work with; just being a big part together and working to reach out to the girls is just great. I’m a group person.
Are there any challenges, like cat fights, girl fights, scratches, hair pulling or creative differences?
I just beat up a girl in my last shoot [laughs]. No, there is nothing dramatic so far. We all love each other, and we barely see each other. I guess if you were stuck in the same room for a year with the same girls, maybe once in a while you would have quarrels. But so far, we just see each other once a month or once every couple months, so it is like, “Yay, I get to see you again!” It shows we care. Wise words from Promise: fighting is caring.
Also, MyGlam is a new venture that you announced on your channel. What is MyGlam, and what are you doing for it?
MyGlam is a beauty website which girls can subscribe to for $10, and they’ll get to basically try out a lot of beauty products, because usually us girls, when we like a product, we just try that one and we don’t really experience other products and try out different things. So MyGlam gets the girls to try out new products and makeup products that maybe they can–for $10 dollars, that is a really good deal to try out different samples. It is a monthly fee of $10.
So it’s like Netflix for makeup?
[laughs] I like that. It’s like a Netflix for makeup. It is very affordable. They are trying their best to get out the best products for $10 and to make all the girls happy.
So for them, do you just collaborate?
I just do a video. Basically, every month I put up a video for My Glam and just use the same the products that I get in the bag, and I’ll create a look in my channel with those products.
It shows girls that…
How you could use it. Some girls, maybe they don’t know how to use the product, so I’ll just take out the same products from the bag that I get, and then I’ll just do a tour and give them an idea of how to use that product.
What do you when you’re not working on tutorials or thinking of ideas?
Well, since you’re married, I spend a lot of time with my husband. You know, I’m really adventurous; my dream is to travel more, so I just think of different destinations to go one day.
How have you personally used social media to build media followers, and is there a secret to being a successful beauty guru online?
I think the secret is just to do what you think can help people out and what people can really take from you, and just be yourself. People love you because of your personality too and your talents, so just be yourself and try to engage with your fans as much as possible. Try to make them feel like they are included and you care about them, and I guess that’s the only secret for me so far. Just be yourself, and help people out. Show the love.
The reason that it’s Dope211 is when I first started YouTube I didn’t start it up for makeup videos, and I had a friend from Australia who every time I said something, he would be like, “Dope, dope.” That was like years ago, and I didn’t know what “dope” meant, and finally I checked it out and figured it meant “cool.” When I opened my channel, I wanted to just do cool videos, so I just put Dope211. I just loved the word, 2 and 1 together. So yeah, just after that I always got stuck with that word, and everyone was like, “Do you like drugs? Why is it Dope211?” [laughs] No, it’s all clean. I just like the word “dope” because it’s cool, and I am just doing cool videos.
What’s your Instagram?
My Instagram is PromisePhan, Facebook fanpage is PromiseTamangFawn, and then my Twitter is TamangPhan. I don’t like using the same words; I like being creative with all different words as possible.
Is Promise your actual name?
It’s actually Pratigya, but it means “promise” in English. When I moved to America, everyone would ask me, “What’s your name?” and it took them forever to pronounce it. They would always butcher it, so my parents were like, “Your name means promise, so why don’t you just go along with Promise and it will be easier for people?”
How is working with the FAWN network going? Where has that collaboration taken you since we last spoke?
Working with Fawn has been an amazing experience for me. It has given me an opportunity to do things that I love besides makeup. I got a chance to interview different media personalities, meet and work with new talents etc. I will also soon be traveling internationally to do a Wanderlust series, which is am really looking forward to.
Since we last spoke, you’ve done makeup tutorials on Adele, Princess Zelda and Jessica Alba. What fan-requested tutorial are you doing next?
As requested by my younger viewers, I am planning to do a transformation on Zayn Mallik from One Direction.
Michelle Phan recently launched her own jewelry line. Does that inspire you to create something similar of your own? Perhaps a Promise Phan makeup line in the future?
At the moment, I am focusing more on makeup, but maybe in the future.
At the moment, I am focusing more on makeup but maybe in the future.
My videos/transformations in the future are going be really fun. I am planning to do a short creative mini stories for the intro and the ending of my videos.
Photography by Melly Lee