In 2009, a YouTuber calling herself Miranda uploaded a video called “Free Voice Lesson.”
In it, a heavily-made up woman in a shabby-looking room stares earnestly into a camera and announces her intention to provide expert and pricey vocal instruction to whomever can be persuaded to pay based on a forthcoming “free voice lesson.”
For anyone with a modicum of human sympathy, the video is painful to watch. Miranda can’t sing but is utterly assured of her virtuosity.
“Free Voice Lesson” seems an unlikely launching pad for a comedic empire, but an empire answering to that description was launched.
Miranda, who goes by the full name Miranda Sings, will perform a show at the Embassy Theatre on Sept. 15.
“Free Voice Lesson” is an example of a genre of satirical YouTube video that aims to incite the haters with the plausibility of its utter incompetence.
Miranda Sings is the alter ego of Colleen Ballinger, who was a highly capable musical theater performer at Disneyland when she posted “Free Voice Lesson.”
She has said that she was motivated initially by a sturdy trend in the era of televised singing competitions: People who can’t sing pursuing singing stardom.
She told the Huffington Post in 2010 that she parodied people seeking fame on YouTube because she didn’t think anyone could get famous using YouTube.
“I was terrified when it went viral,” she said, “because I didn’t know what to do with it.”
In the beginning, Miranda Sings was a fairly realistic character. But Ballinger has since hyperbolized Miranda’s personality. These days, Miranda is no less preposterous than Martin Short’s Ed Grimley or Paul Reubens’ Pee Wee Herman.
Despite the character’s outlandishness, people still get confused, according to Miranda fan Haylee Ellison, a student at Carroll High School.
“A lot of people don’t know she’s a character,” Ellison said. “They think she’s an actual person who is just being rude.”
Ellison said Miranda is “a representation of people who think very highly of themselves and don’t care about other people.”
“She is the queen,” she said. “That’s what she calls herself and that’s what her fans call her. She’s very vain. But Colleen herself is super nice and amazing.”
Taylor Jaxtheimer, daughter of Three Rivers Festival chief Jack Hammer, said she appreciates Miranda’s anything-for-a-laugh ethos.
“She has no shame,” she said. “It’s worth it to watch because she is such a ham.”
Part of the character’s appeal, Jaxtheimer said, can be chalked up to a certain guilelessness. Miranda may say and do awful things at times, but her childlike nature robs viewers of the usual indignation.
“The whole thing is that she’s very innocent,” she said. “She doesn’t know when she’s making jokes. She makes a lot of innuendos and double entendres but her persona doesn’t know that they are funny or inappropriate.”
Ellison said she wasn’t sure Miranda wasn’t real until she stumbled upon the videos that Ballinger posts as herself under the PsychoSoprano tag.
“I was like, ‘Thank goodness that is not a real person,’” she said. “‘Because that would be so sad. I would feel so bad for them.’”
When people realize how different Miranda Sings and Colleen Ballinger are, Ellison said, it just makes Miranda funnier.
“After I realized she wasn’t real,” she said, “I spent the next month to two months basically going through and watching every single video she’d made.”
Rumor has it that Ballinger will make one or more appearances as herself during Miranda’s live show (one should expect a performance of her popular song about internet trolls, “Reading Mean Comments”).
And those who can’t make the live show will be able to sample Miranda’s wares in October when Netflix’ debuts a series based on the character called, “Haters Back Off.”
Ballinger told the MLive Media Group in 2012 that she feels immensely lucky for the turn her career has taken.
“I can travel the world and be a goofball and make people laugh,” she said. “It’s kind of ironic to be making a living doing what I was told (in college) not to do.”
She knows such fame can be ephemeral.
“I live every day like this could be the last one, like people could be over this tomorrow,” she said. “I don’t know when it’s going to end. I would totally understand and I’d move on to something else.”