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James Charles instant influencer youtube show
Photography Jon Sams, via @jamescharles

James Charles’s Instant Influencer could give us the beauty icon we deserve

TextDominic Cadogan

The make-up artist and YouTuber just launched his new web series, injecting much-needed life, diversity, and fun into a classic format

In 2020, ‘influencer’ is something of a dirty word. Unsurprising, given that the worst of them scam their followers, make extremely questionable content, and are often involved in endless petty squabbles

In the world of beauty, influencers are the new rockstars. The royal family includes the likes of James Charles, NikkieTutorials, Jaclyn Hill, and Jackie Aina – all boasting millions of adoring fans, who want to be just like them when they grow up. With the number of influencers growing so rapidly though, the state of the industry today is very different to when these OG names first started out. Feuds have become an easy selling tool rather than genuine personality and the dizzying wealth of the top dogs takes your fave YouTuber from your online BFF to a rich stranger giving you a tour of their $14.6m mansion. 

At the end of last year, James Charles announced that he would be launching a YouTube series entitled Instant Influencer, to find the next big name in beauty. “Being a superstar influencer takes a whole lot more than just blending eyeshadow,” he said at the time; cue a giant eye roll from everyone, this writer included. Remember when he called for better influencer representation after attending the 2019 Met Ball? Yet, the show – that debuted its first episode last Friday – is proving that influencing successfully might be harder than we thought. 

In the first episode we are introduced to the six contestants, Benny, Christian (AKA Indigo), Britany, Kailin, Gabriel, and Ashley. Even just a mere five years ago – a year before James Charles became the first face of CoverGirl – it’s hard to imagine the majority of these contestants being celebrated in the mainstream as they are in Instant Influencer.

While the likes of Katy Perry and Zendaya celebrated James’s appearance in the ad, many threatened to boycott the brand, so it’s great to see so many male-identified contestants present and being celebrated by the fans already, as well as those who didn’t grow up as privileged as the host did. In the opening scenes, Indigo opens up on his experiences with homelessness after his dad was deported last year, while Gabriel reflects on growing up in foster care. After moving out of her parent’s house aged 15, Britany currently has two full-time jobs just to stay afloat.

The first main challenge sees the contestants thrown into the deep end, given just three hours to plan, film, and edit a product launch video. Mini challenge winner Ashley grabs a wand of blue mascara, while Kailin settles for a beauty sponge, Gabriel takes on the tall order of selling James’s own palette with (misplaced) confidence. Sounds easy enough, you might be thinking, but striking the right balance doesn't prove so easy, and watching the finished products during deliberation, it’s easy to see how easy it is to slip into the trap of trying too hard and not being genuine. 

Permanent judge Norvina, the steely, intensely staring Anastasia Beverly Hills president, holds a magnifying glass to the contestants’ work with her firm but fair critiques. Kailin is praised for her knowledge, but prodded to become more confident while Gabriel is guided to pay closer attention to details. Guest judge Paris Hilton (and every gratuitous shot of her tongue-lolling dog) provides constant entertainment – “I’d wear your jacket to Burning Man,” she affirms to one. With the contestants excused to go wait it out, the judges go in on a granular level, not unlike the hordes of people on social media. 

“Coming from humble beginnings and tutored by some of the best names in the industry, this could be the next generation of beauty influencers that we deserve; ones that champion creativity and community over scams and scandals”

Regardless of your personal feelings towards James Charles, it feels right for him to be opening the door for the next generation of young, make-up-obsessed teens and catapulting them into the spotlight. When he strips away the peppy OTT YouTuber facade – he said “sister” no less than 15 times in the 42-minute episode – he comes across as measured, offering real advice and showing genuine care for the contestants.

In a heartwarming scene after – spoiler – Britany is eliminated, James makes her promise she won’t forget what makes her special and to pay attention to the teachings she learned from her time on the show. You can see he genuinely cares about her future and gets her to plug her channel so everyone at home can fall in love with her too. The contestants too show their affection for one another, celebrating each other’s success – a breath of fresh air for a competition-style show. 

In the four part-long series, a winner will be crowned, bagging a full lighting and videography package worth $10,000, but more importantly, a collaboration with James Charles on his channel with over 18.4m followers, and a cash prize of $50,000. Coming from humble beginnings and tutored by some of the best names in the industry, this could be the next generation of beauty influencers that we deserve; ones that champion creativity and community over scams and scandals.

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