When the history of YouTube stardom is written, singer Christina Grimmie will be front and center in it. Perhaps more than anyone not named Justin Bieber, Christina took the following she amassed on social media and used it to gain the attention of the music industry. She became part of a new generation of artists who started as fans, singing covers of their favorite artists, and then used their fandom to propel themselves to fame.
Tragically, Christina was fatally shot last night after playing a concert in Orlando, Florida. She died from her injuries a few hours later, at the too-young age of 22. I heard the news when I woke up this morning. I was stunned. I sat jaw-dropped in front of my computer reading whatever information I could find while listening to her music.
I’ve been a fan of Christina’s for years. I first remember seeing her on YouTube when she was covering songs, and I was so excited when I saw her on The Voice in 2014. It’s not very often that you can watch someone grow from relative obscurity to stardom online, but this new generation of YouTube artists is changing the game. Just as they did with Christina, the fans are starting to notice the stars before the industry ever does.
For Christina, it all started on YouTube when she joined as zeldaxlove64 on February 9, 2009. In the seven years that followed, she gained over 3 million subscribers and her videos have been viewed over 378 million times. Every song she covered or wrote herself became a sort of power ballad with her intense voice. No matter what the song was, Christinia always brought a new dimension to it. You often see people in comments of cover songs saying “this was better than the original.” Christina was no exception to that.
Christina gained wider fame as a contestant on the sixth season of The Voice when she delivered a stunning rendition of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” during her blind audition. Every judge turned their chair. They fought to have her on their team. She picked Adam Levine, who was enamored with how much of a natural she was as a stage performer, and the Maroon 5 frontman mentored her throughout her time on the show. Even before the end of the season, Adam said he wanted to sign her to a record deal regardless of whether she won. Christina made it to the finals and placed third, and ultimately signed with Island Records. She continued producing music after being dropped from the label, releasing several singles and an album, and she opened the iHeartRadio Music Festival in September 2015. For Christina Grimmie, her star was on the rise.
By all accounts, fame didn’t change her. If anything, it made who she always was shine through even more. She always looked like she was having fun. She relished the opportunity to live her dream without compromising the dreamer who worked so hard to get there. Her fans loved her for it. Even her story inspired them. She was a video gamer who loved The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (hence her username), making her instantly relatable to those who found her online. She was a Christian who said she sang for Jesus. She also sang for her mother, who survived three battles with breast cancer. When Christina auditioned for The Voice, she told the judges that she never expected her mom to be able to see her perform on something like the show. Her mom was backstage, proudly watching on as Christina seized her opportunity to chase her dream.
As I write this now, I’m not sure what else to say. It’s a strange thing, feeling like you know someone who you’ve never actually met before or feeling sad when they’re gone. All I know is that her star shined brighter than most. She brought joy to millions of people around the world, and, even though she’s gone, I think she will continue to do just that. Because she was everything we want stars to be. She was a good person. She loved her family. She sought fame for all the right reasons. She was someone who loved what she did and made people happy while doing it. She may have gained fame as Christina Grimmie of The Voice, but she never stopped being the young woman who sang cover songs on YouTube.
Goodbye zeldaxlove64. The world’s a little less bright without you in it, but so much brighter because you were.