Forbes Magazine on Successful Teen Stars
The recipe for success is to do one thing really well, diversify and go viral.
It's hard enough to land a line in a TV commercial, let alone snag a starring role in a feature film. Or bag a record contract. Or a chunky book advance. Or a big box store endorsement deal.
But achieving all of the above, with some philanthropy on the side? Now that's serious entrepreneurship--and it's all in a day's work for a rarefied clique of teenage celebrity entrepreneurs who have star power to spare.
These preternatural, barely post-pubescent brand-builders have dabbled in multiple entertainment genres, bagged endorsements, raised money for charity and even sold their personal stories and photos to the tabloids.
The path to becoming a multitasking multihyphenate? "Don't try to do it all at first," says Frederick Levy, a Hollywood agent and author of Acting in Young Hollywood. "The most successful tween and teen stars have built either an acting or music career and then branched off into other areas. Once people like you on a television show, they'll buy your albums and your clothes and almost anything else you want to sell."
That's what 16-year-old Taylor Momsen is doing. A cast member on the CW's Gossip Girl, Momsen's manager, Sam Maydew, says her first love has always been music, but "at 12, people won't take you seriously." Now after three successful seasons as Jenny Humphrey, Momsen's musical career is taking off. The lead singer in punk band Pretty Reckless, last year she signed a contract with Interscope Records and will be on the Warped Tour this summer.
Momsen has company among teen celebrities who spread out into other areas, but unlike most, she didn't rise out of the two tween and teen star factories. Entertainment conglomerates The Walt Disney Co. ( DIS - news -people ) and Viacom's ( VIA - news - people ) Nickelodeon are the machines that built A-listers like Miley Cyrus, Hillary Duff and the Jonas Brothers.
"These platforms put celebrities in front of millions of young people," says Mitchell Gossett, an agent with United Talent Agency who represents Victoria Justice, the star of Nickelodeon's Victorious. "Most of these actors are multitalented. Once they've been adopted by Disney or Nickelodeon, they can start marketing ancillary products."
Still, with the changing media landscape, Gossett says even teens who have been crowned by Disney and Nickelodeon as the next sensation must find ways to get their names and faces out to the public virally by cultivating a Web following. Gossett, who formerly represented Miley Cyrus, credits her success to her own knowledge of viral marketing.
"Miley had this machine behind her, but she also knew how to use the Internet to generate the undercurrent for her extraordinary rise," says Gosset. "The machines like Disney are looking to young people to help them figure out how to use the Internet most successfully."
Some entrepreneurial youngsters have found a way to make YouTube a platform for launching their own careers. Sixteen-year-old music sensation Justin Bieber was discovered by agent Scooter Braun through videos he posted on YouTube. Bieber's talent and his YouTube following sparked a bidding war between Usher and Justin Timberlake to sign Bieber to their respective labels. Usher won.
"I used to fly around the country looking for talent, and I still do, but nowadays another way is to spend hours a day on the Internet looking for the next star, " says Gossett.
Miley Cyrus and her Hannah Montana franchise have spawned multimillion-dollar empires both inside and outside Disney. But she's not the only one.