Soon after Dale Orlando got an Instagram account, he disabled the notifications. Within a couple months, the 47-year-old personal injury partner at McLeish Orlando LLP in Toronto had amassed thousands of followers. His iPhone was going berserk. Why all the attention? These followers are huge fans — of his 13-year-old son.
That’s right. Johnny Orlando is a YouTube star. It began in late 2011, when his older sister Darian made a video of him performing “Mistletoe” by Justin Bieber. She filmed it on an iPhone in the front yard and asked her parents if she could put it on YouTube. “We weren’t too keen on the idea,” says Dale, “but we figured nobody was going to watch it.”
The video garnered nearly 10,000 views. So, they made a second one (another Bieber cover), which raked in 50,000 views and was entered in a “Bieber-Off” contest by American radio personality Ryan Seacrest. Five years later, Johnny’s still going strong, doling out videos of himself singing covers and original songs. He now has about 1.5 million YouTube subscribers and 1.9 million Instagram followers.
Darian, who is now 18, monitors Johnny’s YouTube analytics and posts once a day on his social media accounts. “You want to give followers a small look into your everyday life,” she says. “That way, they’ll come back each day to see what you’re up to.” Her industry knowledge is self-taught. Darian still films and edits most of Johnny’s music videos, and has writing credits on a handful of songs.
Since Johnny blew up, the whole family has gained a lot of attention — even their Maltese puppy, Bentley, has 171,000 Instagram followers. If Dale posts a family photo, it receives about 6,000 likes. If Bentley posts a photo of himself with a chew toy? 12,200. And Johnny’s diehard fans regularly engage with McLeish Orlando’s Twitter account (@mcleishorlando) and retweet anything Dale-related.
Dale’s wife, Meredith, spent the last year and a half living in L.A. with the four kids and Bentley. Doing so allowed the kids to become permanent U.S. residents and, as of this August, dual citizens. This will help Johnny’s career down the line, should he choose to live or work in the States. During the family’s time in L.A., Dale would work in Toronto during the week and fly to L.A. most weekends for “Johnny business” — concerts, radio-show appearances, video recordings. Now they’re all back in Toronto.
“Dale’s become an expert in social media,” says Joe Cescon, a junior partner at McLeish Orlando. “When I joined, these guys were still walking around with their BlackBerrys on their hip. Now, Dale will come in and tell me about the latest social media fad, whether it’s an app or a new website. It used to be the total opposite.”
This story is from our Winter 2016 issue.