The Aquinian (St. Thomas University)
My story is a bit different. It’s one I haven’t really told anyone before.
I’m an internet kid — I always have been. At 13 years old I was running my own video game forum website and at 14, the site grew to have over 14,000 members. I wasn’t the most social kid, so this took up a lot of my free time. When I got bored of my site, I shifted my attention to the emerging YouTube. I created my own account in July 2006.
I can’t quite remember how I stumbled across “kidrauhl,” Justin Bieber’s account, but it must have been around February 2007. I had just turned 15, and Bieber was about to turn 13.
He had about 10 videos up on his account. They were all shot with low quality cameras and ranged anywhere from a cover of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” to break-dancing to Michael Jackson. Regardless, I was impressed with the kid’s talent and shot him a quick message: “Keep it up.”
It was his mother, Pattie Mallette, who responded. That was the beginning of our internet friendship.
Think that’s weird? Trust me, I know.
I was dealing with some of the hardest moments in my life as a teen. I’ve always kept to myself, which often led me to bottle everything up. I was depressed, my self-esteem was at an all-time low, and nobody knew it but me.
That is, until I told Pattie.
After several weeks of exchanging emails back and forth, I somehow ended up spilling my private life. I never told her specifically what I was going through, but she figured it out. She had gone through the same things. She shared her story with me and offered her help and prayers.
And so there I was: not willing to trust anyone near me, but the anonymity of the internet allowed me to open up to someone half-way across the country.
I began to look forward to Pattie’s responses. My YouTube messages were often the first things I checked when I got home from school. It felt nice to have someone to talk to. Eventually we ended up speaking to each other mostly through Skype.
And yes, of course, this was all at the same time Bieber’s fame was on the rise. In the early stages, I got involved in a promotion group on YouTube. Pattie was one of the founders. I later left the group after it fell under heavy scrutiny from the YouTube community — rumours circulated that the group’s main owner was a pedophile.
So four other members and I started our own collaboration. We made videos together, and Bieber also went his own way. When my group, dubbed “TeenTubers,” met its inevitable failure, I quit the YouTube community and went back to my old website. For Bieber, however, things were going up.
I remained in contact with Pattie for a while after. She told me several record labels were looking at Justin and big things were going to come.
But she was still very worried for her son — he was in his rebel years. She was a single mother trying to cope with a teenaged son with a big ego.
It’s odd now, looking back and realizing a 30-year-old was getting support from a 16-year-old. She told me about Justin getting in fights in school and how they were drifting apart. She worried for him. She worried a lot. She was especially concerned that he was growing up to be like his then-troubled father.
I never really talked to Justin himself — besides the few odd times he would jump on his mom’s Skype. His life kept getting crazier. Soon, he and Pattie were flying out to places to meet with high-profile celebrities like Scooter Braun, Usher and Justin Timberlake.
I still remember Pattie sending me the original version of “One Time” long before its official release. I was disappointed in it, but congratulated them all the same. I had no idea it would go on to get almost 400 million hits on YouTube alone.
As Bieber got bigger — and as I started to grow up — contact between Pattie and I gradually waned. I remember once receiving the message, “Can’t talk, on the way to the Junos — watch it!”
I had Pattie on Facebook and I got to talk to her the odd time, but it was difficult. They were now famous and very, very busy.
It was interesting seeing the posts by celebrities like Stephen Baldwin and Asher Roth on Pattie’s wall. She tried to keep her status updates relevant, but eventually she — and Justin — were just too well known. (Too well known and impossible to talk to.)
After several failed attempts to communicate, I knew it was time to delete them from my life. So I did.
Now, it’s all just a really odd story. Who would have thought?
I consider myself as distant from “The Biebs” as anybody else. I wish he wasn’t a manufactured product, but that’s the price of success sometimes.
Regardless, I’m glad he posted those videos on YouTube five years ago. That friendship with Pattie was important — no matter how brief it was.
Photo: Tom Bateman/The Aquinian)