As people felt isolated in quarantine due to the pandemic, many sought a sense of community through digital platforms, which brought vastly increased opportunities for content creators on sites like YouTube, TikTok and Instagram. Two New Yorkers stepped up with their decisive opinions, senses of humor and thoughtful takes on reality TV and pop culture.
Staten Island-born and raised Kempire has been commenting on hot topics in pop culture for the past 15 years. It began with an online radio station, Kempire Radio, talking about television and music and interviewing artists like Brandy, Danity Kane, JoJo and Musiq Soulchild. One night he interviewed Oprah Winfrey.
Always a passion project, the pandemic shifted his perspective. While he kept his corporate job until last month, working from home gave him the flexibility to get his work done and also think about making content creation his full-time occupation. Step one of the plan was to go from audio and the occasional video to completely video.
“I built an audience on TikTok just talking about hot topics and recapping reality TV,” said Kempire, who brings daily and consistent hot topics—even posting videos and doing live chats during a recent European trip. “Doing a variety of different content, I built a huge community. We’re almost at 200,000 followers there.”
He already had the Kempire Daily YouTube channel, but he hadn’t used it much. So, he decided to put up videos every single day for three months. “With the consistency, we were building,” Kempire said. “It has just blown up. … This past summer, I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this full-time.’”
His audience flocks to his live chats about the Real Housewives shows that air on the Bravo network. Prior to the past two years, those shows have been largely segregated with Black casts on the Potomac and Atlanta franchises, and all white casts in the other cities, something Kempire found particularly frustrating for his hometown.
“New York is the greatest city in the world because of the diversity, and one of the things I always say when we talk about the Real Housewives of New York is how it doesn’t really reflect the New York that I know and love and I think a lot of people know and love,” said Kempire. “Growing up in New York and around different cultures has really helped shape my view on life and the world.”
For many viewers, live chats give participants the sense of connection they’ve craved during these past 20 months. “It has connected me with some really smart, funny, interesting personalities,” said Kempire, who also does a podcast where he drops some exclusive tea. “That’s why I love having people call in and share their thoughts. I could literally talk for hours about the topic, but I also learn from people calling in. I have eye-opening moments all the time.”
He is a fan of the old-school talk-show format where hosts talked to the audience, and has always wanted to have his own daytime talk show. “The future of daytime may be on YouTube,” said Kempire, who can be found at TheKempire.com. “That ultimately would be fun for me to have an actual studio audience and interact with them.”
The Brooke Ashley
Growing up in New Rochelle, The Brooke Ashley—the way she refers to herself on YouTube and social media—was just a short train ride into Manhattan where she could experience firsthand the rush of excitement the city offers, from its glamour to its grit.
“Living in New York, it’s an experience unlike any other,” she said. “The culture and being exposed to the art and the fashion and so many people from different walks of life really does play a part. It sort of infused my creativity. I always knew I wanted to be in entertainment.”
What people see in videos and on social media is her true personality. “I’m very vibrant, very in your face,” said Ashley, who launched her YouTube channel in September 2019.
A fan of reality TV, she began watching Bravo’s Real Housewives shows as a teenager. She built a large following on Twitter, live tweeting as episodes aired, and followers encouraged her to start doing videos. Her animated recaps make for animated content and there are always flowers and a bottle of champagne alongside her. In early videos she also did some lifestyle commentary and luxury unboxing, which she plans to return to in the future.
“I always felt there was a missing perspective on Housewives shows,” Ashley said. “It’s me noticing those little details somebody else might have skipped. Like, ‘There wasn’t enough food at this event. Who does that?’ I like to think that my commentary is very lively. It’s honestly how I feel about things.”
The world hitting pause during the pandemic pushed Ashley to improve her delivery and production, knowing she was playing to an audience desperately wanting to be entertained. Being at home gave her time to focus on details she wanted to improve, such as reworking her set and finetuning her skills, including editing.
“Learning how to do sound effects and adding funny little videos in to make the video pop even more,” she said. “Perfecting my craft.
“My subscribers are a community; we’re like a family in the comments,” she added. “I like that people feel welcome.”
She focuses full-time on content creation. In addition to YouTube, she can be found on Twitter @TheBrookAsh. Sponsor support has grown—including candle and wine companies—and she’s looking forward to more collaborations with other content creators and with sponsors.
“A lot of Black-owned businesses have started reaching out to me,” Ashley said. “It’s been really awesome. These are all brands I believe in. This is such a dream.”