Austin Mahone, a sixteen-year-old from San Antonio, is riding the wave of viral videos and mass Twitter followings up to the ranks of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Though still learning the basics ("And how do I know if they want an encore?"), Mahone's ability to charm nearly half a million female fans before even getting a record label is a jaw-dropping feat to music industy veterans. For the June 2012 issue of TEXAS MONTHLY, Katy Vine got to spend some time with Mahone as he, his mom, and music business professionals charted his path to global fame.
How did you discover Austin?
I began seeing his name in a few local newspapers, but more than the articles, the slide shows depicting girls swarming him got me interested.
What drew you most to him as the subject of a story?
The fact that he was ascending into that weird world of pop stardom sold me, and the fact that it was happening so quickly. I’m not a performer and I never had any desire to be hugely famous; to me, it seems like a hard existence with very little privacy. Every word and move is dissected. So I had to wonder why anyone in his right mind would want this. But Austin showed me how much his fans’ validation meant to him.
Seven years ago you wrote a story on another rising teen star—of a completely different brand—Brooklyn Pope. Aside from the obvious differences between the world of pop music and that of women’s basketball, how do their stories compare?
I thought about Brooklyn and some other teenagers I’d interviewed over the years when I prepared to talk to Austin. Brooklyn was really fun to talk to, particularly when she was with her friends, and I thought about interviewing Austin and his friends together, as I had with Brooklyn. But it turned out that when he was alone he gave a great interview. He’d clearly reflected a lot on his circumstances and could elaborate on his answers, which is hard for most people to do, especially a teenager.
Austin’s success is largely dependent on his ability to share the details of his life with fans via social media. Do you think this is sustainable?
My inclination is to say that as long as he is alive and social media is alive, this would be sustainable. But honestly, I have no idea.
How did Austin feel about being featured in TEXAS MONTHLY?
If he didn’t like being interviewed, he hid his feelings well.
Was there a clear line between Austin the Rising Star and Austin the 16-year-old boy? What was he like when he wasn’t focusing on the music business?
When he wasn’t focusing on the music, he was like any other kid, I think, although it has been awhile since I’ve been around teenagers so maybe I’m wrong. He was texting a lot. I hear that’s common. This is making me sound like I’m doing an anthropological study: "We hear it is common for the sixteen-year-old males to be on their cellular phones."
What does he want to do if he doesn’t make it as a global star?
Sit around devastated, near as I can tell. He didn’t even want to think about Plan B right now.
What do you think distinguishes Austin from all the others hoping to go from
YouTube sensations to the next Justin Bieber?
That’s so hard for me to say because I’m so much older than his intended audience. He’s a good singer and dancer, but many YouTube sensations are good singers and dancers. So there’s something else about him that is driving the popularity. I’m going to guess—again, I’m the old-lady anthropologist here—that the young ladies find him handsome. He can be really funny too. Have you seen the photo of him wearing a fake mustache?
Austin’s popularity is—as proven at Millennium Park—beyond his control, and on the business side of things he politely defers to adults. Other than just being himself, what does Austin bring to the table in shaping his career path?
Well, when you think about it, “the brand” of Austin Mahone is all about him being himself, so that’s a lot of power right there. If he goes global, selling that becomes the marketing team’s job. But right now he’s marketing himself on social media. So he’s doing most of the heavy lifting. He lets adults talk about him as much as they want, but ultimately he and his mom make the decisions, and Austin has control. He can’t affect his fans’ behavior, but nobody can do that.
What was the most memorable encounter you had with his fans?
Definitely the girl who walked up to him and told him, “I’m gonna pee my pants.” That’s not a line I’ve heard before.