Unsigned singer/pianist Christina Grimmie's story may have started as a small child with a karaoke machine, but over the last year and half, it's found an audience through YouTube.
Grimmie is overtaking her big-name competitors -- including Justin Bieber and Rihanna -- in the My YouTube contest. As of Feb. 2, the 16-year-old held the lead with 153,000 fan votes. Next up was Selena Gomez, with 150,047. Rihanna counted 106,931 votes while Bieber, who first made his mark on the video-sharing site, had tallied 102,000 fan votes.
The My YouTube competition kicked off on Dec. 8, 2010, and ends Feb. 7, with the top five artists gaining massive exposure through placement on YouTube's U.S. and international home pages. Fans drive the votes by subscribing to artist channels, as well as other channels recommended by the 50 acts that YouTube asked to participate.
Video: Christina Grimmie & Sam Tsui, "Just A Dream" by Nelly
"I never actually asked my fans to subscribe to me before the competition started," Grimmie tells Billboard.com. "But it's been huge because I'm competing with established artists. I never really imagined myself being here."
Grimmie, a fixture on Billboard's Social 50 chart since its December launch with a peak thus far at No. 14, has something else in common with fellow competitor Gomez: a manager. Brian Teefey, Gomez's stepfather and part of her management team, reached out to Grimmie through YouTube after she recorded a medley of Miley Cyrus songs last May. The video, which showcases her unplugged piano and big-voice style, has since racked up nearly 4 million views.
Video: Christina Grimmie's Miley Cyrus Medley
Grimmie (YouTube user zeldaxlove64) and her family recently flew to Los Angeles from their New Jersey home in hopes of snagging a record deal. "We just got off the plane not long ago, and I'm going to be singing for a couple of labels this week," Grimmie says, adding that she's saving her own original songs for a proper release.
"I've written songs since I can remember -- I write all the time but I've chosen not to put my originals up," she says. I've had some guidance from my management and together we decided not to post anything. We should wait until labels get in touch with us."
Her approach for now is to cover pop hits and "what people are searching for online" in a race toward one of the top five spots -- if not the winning title -- on My Youtube.