Lele Pons & Rudy Mancuso Talk Moving From Social Media Stardom to Wider Success

Vine is relegated to the Wikipedia history books, but many of its practitioners have leapfrogged from it into fruitful careers. And in the social media realm in 2019, everything from YouTube to Instagram continues to be a goldmine for talent discovery, whether it be music, comedy or a little of everything.

Lele Pons and Rudy Mancuso both started on Vine and have become multi-hyphenate success stories. On Tuesday morning (April 22), they stopped by Billboard Latin Music Week at Las Vegas' The Venetian to talk about their paths and their futures. They were joined by Shots Studios co-founder John Shahidi, whom both artists teamed up with years ago, in a chat hosted by CAA's Bruno del Granado.

The trio shared advice about moving from YouTube/social media star to wider career success, emphasizing that authenticity just can't be faked. A common theme that ran through the chat was a simple rule that's worth repeating: "Don’t do it if you just want to be famous or popular," Pons said, explaining her mixture of comedy skits, singing, hosting gigs, directing and beyond are all about "fun -- I don't see it as a job."

"None of us ever tried to get followers," said Mancuso, who's released four singles and directed numerous videos but is currently eying a major project that they could only tease.

"I'm putting together an instrumental album in the vein of film scores, like Hans Zimmer," Mancuso said. Shahidi elaborated without tipping their hand too much: "He's directing three episodes of a huge TV/film franchise out in June. Rudy directed three episodes and did the score and music."

Both Pons and Mancuso spoke to a restless drive to evolve and brushed off the idea of stretching yourself too thin. "Try to stay true to yourself," Pons said. "Do it because you love to create, not to be popular or because you want money."

Shahidi says they turn down about 90% of brands that reach out to them. A recent collaboration they did greenlight teamed Pons with Jack in the Box. Shahidi explained why this one worked: "It's gotta be funny," he said. "Allow us to incorporate in our style [to the collaboration] and we'll make sure your products and style looks cool." And although he says the corporate client naturally has approval, the key is to "let us do it our way."

As for challenges facing people in the "influencer" realm (although Pons made clear she prefers simply to be seen as an "entertainer"), Shahidi noted increasing corporate skittishness over future controversies.

"They're paying attention to 'who are we not going to regret,'" Shahidi says of brands looking to partner with influencers. "They want to make something that will move the needle at a corporate shareholders meeting ... and with someone who isn’t going to make some stupid video in six months that Good Morning America will be talking about. … That [market] is shrinking." To that end, they avoid cursing and depicting violence in their content.

It also means they choose their causes carefully. "Our social message is just being positive," Shahidi said, noting that 80% of their audience is younger than 26. "We have a social responsibility… even something as small as having a bad flight, we don’t publicly vent about it."

That doesn't mean there's no activism, though. "We have a personal responsibility," Mancuso said. "It's vital to our business and us as human beings."

Pons has been outspoken about bullying and performed at Venezuela Live Aid at the request of Richard Branson, while Mancuso covered Queen's "You're My Best Friend" to benefit the Phoenix Mercury Trust when Bohemian Rhapsody came out. Those were personal causes for the two.

"Feedback was overwhelmingly positive because they were able to understand we mean it," Mancuso said. "People are smart and observant and they know when you're doing it for the right reasons."

"The world is transparent," Shahidi said. "People know if you're BS-ing or not."


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