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Can YouTube stars find fame offline?

My favorite YouTube star/enigma of the moment, Tay Zonday, was on Jimmy Kimmel Live Wednesday night, showering the late-night show host and his audience with a deluge of “Chocolate Rain.” Jimmy Kimmel isn’t the only non-YouTube personality who has caught on. Even singer/guitarist John Mayer caught Zonday’s video, which led him to present a slightly NSFW spoof on VH1’s Best Week Ever.

Still, if you don’t know who Tay Zonday is don’t feel bad; I only heard about him a few weeks ago when my cube neighbor, Chris Schonberger, sent me a link to the video below, of a man singing in a very deep voice. Days later, I was still astounded, sending Chris IM inquiries like: “Who is this guy?” and “Is this a joke?” Usually, Chris seemed as clueless as I did. Hence:

Me: What is”Chocolate Rain” about?
Chris: Everything.

OK, so maybe it isn’t about everything. This L.A. Times article (believably) points to racism as the song’s subject. But it takes a while to get past Zonday’s low voice, and the awkward way he leans away from the mic about 40 every seconds (to breathe in, he tells us). Did you notice the reactions from Kimmel’s audience? They range from utterly confused to hysterical.

But with more than 4.5 million views recorded, perhaps people have listened to “Chocolate Rain” enough times to realize it’s more than just an Internet joke.

This got me thinking about YouTube celebrities like Esmée Denters, the Dutch teenager, who got Justin Timberlake’s attention from videos of her singing songs like Beyoncé’s”Irreplaceable,” Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” and Mario’s “Let me Love You.” JT has signed her on his new label and will be bringing the Internet phenomenon on tour with him this summer. (Really, who needs American Idol when you have YouTube?)

Even the foul-mouthed shoe-fetishist Kelly (a.k.a. Liam Sullivan) has a viable YouTube following, not to mention, follow-up. Watch Sullivan’s brand-new (and still NSFW) clip, in which Hollywood execs try to make Kelly a household name.

Well, can they? Do those “Hollywood execs” stand a chance with Kelly? Can Tay Zonday make a lasting statement about racism (or anything else) from his low-budget recordings? Will Esmée Denters have a career after Justin’s tour ends?

Sound off below. Answers in the form “Chocolate Rain” renditions are welcome.

Originally posted August 10 2007 — 3:28 PM EDT

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