Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mister Chase is among a budding crop of YouTube stars who are hand-synching their way to online fame, performing songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” using American Sign Language

from The NY Times:

As far as YouTube music acts go, Michael Chase DiMartino’s won’t be mistaken for Justin Bieber’s. In a series of videos called Songs in Sign, Mr. DiMartino doesn’t sing, his lip-syncing can be off, and the dancing can be comical.

But one thing he does extremely well is “sing” with his hands. Known to his fans as Mister Chase, he is among a budding crop of YouTube stars who are hand-synching their way to online fame, performing songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” using American Sign Language.

Call it karaoke for the deaf and hearing-impaired. And like LOLcats and the “Stuff People Say” videos, it seems to be a growing Web phenomenon. “Searches for ‘ASL’ over the past few months are the highest we’ve seen them,” said Kevin Allocca, the YouTube trends manager. “And 40 percent of all videos tagged ‘sign language’ on YouTube were posted in just the past year.”

The most popular of those are music based, Mr. Allocca added. Among the most viewed is a video by Stephen Torrence, a clean-cut jocular Texan who performs a self-possessed and humorous hand-sign interpretation of Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” The video has had almost 2 million views.

Another is by Sean Berdy, an 18-year-old actor from Florida, who performs in a sleek and melodramatic version of Enrique Iglesias’s “Hero.” There’s lots of signing in the rain and crying, along with subtitles for those don’t understand A.S.L.

Mr. DiMartino, 27, a pop performer from Manhattan, said he was surprised by the popularity of his hand-sign videos, which have garnered more than a million views. “People just started responding to me, saying: ‘Wow, this is amazing. I can finally feel connected to the music,’ ” he said.

Adrienne Chiusano, 33, a cashier from Lower Burrell, Pa., who is studying to become an A.S.L. teacher, said her daughter, Claudia, 6, is “a very big fan” of Mister Chase. Claudia was born deaf and wears cochlear implants, small microphones that simulate sound. Before Claudia views Mister Chase’s videos, she plugs the implants into her computer’s USB port for a louder experience.

“For a deaf girl, she has so much rhythm and loves music, so she just starts dancing around while she’s watching him sign and she’s trying to mimic his signs,” Ms. Chiusano said.

“Obviously she doesn’t understand the meanings of the songs,” she added, referring to songs like “Womanizer” by Britney Spears. “But she’s just getting such joy out of watching him sign and all the graphics in his videos and the way he dances.”

Being able to enjoy music videos in A.S.L. instead of closed-captioning is important because A.S.L. is its own language, said Keith Wann, 43, from Clearwater, Fla., who hears normally but was born to two deaf parents. Mr. Wann learned sign language before he learned English, and makes his living largely as a comedian for deaf audiences — he calls himself a “deaf person who can hear.”

His break came on YouTube, he said, with a video skit that parodied the difficulties of signing rap music, using the Vanilla Ice song “Ice Ice Baby” as his comedic vehicle. His YouTube channel has had more than 2.4 million views.

“Anything with a video where you can see the sign language, it’s been the best thing for the deaf community,” he said. “It’s a way for us to share our work, whereas before we never could.”