Last month, The Wire’s Allie Jones came across a huge but hidden cultural phenomenon: the online universe of pretty blonde cheerleaders. It doesn’t sound so exciting or new, right? If you saw them in the mall or the airport, you’d probably just think they were like any other high school kids.
But on Instagram they’re massive. So famous that their kind has its own tribal name. They are the “cheerlebrities” of Instagram.
You can’t see them on TV, and they rarely appear in the traditional media. These stars live in your phones, racking up followers by the thousands, and endorsement deals with hair bow companies.
They have fans and they have haters. If MTV did a season of “The Real World” that solely existed inside iPhones, these teen queens would be the stars.
Here’s Gabi with an Instagram video that received about 30,000 “likes.” She’s also a dead ringer for Jessica Alba.
This is 17-year-old Jamie Andries, who has a little over 400,000 followers on Instagram. Her team, the Cheer Athletics Cheetahs, won the 2012 World’s Competition of cheerleading. According to a bio written by a fan, Andries is known for having one of the best “hair poofs” in cheerleading.
The world of cheerleading, heavily based in the South, is not new in pop culture. In 2006, Lifetime created an original series called “Cheerleader Nation,” which followed Dunbar High School Varsity Cheerleaders in Lexington, Ky. Dunbar High School is the only high school to have won the National Cheerleading Competition five years in a row, and the show followed the year leading up to its third-consecutive win. Five girls on the team are the main focus of the show, alongside their parents and siblings.
The video below is a YouTube clip of the National Competition scene from “Cheerleader Nation.”
You can see the intensity of the sport but also the intensity of the parents and the coaches. Even though this video is from nine years ago, the high-stakes world of competitive cheerleading doused in regular high school drama has now just manifested somewhere else: on Instagram.
But there can only be one No. 1, and that title goes to Carley Manning, if Internet cheer forums are to be believed.
Jones writes that “even (Carley’s) boyfriend, Matt, is Instagram-famous. He recently tweeted a photo of two younger kids who dressed up like Carly and Matt for Halloween.”
That’s how you know you’ve made it.
Lindsay D., a 19-year-old cheerleader from Long Island, N.Y., says she just started following Carley and Jamie this year, but “[the cheerleading community has] known about them for the last couple of years.”
“And everyone knows about cheerlebrities,” she adds.
Carley (pictured below) did not respond to interview requests from either The Wire or Business Insider.
She was recently featured in Teen Vogue, where she wrote a column that was published in this month’s issue of the magazine:
When I was about 11 years old, I got Facebook. Around that time there started to be a lot of interest in my all-girl team, the Panthers, because we won Worlds that year. A lot of people on the Panthers started getting Facebook requests from fans. Then we all downloaded Instagram and Twitter, and I started getting lots of followers after Worlds the following year. I would just post pictures with my friends on the team doing baskets and stunting and tumbling, and people would Like them! I honestly don’t know how I got so many followers. I didn’t ask for shoutouts or do anything, but I have 372,000 on Instagram now. It just kind of happened.
These girls are not just pretty faces; they’re talented.
Here’s Carley doing what’s called a “kick full kick full” in a video that received over 30,000 likes:
But not everyone is a fan, and these girls (the majority of them followed by teenagers their own age), don’t always see the nicest things written in comments on their photos. And, fans fight with each other!
These comments appeared under an upload of Jamie:
That’s why the parents stay involved.
“Gabi’s parents seem to know what she’s up to online,” Jones wrote in her article. Sometimes Gabi’s dad “will [help] if I’m having trouble answering messages on Facebook, ’cause it’s to the point of, like, a hundred messages a day.”
Just check out some of these comments:
But Manning writes in Teen Vogue that she remains unfazed by the idea that she’s the nucleus of this phenomenon.
I personally don’t use the term “cheerlebrity,” which is what the internet calls us. In my opinion, cheerleaders aren’t celebrities! We’re athletes who are recognised for hard work and dedication to the sport. And yes, cheer is definitely a sport. We put in so many hours of physical training, killing our bodies to do what we love. I’ve definitely come across people who don’t agree, but that’s because they’ve never seen it. I tell them to come to a practice and watch the tumbling and the stunting and then tell me cheerleading isn’t a sport.