YouTube poster glides into online stardom

The Baltimore Sun

Life generally doesn't move very fast in Kentucky. But for Paducah resident and up-and-coming celebrity William Sledd, it has quickly reached whiplash speed.

Sledd, at 23, has already begun making his name as a fashionista, a Gap manager and a YouTube star. He recently signed a development deal with NBC Universal. He has e-mail to answer, YouTube responses to check and his Web site to maintain. The newest problem: his Internet has been down for hours.

"I just called [Comcast] again," says Sledd. "I asked, 'How much longer are you going to be working on it? Is everyone going home at 5? Should I just give up for the day?'"

Sledd is the writer, director and star of the YouTube series, "Ask a Gay Man." Besides generating millions of hits, the show has more than 51,000 subscribers and features him dishing out witty barbs about fashion follies, flipping his sleek golden hair, doling out sartorial tips and generally being in awe of those in awe of him. On MySpace alone, he has nearly 21,000 friends.

With Sledd's established audience, he is a valuable commodity to a channel like NBC's Bravo unit, with whom he has been speaking.

Sledd wouldn't elaborate on the platform of the show in development but did say, "Everything is falling into place. Everyone wants a little bit of William. The next couple months are going to be big. I can't tell whether this is the beginning of the 15 minutes or the end, and I am just waiting to find out."

Sledd tries to post a new video every other week; most run four to five minutes. His most popular post, "Denim Edition," which first aired Oct. 17, has been viewed more than 2.8 million times - and has garnered dozens of replies-via-video on YouTube. In it he warns of the dangers of "skinny" jeans and "mom" jeans and advocates the use of "boot cuts" and "long and leans" for women. For men, he advises against "carpenters" and super-tight jeans and advocates "low-rise boot cuts."

The cutting fashion wit has been abetted by his career at Gap, where he had been a full-time manager until recently.

"There are a lot of ladies who shop only from William. ... They want William's advice," says Shannon Puckett, 26, a friend of Sledd's for six years. One well-to-do young woman sought out Sledd after buying an expensive fur coat for "a big to-do," Puckett recalls. "William told her it was ugly. ... She just said 'OK, I'll send it back.' People really take his advice."

Sledd says his shows are mostly improvised. "I start thinking of the idea that day. I don't write anything, and I just go with it. Everything is in the moment."

"I get e-mails all the time from gay and lesbian teenagers saying me being open about my sexuality has given them insight that it's OK to be open, and they don't have to hide anything," says Sledd.

But he also regularly receives negative e-mails and response posts and sometimes is derided in public. Puckett was with him on one such occasion.

"We were walking into Best Buy and someone yelled [a gay slur] at him out of the car," she recalls with disdain. "I turned around and had tears in my eyes. I just don't get it."

Paducah is "totally divided. We are in the Bible Belt, and it's a very Christian-oriented town - everything about [it]," Puckett says with a drawl. "There are people who say 'Oh, your best friend is gay? How does your husband feel about that?' But, for the most part, people are accepting."

Sledd tries not to let the barbs get to him.

"I know I'm fabulous. I usually just ignore it," he says. Though Sledd does not consider himself a politically minded person, he addressed slurs against homosexuals in his Sept. 26 post "Reflections of Stupidity."

As for negative posts, he says, "You know how they call MySpace a place for friends? Well, I call YouTube a place for haters. ... Some of these people are cowards - they can hide behind their computers and say whatever they want."

"He doesn't like conflict at all," Puckett says. "He will never act like he is mad, even when we fight," which is rare.

Despite broadcasting his thoughts and feelings on YouTube, Sledd chose not to tell anyone about his posts at first.

"We are a don't-ask-don't-tell kind of family," he says. Even among friends, "I didn't tell a soul, not even my boyfriend."

Puckett says she discovered YouTube - and herself on it - through a friend's MySpace page.

"It said something about William on YouTube, and I thought, 'Hmmm, what's YouTube?' The video up was the video I was in," she recalls. "Of course, I called William screaming. It ended up not being a big deal, but I found out through MySpace."

It seems Sledd found a level of comfort in strangers that he could not find in Paducah.

"One of the things I miss the most about when I first started posting on YouTube and had five to 600 subscribers is, I knew a good deal of them. I started watching all of their videos and it really felt like a community," he says. "I talk to some of those people on the phone to this day. Now I have lost that feeling, because I don't get the same interaction that I used to."

When is William Sledd going to post on YouTube next?

"As soon," he says, "as I get this damn Internet back."

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