NORFOLK — Scroll down to the bottom of the dozens of posts on 13-year-old Jeffrey Eli Miller’s Vine page, and you can witness the start of something big. In the six-second video clip titled “my first vine:)” he sings a single line, his lilting voice nimble, the melody growing entrancing as the clip loops.
That introduction last November on Vine, the video-sharing service, launched Miller on his path to national attention — enough to attract 1.2 million followers and land him a recent appearance on “Good Morning America.” Host Michael Strahan introduced him by noting that “they’re comparing him to Justin Bieber.” He clarified: “The early Justin Bieber.”
Watch: Miller’s appearance on ‘Good Morning America’
(July 2, 2014)
You’d never guess the unassuming eighth-grader — braces on his teeth, his oversized plaid shirt hanging loosely — has an international stage tucked in his bedroom, where he records his Vines.
At the Millers’ comfortable home on a quiet back road in Norfolk, there are more pugs (Zoe and Zeppelin) than paparazzi. A middle child between brothers Ronan, 9, and dePaul, 16, Miller has a confident manner, and everything about him suggests a boy still growing into his future self.
Some of his appeal is doubtless a product of the contrast between his boy-next-door appearance and the next-big-thing potential of his voice. He also has a knack for homing in on lines that showcase his talents. A decade’s worth of 30-second “American Idol” auditions have made impatient judges out of all of us, so Miller stands out for making his case so clearly, and in a fraction of the time.
“This is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Miller said with a smile. “I see myself making a career out of this and following my dream.”
Watch: Globe reporter Michael Andor Brodeur visits Miller
Mother Cindy, 49, and father Jeff, 48, recall noticing their son’s singing voice back when he was a 3-year-old Wiggles fan wielding a toy microphone, but prior to his Vine stardom, his only forays into performance had been a role as Bob Cratchit in a school production of “A Christmas Carol” and a general tendency toward showmanship around the house. “He’s always been an entertainer,” Cindy said. He just required an audience.
After finishing sixth grade, Miller signed up for an Instagram account and posted a couple of 15-second videos of him singing. “I got 3,000 followers,” he said, the surprise of it still apparent in his voice. “I showed it to my mom and she freaked out. She said, ‘What are you doing? Delete that Instagram now!’ ”
He dutifully did as he was told, but continued to haggle for opportunities to get his voice online, eventually scoring permission to post a YouTube video of his rendition of Lulu and the Lampshades’ viral hit “Cups (You’re Gonna Miss Me).”
Watch: Miller’s first Vine
(Nov. 30, 2013)
It was then he noticed Vine popping up on friends’ phones at school, and after three months of begging his folks, they relented and allowed him to sign up. Victorious, and possibly emboldened by his auditorium-rousing performance of Rihanna’s “Stay” at his middle school’s variety show (a video is on his YouTube page), Miller posted his first two Vines: bits from the One Direction song “Little Things” and The Neighbourhood’s “Sweater Weather.”
Posting at a steady clip through the winter, he watched his 700 followers quickly become 7,000. By the end of March, it was 100,000. Focusing almost entirely on others’ songs, he has posted performances of lines from Tori Kelly, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, and, in one instance, Sara Bareilles’s “Brave” as a way to speak out against bullying — a fight he knows well online and off.
Soon, his posts were getting revined (the Vine equivalent of retweeting), remixed, and used for impromptu low-tech duets by other Viners. He landed on Vine’s “Popular” list and was featured on the site’s front page. Fan posts sprang up, and the loop counters on his video clips shot through the millions. At press time, viewers had watched more than 235 million loops of his clips.
Miller’s parents are mystified by their son’s newfound fame.
“It’s amazing,” said Jeff Miller. “Initially, it freaked us out. As parents, at first you’re thinking, ‘Do I really want to allow my child to be out on the Internet?’ ”
Deciding which apps to let him use as he ventured into the public eye meant balancing the impulse for protection (online comments can get very nasty very quickly) with their son’s desire for exposure.
“We had to ask ourselves how much of what we’re doing is squashing what he’s trying to do,” Cindy Miller said. “Listen to him, he’s got this voice. So we’re trying to find a happy medium.”
Still, his parents are seizing the moment. Jeffrey hasn’t been approached by any labels yet, but last month he performed for a crowd of 2,000 at the San Diego social-music festival Brave Fest, and his first single, “Double Tap,” a tale of social-media heartbreak, was released through iTunes in June, with a video due out on Tuesday. (The song was penned by Perry Mapp and Balewa Muhammad — the latter a co-writer of songs for Christina Aguilera and Justin Bieber — who contacted Miller after following him on Vine.)
And Jeffrey’s momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing. A Vine clip recorded during an interview with the Globe had been looped more than 90,000 times within an hour of being posted.
“If I had Vine,” said his dad, “I’d follow him.”
Miller’s fast rise mirrors that of the Twitter-owned video-sharing service itself; since its launch in January 2013, Vine has attracted 40 million users. And Vine celebrity has already become a launching pad for other musical artists, including the husband-and-wife folk-pop act Us the Duo, who signed a deal with Republic Records, and 15-year-old Shawn Mendes, whose self-titled debut EP on Island Records hit number one on iTunes within 37 minutes of its release.
Stephanie Kellar, an assistant professor of music business/management at Berklee College of Music, wouldn’t be surprised if the Millers soon had record labels knocking on their door. For labels, the assurance of a built-in fan base is still paramount for new talent (a requirement realized in the old days by getting in the van and touring), and the advantage of a short-form service like Vine is that it often leaves listeners wanting more.
“It’s like a teaser,” she said. “If you can put these out and pique people’s curiosity, they’ll do a search to find more.”
Watch: Miller sings a cover of ‘Stay’ by Rihanna