June 14, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

A Vegas singer’s viral TikTok videos lead to a Super Bowl ad

TikTok users will hear a familiar voice among the Super Bowl commercials on Sunday — Christian Shelton, the 19-year-old Las Vegas college student who has racked up millions of likes on the platform for his rousing covers of pop songs.

The job search firm Indeed.com recruited Shelton to sing his version of the inspirational Andra Day ballad “Rise Up” for a 60-second spot titled “The Rising” that depicts Americans hit by joblessness during the COVID-19 pandemic looking toward a brighter future.

“It’s a song of progress and getting past things — and hope,” Shelton said by phone from his family’s suburban Las Vegas home. “I was so grateful to Indeed for reaching out.”

Shelton talked about his cover of “Rise Up” with The Times before the presidential election last fall, for an article about how he, his father, Allen; his older brother, Allen Jr.; and his grandfather Curtis Shelton felt as Black men living through the Trump era.

An anthem about conquering adversity, “Rise Up” has special meaning for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas opera student and his family.

His father was the one who initially encouraged him to post a cover of the song on TikTok in June to show support for protests against racism and police brutality after the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis.

“It’s been the soundtrack for a lot of movements, but with the Black Lives Matter movement, it has a whole new meaning,” Christian Shelton said.

Fame has come suddenly for Shelton.

His TikTok account has swelled from a handful of followers at the start of the pandemic to more than 675,000 because of viral videos showing him singing covers by Day, Beyonce, Corinne Bailey Rae and others. In the process, he has won praise from the likes of Lizzo for his vocal talent.

Now his uplifting style will be a part of America’s most-watched TV event, with 100 million viewers expected to tune in Sunday as the Kansas City Chiefs face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Given that millions of Americans remain jobless during the sluggish economic recovery, the team developing the commercial loved the forward-looking message of “Rise Up,” but rather than use Day’s version in the Super Bowl ad, they thought it would be even more inspiring to showcase the skills of an up-and-coming artist, said Jennifer Warren, the company’s vice president of global brand marketing.

“The hardest part was finding someone who has the chops to do it — we found Christian on TikTok and he just blew us away,” Warren said. “His soul, his ‘everything’s going to be all right’ attitude … he was just so positive.”

Day, who wrote the song, liked Shelton’s cover and signed off on using him for the commercial, Warren said.

The version viewers will hear in the commercial was made especially for that purpose, Shelton said. He recorded it at home in the family’s upstairs game room after Indeed contacted him in January.

This isn’t Shelton’s only recent stroke of good fortune. The social-media company just named him as one of its “Black TikTok Trailblazers” to celebrate Black History Month.

The list, drawn from nominations by users, honors TikTok stars who are “using their platform to educate, entertain, and advocate for the Black community.”

Shelton sounded thrilled and humbled by the recognition.

“I think it’s really special that people were able to feel something from my videos that made them nominate me,” he said.