Ashleigh Burton shares her journey to success on YouTube
Story by Nathan Morgan | Photos by Ashleigh Burton
With her no-holds-barred personality and unapologetic sense of humor, Ashleigh Burton (’16), also known as Awkward Ashleigh, has built a successful YouTube channel with over 130,000 subscribers. In addition to her Silver Play Button award for cresting the 100,000 subscriber mark, Burton has gained a devoted following of fans who can’t get enough of her candid and unfiltered reactions to an eclectic mix of films, from big-budget blockbusters to cult classics.
Burton, a millennial, watches the movies for the very first time, all the while delivering a fast-paced, and often hysterical review/reaction. Did she like it? Did she not like it? Did it stand the test of time? All, she says, based on personal preference, because “what the hell do I know?”
Burton didn’t grow up watching movies. In fact, she says, if it isn’t a Disney Princess movie, she probably hasn’t seen it.
“I don’t have a lot of memories of going to the movies with my parents. At night when I was at home with the family, we watched Wheel of Fortune, the 6 o’clock news, Law and Order SVU and went to bed. And then of course, if I was watching cartoons, it would be SpongeBob with my brother,” said Burton.
Burton’s journey to YouTube stardom hasn’t been easy. She struggles with depression, which she says can creep in at any time. Talking about it openly has allowed her to connect with her audience, and helping them with their own mental-health struggles has been a source of comfort and purpose. Burton finds solace in knowing that she is helping her audience and de-stigmatizing mental-health issues at the same time.
“I have a whole saying on my channel … where most mornings I get up and I get my Prozac and I drink an energy drink, don’t scold me, it is what it is … and I’m like, ‘Depressed, but faster,’” said Burton.
Ultimately, Burton’s goal is simply to connect with her audience and provide a sense of community for anyone who wants to join what she calls the “Hot Mess Express.” She’s a relatable and authentic voice in the world of YouTube, and she’s making a difference in the lives of her viewers.
“To even know that one person feels less alone because I openly talk about living with depression, forget about it. That’s what makes it worth it to me, that people, if they’re watching my videos, watching my live, or following me on social media … if that makes one person feel less alone, then I know I did my job because I know what it feels like to feel like you’re all alone. And so, that’s probably the coolest part. I mean, the plaque (Silver Play Button), Neato Dorito. The gifts, very cool. But to know that I’m actually making a difference in other people’s lives, and because they’re feeling better, they’re changing other people’s lives, it’s wild to think,” said Burton.
Burton first got her start in media while studying communications at UT Martin, where she worked at the on-campus radio station (WUTM) and learned how to make her personality come through on air and to connect with listeners. Burton credits UT Martin with helping her find and explore her creative side and helping her develop the skills she needed to succeed on YouTube.
After college Burton began a radio career as “Gracie Hopper” on Froggy 103.7’s The Morning Splash. Burton took the skills she learned in radio and applied them to YouTube, where she started posting makeup tutorials and reaction videos for fun. Her first video, which has over 20,000 views to date, is a makeup tutorial. In the video she can be seen sporting a UT Martin football T-shirt, paying homage to her alma mater. Something she does often.
At first her YouTube channel was just a hobby. But after a review of the wildly popular Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, Burton quickly realized she was on to something. She soon realized that people were enjoying her content.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, this is an actual thing that people do,’” said Burton.
“I knew people could do YouTube full time. I never knew how to do it. I never knew how it worked. To be honest with you, I still don’t really know how it works. I’m just riding that wave,” she continued.
Just a little over a year after starting her channel, Burton left her 9-5 job to become a full-time YouTuber.
Today, Burton’s most viewed video is a review of the 1974 American satirical western Blazing Saddles by Mel Brooks, which has received over half a million views. She’s also been recognized in public by fans, and has even started a second channel where she tests out new ideas to see what sticks. Despite the challenges she’s faced navigating the ups and downs of being a content creator, Burton says that her brand is simply being herself and that she hopes her audience will do the same.
She and her husband, Blake Stevens (‘15), whom Burton affectionately calls “hubben” recently moved from Knoxville to Nashville for Stevens’ job. This meant an upgrade for Burton. Now she has a dedicated bedroom-turned-studio space at their home in Nashville, a huge improvement from her previous setup of filming in their attic wedged between their Christmas decorations and the HVAC.
In addition to her dedication to her career, Burton is also a cat lover and frequently features her feline companion, Beans, on her channel. Beans has become such a fan favorite that fans even send Burton art of the beloved cat, which she proudly displays in her studio. She even has her own merchandise, or “merch,” for her loyal followers featuring Beans.
Burton’s passion and talent for reacting to movies have even garnered her appearances on national television, including an appearance on CBS Saturday Morning to talk about the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
One thing is for certain: Ashleigh Burton is a UT Martin alum to watch. With her talent, dedication and passion for film, there’s no doubt that she’ll continue to make a splash in the entertainment industry.
“To think there’s 100,000 people that chose to subscribe and stick around is absolutely wild. That this started out as a joke. I mean, I cried when I hit 100 subscribers. I cried when I hit 10,000. I cried when I hit 30,000 and then I cried when I hit 100,000. I’m clearly a crier, because I never thought it was anything that I could do. Because again, why would somebody want to watch somebody else watch a movie completely uneducated about the movie? Does that make sense?” said Burton.
Burton is a relatable and entertaining YouTuber who is making a positive impact on her audience by promoting authenticity and de-stigmatizing mental-health issues. With her unique perspectives, engaging personality and love for her furry friend, Beans, it’s no wonder she has gained such a dedicated following.