Climbing the Steps to TikTok Stardom

Two Best Friends, One Viral Video
The opening scene from the TikTok video that propelled Schultheis and Hogendorn to fame.
The opening scene from the TikTok video that propelled Schultheis and Hogendorn to fame.
E. Johnson

In the present digital age, achieving stardom may no longer require a plane ticket to LA, a winning headshot, or an impressive highlight reel. For junior high school students at Dowling Catholic, Lilian Schultheis and Riley Hogendorn, all that was required was the social media app TikTok.

A couple of months ago, the best friends posted a thirty-five-second TikTok video onto Schultheis’ account, “Gizmo,” a username that comes from the show What We Do In the Shadows. Today, this particular video, which mocked “what parents think will happen if I don’t clean my room when guests come over,” has become their most popular video and acquired nearly four million likes while boosting Schultheis’ followership by thousands.

The video features Hogendorn acting as a house guest as she runs up the stairs from Schultheis’ basement to the attic.

“When I went to Lilian’s house for the first time,” Hogendorn remembers, “I was like, wouldn’t it be funny if someone had to go up all of these stairs.” Lilian chimes in, “And I was like, okay, I guess I’ll humor you Riley [Hogendorn]. We’ll do your video idea…And then it got three million likes. So maybe I should listen to Riley more often.”

After they posted Hogendorn’s idea onto Schultheis’ TikTok, they had no expectation for it to go viral. Looking back, Schultheis thought it’d get around two hundred likes “because it doesn’t have audio with it, and usually, videos that don’t have audio with it don’t go viral.”

The best friends and rising TikTok stars pose for a selfie together. (L. Schultheis)

Nonetheless, they did always hope they would have a viral video at some point. Schultheis jokes, “Otherwise, what am I doing this for?” She quickly clarified that making TikToks is “for fun. It’s a hobby.” Nevertheless, they just may be able to turn their hobby into a career.

Schultheis and Hogendorn both began their TikTok journey around 2020, and while they admit that they’ve made major progress since their early days, merely maintaining an account has proven to be a struggle. Schultheis recalls, “When I made my account I got banned because I looked younger than thirteen, and then I got another account, and then I couldn’t get into that account, so I made a backup account, and then I got into my old account again, and then I had two accounts, and then that account got banned, so then I went onto my backup account again, and that’s the account I’m on now.” Five “thens” later, Schultheis and Hogendorn have taken TikTok by storm.

Like her username, Schultheis takes a lot of inspiration for her videos from what she calls her “silly shows.” Even her profile image features Michael Sheen mixed with Mike Wazowski, a play on another one of Schultheis’ favorite TV shows, Good Omens. TikTok has allowed Schultheis to connect to other loyal fans, but she explains that because most of her ideas are “based around TV shows, there’s only so many people that watch those TV shows, so then Riley comes up with the more relatable content.”

“If I say I’m not real, people won’t take me seriously,” Schultheis says of her TikTok account bio. (L. Schultheis)

Schultheis shares that her mom supportively refers to her TikTok as a “fan account,” and Schultheis adds that “it’s mostly just like a diary. It’s my take on TV shows that I’ve watched.”

Just like an offline diary, Schultheis prefers to keep her TikTok account somewhat anonymous through her misleading username. “I feel more comfortable with people not knowing who I am,” she says, “I’m fine with a bunch of people following me because I don’t know them, but when they know me and they see me in school, they’re going to be-” she leaves her thought unfinished, suggesting the open-mouthed goggling of her peers.

Becoming an influencer on social media is a career that 57% percent of Generation Z dream of, according to a report conducted by the business intelligence company Morning Consult. Although Schultheis and Hogendorn have yet to reach influencer status, for now, the duo seem to be handling their success with grace. That said, when asked about the added pressure to perform well on content, Schultheis’ typically lively tone breaks. “Yes,” she says seriously, “There’s more people watching us. It’s not just friends; it’s people who are watching our every move.”

Two of the hate comments Schultheis and Hogendorn received after their TikTok went viral. (L. Schultheis)

Not only are people watching their every move, but often they are criticizing them. Within the past month, Schultheis and Hogendorn have received hateful comments on TikTok for the first time. “Usually I just ignore them,” Schultheis explains, but other times she’ll try to defuse the comments with what she calls her “go-to” replies like “youch or “whomp whomp.” A few times, when the hate comments become extreme or recurrent, Schultheis and Hogendorn make the decision to block that user at the cost of dropping their follower count.

In addition to navigating the hateful comments they were receiving, Schultheis and Hogendorn also had to learn the business of TikTok. Just weeks before they published their video onto TikTok, the platform announced a new way to pay content creators after facing criticism from some of its most successful users. One of these users was Mr. Beast, a content creator who got his start on YouTube and publicized his TikTok paycheck which amounted to $1,491 a month despite boasting 92.3 million followers. In response, TikTok is transferring from its “Creator Fund” to the “Creativity Program” starting on December 16, 2023.

The message that Schultheis received from Barstool Sports asking for permission to repost her TikTok video. (L. Schultheis)

The beta program is designed to pay creators up to twenty times more than TikTok’s previous fund allowed for – with a catch. The users must be over eighteen years old with ten thousand followers and one hundred thousand views. Since Schultheis and Hogendorn still fall short of the age criteria, they are forced to rely on other methods to grow their account.

“I was in fifth period, and I was about to go to lunch,” Schultheis begins, “and I was in the line, and I opened my account, and I got a message from Barstool Sports asking for permission to repost my video on their account. I didn’t know who Barstool Sports was, but then I looked at their account and saw they had a lot of followers.” To be exact, Barstool Sports has 34.5 million followers on TikTok and nearly seven billion combined likes. After consulting with Hogendorn and some of their other friends at lunch, the duo gave Barstool Sports their permission.

The duo’s favorite TikToks are far from the most popular, Schultheis’ being one of her falling down on her bed to the sound of dramatic music and Hogendorn’s being one where they had to name an animal or get hit by a pillow. (L. Schultheis)

Isa Colon Alba, one of the friends who Schultheis and Hogendorn turned to, spoke to the rate at which the duo gained acclaim after Barstool Sports reposted their video. “I felt like every time we came back to lunch they had like five thousand more followers.”

The repost from Barstool Sports also increased their recognition outside of social media. To their dismay, both Schultheis and Hogendorn share stories of fellow students or community members asking them if they were “famous” or telling them that they had watched them on TikTok.

Even with the unwanted face-to-face attention, Schultheis and Hogendorn avidly continue to brainstorm more content. At the time of our interview together, Schultheis had sixty-five drafts, but she makes clear that many of them are merely jokes never to be posted.

In general, Schultheis does not spend a lot of time creating TikToks. “After I finish all of my ACT prep and homework, I scour for audios to use and then make about five videos in a row (sometimes changing outfits in between) to keep as drafts until I post them,” reiterating, “after I do my ACT prep.”

Then, based on user analytics, Schultheis posts her drafts when the most number of followers are active, often between 1-4pm. This means that in order to reach the most users, Schultheis must tap the “post” button in between classes during the ideal time range. In her words, she must keep her followers “fed,” but for lack of a better analogy, how will the duo continue to cook up filling content?

The two have slightly varying views on this plan. “LA. LA baby,” Schultheis quips without hesitation, and on the other end of the spectrum, Hogendorn jokingly rebuts, “We’re retiring.” Regardless of their future, the best friends will surely continue to create, and continue to create together. Since they met in sixth grade, they have devotedly recorded content, whether it be satirical commercials, YouTube videos, podcast episodes, or even recordings of their band’s music.

Fortunately, due to their recent TikTok success, Schultheis and Hogendorn now have opportunities to sustainably pursue their creative passions. Schultheis was contacted by a London-based consultant to discuss her social media platforms, and in the meantime, she profits by selecting free items from TikTok Shop to promote on her account.

Most of all, Schultheis and Hogendorn would love to be sponsored by Netflix. Schultheis elaborates that “most of the people who follow me are into the same stuff as me, watch the same stuff as me, have the same opinions as me, and they just want to talk about the same stuff.” Because of that, getting paid to react to Netflix’s content, which includes some of Schultheis’ favorite TV shows, may just be the duo’s next grand idea.

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About the Contributor
Ella Johnson, Staff Writer
Ella Johnson is a junior at Dowling Catholic High School. Within the performing arts program, she is involved in the fall play as well as Speech and Debate. She is also a part of Student Ambassadors, Student Philanthropy Council, and Ut Fidem. During the spring, she plays tennis at school and continues training year-round. Outside of school she takes piano lessons, an instrument she has played for nearly ten years. In her free time she enjoys continuously selecting the “next episode” button on any streaming service or delving into a good book. 

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