Well, add another name to your list.
Last week, Michelle Dobyne became the latest news cameo turned celebrity after recounting the events of a fire in her Tulsa, Oklahoma apartment complex earlier this month.
Like those before her, Dobyne had a few great catch phrases: “It’s poppin'” and “We ain’t gone be in no fire, not today.” Like those before her, Dobyne was very animated while telling her story — she added extra emphasis on “today” and uttered it in a Paul Robeson worthy bass.
In the pre-internet era, these kinds of interviews came and went with many of us wondering how television news reporters managed to find such colorful subjects. Maybe viewers would respond by offering assistance, but most likely they would chuckle and get on with their lives.
After Dobyne’s interview hit the internet and got millions of views (currently more than five million) she became a You Tube sensation complete with an Auto Tune remix sold on iTunes (proceeds go to her) and offers to appear on television. Most everyone thought she was hilarious, but let’s not forget, Dobyne and her family (she has three children) were living in their car — there was a fire after all.
Which makes the age of the news interview gone viral both a complex mix of good and bad. On the one hand, internet stardom can be lucrative. On the other hand, how funny is it to laugh at (with?) members of the working class who’ve been displaced from their homes because of a tragedy?
If Dobyne, Dodson and Brown had not been so “funny” would anyone have cared or paid them any mind at all? And more important, what happens when their 15-minutes of fame runs out?
Dodson, of Huntsville, Alabama, became enough of a celebrity after trying to stop the attempted rape of his sister in 2010 to have his life chronicled by TMZ. The gossip site has reported over the last five years that Dodson denounced his homosexuality and last year had a son. His acting credits include Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas and his last reported appearance was getting knocked out during a celebrity boxing match.
Another Oklahoman, Kimberly “Sweet Brown” Wilkins (who apparently gave a fake name for her live television interview) sued Apple for $15 million when a song on based on her recounting of an apartment fire appeared on iTunes as a hit song. She went on to do voiceovers and appeared on The View and Jimmy Kimmel Live. She introduced a line of BBQ sauce and sold t-shirts with her famous sayings, but lately her social media accounts have gone silent with no updates in over a year.
Dobyne has a GoFundme page, which has raised more than the $20,000 goal in seven days. Donations are still coming in from people telling her how entertaining she is, applauding her “positive spirit” or simply offering words of kindness for her family.
But not everyone is happy with way things are shaking out. Tulsa news station Fox23 reports that a neighbor, the only one whose apartment was damaged in the fire, is upset that Dobyne is getting so much assistance even though her apartment was not destroyed. The neighbor stayed at a Red Cross Shelter while Dobyne stayed at motel.
Stardom, internet or otherwise, has its perks.
Dobyne now has a Twitter account and a booking agent. Her second tweet was to Atlanta-based radio host Rickey Smiley:
On Sunday, a reporter from the television station that first interviewed Dobyne tweeted that the power at Casa Linda Apartments was back on.
Dobyne and her dozens of neighbors could move back in to the apartment complex, the reporter said.
Dobyne retweeted the tweet. It wasn’t clear if she would be returning or not.