Yesterday TerRio Harshaw, the six-year-old Vine sensation known for his playfully hypnotic dance and habit-forming catchphrase ("Ooh Kill'em"), signed a deal with William Morris Endeavor, the well-known Hollywood talent agency. The news, which spread across Twitter, was initially announced on Instagram. In a photo, TerRio is flanked by WME agents and representatives from Tha Lights—the management company that handles all of his affairs— and the caption reads: "TV show sold and we just signed to William Morris Endeavor!! #LifeIsGreat".
Looking at the photo, TerRio's plump frame bursting through his too-small suit, the #FreeTerrio hashtag seemed more appropriate.
If you have been following TerRio since the first "Ooh Kill'em" was uttered last June, his signing with WME is not a complete shock. In the previous year, the Riverdale, Georgia resident has been one of the most captivating figures on social media. The boy who just wanted to have fun became a business overnight: personal appearances at various events ($8,000 each!), posing with rappers and athletes for photos, appearing on talk shows, filming a music video, and releasing an album (which is said to drop this summer and feature Young Jeezy, Soulja Boy and Migos).
This story, of course, is a familiar one. TerRio is part of a group of child celebrities who found fame via the internet or television; children who became brands before they ever finished elementary school. Before TerRio there was Alana "Honey Boo Boo" Thompson, the child beauty pageant contestant turned reality TV starlet. Her little-girl sass coupled with her fun-natured innocence was a thousand GIFs waiting to happen. Her show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, will air its fourth season later this year on TLC. And before Here Comes Honey Boo Boo there were other shows that, for better or worse, cast kids in front of a national audience: 19 Kids and Counting, Toddlers & Tiaras, Dance Moms, and John & Kate Plus 8, among others. TerRio's stardom only differs slightly, in that his is one of the first to have been fully birthed and formed through social media.
"In the end, it's hard to say with any certainty whether the pros of the money TerRio's family has made from his unexpected fame will outweigh the problems that come with an untested new form of child stardom," Allie Conti wrote for the Miami New Times in April. This is a concern many have had from the very beginning. As TerRio's star, and those like him, has risen, how has he been able to stay grounded? And the questioning only intensified as the months labored on and more and more videos and images of him popped up on the internet. Does TerRio attend school anymore? Where are his parents? Why is he gaining so much weight? Is he still getting a chance to be a kid? Does TerRio even want any of this? At one point, there was a Change.org petition that attempted to get TerRio "back in school and out of the clutches of social network fame."
Earlier, looking at TeRio's Instagram announcement, I wondered who was really at fault here. We had turned a silly dance and a six-year-old kid from Georgia into a money-making enterprise. Was his mother to blame? Or maybe Maleek Taylor, TerRio's neighbor who originally uploaded the video to Vine, was at fault. Perhaps it was Herbert Battle, CEO of Tha Lights and TerRio's manager (I contacted Battle via email, but he has yet to respond). Or maybe it was someone else, someone who had yet to show their face and take responsibility for this young black boy who had seemingly spiraled out of our hands right before us? But I already knew the answer. I had, thanks to an easy click on Facebook or share on Twitter, as had many of you, helped propel TerRio into a spotlight that, now looking at everything that has transpired, I don't know if he ever really wanted in the first place. Or, worst of all, even understands.
[Image via Getty]