In May 2010, well before the TikTok era, a 12-year-old from Oklahoma named Greyson Chance was summoned to “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” A couple of weeks earlier, Greyson had found early viral fame after he posted his middle school talent show performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” on YouTube. When Greyson came on the show, where he sat in a plush chair directly across from the daytime star and discussed his Gaga cover, the YouTube video had a million page views.
His “Ellen” appearance brought him to a new stratosphere. In the following days, media coverage around the 12-year-old sensation exploded, and his performance ballooned to more than 30 million views. Madonna’s and Lady Gaga’s managers began representing him. Ms. DeGeneres signed him to a record contract.
“It’s crazy thinking about 30 million people,” Greyson said when he returned to the show two weeks later. “It just makes me happy.”
Next year, Ms. DeGeneres will step down from her daytime talk show, signing off after a 19-season run of light jokes, celebrity interviews and cash giveaways. But perhaps one of the most enduring legacies of her show was the host’s role in the early viral video economy: Making an appearance on “Ellen” brought a viral sensation a whole new wave of clicks, fame and cash.
“Ellen,” Ms. DeGeneres’ role in daytime television has diminished. Her viewership figures have plummeted 44 percent this season, and competitors like “Dr. Phil” (2.4 million viewers) and “Live With Kelly and Ryan” (2.6 million) are now beating “Ellen” by roughly a million viewers.
Likewise, if a YouTube or TikTok performance begins to catch steam, a stop on “Ellen” is no longer a key step to hitting a new threshold of fame.
“Ellen could pluck you off YouTube and make you a star,” said Joe Kessler, the global head of the United Talent Agency’s UTA IQ division, which uses data analytics to advise clients on digital strategies.
introduced a segment called “Ellen’s Wonderful Web of Wonderment,” which promised to “find undiscovered talent online & share it with you!”
As more viral stars appeared on her show, any time an online video started gaining traction a decade ago, “people would reply or comment on these videos: ‘Tell Ellen!’ ‘Call Ellen!’” Ms. Weber said. “That was weirdly the assumed next step for everyone.”
The year after Greyson Chance appeared on “Ellen,” the show invited 8-year-old Sophia Grace, a burgeoning internet personality, and her cousin Rosie to come in from England and to do a cover of a Nicki Minaj song. That video now has more than 144 million views on YouTube.
An “Ellen” appearance usually featured a twist, too. When Greyson came on, Lady Gaga herself phoned in to the show to express her admiration for his performance. When Sophia Grace appeared on “Ellen,” Nicki Minaj made a surprise appearance, and the 8-year-old flung herself into the arms of the singer.