It’s the end of July when I try — and fail — to ring Adam Saleh’s hotel room in Doha.
The young Arab-American YouTuber and I are scheduled to chat about his first gig in Dubai, happening on September 22 at Ductac. His team has given me a name — not his, of course, but his travel companion’s — and a room number to ask for. I buzz the front desk, but I’m quickly informed that no one — not Saleh nor any other guest — is staying in room 807.
Confused, I open up WhatsApp and fire off a message to Saleh’s companion, asking if I’d managed to get the room number wrong.
“I think I know why,” he writes back. “Because we have had a lot of fans trying to call the room.”
Thus is the power of young celebrity. Saleh, born to Yemeni parents in New York, is a 23-year-old vlogger — video blogger — at the top of his game. He has nearly 1.5 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, ASAvlogs. He fondly refers to fans as AdoomyGang, a term defined on urbandictionary.com as the ‘tribe of Adam Saleh, the greatest YouTuber.’ So it comes as no surprise that people are keeping track of his every move, trying to get a hold of him in his hotel room like he’s some sort of rock star.
“They’re literally like my family,” he says. “I’m so open with them. I can talk to them about anything, and they can talk to me about anything. I have their back, and they got my back ... It’s a connection that not much YouTubers have.”
In Dubai, his followers will have the chance to get up close and personal with him without a computer screen in the way. He tells tabloid! what he has planned — and dishes on one of his funniest viral videos, Adele Prank Called My Arab Dad.
How do you translate your YouTube persona into a live stage show?
A lot of people ask me that. I do comedy sketches… I also do a little bit of stand-up comedy, but I turn it into a live comedy skit, and each skit I do has a meaning and a theme to it. I also show videos that have never been seen before, with my family. I do live questions and answers. I do inspirational talks. I do a lot of stuff that I never really do on camera — just to have something that [the fans have] never seen before.
People have an idea of what you’re like now. But what were you like when you were a kid? Were you always a performer?
To be honest, I was the opposite a little bit when I was a kid. I grew up in America, and I was the only Middle Eastern Arab kid. I loved getting up and presenting, but when I would do that in my school, everyone would look at me in a wrong way, since I got bullied, and I would get harassed by peers. I’ve always loved it, but at the same time, I didn’t like it, because of the environment that I was in.
What helped you build your confidence?
Just my family. My family would keep me motivated.
Adele Prank Called My Arab Dad [a video where Saleh calls his father and plays Adele’s Hello, and Saleh’s father responds as if it’s a real call] — how much of it is candid?
My dad didn’t even know I posted it until a week later. He told me, ‘Someone showed me this video.’ I didn’t want to tell him — I was so scared. I was worried he would be like, ‘Hey man, people are making fun of me.’ But he actually really, really loved it, and after like a week, he was like, ‘Someone showed me the video, when did you do this?’ And I had to explain that my older brother was there, and I called [him].
Does your family understand what you do?
In the beginning, they didn’t really understand. They were like, ‘What is this dude doing? This guy’s talking to a camera.’ Now they understand. They see all [my fans] that they meet, how happy I make them, how the videos I make can brighten up their day. My dad meets a lot of people that know of me and know of him, and he loves it so much. I’m nice to people I meet — but he’s much nicer. He’ll like, invite them over to the house. I’m like, ‘What the heck’.
What does it mean for you to be Arab-American in America, right now?
To be Arab-American in America right now is something big. I mean, racism is back. Back in the days, when I was in elementary school, around third, fourth grade, when 9/11 happened, it was literally crazy. The school I was in, I was the only Middle Eastern American kid… I was like an alien in school. Throughout the years, I ended up having to hide that I’m Arab ’cause I was so scared that if I would say that I’m Arab, they would bully me the way that they did in the third grade. But after a while, I realised it was a really dumb thing that I did, and you have to just be proud who you are. Right now, being Arab-American is something, I guess, inspirational. It means a lot. Because you go through so much, especially with all this Donald Trump nonsense going on.
Are you planning to go out and vote?
I’m not voting for nobody. I’m no voting for no Trump, no Hilary. I’m voting for my dad.
When was the first moment you really realised the reach you have online?
I did a video for Ellen DeGeneres, you know The Ellen Show? A week or two later I had millions of views, and her producers and company contacted me and invited me to their show. That was literally like the first month that I’d done YouTube.
Who’s someone out there you’d love to have in one of your videos?
Definitely IISuperwomanII [Lilly Singh]. She’s at the top of her game, and she’s really nice and sweet.
Can you still be as creative as you were when you first started doing this, or is it a lot more structured now?
I think it’s a lot easier now. My family is huge. And it’s bigger than what it was before. So like, seeing the stuff that goes on [with them], I turn it into videos… Like the other day, my aunt [was] going crazy at me and I put it into a video.
What’s your immediate family like, in terms of siblings?
Siblings is only three sisters, and two brothers, but then it comes to eight nieces, and six nephews, and it goes on. I’m only 23, and I’m about to be a grandpa. That’s how big. One of my nieces is already married! My sister is going to be a grandma, I’m going to be a grandpa at the age of 23. It’s crazy.
You’re 23 now. When you look to the future, do you think you’ll be vlogging for a long time?
It would be cool if I could still be vlogging with my family, and continuing to show [them] what I can do, but maybe not to the point where I’m like, 80 or 90 years old in the hospital, vlogging.
What’s one of the biggest misconceptions people have about YouTubers?
A lot of people look down on them, like, ‘Ah, they’re just YouTubers. They don’t do nothing. They just get a camera and talk and get rich.’ But they don’t know the stuff they go through… It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Don’t miss it
Tickets to Adam Saleh’s show are Dh150-250 on ductac.org.