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Using Social Data to Select The Stars of NBC’s “Hairspray Live”


THE SHOW MUST GO ON… and it will!

Live musicals seem to be the latest trend on television, with millions of viewers tuning in to see extravagant broadway-worthy productions from the comfort of their own home. The live TV musical trend first began in 2013 when NBC premiered The Sound of Music Live!, starring country darling Carrie Underwood. Since its premiere, NBC has followed up with two more productions and other big networks have also joined suit. Most recently, FOX produced the critically-acclaimed, Grease Live! starring Julianne Hough and Aaron Trevit which premiered in January. The show, which tells the story of friendships and of course, romances, of some high school kids in the 1950s, was ranked the best-rated live musical production since 2013’s The Sound of Music Live!, according to Nielsen.

Only a few weeks after the success of Grease Live!, NBC announced its next live musical, Hairspray, which will air in December 2016. Like Grease, the plot of Hairspray centers around high school students and their triumphs; only, this time, the story takes place in 1960s Baltimore. Hairspray, which originally hit theaters in 1988, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a fan of the music-performance show The Corny Collins Show, and her journey to starring on the show. During her journey, she experiences the events that shaped the 1960s including the Civil Rights Movement. Since its 1988 release, the story had a stint on broadway and was remade in the 2007 movie, starring prominent teen figures of the time including Zac Efron, Brittany Snow, and Amanda Bynes.


Based on the success of Grease Live!, it is a logical move by NBC to select another classic high school themed show. Since the show announcement, the industry has already been buzzing and speculating about what stars may be featured in the live production. However, according to NBC, casting for the musical has not yet been discussed, but the network has stated they do have a “dream casting.”  

Using Social Data to Choose a Star-studded Cast

In looking at the stars of past live musicals such as Vanessa Hudgens, Julianne Hough, Carly Rae Jepsen etc., who are extremely popular with teens, it would come as no surprise that NBC would want mainstream names, that appeal to a teen audience, in the show. Mainstream names, like those mentioned, are leveraged by TV networks because of their star power and reach. With this in mind, I decided to use social data to select an all-star cast based on how strongly stars resonate with the teen audience and their creative fit with the Hairspray characters. The Hairspray characters I’ve chosen to cast roles for are that of Tracy Turnblad, Peggy Lou Piggleton, Amber Von Tussle, and Link Larkin.


So why use social data to pick a cast? When the right celebrity is used to promote an event, product, or brand, the results can not only be financially rewarding but memorable. Today, consumer insights such as interests and passions are changing how marketing strategies are developed. Selecting a star that resonates with an audience is a powerful method for engaging with a desired community, staying relevant, and generating buzz – which will be critical for NBC to generate ratings that surpass Grease Live!.

When it comes to identifying the right celebrities that will resonate with the Hairspray audience, technologies like Affinio are able to remove the guesswork and provide data-driven, actionable recommendations (Disclosure: BRaVe is an investor in Affinio).

To begin my analysis, I ran two social graph reports of the @GoGrease Twitter audience and an analysis of the communities that mentioned #GreaseLive. It can be assumed that based on the success of FOX’s Grease Live! and Hairspray’s comparable plot theme, NBC would want to attract a similar viewership. Below is the audience visualization of both reports that reveals each audience’s interest-based communities.


It should be noted that within each social graph there are numerous tribes that are comprised primarily of teenagers such as Original Disney Channel Fans, Beliebers, 1D Fans, 5SOS + 1D Fans, and Beliebers.

However, while the “teen” tribes make up a large chunk of the audience, I decided to focus my attention on the interests of the overall audience. Using the Affinio platform I was able to pull the top 200 most relevant accounts to the overall audience for both the social graph #GreaseLive mentions and those following @GoGrease. This group of 200 accounts includes interests that range from favourite brands (fashion, beauty, food etc.), celebrities (actors, broadcast stars, athletes etc.), to top media choices. This means, for example, if a celebrity is ranked at number 194/200 they are not being compared to 200 individuals but overall interests of an audience.


Top 200 Accounts of #GreaseLive Overall Audience

Top 200 Accounts of @GoGrease Overall Audience


The BIG reveal!

To breakdown the list of 200 accounts, I began to identify actor/singers that appeared in both reports and appealed to the teenage interest-based tribes found within each audience. To do this, I cross-referenced my celebrity choices with the top interests of each teen tribe. Note: I also took a bit of creative liberty in my choices and incorporated factors such as personality, appearance, and stage presence in my selection.

Using the data presented, I selected four stars that consistently appeared across all teen tribes and had mass appeal with the overall audiences.

Demi Lovato as Tracy Turnblad

Tracy’s character is that of an optimistic teenage girl who loves dancing and is obsessed with The Corny Collins Show.

I selected Demi Lovato, former Disney Channel Star, as the lead because of her strong vocals, Disney roots, and mass appeal. Demi sits at number 4 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who mentioned #GreaseLive, and number 12 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who followed @GoGrease.

Demi, who is no stranger to musicals, burst on the scene in 2008 in Disney Channel’s musical Camp Rock. Demi, who is a bubbly and charismatic actress, also starred on her own sitcom, Sonny with a Chance, from 2009-2011. Most recently Demi released an album, “Confident” which solidified her as a vocal powerhouse.


Bridgit Mendler as Peggy Lou Piggleton

Peggy is Tracy’s best friend and is a sheltered girl who is controlled by her racist and religious mother. Peggy, a bubbly character, is forced to break from her mother’s control.

I selected Bridgit Mendler, another former Disney Channel Star, because of her appeal to all audiences, vocal ability, her wholesome public image, and current ties to NBC. Bridgit sits at number 195 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who mentioned #GreaseLive, and number 200 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who followed @GoGrease. While further down the list than Demi Lovato, the top 200 list includes not only people but brands, organizations, and other interests that are relevant to the audience.

Bridgit starred in two Disney Channel Original Series, Wizards of Waverly Place and Good Luck Charlie, before diving into the music scene with an album in 2012. Today, Bridgit stars on the NBC comedy series Undateable, making her a likely choice for NBC.


Meghan Trainor as Amber Von Tussle

Amber is the lead dancer on The Corny Collins Show and is Tracy’s main enemy. Amber also dates the show’s heartthrob, Link Larkin.

I selected Meghan Trainor as Amber because of her bubbly and charismatic public persona, strong vocals, and her mass appeal. Meghan sits at number 154 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who mentioned #GreaseLive, and number 129 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who followed @GoGrease.

Meghan became a household name with her 2014 hit, “All About That Bass.” Since then she has gone on to win numerous awards including a Grammy. At only 22, Meghan has been praised for her musical style that reflects 1950s and 60s era music – making her a perfect vocal pairing for the musical production Hairspray. In addition, Meghan is known for calling out haters and supporting a healthy body image and women empowerment. This confidence and sass could translate favourably to playing a fun, villainous character!


Nick Jonas as Link Larkin

Link is Amber’s boyfriend and the lead male on The Corny Collins Show. Link, who is based on an Elvis Presley character, begins to develop feelings for Tracy throughout the show.

I selected Nick Jonas as Link because of his broadway background, Disney roots, mass appeal, and chemistry with Demi Lovato. Nick sits at number 22 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who mentioned #GreaseLive, and number 17 in the Top 200 Accounts relevant to those who followed @GoGrease.

Nick, who starred with his long-time friend, Demi Lovato, in the Disney musical Camp Rock, is no stranger to broadway. Performing since the age of seven in shows like Les Misérables and Beauty and the Beast, the Hairspray heartthrob role may be right up his alley. Nick who was a member of the band, The Jonas Brothers, recently broke free as a solo artist and has proven his vocal talent and star-power without the help of his brothers.



Will social data prevail?

4.GreaseLive Hashtag Audiences 5. Follows GoGrease

For NBC, leveraging technologies like Affinio to understand relevance, is an easy, data-backed way to detect who is important to an identified audience. While there are many factors that come into play when making casting selections, social data is the perfect way to view potential candidates that will leave a lasting impression.

Personally, I can’t wait to see NBC’s cast choices. While the stars I’ve identified may not be the network’s final pick, data shows that these stars are a definite favourite for their target.

Share your thoughts – do you agree with this star-studded line up?


Written by Hannah Chapple