In October, Nathan Apodaca posted a video of his work commute on TikTok. But he wasn’t driving.
Instead, Apodaca cruised down the street skateboarding, drinking Ocean Spray Cran-Raspberry juice and lip-syncing Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” with a sly smile. Multitasking at its finest. Two weeks later, the video would earn Apodaca a free truck filled with Ocean Spray juice bottles and millions of views and followers.
Now, Apodaca, who lives in Idaho, is a bona-fide TikTok star with over three million followers.
“He is a cool guy, just chilling, listening to Fleetwood Mac,” communication major Denny Dzokic, 20, said of the video, which has garnered more than 60 million views.
TikTok can turn anyone into an overnight sensation, but not all Salt Lake Community College students are enticed by the idea of such immediate fame.
“It’s not interesting to me,” said SLCC student Aramis Hicks, 24, who noted that he’s not on TikTok. “I think it’s cool for high school and middle school kids.”
Hicks saw Apodaca’s video, but doesn’t get excited about trying to replicate such viral hits.
Another student, Adrian Ortiz-Montoya, 20, said he joined TikTok for a while, but it didn’t stick.
“I tried to get into it for a little while,” he said, explaining that he expected the platform to be more like the now-defunct app, Vine. “It’s just not my speed I guess.”
For Bryce Powell, SLCC curriculum coordinator, downloading the app offered a means to better understand his daughter.
“I do not have an account. I don’t create or consume videos,” he explained. “My daughter sends me funny things from the people she likes and that helps me build a bridge.”
Even though Powell said he’s not motivated to create his own videos, he connected immediately with Apodaca’s energy.
“I wanted to be him,” Powell said. “He felt free. Like he was in a moment of pure sweet freedom.”
Matt Merkel, an assistant professor who teaches about the convergence of media and society at SLCC, said Apodaca’s video created a unique connection with viewers.
“It doesn’t fit into an algorithm or formula like so much of social media does. It really defines viral quality of what captures our attention,” Merkel said.
Merkel said those feel-good stories have been increasingly more important during the global pandemic.
“It goes to prove the point that we can try to be viral, but sometimes you can’t formula human connection … there’s a certain kind of spontaneity that has to happen. You can’t predict or plan it, and that’s what is beautiful about it,” Merkel said.