While traveling in New Zealand, I thought I’d post the unedited copy of my story that appeared in the Style section of the San Francisco Chronicle last week. Ellen fans out there will appreciate it, this much I know. After my mom first spotted Rin on the Rox in a 30-second clip on the Ellen DeGeneres Show (their first of many appearances on air), she phoned me and said, “you have to see these girls!” So I got on YouTube and proceeded to watch every video of theirs—at least three times each. I wanted to get in touch with them, meet them, interview them, but couldn’t quite figure out how. Their numbers weren’t listed, nor was their personal e-mail. After a month of relentlessly sending them messages through their site, Facebook and MySpace (I know, right?!), to no avail, SVV had a brilliant idea: Post an ad on Craigslist saying I was looking for them. Not expecting it to work, I did anyway, and within 10 hours, “Rox”anne Ilano replied saying they’d love to be interviewed. Four days later, I drove an hour out to Antioch and sat down with the lovely ladies (and quite lovely they are). Their voices are amazing, and they couldn’t be cuter and more humble; go out and buy their first single later this month on Amazon or iTunes, and check them out at “hiphopinrox” on YouTube. In the meantime, here’s the final draft before it appeared in print, edited by my personal editor Lindy, who’s kind of a big deal.
It’s not every day you check your e-mail and find a video you recorded in the bathroom has aired for millions of viewers on daytime television. But that’s exactly what happened to Roxanne Ilano and Erin Perey, a couple of Bay Area amateur singers launched to global fame with the help of popular social-networking sites.
Ilano, 21, and Perey, 20, used to be just average college students. The Antioch-based duo, who have been best friends since attending choir class at Deer Valley High, spent their days waiting tables at a local Chinese restaurant and nights perfecting their vocal prowess. They like to shop, as is evidenced by their carefully-accessorized outfits, and both get a tad more demure when speaking of their boyfriends.
On a whim last summer, the women launched a video series, Rin on the Rox, in which they sat in front of a Webcam and sang covers of their favorite Top 40 songs—while sitting in Ilano’s parents’ downstairs bathroom. (“It has the best acoustics of anywhere in the house,” Ilano maintains.) Their videos received a whopping 15 million hits on YouTube, and in no time, they had garnered a devout online following.
“We usually try to wait a few days between posting videos, but when we do, people are on it,” Ilano explains. “When we uploaded ‘Us Against the World’ by Christina Milian, we had 200,000 views within two days. It’s like they’re sitting there waiting for our next move.”
Then Ellen DeGeneres came a-knocking—or, rather, begging Rin on the Rox to make an appearance during one of her opening monologues on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” The twosome might have missed their one shot, as they weren’t regular “Ellen” viewers, had it not been for their fans who sent messages via MySpace and YouTube alerting them to their, quite literally, 15 seconds of fame.
“We were both like, ‘what? How are we on ‘Ellen?’ How is this even possible?’” Perey recalls. “Ellen played a clip of our ‘If I Were a Boy’ cover and said, ‘if you’re watching right now, we’d love to have you on the show. Please contact us!’ So we did. Four days later, they flew us to LA, and we made our TV debut.”
DeGeneres interviewed the girls on-air, and they performed Ne-Yo’s “Miss Independent” while sitting in—where else?—the bathroom. DeGeneres even started a recurring segment, “Ellen’s Bathroom Concert Series,” where she and a guest of the show sing together in the studio’s lavatory. Such celebrities who have participated include Carol Burnett, Pink and band Fall Out Boy.
As if that weren’t enough, DeGeneres then offered Perey and Ilano tickets to the Grammy Awards, where they walked the red carpet alongside music powerhouses like Taylor Swift and LL Cool J, and then served as correspondents for the “Ellen” show at Elton John’s prestigious post-Oscar bash.
Then, without notice, the medium solely responsible for propelling Rin on the Rox to quick fame, let them down: YouTube deactivated their account.
The women received one message from the video-sharing site informing them of a copyright infringement. They concluded this must have occurred when they posted their appearances on “Ellen,” which they had recorded on their own television. But after receiving word of this violation, in Rin on the Rox’s typical non-confrontational manner, they immediately deleted the videos. Days later, they logged back on to YouTube to find their account gone entirely. Ilano and Perey were perplexed and, at press time, still had not found a way to reach someone who could help reinstate their page.
“We don’t even know if it was the covers that got us suspended,” Perey says. “We don’t think it could be, because there are literally thousands of people singing covers on YouTube, and they haven’t been suspended.”
According to YouTube’s Community Guidelines, the website has a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy. The first strike—in this case, the videos from “Ellen”—is merely a warning. On the second strike within a six-month period, the user’s posting privileges are temporarily revoked. If a third strike occurs, the account in question is suspended. Ilano and Perey were not notified of an additional violation, let alone a third, after retracting the “Ellen” clips, though they admitted it is possible any communication could have been lost in the 246,000 messages they have received in the past month. YouTube could not be reached for comment.
But the women, eternally bubbly, aren’t too bothered by the suspension (though they would like to see their account eventually revived); they’re just happy to be in the limelight, even if only for a short while. The epitome of California girls, they’re riding the waves as they come. After all, the Rin on the Rox motto is “Like it, love it, hate it, whatever! Just enjoy it.”
The facet of instant celebrity that has stumped the plucky pair the most is why the outpouring of fan support and adoration they’ve received through the Internet has been bestowed upon them.
“It’s like all of these people are behind us. They want us to go somewhere, they want us to succeed,” Ilano says, somewhat baffled. “And we don’t know what it is about us that keeps them interested, but they want to know what we’re doing next.”
She adds, “We’re just two Bay Area girls who work at a Chinese restaurant. We’re just being ourselves and not trying to be anybody else, and they can see that. We’re just Rin on the Rox!”
Ilano, previously a junior at Cal State East Bay, and Perey, in her second year at Diablo Valley College, have put school on hold for the time being—they emphasize that they did not drop out and will return at some point—but haven’t given up their day jobs at the restaurant, where they have worked for three years, just yet.
“We consider our boss a second mom because she cares for us and treats us like her daughters,” Ilano explains. “She does understand that we can’t put our dreams on hold forever. Whatever we need to do to follow that, she’s fine with.”
It’s apparent that Ilano and Perey share many similarities, namely their Filipino heritage, positive outlook on life and panache for vocals and harmony. But each brings something different to the table. While Ilano claims she can be equally as goofy as her counterpart, she is the more outspoken and serious of the two, the businesswoman who likes to get things done efficiently. Perey is the giggly one, and it often seems like she’s physically hold herself back from getting off her chair and busting out an improv dance.
“I started out dancing and then moved onto vocals, while Roxanne has always been strictly singing. But don’t get me wrong, she has moves!” Perey says, as Ilano tries to mask a grimace beside her.
Adds Ilano, “I never really got into dancing, but I’m open to anything. I’d love to do Broadway and stuff like that.”
The duo’s name—which, keeping in character, they thought up together—is more fitting than they likely intended. Not only does “Rin” (Perey) harmonize on top of “Rox’s” (Ilano) melody, but the two even speak in polyphony—when they’re not finishing each other’s sentences, that is.
“We wanted a name that represented harmony sounding as one, together, being sisters, best friends,” Ilano remarks. “We were thinking, ‘hmm, one voice, one harmony, music, soul…’ and then it just came together and seemed to make sense.”
While they are outwardly peppy and whimsical, the two young musicians won’t be recording bubblegum and pop hits anytime soon. Primarily R&B, with a pinch of soul, and an edgy style all of their own, the two cite their inspirations as Beyonce and Ne-Yo, the latter of whom they met during their first Grammy appearance. Drawing from their rolemodels, “We want to find our own style,” Perey says.
Perhaps the most interesting part of their unorthodox rise to the top is that neither girl has any formal training, aside from school choir. But being of Filipino descent—both Ilano and Perey’s parents were born in Manila—music was ingrained in them since birth.
“It was more in the family, in the Filipino karaoke culture,” Ilano says. “We’d have get-togethers, and everyone would tell me to get up there and sing, so I would. We grew up with it that way. We’ve been singing ever since we were little, but never furthered it until now.”
Oddly enough, the pair are perhaps more famous in the Philippines than anywhere else, as some of the national news services have been following them since their foray to fame.
“We’re kind of known there, and we’ve never even been!” Perey exclaims.
One question remains: Will the girls continue their bathroom endeavors, or move on to bigger things—perhaps a recording studio?
“The bathroom’s where we got started, and we’re happy that’s where we found all of our fans,” Ilano says. “But we kind of want to break out and do something more…”
“…professional,” Perey chimes in. “If we do possibly get our YouTube account back, maybe we’ll do some songs in the bathroom. But only then.”