The Balloon Boys: It's Only Up From Here
You may have seen them at NC State tailgates or witnessed them on Hillsborough Street with signs asking you to subscribe to their channel. Isaiah Townsend, Jontrell “JT” Foster and Elijah Gordon, better known as The Balloon Boys on YouTube, are seniors at NC State. I sat down with them for an interview one morning to get a better understanding of who they are.
The three are originally from Charlotte; even though they grew up about 10 minutes from each other, they didn’t formally meet until college. Each of them picked NC State for various reasons. Whether it be for their majors or financial reasons, their decision ended up working in their favor.
The Balloon Boys’ identity developed during NC State’s Wolfpack Welcome Week activities. Balloons were being handed out in the Talley Student Union, and they grabbed them. Not sure what to do with them, they decided to tie them to their book bags. “It was like 4 or 5 people with balloons tied to their book bags for a few days,” JT said. This became a running joke in the friend group. Students stopped them to ask what the balloons were for, some even believing it was their birthday. Reminiscing, JT said, “For that first week, some people knew us as the boys with the balloons.” As arbitrary as the origin story is, it gave way to something much greater than they ever could’ve imagined.
The reason they started a YouTube channel sophomore year is one most college students can relate to: money. Reflecting on this, Elijah admitted, “We were thinking of ways to make money without a job, and a YouTube channel was one of our options.” Their creative process varies based on the type of video they upload. On average, it takes them three to four days from concept to completion. They all take turns editing videos and collaborate if the video requires more attention.
Interview videos have become their most popular genre. The very first one was brought to life after they filmed a prank video at Duke. They felt good about the prank video footage and wanted to continue recording content that night. Elijah explained how it happened, saying that “the first thing that came to our minds for a night video was to grab a microphone, go to the streets and ask some questions.” The interviewing went so well that they uploaded it before the prank video.
One of their most notable interviews took place during spring break in Florida this year. A promo clip for the video, titled “What Could You Buy With Your Body Count? (2020),” went viral with Isaiah at the center of attention. Isaiah is still happy about it, and said, “I thought it was about to change our lives in that moment.” Even though the virality was short lived, they currently have 97,000 views on the video, making it their most viewed one yet. Proud of their success, JT said, “It felt good that something we did was recognized.”
They’ve come a long way since their first upload in March of 2019. Even though they started the channel to make money, they’ve identified a genuine passion for their craft: “We’re trying to be better, and we’re using YouTube as a tool to grow,” said Elijah. JT added that the platform pushes you to grow, making each video a learning process. He said, “I don’t have to make a certain dollar amount to make a video.”
They spoke candidly with me about the impact the channel has had on relationships in their lives. “When you do something, you really realize who’s for you and who doesn’t want you to do well,” said JT. All of them touched on losing friendships, but understand that those connections weren’t meant to be.
The exposure they’ve received on their platform has empowered them immensely. Explaining that he’s now able to be more of an individual, Elijah said, “It made me more me.” JT shared the same sentiments, saying that being in front of the camera inherently made him stronger because of their presence on the internet. Isaiah notes that their confidence is a reflection of their growth: “Instead of changing us, it brought out what was already in us.” He also added, “We like working hard and laughing, and all we have to do is put that on video for other people to laugh at.”
The Balloon Boys still plan on producing content after they graduate next spring. Elijah explained that they’ll be living together. “We’ll still be doing what we do, just in a different location," he said. With wholesome content coming from such a dedicated crew, there’s no doubt we’ll be seeing them around.
By Aminah Jenkins, Staff Writer