From Screen Star To King Of Pop: Devale Ellis And His Iconic Inspiration

In the mid-2000s, platforms like Facebook, Vine, and YouTube gained popularity; in turn, users began casually documenting snippets of their lives, showcasing their talents, and sharing humorous moments. It was an era of social media driven by a sense of fun and connection and sharing for the sheer enjoyment of it. We couldn’t have known the groundwork was being laid for what would eventually evolve into the phenomenon of social media influencers today. 

Devale Ellis, his wife Khadeen, and their four boys epitomize the millennial genre of social media influencers. Through their YouTube channel, “The Ellises,” allowed followers into their lives. With their relatable and transparent dynamic, hilarious family vlogs, and impeccable style, the Brooklyn-bred couple captivated audiences. Viewers joined them on date nights, tagged along on their coast-to-coast move, and even shared the intimate experience of their son’s home birth. In turn, followers included them in their daily lives — the Ellises’ content played the background at work, at the gym, and while cleaning the house. Today, millions of followers extend support to Devale and Khadeen’s individual pursuits. What began as a humble family vlog has become an empire.

Some debate the effects on both sides of such parasocial relationships, but those of us born pre-social media know that this type of fandom is nothing new. Eighties babies and 90s kids spent hours immersed in music videos, memorizing choreography, rehearsing dance moves, and reciting the rhymes of our favorite rappers. We anticipated the airing of our weekly sitcoms, recycling the funniest punchlines at school lunchroom tables the next day. Magazine clippings of our celebrity obsessions lined our adolescent bedroom walls. An elder millennial himself, Devale Ellis understands as well as anyone— ain’t nothing changed but the medium. 

As part of our Black History Month series spotlighting today’s top influencers and their Black History inspirations, I connected with the actor, known for his starring role in Tyler Perry’s Sistas on BET. When we asked the TV fan favorite who he most admired back in the day, it was no surprise when he revealed Michael Jackson as his childhood idol. At the height of his stardom in the 80s and 90s, MJ held the whole world in a chokehold. 

In tribute to the pioneers upon whose shoulders we stand, we present Michael Jackson through the nostalgic lens of actor, best-selling author, and online personality Devale Ellis.

Can you pinpoint a particular moment from your childhood that solidified Michael Jackson as an iconic figure in your eyes?

Growing up, I watched Moonwalker every day until the VHS broke. Then I begged my dad to buy another one. Then, on February 2nd, 1992, I remember staying up late to watch the premiere of the “Remember the Time” music video. It was as if the world had stopped. Everyone was talking about Michael Jackson.

Which of Michael Jackson’s works do you believe had a significant impact in shaping the culture?

I know Thriller is the most iconic album of all time, but for me, the Bad Album changed the creative space forever. For the first time, he had a hand in writing and curating the tour, music videos, and creativity behind the album. This album solidified Michael as a global superstar.

In what way has Michael Jackson’s work influenced your current creative process, approach, or perspective?

His attention to detail and demand for ownership have inspired everything I’ve done. Jackson is just as astute a businessman as he is a singer, dancer, actor, and choreographer. I’ve learned from Jackson that our human abilities extend beyond our imagination, so I stopped second-guessing myself and started leaning into the belief that I can do anything and everything.

In the evolving media landscape, Michael Jackson was a transformative influence in Devale Ellis’ early life. In much the same way that Ellis influences his millions of fans. Times and mediums may evolve, but the enduring power of influence persists, shaping new chapters of Black History for each generation.

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