Ask the average teenage girl who Hayes Grier is, and there’s a good chance she’ll be able to tell you his hair color, his eye color, the name of the high school he went to and maybe even what he put on his toast at breakfast this morning.
Ask almost anyone else, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the sound of crickets rubbing their tiny wings together.
But that will change if you’re one of the 10 million-plus Americans who are expected to watch Monday night’s season premiere of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” which is featuring Grier – a Mooresville native who at 15 is the show’s youngest male competitor ever – as part of its cast of oddball celebrities.
His claim to fame: social media star. (Cue groaning and/or quizzical looks from anyone born before about 1990.)
That essentially means his popularity is based almost exclusively on what he posts to Twitter, Instagram and Vine; and if we have to explain what these social media platforms are, then it’s safe to say you will never be interested in knowing exactly why Grier’s fans adore him.
2.97 million followers on Twitter
4 million followers on Vine
4.1 million followers on Instagram
All you really need to know is that he has shot to stardom over the past couple of years simply by posting goofy personal videos, and that in his world, Grier is more popular than Cam Newton, Jimmie Johnson and Ric Flair combined.
Grier could post a comma on Twitter (where he has nearly 3 million followers), or a video of white paint drying on Vine (more than 4 million), and it would generate thousands of likes and shares in a matter of minutes.
When he started gaining traction, he was a student at Davidson Day School. Today, he lives in Los Angeles – where he recently relocated from North Carolina – with his 31-year-old manager, Alan Spiegel; Grier’s brother Nash, 17, himself a social media star with an even bigger following, recently took up acting and lives eight houses away.
Hayes Grier’s resume includes football, basketball and lacrosse at Davidson Day, but the extent of his experience on or around dance floors, he says, is this:
“I’d hang back and watch everybody else unless I had a group of my friends that would all go out there and just be messing around. It was never me actually going to the dance floor and trying to impress anybody. I was never good enough to do that.”
So for the past two and a half weeks, his professional partner Emma Slater – who reached the finals of “Dancing With the Stars” with comedian Bill Engvall two years ago – has been giving Grier a six-hours-a-day-six-days-a-week crash course in the rehearsal studio.
I definitely can’t go in there guns blazing and doing this raunchy dancing, because that would just not be appropriate and I’m pretty sure that I would lose my job.
Emma Slater, Hayes Grier’s dance partner
His status as a minor does create challenges. Other competitors can practice seven days a week, but child labor laws mandate a rest day for Grier. On top of that, whereas female pros often wear barely-there outfits and trade in lusty looks and sexy sashaying during live shows, Slater has less flexibility.
“I definitely can’t go in there guns blazing and doing this raunchy dancing, because that would just not be appropriate, and I’m pretty sure that I would lose my job,” says the English-born and -raised Slater, 26. “There’s still cheeky moments in there ... but it’s mainly about the technique of the dancing.”
On Monday night, Grier and Slater will pair up for their first dance sometime between 8 and 10 p.m. Eastern time, when the show will be broadcast live from Los Angeles.
Among those expected to be inside the studio cheering him on: his brother Nash; his 6-year-old sister Skylynn Floyd; his mother, Elizabeth Grier-Floyd of Mooresville, who Grier said started screaming and dropped her phone when she learned the news of his casting; and his father, Chad Grier of Davidson, who co-directs 26 Entertainment Group, which manages his sons. (Chad and Elizabeth are divorced.)
The funny thing about Hayes is that for the first five years of his life, he was phobically shy. Any level of attention whatsoever, he would cry.
Chad Grier, Hayes Grier’s father
Chad Grier is wedging “Dancing With the Stars” into a busy football schedule that includes responsibilities as head coach at Davidson Day and a quick trip on Saturday down to Gainesville, Fla., where his eldest son, Will, is making his first career start as quarterback for the Florida Gators against East Carolina.
But he says it’s a moment too big – and too ironic – for him to miss.
“The funny thing about Hayes is that for the first five years of his life, he was phobically shy,” Chad Grier says. “Any level of attention whatsoever, he would cry. He would not pose for his T-ball picture. The preschool play, at the Christmas program, we had to go pull him off the stage because as soon as the parents started clapping, he lost it. It’s just funny to me that that same kid is ... now gonna be on a show like ‘Dancing With the Stars.’”
And if even a quarter of a quarter of his social media following tunes in and picks up the phone to vote for him, Hayes Grier could be waltzing, quick-stepping and fox-trotting well into the fall. (Chef Paula Deen, arguably the most recognizable name among this season’s contestants, has 1.4 million Twitter followers – less than half of the figure Grier boasts.)
In the meantime, he’ll also juggle classes through online and home-school programs. Beyond that? Well, to listen to him explain what his future might hold is like hearing any 15-year-old boy lay it out there, the major difference being that this one is about to become a reality television star.
“I haven’t really figured out what I want to do in my life yet,” Grier says. “That’s not a bad thing, because that means when I find a thing I want to do, it’ll be actually what I truly want to do. So, yeah, it’s just gonna be a fun ride, and who knows? It should be pretty random and pretty spontaneous, but, you know, I’m ready.”
‘Dancing With the Stars’
On TV: The two-hour season premiere airs on ABC at 8 p.m. Monday. The network will broadcast the results show from 9-11 p.m. Tuesday.
Contestants: In addition to social media star/N.C. native Hayes Grier, there’s singer Tamar Braxton; actor Gary Busey; singer Nick Carter; chef Paula Deen; Triple Crown-winning jockey Victor Espinoza; singer Andy Grammer; actress Bindi Irwin; singer Chaka Khan; actress Alexa Penavega; singer Carlos Penavega; terrorist-thwarting hero Alek Skarlatos; and reality TV star Kim Zolciak Biermann.