On YouTube, Colleen Ballinger appears at first as a positive role model to kids.
She built a colossal platform — boasting nearly 20 million followers across multiple YouTube channels — by interacting with her young audience directly, largely through an online character named Miranda Sings. Painted in overlined red lipstick, Sings is a childlike adult with a speech impediment who, despite her tone-deaf singing and awkward dance moves, earnestly believes she’s destined for stardom.
Ballinger, 36, has marketed herself toward children for nearly 15 years by taking part in YouTube challenges, collaborating with other popular YouTubers like JoJo Siwa, and having kids participate in her stage show. She has essentially created “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for a generation that grew up online — but the nature of YouTube and social media allows her to build deeper interpersonal relationships with her fans in real time.
Publicly, Ballinger wields that power as a famous children’s host should: She’s an LGBTQ+ ally, professes inclusivity and body positivity, and advocates for the sick. But off camera, her interactions with fans veered into what they describe as inappropriate territory.
Early this month, several of Ballinger’s longtime fans came forward with allegations that she maintained uncomfortably close relationships with them when they were teens and used her position of power to manipulate a select group of them for years. They released screenshots of their private communications with Ballinger to evidence claims that she “groomed” them throughout their adolescence — including allegations that she had inappropriate conversations with them about sex. (HuffPost reviewed some of the private communications, which feature a phone number that appears to belong to the YouTube star.)
Those former fans now consider themselves victims. The alleged private conversations between Ballinger and her fans put her private life at odds with her public persona; in messages to her young fans, Ballinger appears to body shame, gossip about other fans and reveal personal information about her romantic relationships.
And in interviews with HuffPost, Ballinger’s fans and former husband bring new revelations to the person behind Miranda Sings.
Adam McIntyre discovered Miranda Sings in 2012, when he was 9 years old. He created a Miranda Sings fan account on Twitter in 2013 and “dedicated” all of his time to it, he said in a YouTube video.
Three years later, in 2016, McIntyre’s dedication paid off. At just 13 years old, he got to interact with his idol directly when she noticed a funny comment he made during one of her YouTube livestreams. At one point, Ballinger said she would send a few lucky fans some of her “ugly” and unused clothes — and that McIntyre was among the chosen. Soon after, McIntyre claims, he received a pair of her underwear in the mail, including a bra and panties. (In a 2020 video, Ballinger confirmed that she sent McIntyre the bra and underwear and said the move was “completely stupid” of her.)
Soon after that livestream, the two began to talk on a “more personal level” — mostly via Twitter DMs — and by 2017, he said he was “good friends” with Ballinger, then 29.
McIntyre said Ballinger would bring up sex during their conversations back when he was still 14 or 15 years old.
McIntyre wasn’t always alone in his interactions with Ballinger. He was also part of a small private group chat on Twitter called “Colleeny’s Weenies,” where he and other fans had exclusive and ongoing access to her.
In another instance in 2016, McIntyre, then 14, wrote in the “weenies” chat that his “ass looked good” that day. Ballinger allegedly responded: “pics Adam.”
But the chat wasn’t just a place for Ballinger to interact with her fan base, McIntyre claims. She got personal with them. He said that in 2016, she confided in them about her relationship problems with her then-partner, Joshua Evans, who was also a prominent YouTuber at the time. The “weenies” said she told them that Evans was “an emotionally abusive person,” a shocking allegation for a group of young fans (and which Evans denied in a recent interview with HuffPost).
Everyone in the group chat went “silent for a second,” McIntyre said. “And then we’re like, ‘Oh, my God, babe, I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.’ Like [before that] we were having a conversation about homework because we were children.”
About a week later, Ballinger and Evans announced their divorce in separate YouTube videos. Ballinger didn’t say anything publicly about the alleged emotional abuse — instead, she called on her fans to remain calm and be respectful to Evans.
But McIntyre said he and the rest of the “weenies” were never told to stand down. Instead, they mobilized as Ballinger’s de facto public relations unit, going on gossip websites and comment sections to defend her reputation and attack Evans amid the divorce.
“It was a weekly if not daily occurrence, where she would come in [the group chat] seeking validation, telling us that Josh was abusive, that Josh screamed at her, that she gave Josh everything, that Josh is running hate campaigns on her,” McIntyre said. “The connotation was … for us to go and attack Josh, or for us to tell the public the truth because she was telling us that he was abusing her. So then we had to go defend her publicly, but she never said anything publicly.”
“I was so involved in this woman’s life that it’s embarrassing to look back on. There were some days, on a school night, I would be up until like 4 a.m. trying to calm her down.”
Another member of the “weenies” chat, Brey, said she was just 16 when she joined the chat. Her role changed quickly from Ballinger’s fan to her personal keyboard warrior, she said.
“I kind of felt like a bodyguard,” said Brey, who asked to be identified by her first name. “It sounds so stupid. This is so embarrassing to talk about, but I would just be like, ‘Y’all are wrong about her. She never cheated on her husband.’ Anytime they would say something negative about her, I would just go and say the opposite.”
After that, McIntyre said his friendship with Ballinger took over his life. He said he spent entire school days messaging with her from an iPad, and that she would regularly “trauma dump” on him.
“I would be in class DMing her on my iPad … about her abusive ex-husband,” he said. “I was so involved in this woman’s life that it’s embarrassing to look back on. There were some days, on a school night, I would be up until like 4 a.m. trying to calm her down or try to give her advice. … It was a private thing.”
In an interview with HuffPost, Evans said that Ballinger’s fans started sending him death threats after the divorce. But he didn’t know that her fans were waging a secretive gossip campaign against him on her behalf until much later, when fans sent him screenshots of their chats.
“It was very eye-opening to see that this was the route she was gonna take,” Evans said. “She’s going to use them to be the voice for her so that she doesn’t say it, so it doesn’t come back to something she said online, publicly.”
He also denied being emotionally abusive.
“She would equate me having issues with some of the behavior to I am emotionally abusing her,” Evans said. “And I was like, how do you jump from one to the other? People have arguments, people have disagreements, but to say I’m emotionally abusive? You can’t take those words back, especially when you let that out into the online space. And it just snowballed and got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
McIntyre has since publicly apologized to Evans in a YouTube video for his role in the smear campaign.
“I spent years just coming at this man and attacking this man. … He did not deserve anything that came his way,” McIntyre says in the video.
Johnny Silvestri was a 15-year-old freshman in high school when he found Miranda Sings. He said he didn’t have friends at school and Miranda Sings filled that void for him. He created a fan account on Twitter and, much like McIntyre, said he quickly found himself in private conversations with Ballinger. And though he wasn’t a part of the “weenies” chat and didn’t interact much with McIntyre online, the boys’ experiences with Ballinger were strikingly similar.
Silvestri said he met Ballinger at a meet-and-greet portion of one of her live shows not long after he first saw her videos. After that, he rarely had to pay to get in — Ballinger often comped his tickets, he said. As it went for McIntyre, talking with Ballinger soon snowballed into an all-encompassing activity. He said he and other fans — many of whom were minors — would video chat with Ballinger as often as five times a week for several hours at a time. Those conversations were often about Evans.
“She was dumping on us,” Silvestri said. “She was like, ‘I’m so sad. I don’t think Josh is going to propose to me,’ and she would do things like that. And she was turning fans against him.”
Silvestri claims that, as their relationship evolved, Ballinger’s messages got more personal. In a 2018 text message reviewed by HuffPost that appears to come from Ballinger, the YouTuber shared an Instagram post from another fan and made fun of her for changing her gender pronouns. Ballinger also made fun of the fan’s makeup and suggested she was making up illnesses to get her attention. Silvestri, who by then was 22 and working on Ballinger’s bus tour for $125 per show, joined in the trolling, which he now regrets.
“I just really hope people understand how highly impressionable I still was, and how I just felt like my job was being held over my head all the time,” he said. “If I didn’t join in on the jokes, and the things they thought were funny, which were unfortunately really cruel things most of the time, they wouldn’t have liked me and I would have lost my job.”
Silvestri’s parents knew he was a Ballinger superfan, but they were largely unaware of how close their son had become with his favorite YouTuber and that the relationship might be bordering on unhealthy.
In an interview with HuffPost, Silvestri’s father, John, said he was relieved of any worry about the situation when he met Ballinger and Evans at an event in New York City in 2012. Talking to the couple was “reassuring,” he said.
“They seemed responsible,” John Silvestri said. “They definitely gave me a different impression of who they were.”
He feels differently today.
“With what I’m learning about Colleen now, she’s not the person I thought she was at that time,” he said.
“That’s what made YouTubers different from celebrities — you could talk to them, and they would talk back. We took pride in that. But in retrospect, it’s dangerous.”
Some of Ballinger’s exchanges deemed inappropriate for minors happened in public.
During a 2018 Miranda Sings show in Philadelphia, Becky, then 16 — who asked to be identified by only her first name — was called on stage to take part in a bit called the yoga challenge. During the challenge, Ballinger instructed Becky, who was wearing a short romper, to lay down on her back.
“At this point, I was like, uh oh, this is inappropriate, I’m not dressed for this,” Becky told HuffPost. “But I looked up to her so much and I just trusted her so much that I did it. I laid down and she just spread my legs wide open for everybody to see.”
After Ballinger, in the character of Miranda Sings, stretched Becky’s legs as wide as they could go, Becky stood up and the bit was over. Becky said she was in shock over what happened and felt embarrassed because people kept staring at her. After that, Becky stopped watching Ballinger’s YouTube videos.
But the incident remains on social media today. Other creators on TikTok and YouTube have been re-posting it as an example of “Colleen Ballinger traumatizing a minor.”
Silvestri was working on Ballinger’s tour the night Becky participated in the yoga challenge. He said it was an “uncomfortable night” because Ballinger was “not remorseful.”
“She knew what she was doing and she had no regard for Becky or her emotions and that is just consistent with her behavioral patterns,” Silvestri said.
Ballinger didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from HuffPost, nor did members of her public relations team and management. She hasn’t posted videos to her YouTube channels in weeks; she appears to have stopped posting new content shortly after the new allegations came to light in early June.
Evans, on the other hand, is speaking out for the first time about the allegations and his experience navigating social media celebrity alongside Ballinger.
Her interactions with her fans began during the early days of YouTube, when the sudden existence of social media stars was still a novel concept. Social media allowed creators and fans to connect instantaneously and without any barriers to access; it wasn’t unusual for an everyday fan to get a tweet back from a YouTuber with thousands of subscribers. These relationships were uncharted territory for everyone involved.
“There was no rulebook for YouTubers,” Evans said. “You have full access. That’s what made YouTubers different from celebrities — you could talk to them, and they would talk back.”
“We took pride in that,” he continued. “But in retrospect, it’s dangerous. And it can be perceived inappropriately because a lot of it was inappropriate. It just evolved from being something simple into something very much that you should not be engaging in. And those teens and children, they don’t know that it’s not right. They don’t know that they should be pulling back as well. That’s the adult’s job. And the sad truth is, no one was doing that. No one was pulling back, no one was thinking, how is this affecting them? How attached are they getting?”
Ballinger faced public scrutiny over her fan relationships in 2020, when McIntyre published a video to YouTube titled “colleen ballinger, stop lying.” In it, he detailed some of the allegations being resurfaced today. That year was also the last time Ballinger commented publicly on the situation, publishing a video apologizing for sending McIntyre her underwear but denying any suggestions that she was grooming young fans.
“My fans are many different ages, so yes, there are some teenagers, but there’s also adults,” she said in her response video.
McIntyre’s video didn’t make waves in the Miranda Sings community back in 2020. But his follow-up video published on June 4 kicked off a conversation — and a new series of allegations — that’s sweeping the YouTube and TikTok communities.
“Colleen Ballinger grooms her fans,” McIntyre said in his more recent YouTube video. “Emotionally, grooms her fans for her own benefit. She’s done it to me. I will go on the record saying that.”