If you were like any other kid that grew up in the early to mid-2000s, you know the array of shows and movies that came out across the biggest networks of our generation. What you may not know is the amount of shady things that happened behind-the-scenes of your beloved cartoons and live-action programs. However, I had the chance to get to know the prolific and observant Nicole O. Johnson, or as you may know her on YouTube, Harriyanna Hook, and learn how she became the Internet captain that her viewers have come to love. We discussed her rise to internet fame, haters, her web-series The Progenies, and her love for commentary.
Looking back on your older videos that you used to make, such as your nail and hair videos to where you are now, how do you feel that you have changed the most? What would you say has been the best and worst part of your journey online?
My rebrand had a lot to do with me not being the same person that I used to be. [With] my nail videos, I just got burned out and ran out of ideas. I still like to do nail art and get my nails done but I grew out of making those types of videos. With the hair videos, I realized that there [was] a lot of issues with my hair care routine and that was hurting my hair. It has changed tremendously and it is for the better; my hair is a lot healthier now that I have stopped doing all of that stuff to it.
I’ve always loved commentary and it’s something that I wanted to do. I noticed that my videos with me talking were what people really liked because I got to show my personality, and my views on the world. People would tell me, “Oh you’re really smart. I learned this from you.” So I would tell myself, “Oh, you can do this and people care about what you have to say.” That’s when I fully transitioned into doing commentary.
What was your defining moment when you officially transitioned from being iNickel to Harriyanna Hook?
iNickel was who I was in high school; one of my friends called me “Nickel” by accident when she meant to say “Nicole.” I was like, “You know what, that is actually kind of funny.” I liked that nickname, and so that was that. But, I am not in high school anymore and I barely talk to those people. [iNickel] is not who I am. When I was in high school and middle school, I hated myself, and the reason was because other people did not like me for who I was, and they thought that I was weird, nerdy, dorky, and stuff like that. There was nothing wrong with me, but I hated me because other people did. I was like, “You know what, it’s about time that I started loving myself. Pretend to be a bad bitch until I feel like I actually am one.” Now, I feel like I am one, so that helped. Once I stopped caring and started going after what I want, that’s when Harriyanna Hook was born.
You already know that I love Harry Hook; he’s my favorite character from Descendants and I love Captain Hook from Peter Pan. That’s kind of how it happened. One of my cousin’s names is Ayana, and I know that’s like a popular black girl’s name, so I wanted to do something fun with the names, like why not just put Ayana and Harry together? Then I realized that I just made an entire alias, an entire alter ego. That’s pretty much where Harryianna Hook came about, where I was just like, she’s a girl that don’t take shit from nobody. She speaks her mind, says how she feels about certain things in the world; she’s just that girl. It really helped me with my confidence and as a person.
I’m sure you get this question a lot, but what would you say was your biggest inspiration when it came to making your YouTube channel?
I actually made a video about these two in the past, one of my first commentary videos, where I talked about Amanda Steele and Maddie Brack. I watched them when I was, like, eleven years old and they were also eleven and twelve. They were two YouTubers from California, and they were like the first that I ever watched. They were more lifestyle creators and I loved them, I really vibed with them. I love Kingsley, I think my format is most similar to his. I used to love watching him in middle school and high school. I used to watch him all of the time, everyday. He was really funny and I adored him. A lot of the stuff that he would talk about was also like mine’s. He was more into pop culture and giving his opinions on stuff like that. But he was like the blueprint for me.
I would also say Andre Black Nerd Comedy. He was the first black nerdy YouTube channel that I ever found. Even though I don’t really watch him like that no more, I really do adore him. We would not have the rest of the black cartoon community or just the Black Nerd community on YouTube [if it wasn’t for him]. So, Andre really did a lot. I also saw that numerous other Black women were starting to join YouTube too, so that made me more comfortable.
I want to talk about your acting, specifically about you being an extra. I know that you have been on Legacies, Black Lightning, and Stranger Things. What do you say was the biggest thing that you learned from being an extra and being on set?
First of all, if you enter this because you want to be famous, go pick another profession. We are here to work, so if you are here to become famous, then just go make a YouTube channel. Working in the entertainment industry, we are here to do a job and we are here to make art. A lot of us put so much time, training, effort, and work into our craft. For every job you see, like in an actor book, there was probably twenty no’s before that. We put so much work into this and genuinely care about this. We behave and when it is obvious that you are only doing this to become famous, it’s like, “Ok, I don’t really want to talk to you. You’re really unprofessional.” Just don’t surround yourself with people like that, surround yourself with people who are interested in the craft. This industry is not for everybody; If you want to know if you can handle this field, start off as an extra. I figured out that I can handle it and I enjoy it, but a lot of people can’t handle the long hours, a lot of the waiting around, having to stand on your feet for so long, doing the same things over and over again. I know people that started doing it and then stopped because they didn’t like it.
I watched the pilot episode of your web-series, The Progenies, and I really enjoyed it. I thought you did a great job. Was that something that you always wanted to do? Sort of being the producer, director, and writer of your own show?
Thank you. I told myself that I always wanted to act in the stuff that I write.We actually made a mistake in the credits, I did not direct the pilot episode. [Laughs]. It was actually my friend, Catherine Madison, who directed it and will be directing the rest of the episodes. I’m not directing the series because I’m already doing enough with writing, producing, and even acting. I always wanted to make my own version of Descendants because I started writing fanfiction about it. I started writing it after I graduated high school, since that’s when Descendants 2 came out and when I discovered Harry Hook. I had read other fanfiction before, but I was too scared to write my own. I really liked Descendants because of the world that it created and I loved the world of Auradon; the thought of it excited me. I read the books and watched the movies, and liked the idea of what was going on in Auradon Prep. We barely got to see much of the school setting, and I wanted to write stories and about what goes on at that prep school.
I found out that people like to do fan series and I was like, “Oh, that’s cute,” but it takes a lot to do a show. I made short films in the past, I’ve worked on TV before, and I knew how much hard work and dedication it takes to make something like that. I told my friend, who was working on her Percy Jackson web-series and that I helped with, about how I always wanted to do a web-series and she was like, “Go for it,” so I found a few actors from her show to audition and then some of my friends who were on Legacies auditioned as well. I knew the cinematographer, I knew the PA, the makeup artists, and yeah, I’m friends with a lot of creative people. So that was great, I was like, doing an all-female thing.
Everyone was cool with it, I was like, “Oh my gosh, people actually like this.” I’m still kind of overwhelmed. Sometimes I just have to sit down and lay down, and I’m like “Wow, you’re really making your own web show. You’re actually doing one of your biggest dreams ever.” It might not seem like a lot to some people, but it’s a lot to me and I am happy about it.
Did you have any doubts that people wouldn’t be on board to do it or that you would struggle to find that community to help your vision come to life?
Actually yes, because when I was in high school, people would be mean to me about liking Descendants and telling me how stupid it is and that it’s for kids. I would make content about it online and I have noticed since the beginning of my channel, I never stopped making Descendants content. People would say that my opinions on it were stupid or that I was too old to be liking it. I was just scared that people were not going to like [the series]. I still get comments like that now; it’s not as bad, but I still get them and the thing about it is that the people who don’t like the movie or care for it are supporting the web-series just because they want to support me and what I do. If you got it like that, people will support you no matter what.
I was also scared that I would get backlash from the Descendants creative team, like the writers and producers were going to be mad that we were wanting to redo it.
I know you have mentioned in your commentary videos that you don’t want people to think that you hate everything or that you only hate the shows that you talk about. Is there anything that you’d want your viewers to know or understand about you?
One thing about me is that I don’t go out of my way to hate stuff. That is one thing that I wish people would understand. A lot of the things that I talk about on my channel, I really don’t dislike. I like a lot of it, mainly. Usually if I don’t like something, it’s because I don’t like their writing and stuff like that. A lot of people will see where I am coming from, but then you have the people that just don’t want to think and look deeper into stuff. They would be like, “Oh, you hate everything” and I really don’t, because if you watch the videos you would have seen that I talk about the stuff that I do like. People think that just because you criticize something, it means you hate it and that is not true whatsoever. Watch the video, and you will see that I don’t hate everything, and just because you like something does not mean that it is not open to criticism.
I just wish people would take children’s television more seriously, since they just see it as stupid, silly, kid stuff. And i’m just like, do y’all see the stuff that goes into kid shows? There is so much racism, fatphobia, and sexism. A lot of parents do not monitor what their kids are watching and people don’t seem to get that. I mentioned this in my Robbie Shapiro video, which is a personal favorite, that a lot of parents don’t really talk to their kids like that, so the kids pick up a lot of their actions and their lingo from TV, and that affects how they are going to treat people. A lot of people will tell me about how boys now will keep bothering a girl until she says yes or they will think doing that will get the girl to like them. And that’s not okay.
I totally agree. If there was anything that you would tell your younger self, what would it be?
I think I always told myself that 2011 was the worst year of my life. And it still is, because a lot of the stuff that affects me to this day happened to me back then and changed me forever. I would go back to my twelve-year-old self — that’s how old I was back then — and tell her, “You have a voice, you matter. Don’t let anyone push you around, don’t let people treat you like shit. You’re worthy of being loved, you are capable of being loved, you are capable of having good things. Don’t think that because you’re so different, that you don’t deserve things. You should not hate yourself because other people don’t like you for who you are.”
To this day, I am still a really nice person even though I went through so much in my life. You got to break this cycle of “Well, people were mean to me so I have to be mean back” or whatever. I don’t understand that. Just because people treated me like shit does not mean that I gotta go around and treat other people like shit. It costs nothing to be a nice person.
As a fan, what I have come to notice about you is that you fill a lot of roles: writer, actress, YouTuber, producer, podcaster, and you’re about to start your own shop. What else is there that you want to do? What can we, the audience, see from Harriyanna in the future?
Modeling. That’s like a big thing that I have always wanted to do, because, like, I am already short, I’m 5’2” and a half, but I was always told that I wasn’t pretty enough to model and things like that. I would be like, “You are pretty enough. Girl, go after modeling.” So that’s one thing that I’ve been trying to do better about being a model. I’m friends with a few photographers and I have been doing better about shooting with them. I’ve been submitting myself to castings and things like that. But modeling is like another major thing that I really want to do. If you want to do something, go ahead and do it. That’s, like, the next big thing that I am going after.
Do you have anything you want to put out there into the universe or anything that you want to promote? Any last words you want to share?
You can follow me on everything @Harriyanna. My shop is harriyannahook.com. I want to leave this on a good quote that I love from Pretty in Pink, and it’s Molly Ringwald’s character, Andie., She says, “I just want to let them know that they didn’t break me.” That’s like, my go-to quote, because that’s literally me. I’m still here. In high school, people would tell me, “You try too hard to be an Instagram model, you trying to be YouTube famous, you’re not gonna succeed.” Basically just telling me that I don’t matter, I could never do this and that. Look at me now. I never gave up, I’m still doing the things that I want. I was told that I was too ugly to be an actor, I was too ugly to be a model, now look at me. I am going after what I want and I want to let them know that they didn’t break me.
Top photo courtesy of T’Shauna Henry via creativittea
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