Emory Emory gives a webcam interview to ReelSEO, and shares new information about his own YouTube debacle that got him convicted of a felony charge and 60 days jail time. Emory apologized for his actions as deceitful and wrong, and says he wants to make amends with serving jail time and doing community service. But you may be surprised to learn in our interview how the situation became so noxious for both Emory and Michigan's Muskegon community.
A quick recap: Evan Emory pleaded no contest to a reduced felony count in Muskegon County 14th Circuit Judge William C. Marietti's courtroom on Monday, March 14, 2011. Under the plea deal, Emory will serve 60 days in jail, two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.
Why Evan Emory May Be America's First "YouTube Criminal”
Granted there are many other individuals who have been prosecuted for actual crimes where their posting on YouTube served as evidence. But Evan's case has one very profound distinction: He was prosecuted solely on the basis of a purely simulated activity, made possible by editing separate video footage and publishing the edited piece to YouTube. What he did had already been done numerous times for many years on popular comedy shows in television and on the Web, and certainly with enough other examples abouding on YouTube and other popular social media websites. But this was the first time someone had ever been convicted of it as a criminal offense in any U.S. court.
Granted, Emory was like most young adults excited about doing video and performing in front of an audience – be it the local audience of Muskegon, Michigan; or the virtual audience of YouTube and the World Wide Web. Like many young people, he didn't pay attention to the guidelines in both the real community of Muskegon, and virtual community of YouTube. Worse, he misrepresented his intentions to the school, and to the parents of the kids who were the audience for his performance, who he featured liberally in his explicit video.
Emory wouldn't have minded to make a viral video (which he was having some modest success with getting lots of views on YouTube before), but instead he inadvertently put together a "video bomb" – one who's explosive ingredients included a camcorder, a schoolroom, a performer, a guitar, lots of kids, a very sexually suggestive song, and some trick editing. While the video didn't explode onto YouTube, it exploded into is own real, local community – one that I've heard described by a Michigan native as "Dutch Christian" with a big generation gap. Pouring gasoline on the fire was a local and national television presence that gave its attention attention to making quick headlines over doing actual investigative journalism. In the end, the video bomb blew up right up in the YouTube performer's face.
ReelSEO's Evan Emory Video Interview
Emory, tell us about your own background. How did you come start out with being a YouTube performer?
Well Grant, I'm 21 years old and I live in Muskegon, Michigan. Before all this happened, I had been performing for live audiences for a really long time. I had started out just playing acoustic gigs, just 3 or 4 times a week to make money for college and stuff like that; and I started progressing more and more. I've always had a love for like variety shows and late night talk shows, so I started hosting my own variety shows where I would mix sketch comedy in with music; and with local artists. I would bring in a ton of local musicians, comics and artists, and have a show that was formatted that I wrote – including lighting cues and all this other stuff – and I would write that out and it would come out to about an hour-and-a-half-show.
How did the idea of your original controversial song put to YouTube come about?
Well, I was doing of my variety shows for a Valentine's Day, a one-year anniversary special for a local club down in downtown Muskegon. Now this club had a large video monitor on the back, so I thought of the idea of incorporating as one of the sketches between a musical break, and making a comedic video. So, a couple months before, I had thought of this idea and there's a song that I had written years ago – and that truthfully I'm not really most fond of. I mean, I definitely have better material; and I think the sad thing is that this song really isn't a true representation of my performance and stuff. But I had written this song a long time ago and I thought of, for this video, taking this song and making it appear that this song was being – cause the song is extremely raunchy – but it was also funny to a lot of people who heard it. So I thought of taking the song and making it appear that I had been playing it in front of an inappropriate audience as comedic effect.
What made you decide to use a first-grade schoolroom with actual schoolkids for your video?
Initially we thought of the idea of using like a nursing home or something like that, playing in front of a bunch of old people. But we had kind of thrown it around and then the idea came up of if we did it in front of a bunch of little kids – you know, them not even understanding half of the things talking about in the song, just to see how they would react to it. And so, to go about making the video, a local elementary school which I had attended in my town that I had graduated from, and I had asked them for a personal project go in there and record me playing in front of these kids.
So I went into the school that day and I had talked to a bunch of people. I had been known there by a lot of people, and I had recorded – I had spent 45 minutes recording myself playing completely "children appropriate" songs for the kids. I was doing improv about whatever was their favorite thing. You know singing songs about cats, or monster trucks, or helicopters and stuff like that. Then after school, I had had permission to go back into the classroom and record more footage, and so that was when I went back into the classroom and recorded me playing this really raunchy song. Then I went home and edited the video together to make it appear that I had been playing this song in front of the children for comedic effect.
What was the initial response you got from showing the video you created?
About a month following that video recording, I showed it at a local variety show, and we had a turnout of almost 350 people there. It got a really good response; I mean people laughed a lot. A couple days following that event, I had posted that video on YouTube. I'd say it had gotten 85-100 hits in the two following days.
How did you first learn that you might be in trouble for the YouTube video?
It was after a performance I gave at Muskegon Community College, where I had gotten my associates degree. Right after I had gotten done performing, a secretary came up to me and she said that she had seen my video and she thought it was really funny and I was like, "Oh thank you very much.” And I was like, very surprised of how she had found out about this YouTube video.
The she told me that 3 police officers, 3 news teams and 4 angry parents had called the school about that video. That's when it had started to set in with me that something was definitely wrong. She told me that she had asked the parents if they wanted the video taken down; and they she told me that they said that the damage has already been done – they basically just want to knock my teeth in.
So then I had driven from the school where I just got done performing, and to my house – where there was a camera team and a cop car. When I got there, I asked the police officer if I was in any sort of trouble and he had told me that I wasn't in trouble, I wasn't going to jail or anything. He had assured me of that, he was just here to protect me from a lynch mob of parents basically coming for my head.
So at this point you didn't think you had done anything seriously wrong?
Yeah. Not thinking I had done anything wrong or, I mean, just not even realizing the seriousness of the situation, I had done an interview with the local news station and they had asked me about the video and about the process of making it. They had asked me if I had planned on taking down the video and I had responded with, "Well I had heard from a secretary that the damage has already been done, and you know, it didn't matter if the video came down, and that was directly from parents, so…”
So that's why I then responded to the reporter on camera," Well I guess the parents had said it didn't matter if it had been taken down and the damage has already been done, so I guess we'll see how many views it gets on the Internet now.”
Shortly thereafter, a few other cars had showed up in my driveway and it was detectives. They had came with a search warrant, and I was sitting in the car with a detective. My cell phone was confiscated and they were interrogating me and searching my house for any evidence of child pedophilia – things like children's underwear and pictures of children, and a few other things like that.
Following that, after I had heard about how serious this was, the last thing I wanted was that video to be online. I had thought maybe the news had kind of been backwards? I mean, if they didn't want the video to be promoted, then by putting it on the news they would be doing the exact opposite?
So you were also responsible for having the YouTube video taken down?
Yes. At this point I realized how serious it was and I immediately wanted nothing more then to get that video offline, and so I was completely cooperative. I let them search my car. They went through my entire bedroom and tore apart everything looking for any evidence of pedophilia. In the process of all this, them looking through my room, I had presented to one of the officers and asked him if I could go in my sister's bedroom and get on the computer and take that video down, and so they had to make a few calls to make sure that was alright.
I think [the detectives] were more concerned with finding child pornography then getting the video removed. So I had taken it down, and by that time it had jumped up from the 85 views that were probably just my close friends to about 400-500 views. After I removed the video I was still being re-assured that I wasn't going to jail, or I had been thinking that they were going to realize that I'm not a child pornographer and this was all going to be sorted out.
So how did you wind up in jail and on serious criminal charges?
After a couple hours of searching, the detectives just came up to me and said, "Well we are going to have to take you to jail.”
So I went to jail that night and spent about 28 hours in jail. I was arraigned in front of a judge… probably about halfway through my night in jail after being asked all sorts of questions about my sexual preference towards children, and a few other questions that I couldn't believe I would ever be asked in my life. I was arraigned and I was charged with a 20-year felony and 25 years on the sex offenders' list for manufacturing child abusive material, which is basically manufacturing child pornography.
I was let out on bond for $5,000. And that's what basically led me here. I just recently pleaded no-contest to a lesser felony, which was a 5-year felony and which is a way to guarantee that I will not be going to prison and I will not be on the sex offenders list.
More Questions from my Evan Emory Video Interview
- (10:35) Why did you feel you couldn't fight a conviction?
- (13:28) Do you believe you've caused the parents of the children emotional distress for what you did?
- (17:19) How would you feel if the situation was reversed, and someone pulled the same prank on you with your own loved ones?
- (19:15) Why not have simply made the video "private" on YouTube?
- (19:40) Do you think you've been given a fair deal with accepting a reduced felongy conviction?
- (21:44) Has it taken this kind of attention to realize the seriousness of your actions? What do you think that can be come about it positively?
- (23:50) Do you think you'll be ever doing another YouTube video? How will you go about it differently?
Want To Learn More of the Evan Emory YouTube Debacle?
Check out our Video and The Law column for our coverage on the Evan Emory YouTube criminal story over the past number of weeks, or simply enter "evan emory" in the ReelSEO search box. I also recommend checking out the Muskegon Chronicle's in-depth coverage at MLive.com. (And of course, there's the trusted Google News search.)