First there was Alison, then came Aria, Hanna, Emily, Spencer and now, Alianne?
For those of you who aren’t devout “Pretty Little Liars” fans, these are the names of the main characters with one addition to the list: Alianne Russell. Russell, a senior at the College, considers herself to be a “superfan,” of the ABC Family drama series. This self-pronounced fandom led her to being featured on the show’s Halloween special which aired on Oct. 21.
Two years ago, Russell took fangirling to a new level by making a YouTube channel based on her passion for the show. In each weekly web-ispode, Russell documents how the events, clues and character developments unfurl. She has been doing so since season three. Since then, her fanbase increased tremendously–“enough to pop up on the radar of the producers,” Russell said.
The show started out as a book series by Sara Shepard, but was then–to the delight of thousands of young adult readers–adapted for the screen. Currently, the show is in its fifth season. Russell, however, never read the books but started watching the show as soon as it came out. “I had only heard about it on ABC family and promos,” she said. “I thought it looked really interesting and right up my alley with the genre that I like watching.”
After picking up on Russell’s YouTube channel, the producers of the show reached out to her to see if she would be interested in being featured on the Halloween special. “They emailed me and I initially thought it was a scam,” she said. After speaking with the agent in charge, Russell received a list of questions to answer in a video and send back to the producers. Russell signed release documents to certify that the producers could, in fact, use her video, and was only then informed that she wouldn’t even know if she would be featured until the episode aired in real time.
On the night of Oct. 21, which just so happened to be her birthday, Russell sat down with a couple of friends to eat cake, enjoy birthday festivities and watch the show to see if her face would appear on the screen. Not wanting to get her hopes up, Russell told her friends that she might not even be on it. However, a commercial break came around and there she was.
“When we did see [my face],” Russell said. “it was a total shock and surprise. I couldn’t even hear what I was saying on the TV because there was so much screaming.” During the special, the main segments of the show composed of cast members answering questions, but before and after commercial breaks were snippets of fans talking about their opinions. Russell was just lucky to be one of them.
Russell had family and friends from South Carolina to Florida to Indiana watching the show in hopes that they would see her pop up. “Some people that knew me–that didn’t even know I was going to be on it–were watching the show and saw me and immediately messaged me afterwards asking if it was really me.” The crowd was pleased, and it would be foolish to think that the fan herself wouldn’t carry a little bit more bounce in her step as well. “I’ll admit I cried a little bit,” she said.
Russell talks about her three thousand-plus subscribers on YouTube as friends that watch her and talk to her about the show. The sense of community for vloggers is Russell’s favorite thing about it all. “It really draws people together,” she said. “There’s so much that I like about it, but the really large fanbase really does make everyone consider each other friends.”
It’s not a secret (catch the reference to the theme song?) that every PLL fan has a favorite character. Without hesitation, Russell says hers is Hanna. “She’s very sarcastic and witty and impulsive,” she said. “She brings comic relief to the show that we need because everything is always so serious…and I like the clothes she wears, too.”
Russell, a studio art major with hopes of pursuing something involved with the film industry, says she is not an actor, but definitely wants to work behind the scenes with something creative like cinematography after she graduates in the spring. As for the future of her webcast, she plans on finishing out until the predicted 7th season. In her most recent webcast that was posted as a thank you to her fans after the Halloween special, she claims to be, “too legit to quit now, guys, not going anywhere, you’re stuck with me.”
And I’m sure there’s about three thousand people out there who aren’t complaining.