When Zachary Foster and Justin Russell began producing musical TikTok videos earlier this year, they couldn't fathom those efforts would lead to millions of views, recognition from "Access Hollywood," Global News and WTVC NewsChannel 9 Chattanooga, as well as a "Good Morning America" live interview/performance.
"It's been wild and amazing," said Foster, who has worked with the Salvation Army of Whitfield, Murray and Gordon County as a case manager for six years. "Our TikTok (videos) playing on the jumbotron in Times Square" the day of the "Good Morning America" interview "was a surreal experience."
"I would never have imagined (this), but it's just wonderful," said Russell, a flight attendant for Delta Airlines. "We're very grateful for TikTok and this (online) community that just loves Zach so much."
"They've jumped on board to make this happen, because they want us to succeed," Foster said. "There was no way for us to know this would happen when we started."
In the series of TikTok videos, Russell runs up to Foster and shouts a theme and a style. The latter then performs a song on the spot.
Examples include a song about Oreos in the style of Lady Gaga, Wendy's and Alicia Keys (7.5 million views), and McDonald's and Celine Dion. Since they began the videos roughly 10 weeks ago, they've gained approximately 500,000 followers on TikTok, a video-sharing social networking service used to create brief (15-60 seconds) videos often focused on music, dance or comedy.
Many of those followers have carried into their other social media feeds, including Foster's YouTube channel, Zachary Foster Music, which he uses for other musical performances, Foster said. Foster's ability to devise quick lyrics on a random topic, then belt them out in any number of styles on TikTok, dates back to high school, and "it's just a fun thing."
His favorite performance so far was about ice cream, in the style of Disney's animated 1997 film "Hercules," while Russell prefers the Taco Bell song in Queen's style.
After the "Good Morning America" performance, the pair received Taco Bell gift cards, and "our mouths just dropped," Russell said. "I love Taco Bell so much, and I would do anything for Taco Bell."
Foster's Oreos-Lady Gaga mashup, which he performed roughly a week into this project, "catapulted" the TikTok feed, garnering more than a million views, he said. The McDonald's-Celine Dion effort upped the ante to 3 million views, and the most-popular video, involving Alicia Keys and Wendy's, led to the "Good Morning America" invite.
On the show March 2, Foster sang the "Good Morning America" theme in the style of Adele, as well as about chocolate chip cookies in the key of Ariana Grande. Foster and Russell can be found on TikTok @zacharyfostermusic and @fabulousjustina, respectively.
Both Foster and Russell, who married in August 2019, "live for music," said Foster, who has "always loved singing." They're currently working on original music, and they plan to release a single on streaming services in May.
Russell studied voice and composition at Columbus State University, "such a good (music) school," before obtaining his master's degree in composition from the University of California, Berkeley, he said. "I can write the instrumentation, (while Foster) is more of the music and storytelling."
They average three to five TikTok videos each week, and "we'll continue to do them as long as this app continues," said Foster, a Dalton native and graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School. While musical performances and Salvation Army case management may not seem connected, "they're both giving back to the community."
"I think part of the reason (the videos have caught fire) is people can see how much fun we're having," he added. "Joy can be contagious, and people feel part of this journey with us."
And "we're just normal people, too," Russell said. "We both have regular jobs, but we do this for fun."
A hallmark of the early videos was Russell noting they were a means to make Foster "famous, because he's amazing, and he deserves it," but since the "Good Morning America" appearance, the first part of that introduction has changed to trying to "get (him) a record deal," Russell said. The latter part remains, however, and will never change, because "he is amazing, and he does deserve it."