Originally published on Ball Bearings

Those in the limelight have an influence that can often sway the public’s opinion.

Donal Cervin was scared. He’d kept a secret from his Christian parents for four years, and he was getting ready to tell them through a letter. 

Donal was in love with Katy Perry—her music, her messages, and how much he had in common with her. But her music was a little taboo compared to the values of his strict Christian upbringing. While growing up, he was surrounded by Christian and gospel music with the exception of a few other artists his family considered to be “wholesome.”

He was 11 when his older brother introduced him to Perry. His brother could listen to more secular music without his parents knowing because he had a radio in his room.

At 15, Donal was tired of hiding this from his parents. He wanted them to accept the music he felt so passionate about. So he wrote a letter about how much Perry meant to him,  explaining that he’d kept it a secret for so long out of the fear that they wouldn’t let him listen to her anymore. But he didn’t like keeping secrets from them.

As he slid the letter under his parents’ bedroom door, he worried what they might think of Perry’s songs, such as “I Kissed a Girl,” “Hot and Cold,” and “Ur So Gay”—which he never played around them.

After reading the letter, Donal’s mom was a bit confused. She didn’t even know who Katy Perry was, so she did some research. She was glad to find that this celebrity was what she considered a better influence than Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga.

Relieved, Donal felt a little silly for making such a big deal out of the situation.

Perry’s religious upbringing helped Donal relate to her more than with other celebrities. Perry also grew up with a limited exposure to diverse music.

Recognizing their similarities, Donal learned more about how she broke the mold from her childhood and grew. This, in turn, helped him relate to her and grow himself. He finds her music  empowering and individualistic. It helped shape him into a more positive and open person.

Some people find it hard to relate to celebrities because of their large following and status. But not Donal, who is now 20 and runs the Perry fan page @katyperryrares on Instagram. The page is followed by Perry and 78.4 thousand others.

One of the ways celebrities can sustain their following is through their own social media platforms. 

Shanetta Pendleton, a public relations lecturer at Ball State University, believes while celebrities’ success is in part due to their profession, it also has to do with the impact that social media has on people. 

Pendleton pointed out that people are strongly motivated by likes and acceptance. For example, if a celebrity posts a picture and it gets many likes, people think that whatever the celebrity is doing must work, or it must be right, if so many people like their posts. 

Twitter is one of the main platforms that Perry thrives on.

According to an article from Forbes, Perry was the most followed celebrity of 2015, with more than 71 million followers on Twitter, and she topped the charts again in 2016, with 94.5 million followers, according to TIME.

In Donal’s opinion, Perry is able to captivate and maintain her large fan base via Twitter because she’s personable and actively engages with her fans by tweeting at them. This kind of connectivity is how she was able to not just keep, but also maintain, her fan base.

Perry was able to have an impact on Donal and many of her followers, at both an entertainment and personal level. However, there are some instances in which an adoration for a celebrity can become harmful. 

Nicholas Browning, assistant professor of public relations at Indiana University, says the one thing all celebrities have in common is they are all successful in their own realms first. 

Celebrities, whether they are actors, athletes, or musicians, create a following from their works. As they become more well-known, they become “franchise faces,” which basically means they become a brand rather than a celebrity. This is the entry point for them to create and continue to have an influence on the public mind.

One way celebrities can expand their following is by creating their own businesses or brands. For example, Perry is both a singer and a CoverGirl. She also has her own footwear line and a couple perfumes. Another example is football player Tom Brady who has a diet and fitness regimen called TB12.

Other ways celebrities can build their following is by attaching themselves to a cause. Salma Hayek, for example, raises awareness about violence against women and discrimination against immigrants. Matt Damon and Gary White founded a charity called Water.org that strives to bring water and sanitation to the world.

A celebrity’s impact is determined by their ability to maintain a following through various media platforms.

While celebrities starting charity foundations or advocating for positive change can be helpful to a community, it can also be dangerous when they start stepping outside of their realm of expertise, according to Browning. One of the major areas where this can be dangerous is in public health. Celebrities have such a powerful influence that sometimes what they think and push out to their followers can override a qualified professional, in the public’s view.

Browning cites Jim Carrey as an example of how promoting one’s personal beliefs can become very dangerous.

Carrey, who is a well-known and respected actor, has been known to advocate against mandatory vaccinations, and although he does not have expertise on the subject, people listen to him because they recognize and know him.

Pendleton says celebrity status gives individuals a level of credibility that now seems to exceed people who have the actual credentials. 

Browning and Pendleton both agree that it is important for celebrities to recognize the responsibility they have to their society. When promoting awareness, they should present a topic with the facts. The same can be said for promoting themselves or endorsing a product or line—it is important that they actually use that product.

According to Statista, 16 percent of worldwide internet users, ages 16-24 and 25-34, found brands or products through celebrity endorsements in the first quarter of 2017.

Donal says a lot of Perry’s products, such as her perfume line and her CoverGirl makeup, don’t interest him personally. However, he has encouraged people to buy her product just because they are hers. 

He also said she dyes her hair a lot, and while she wasn’t the entire reason behind his desire to dye his hair, at certain points, she was somewhat of an inspiration. 

He says her outfits are also easy to replicate. They stand out and include pieces of clothing that represent her, making them easy to recognize, if someone chooses to create or wear something similar.

While Donal had a strict religious upbringing, he was inspired to venture outside of that lifestyle by Perry, who he could relate to on a deeper level, outside of just her music. Today, he is open about how much he admires her and even wrote about her in his college essay, which he thinks helped him get into school.

Perry has had an influence on him; her impact has helped him feel self-empowered and become a more positive person. But her influence has not carried over into areas of his life such as health or medical situations where it could start to become more dangerous.