By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
Fadi Saleh is one of those people you meet with whom you could have fun sitting around drinking an adult beverage or having a very intense, introspective discussion about one’s purpose in life.
The charismatic Ohio native who grew-up in Memphis is the creative genius behind Baracksdubs, a YouTube channel that Saleh launched as a freshman at the University of Tennessee (UT) in 2012. The concept, which has drawn considerable national visibility, combines video clips of speeches by President Barack Obama with popular songs.
Many of our readers will recall Saleh from his pitch during demo day for the inaugural “MediaWorks” accelerator last August. Baracksdubs’ tagline says it all: “Putting words in people’s mouths.”
For Saleh, Baracksdubs is a manifestation of a short but active life exploring a variety of passions and educational pursuits as he charts the right path for himself both personally and professionally.
“I was a high-achieving kid, the first born in a family of eight – four brothers, a sister and my parents,” he says about his background. “I always wanted to go to medical school.”
So, it was only natural that Saleh, who was selected as a Haslam Scholar at UT, elected pre-med as his major when he came to campus in the fall of 2011. Today, he is finishing his thesis in the Haslam College of Business with a focus on social entrepreneurship. That’s a very different educational path, something that Saleh explains in his characteristic transparent manner.
“I always liked to make things,” he said of his pre-college years that included interests in drawing, doing animated video editing, and producing flash games.
Fast forward to the fall of 2011, and Saleh has enrolled as a at UT. He’s pursuing his pre-med goal, taking honors organic chemistry that he describes as a course to weed-out students quickly. One of those was Saleh.
“I left biochemistry kicking and screaming,” he says. “I loved the material but bombed the tests.”
As he went back home to Memphis for the winter break, Saleh says he felt “mental and emotional anguish. I questioned my future.”
It was that fateful trip that led to the launch of Baracksdubs. At the time, Saleh was making lip-sync videos.
“I was singing Rihanna’s song ‘Cheers (Drink to That)’ one day in the shower,” Saleh says when the idea of linking her song with a video of President Obama came to him. He spent the balance of the break – roughly non-stop work around the clock for two weeks – finalizing the YouTube video that was first posted on January 4, 2012, garnered 150,000 views in its first week, and is now approaching 3 million views.
About the same time, Saleh found a video clip of the President talking about Lady Gaga.
“It inspired me to come out with a second video,” he said. This one was “Barack Obama Singing Born This Way by Lady Gaga,” a video that has generated nearly 10.5 million views since its posting just six days after the first Baracksdubs.
Today, there are 35 videos on YouTube with President Obama linked to singers ranging from Justin Timberlake to Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, MC Hammer, Michael Jackson, and Taylor Swift.
The YouTube video with the most views is “Barack Obama Singing Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen.” It has been viewed 47 million times.
“Over the last four years, I have realized the place of Baracksdubs in my life mission,” Saleh says.
NEXT: How Baracksdubs helps feed Saleh’s core passion.