It's been a good month for U.S. figure skater Jason Brown. At only 19, he placed second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, securing a spot on the team going to Sochi for next month's Winter Olympics. But it was his free skate at the national competition that electrified the crowd and made a YouTube star of Brown.
Brown, who grew up in the Chicago area and is training for the Olympics at an ice rink in Monument, Colo., tells All Things Considered co-host Audie Cornish that he had no idea his performance would win him so many fans.
"You know, I freak out when it gets 100 hits — I'm like, 'Oh my God, it's like 100 people have watched it on YouTube, this is insane!' " he tells Audie. "And like my highest-watched video, like since before nationals, was 8,000 views. So the fact that it's at 3 million — I don't know how it happened, I'm so blown away and so shocked — beyond shocked. It's so surreal to me."
That landmark performance came only weeks after Brown turned 19. And while his youthful eagerness shined through, he also wowed the crowd with intricate footwork and artistic flourishes.
Brown tells Audie that he "was a devil child growing up," always running from one thing to the next. And he says of his longtime skating coach, Kori Ade, "I don't know how my coach put up with me and how she, you know, was able to calm me down."
As for the Riverdance-like footwork, Brown gives all the credit to his choreographer, Rohene Ward.
"It was all him and he really took each like second of the footwork and made a move for each second," Brown says, "and we would work on that footwork for hours and hours every day."
With the precision and energy that Brown showed at the U.S. championship, commentators in skating say he has a chance to bring a medal home from Russia — even though he doesn't cram his program with jumps, and he doesn't have a quadruple jump in his arsenal.
The quad has been seen as a dividing line between skaters in recent years, despite the fact that American Evan Lysacek didn't perform one of the difficult jumps on his way to winning the gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
When Audie asks him about lacking a quad, Brown says he plans to stick with what works — and with his training.
"If I'm able to go out there and do my best performances, then I'll be happy no matter where it puts me," Brown says, "and I couldn't ask to do anything more."
Asked by Audie if he'll try a quad in Sochi, Brown says, "I am not gonna be trying it there."
One last exchange between Audie and Brown reflects how starkly things have changed for him.
"Your ponytail has a Twitter account," Audie says.
"Yes! Crazy! It's crazy!" Brown says.
"Are you following? And does it capture the personality?" Audie asks.
"I am following. I just started following the Twitter account, and I couldn't stop laughing. I was laughing so hard reading some of the tweets that it — or she, or he — wrote. I think it's just so funny, and I can't stop laughing over it."
Thanks to All Things Considered assistant producer Theo Balcomb for her help with this post.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
In preparation for the Sochi, 19-year-old American figure skater Jason Brown took to the rink today.
(SOUNDBITE OF SKATES ON ICE)
CORNISH: He was practicing in Monument, Colorado, spinning on the ice...
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CORNISH: ...just as he did earlier this month in Boston. That's where he made the Olympic team with an epic free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, man. That (unintelligible). Shut this building down for repairs after this program because he's going to blow the roof off of it.
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CORNISH: Brown excited the audience that night in Boston. Man, was he excited to talk to us.
JASON BROWN: Hi.
CORNISH: I asked him about that performance at nationals that now has over three million views on YouTube.
BROWN: Oh, my gosh, I don't even - you know, I freak out when it gets 100 hits. I'm like: Oh, my god, it's like 100 people have watched it on YouTube, this is insane. And I think like my highest-watched video, like, since before nationals, was 8,000 views. So the fact that it's at three million, I don't know how it happened. I'm, like, so blown away and so shocked, beyond shocked. It's so surreal to me.
CORNISH: Now, one of the things that was easy to see, for folks who want to go and look at this video, is that you have infectious energy. And the commentators...
BROWN: Thank you.
CORNISH: ...were talking about a couple of things about your performance. One: Your Riverdance footwork, right? Like where does that come from?
CORNISH: And were you a bit of a ham as a kid?
BROWN: I was the devil child growing up and I had just tons and tons of energy. And, like, I was just like one of those kids that always looked like nonstop or be going from one place to the next place. And I don't know how my coach put up with me and how she, you know, was able to calm me down.
But, yeah, for the footwork now this year, my choreographer, Rohene, it was all him. And he really took each like second of the footwork and made a move for each second. And we would work on that footwork for hours and hours every day.
CORNISH: And then the other thing people talk about is the fact that you don't cram your program full of jumps; that you don't include one of the more difficult moves like a quadruple jump. And you have any worries about that going into this
BROWN: Yeah, of course. My main focus as, you know, I went into nationals being, like, all I can do is compete in the programs that I've been training. I can't, you know, expect to go there and suddenly land a jumped that I haven't really done before.
So I really have that same mentality going into the Olympics; just staying focused, doing what I've been training to do. And wherever that puts me, if I'm able to go out there and do my best performances, then I'll be happy no matter where it puts me. And I couldn't ask to do anything more.
CORNISH: So is there any chance that you will try something like the quad jump in Sochi?
BROWN: I am not going to be trying it there.
CORNISH: Now, your mom was one of the founding producers of the Arsenio Hall TV show. And I did wonder if that - if she's taught you anything kind of about show business? It feels like you've got a real kind of knack for that when you're out on the ice.
BROWN: Oh, thank you so much. You know, I think she's just raised me very openly because of everything that she went through as a producer. And I think she put me in tons of different activities, and she exposed me to tons of things as a kid. So I definitely think that was something that really helped me and really made me who I am today.
CORNISH: Oh, I should have - I can't believe I almost forgot to ask this. Your famous ponytail...
CORNISH: ...now has its own Twitter account.
BROWN: Crazy, it's crazy.
CORNISH: Are you following this Twitter account?
CORNISH: It is attached to the personality.
BROWN: I am following. I just started following the Twitter account and I couldn't stop laughing. I was laughing so hard reading some of the tweets that it or she or he wrote. I think it's just so funny and I can't stop laughing over it.
CORNISH: Well, Jason Brown, best of luck at the Olympics. Thanks so much for taking time out of your training to talk with us.
BROWN: Thank you. This was so much fun. Thank you.
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.