Jason Brown competes in the free skate during the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston.
Prior to skating in the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships last week in Boston, Jason Brown was fairly off the radar. His coach, Kori Ade, estimates that the most views he had attracted on YouTube was somewhere in the neighborhood of 8,000.
“There was a little buzz around him after Skate America,” Ade said, referring to Brown’s first performance in a senior-level international competition this past fall.
Within less than a week, however, that buzz has grown to a downright public nuisance decibels. As of Wednesday — just over a week after his silver-medal winning performance in Boston — more than 2.75 million folks have logged on to watch Brown’s riveting “Riverdance” routine to “Reel Around The Sun” that helped earn him a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team that will compete next month in Sochi. It was clear to those who were in Boston to witness his performance live that it was going to be a memorable program for skating fans, one highlighted by innovative moves and filled with emotion. Now, however, it is evident that he is reaching more than fans who know the difference between flips and Lutzes.
“I can’t figure out who’s watching,” said Ade, now back in Colorado fine tuning Brown’s programs for the Winter Games. “It’s many more people than just figure skating fans. Now he’s reaching more of the general public. Maybe he can help the sport reach more fans.”
One thing's for sure: The "Riverdance" community has been watching and also helping promote Brown's performance. Brown is scheduled to do a video conference with longtime "Riverdance" lead Padraic Moyles Wednesday, discussing his program.
"We were delighted to see Jason Brown skate to Riverdance’s 'Reel Around the Sun,'" said Riverdance co-founder Moya Doherty. "Jason’s performance was moving, joyous, skilled, fun, beautiful and quite simply amazing. Well done to Jason and his team."
Ade, who has gotten such strong response since nationals that her cell phone voicemail has already reached its limit, added that “we first started taking note it when it was at about 30,000 views.”
Brown, who expresses an extra dose of excitement when he makes a simple daily greeting, is trying to wrap his head around the Internet frenzy.
“It is so beyond anything I’ve ever imagined,” said Brown, noting that he has never posted a video online before. “It’s so shocking.”
Brown has been training in Monument, Colo., for nearly a year but his hometown of Highland Park, Ill., has been touting its newest Olympic star. From what he’s been told, there have been signs up back home, and he’s received numerous messages from fans via Twitter and Facebook.
Marla Brown, Jason’s mother, is still trying to comprehend the rapid rise to popularity her son has enjoyed, saying in an email, “It really is crazy.”
One reason Ade believes Brown’s “Riverdance” routine has connected with the masses is that “he brings so much joy to the ice,” a stark contrast, she said, to reality TV shows where desperate people are kicking each other off various islands. Figure skating can be a lot like reality TV where some watch to see who might fall. But in the case of the 19-year-old Brown, people seem to be watching because they liked what he did while standing up. And by staying on his feet, he gave the audience a reason to stand up as well.
Brown received such a rousing standing ovation from the crowd in Boston that fans were getting out of their seats moments before the final musical note played. As Olympic gold medalist and figure skating TV commentator Scott Hamilton noted during NBC’s broadcast of the men’s event Sunday, “They wanted to stand two minutes ago.”
Even with seven clean triples, Brown’s program in Boston wasn’t the most technically demanding in the field in terms of jumps. A quad, he said, is in the works but not ready for prime time. (He said in a national teleconference Wednesday that he will not insert a quad in his program in Sochi.)
What it did feature, however, was intricate footwork and a sense of musicality not often found in skating. His skating blended with the Irish dance music whereas so many other skaters’ programs blend with the background.
“Every time I perform, I want to perform for them,” the ponytailed Brown said of the fans, about 80 of whom were wearing brown “Team Brown” T-shirts in Boston’s TD Garden at nationals. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more. I went out there, I was so trained and I was ready to fight for whatever I could. That’s what I did. I enjoyed every moment. I enjoyed the crowd. They could not have been more responsive, more generous, more exciting. I can’t thank them enough.”
Brown admitted that he was a bit skeptical when his choreographer Rohene Ward suggested using “Riverdance” for his Olympic-season music. And Ade was equally cautious. She was at a competition with another one of her skaters when she got a call from Ward and Brown that they were considering music from “Riverdance.”
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of ‘Riverdance’ to be honest,” Ade said. “I didn’t know what
|Jason Brown competes in the free skate during the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden on Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston.
pieces of music they were going to be using.
“But as soon as I came back and I saw the slow part build and understood the general concept of the program I got goosebumps. It was only a week old and I knew it could be magic. As long as Jason connects to a piece of music, there can be magic.”
The program evolved over the season and, as Ade likes to say, it had time to “marinate.” The key, she said, was having Brown become a character in the program, not just someone skating to Irish dance music.
Still, she said, he can bring even more to the performance when he skates it again in Sochi.
“That’s not the end of it,” she said. “There’s about 30 percent more he can bring to it. He’ll continue to amp up the energy level. There were times during his long program in Boston where I was standing by the boards saying, ‘Come on, push it. You know you can jump higher than that. You know you can skate faster than that.’ There’s definitely more.”
Brown brought more to the crowd in the post-event gala with a routine to MC Hammer’s “You Can’t Touch This,” complete with purple-sequined vest and his black “Hammer pants.”
Brown isn’t sure how much more will happen in his life between now and Sochi, but he already has been booked for an appearance Jan. 24 on the “The Arsenio Hall Show,” a program his mother, Marla, worked for as an executive producer back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before Jason was born.
Undoubtedly, his biggest TV exposure will come next month during the Winter Games in Sochi, and it is in Russia where he hopes to reach not only the fans but the judges. He does not have the technical arsenal to take on the likes of three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, but that might not matter. After all, many skating observers weren’t sure he could compete with the quad jumpers at nationals, yet he more than held his own as his program was the highest ranked in the men’s field.
One thing is certain, however, his fans will be watching.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Olympic Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.