Who is YsabellaBrave?

On her profile at YouTube.com there are photos of a twenty-something woman with a full mouth, dark eyes, and in thumbnails from her videos, ever-changing hair. Now she is a dark-haired chanteuse such as might be found hanging with beatniks in a 50s-era coffee house, now she’s a blond siren, covering The Doors.

At the news aggregator, Digg.com, a link to YsabellaBrave’s standalone website has already been “dugg” (voted for) by Digg users nearly 2800 times — no small feat for any submission to that immensely popular site.

YsabellaBrave’s YouTube videos have been viewed more than 250,000 times and nearly 10,000 YouTube users have subscribed to her channel.

In 11 months, YsabellaBrave has posted at least 49 videos, about one a week. Mostly she sings the blues, but sometimes she rocks a little, other times she essays a little broadway. Occasionally, she just is silly.

In June of 2006, another young woman became an Internet phenomenon via YouTube.com. She called herself Bree and her screen name was lonelygirl15. Here the mystery was thick: Was Bree a real teen girl, home-schooled, video-blogging (vlogging) in an effort to reach outside her strange, dysfunctional home? Was Bree in need of saving from some kind of dark force?

Or was it all an act?

Websleuths took up the challenge, and the short story was this: Bree, her friend Daniel, and her life online and off was scripted. Lonelygirl15 was pure fiction.

Funny enough, the ploy worked, and now Bree’s short web episodes are a mainstay for the growing audience of viewers who like to put their own playlists together and get their TV online.

What about YsabellaBrave?

Is she a talented young woman who began making the videos of her singing blues, torch, and rock songs to karaoke accompaniment on a lark? Did she post her first videos only for her friends to see, and was she perhaps surprised when strangers began to watch, and marvel?

Because one thing is clear after viewing a number of YsabellaBrave’s performances — she’s talented, and she has charisma to spare. People do marvel:

Mary Anne, You are amazing. I’ve been having a VERY bad couple days, and you’ve brought both tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. You have no idea what impact you have had on me. I have a fun request for you, if someday you come around to filling more requests: Let’s Do It, by Cole Porter. Joan Jett did a fine cover of it as well. Fit it to your wonderful style. The people here would love it. Thank you for everything Ms. Mary Anne.

~ YouTube user “GaijinTenshi.”

“GaijinTenshi” is just one example of a fan who writes to YsabellaBrave in glowing, emotional terms.

YsabellaBrave gives her name as “MaryAnne” in her profile, and she says, simply, “I sing songs.”

Also posted in her profile is a reference to a passage from Psalm 6. This is the passage referenced:

I am weary with my sighing;
Every night I make my bed swim,
I dissolve my couch with my tears.

My eye has wasted away with grief;
It has become old because of all my adversaries…

Other than that, not much insight past her song choices can be found into YsabellaBrave.

The same woman, using the name MaryAnne, was a finalist for the 2006 Miss Horrorfest Contest. The link goes to the video that presented her to voters. In the video she talks of her lifelong love of horror movies, mentions that she’s employed by a major Internet company, and she’s shown in alluring and forbidding goth getups and made up as a ghoul or vampire.

Competing for Miss Horrofest was something of a contrast with MaryAnne/Ysabella’s other online presence: CHURCH of the HOLY CROSS.

The CHURCH of the HOLY CROSS is a Livejournal kept by “Sister MaryAnne.” In her Livejournal user profile, she wrote the following:

They call me a prophet of the Lord Christ. If I am to be called, let it be known that I am His.

Sister MaryAnne continued:

… Being a prophet involves God speaking through you, which is heavy as it sounds. I’ll explain more in Gifts… below. There are a great many ‘magical’ things done, as one might call it, but I don’t ‘do’ any of it – it is completely the Father. I am blessed enough to be chosen and able to accomplish these things, as God chooses all His children to further the kingdom for Him, but the power is not my own. It is a gift from the Holy Spirit, and God be praised for bestowing upon His children these gifts which further the Kingdom…

Most of Sister MaryAnne’s blog entries are either words of Christian testimony or the blog surveys and tests many casual bloggers use to quickly convey info about themselves to readers. It becomes clear in her Livejournal that Sister MaryAnne has a sincere and long-lasting commitment to her faith.

But who is YsabellaBrave?

In a video where she answered questions she’d already received from fans, MaryAnne gave some background, but most of it was vague. She stated that she’d not been singing long, which is remarkable considering how much confidence and self-assurance she seems to have in most of her performances. Additionally, her vocal ability speaks at least of her having an unusually good ear — she is rarely out-of-tune and comfortable enough with the fixed beat of a karaoke track to play around with melodies and still not lose synch with the music.

Is YsabellaBrave an act, then, a character consciously created by the mysterious MaryAnne? Could it be that Sister MaryAnne is using YsabellaBrave and mostly secular songs to perform an online act of ministry, of evangelism?

In her very first Livejournal entry in 2004, MaryAnne answered a survey question asking about her favorite actor/actress with one compound word: “Myself!”

So one answer to the question about YsabellaBrave being an act is yes.

But is there really anything wrong with that?

There seem to be a lot of people online willing to let her “minister” to them, and she does it in an entertaining, sometimes riveting way. Her artifice is part of the entertainment. And 2 or 3 minutes with MaryAnne/YsabellaBrave leave one feeling a little better than 2 or 3 episodes of lonelygirl15.

Sometimes, the “play” really is “the thing.”

UPDATE, 1/31/07, 11:27 p.m. ET

MaryAnne would like you to know she is not another “lonelygirl15.”

In an e-mail she writes about the “actor/actress” thing: “The ‘acting’ thing is because I used to act as a younger person. Period. I’ve been accused of being a fake and a phony and acting since day one of this, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.”

In a separate message, a friend of MaryAnne’s, going by the name “Devin” also chimed in: “She’s the real deal. She’s really smart, quite modest, friendly, and to tell you the truth, the pictures on her site don’t do her beauty justice… I’ll be happy to answer any questions I can to vouch for her as being authentic and not a Lonelygirl15.”

MaryAnne also posted another video on YouTube Tuesday night, responding to the upswing in her popularity. Her shock and excitement at having so many new viewers and YouTube subscribers was palpable.

In the same e-mail, MaryAnne addressed cynicism expressed by this writer and others as to her authenticity:

I understand your cyncism as well as I can. I have never been cynical, I am more often foolishly innocent of heart, to a fault…

Sometimes there is a lot to be said for believing. Believing that a person can do something on a lark, like put a video on YouTube, and from that become a star.

Believing that some people really do just sing because they must.

(Steve Huff is the author of the popular True Crime Blog)

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