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From theatre to TikTok, Penn State alumna JessVal finds social media success

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JessVal

While scrolling for hours on end across social media platforms, some may come across sped-up skits of mom and teacher impressions.

These impressions have gained popularity across TikTok, and Penn State alumna JessVal Ortiz happens to be the creative mind behind the content.

Ortiz is a 2020 Penn State graduate with a degree in musical theatre. And, she said Penn State was “literally the best four years of [her] life.”

However, Ortiz’s senior year was cut short due to the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Little did Ortiz know, this time spent hunkered down indoors would kick start her career as a TikToker.

Ortiz’s original plans after graduating college were to find a theatrical agent, move to New York City and pursue a career in Broadway.

“Theatre has basically felt like my calling,” Ortiz said.

But once the pandemic hit and Ortiz was sent home from school, she, like many others, downloaded TikTok to pass the time stuck indoors.

Ortiz originally got a taste of TikTok prior to going home when she would watch her two theatre friends Jimin Moon and Jack Maloney perform the TikTok dance to “Say So” by Doja Cat during rehearsals.

At first, Ortiz said she could not help but wonder — “What are these children doing?”

Eventually, Moon (junior-musical theatre) and Maloney (senior-musical theatre) suggested Ortiz join TikTok, which led to her decision to download the app.

When Ortiz mentioned to Moon she had downloaded the app, Moon said it was “obvious” she’d start making TikToks.

“She was also really into comedy and doing things... to make people laugh and all that kind of stuff, and I was like ‘Oh this is the perfect vessel [for her],’” Moon said.

Ortiz said her friends’ encouragement was the main reason she downloaded the app.

Upon first using the app, Ortiz said she felt as though she was “too old for [TikTok],” and she felt “way past her time” using the platform.

Despite these worries, Ortiz said she knew there was “definitely a spot for [her] on this platform,” and she began making her own videos.

Ortiz said many of the skits she posted on the app were inspired by interactions she had with her mother.

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“My mom is a pretty bold woman… A lot of my inspiration comes from my mother,” Ortiz said.

As Ortiz began to gain more followers, she said her inspiration for her ideas then became “a mixture between fan recommendations and personal experiences.”

From March to November 2020, Ortiz said she gained one million followers on TikTok. For the next six months, she said her follower count plateaued, until June of this past year when her TikTok career began to skyrocket.

In roughly the three months after June, Ortiz went from one million to six million followers.

Ortiz credited this fast rise of popularity to one thing — she finally found her “niche.”

“My humor has always been an acquired taste,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz said she knew she was a funny person but said she knew not everyone would relate to her.

“It almost feels wrong that me doing something that I love to do can turn into a living,” Ortiz said.

In some ways, Ortiz said she feels like she doesn’t deserve profiting from a career she enjoys so much.

For a time after graduating, Ortiz worked for an online university admissions office, and she claimed this was her “survival job” to help pay for the bare necessities.

This past August, Ortiz took a chance and quit the “normal” job for social media.

“[This was the] most life-changing decision I’ve ever made… I didn’t know it was going to be life-changing, but here we are,” Ortiz said.

At the end of the day, Ortiz said she’s glad she took the risk.

Now, Ortiz makes a living not only from making TikToks but also by working with well-known brands such as Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Ortiz said she aspires to branch out beyond TikTok and get into vlogging on YouTube. She said she wants to prove to herself she can be diverse in “her talents and skills.”

YouTube tends to be where social media influencers skyrocket in their careers, and Ortiz said she thinks it’ll be a great next step for her.

Maloney said it’s “not a surprise” that Ortiz found success.

“She’s such a hard worker,” Maloney added. “I knew she would find success in that realm.”

Moon said Ortiz “is who she is, and no one else can be that.”

“[She was] a TikToker waiting to happen,” Maloney said.

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