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Long before he became MTV's newest subject, Bretman Rock was already, by all accounts, a reality star—and one cursory scroll through his Instagram account will instantly show you why.
On March 7, he posted a clip preparing a cereal and milk bath, his enthusiasm undeniable as he declared, "I'm so happy right now" while sitting in the mixture. For Easter, he hopped in clear platform stilettos with a bunny head mask on before performing a few spins on the pole in the center of his foyer. And, in honor of the new year, Bretman shared a video of his runway walk complete with a variety of posing as fireworks went off behind him.
Sure, he hasn't always had 15.4 million people following his every post on Instagram and there was a time before he had access to a pole in his own home. But the unapologetic, no-holds-barred personality and outlandish content to match? That's always been signature Bretman. For fans who have been following along with the star's rise for years now, they might remember his earliest videos as he performed gags at home, then still a teenager with a potty mouth, coming of age in Hawaii after immigrating from the Philippines as a child. At times, his skits incorporated his mother, Mercedita, or sister, Princess Mae, eventually turning them into signature characters in Bretman's world.
Over the last six years, he solidified himself as a beauty influencer on YouTube, where his mix of makeup and lifestyle content has amassed more than 8 million subscribers to date. With all this digital spotlight on him, it was only time before his latest opportunity arose: an MTV reality series on YouTube. "My @mtv show is Finally here!!" he announced on Jan. 28. "I've been manifesting this since I was a child and we're finally doing it guys !! I'm a reality star."
While it seems like Bretman was always destined for this very modern success story, at the time of his ascent, there was no influencer road map. "To be honest, back then the word influencer and YouTube was such a taboo. It wasn't a thing back then," Bretman exclusively told E! News. "Back then, I didn't even think I could make this a career...If someone told me back then that I would be here today having an MTV show just from starting on YouTube, I would be like, 'What the heck?'"
Before beauty influencers were building their own empires, they were teaching—posting tutorials, sharing tips and reviewing products à la YouTube OGs Michelle Phan, ItsJudyTime's Judy Travis and Bubzbeauty's Lindy Tsang. It was those women who inspired Bretman to give YouTube makeup a try.
"A part of me was like, 'Oh my god, these Asian girls are doing it. How about an Asian boy doing it? I could do it'…and then I did," Bretman said. "People loved it and I put my own spin on it."
"If it wasn't for those girls who paved the way for the Asian beauty community," he continued, "I would not be here today. I would not have found the push to start making videos—beauty videos to be exact."
Instead, he might have been gearing up for a career very far from the cameras. "I just had the typical Filipino American dream set up from my mom and I was probably going to be a nurse and probably go to college, which I was still very serious about," he explained. "I definitely really wanted to go to college and live my mom's full American dream fantasy of her son being a nurse."
While Bretman is quite blunt online, MTV's cameras have so far shown an even more unfiltered side to his life behind the scenes. In the first episode, as Bretman and his guests are eating dinner, Mercedita is brought to tears at the table recalling the sacrifices she made to raise her kids on her own in America.
"That was probably the hardest scene to ever film," he recalled. "Without throwing her under the bus, my mom really has a hard time expressing her love to her kids sometimes...To be honest with you, that was, like, the first time she kind of really opened up and really reminisced about the sacrifices that she had to do to raise three kids on her own and it was so refreshing to hear her side and how she saw it and it just makes what I do so much more worth it."
After all, his family is his focal point. "I do everything I do because of my mom and for my mom," he professed, "and because of my family and for my family." In March 2019, he even gifted his mother a house, a milestone for someone who, at one point, could not afford to bring in groceries for cooking class at school.
"It was just like six eggs that I had to bring and I would rather have taken the C for the grade than bring in the eggs because I didn't want to ask my mom for money," he said. "It definitely makes me feel so grateful for where I am now and obviously it's always nice to really look back and never take things for granted because as fast as I grew, I could also lose it just as fast."
While the star certainly sounds self-aware, it seems like his mom will also help keep his feet on the ground. "I don't think she even realizes anything about Bretman Rock," he said. "My mom thinks that the show is only airing in the Philippines...My mom still kind of doesn't have an idea of what I do. She has the basic knowledge of it—she knows I make videos, she knows that people see it, but I don't think she knows how extreme it is."
Extreme is no exaggeration. With millions of eyes tuned in to Bretman's every digital move—and the YouTube beauty world battered by drama and scandal—the 22 year old is contemplating expanding his resumé.
"I feel like I am never done and I feel like I am always finding new interests in things and, right now, I really just want to venture out more into my talents," he said. "I don't want to say I want to steer away from the beauty community, but at the same time, with it being so toxic right now, I really don't think I belong in that community and it's not the same values as it was a couple years back. Before it was just all about makeup, our love for beauty, our love for vanity and now its become our love for fame and our love for drama and our love for hating each other. It was never about that."
Instead, he has a few other pursuits in mind, including fashion, acting, hosting and comedy. As he said, he wants to "really train myself to be the best entertainer as I could be."
"I genuinely think that I have what it takes," Bretman declared, "to be the best entertainer of my time."
New episodes of "MTV's Following: Bretman Rock" release on MTV's social media channels Mondays at 4 p.m. ET.