Welcome to Creators on the Rise, where—in partnership with global creator company Jellysmack—we find and profile breakout creators who are in the midst of extraordinary growth.
YouTube wasn’t working out for Jeanelle Castro.
And that was a major problem, because she’d left her career for it. She’d given up the kind of dream tech job, she says, that came with things like luxe offices, endless free food, and all-expenses-paid vacations. People thought she was nuts to leave.
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She was starting to wonder if they were right.
When she decided to quit, it wasn’t because she’d gone viral, or had hit a subscriber milestone. It was because making YouTube videos about food was the one thing she truly loved to do. So she took a flyer and decided to live off her savings, hoping if she buckled down and made a video every single week, she’d find her footing–and her audience–within six months or so.
Six months came and went. Two years came and went, actually. While a couple videos (like this one about a Filipino food spread called a boodle fight) nabbed a few hundred thousand views, none garnered the millions Castro was hoping for. By the start of 2020, she was picking up odd jobs to make ends meet.
Then, at the start of the COVID pandemic, traffic started to pick up.
When the first COVID lockdowns kicked in, we saw a general rise in viewership for food content. Why? Simple: People were stuck at home, unable to hit up their usual culinary hot spots. They had to learn to cook–and YouTube is the internet’s biggest hub of how-to videos.
Castro’s videos caught this DIY wave. Within a few short weeks, she gained around 10,000 subscribers, she says. She continued to produce one video a week, but the viewership and subscriber momentum tapered once lockdowns lifted, and she was worried it wouldn’t pick up again.
Luckily, YouTube Shorts was right around the corner.
As a long-time long-form creator, Castro wasn’t super sold on Shorts at first. But when fellow foodie creator Lisa Nguyen began singing the vertical’s praises, highlighting how it had helped her grow her channel, Castro figured it was worth a shot. On May 11, 2021, she followed Nguyen’s advice and pushed her posting schedule from one long video a week to three Shorts a day.
Now, almost exactly a year later, Castro’s channel has grown by more than 600,000 subscribers, and she’s gone from generating under a million views per month to between 50 and 100 million views per month.
We’ll let her tell you all about it below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: For any readers out there who’ve never seen your videos, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Jeanelle Castro: My name is Jeanelle Castro, I started the Jeanelle Eats YouTube channel, and originally, I’m from the Philippines. I was born in the Philippines. And now I’m here! In Orange County, southern California.
I like to create videos about lesser-known regional foods from around the world, foods that people maybe wouldn’t typically try in the American mainstream. My foundation started in Filipino foods, since that’s what I grew up with.
Tubefilter: When did you start your YouTube channel?
JC: I started the channel in 2016, and then, I just wanted to make fun videos. I’ve been making videos for fun since I was a kid, since I was in high school. But then I started my YouTube channel because I watched emmymade. I was watching her and I was like, “Wow, she’s sharing these snacks from around the world and that looks so fun. I wanna do that.”
And then I wanted to show off Filipino food because I felt like there wasn’t enough of it on YouTube. So I started that in 2016, but kind of sporadically. I think I made a Filipino snacks video, then didn’t touch it for a while. Then I wanted to do something outside of my corporate job, so I started making more restaurant review videos, and in general more food videos. Then YouTube Shorts, I think, was just like a year ago. I started posting three times a day.
Tubefilter: How did things change for your channel once the Shorts traffic hit?
JC: Oh man. So I’d been making YouTube videos once a week for a couple of years, and the growth wasn’t that big. I had one video hit it off and that was a Filipino boodle fight. That gave me a few thousand subscribers, but then it stopped, and I was just like, “Okay, this is hard.” [laughs] But I thought it would just keep growing if I kept posting once a week.
Then the pandemic hit and I got 10,000 subscribers, and it’s like, whoa, this is great. But also kind of bittersweet—which is an understatement because obviously COVID, right.
It tapered off after that and I wasn’t growing as much as I thought I would. And it had been four years at that point. Three and a half years, maybe? And I was just like, “Dude, this YouTube thing is not going anywhere.”
Then I met Lisa [Nguyen], which I’m sure if you’ve seen my Shorts, you’ve seen her Shorts.
Tubefilter: Lisa’s actually one of the first people we profiled for Creators on the Rise.
JC: Oh great! She’s awesome. But yeah, I met her in a Clubhouse room, and she was talking to everybody like, “Go jump on YouTube Shorts!” She was all about sharing the abundance of what YouTube Shorts has to offer. So she was telling everybody what to do on YouTube Shorts, and how she edits her videos and how she presents it. And I was like, “Oh my god, I literally do the exact thing you do to a T—how I do them, my voiceovers, how I edit…” The only difference was she posted three times a day or more, and I posted three times a week.
Afterward, she had a private conversation with me and my friend, and she was like, “Yeah. Do it.”
So, on May 11, I started posting three times a day. Almost exactly a year ago. Three times a day, and a year later I’ve gained 600,000 subscribers.
Tubefilter: Three times a day sounds like an incredibly hectic schedule. What’s that like for you, production-wise?
JC: It was [hectic] in the beginning. In the beginning I would spend like 10 hours just sitting in front of my computer because it was really tough for me to shift from thinking about how I make my long-form content to short-form content. But now, I got in the groove of it, and it’s like brushing my teeth. Every day I’m just filming what I eat or filming some kind of recipe. Now I can make three videos in two hours.
Tubefilter: Oh, very quick.
JC: Yeah, really fast. But not including filming. That’s editing, scripting, voiceover.
Tubefilter: Do you write scripts post-filming? Or do you go into videos with scripts?
JC: Not always [post-filming], but more. Probably 90% of my videos. Sometimes I’ll just use audio I have. Most of the time I tell stories or talk to my audience, so I can look through and see if there’s [an audio clip] that would be better suited for this video.
Tubefilter: I feel like I don’t see voiceover content as much in long-form. Do you have any thoughts about the popularity of scripting and voiceovers in short-form videos?
JC: I think the main reason why I script for short-form is that I need to be able to get my message across as succinctly as possible, because I have 60 seconds at most. I did it mostly because of that, but I do agree that whenever I try to do voiceovers for a long-form video and I script the whole thing, I’m like, “Man, this is such a drag.” It’s just not fun!
Tubefilter: What are your thoughts on short-form as a whole? Is it good for creators? Is it doing something for you and other creators?
JC: I think it’s very neutral, because I think a lot of people are upset. A lot of long-form creators are upset about it. Personally, for me, when I was a long-form creator, I was kind of curious about [short-form]. That’s why it took Lisa talking to me for me to be like, “Wow, this could really help with my channel.”
Short-form serves its purpose. I love short-form because I’m able to create more content. I get bored really easily, and I kind of didn’t like the routine of doing one video every week and really hoping it does well, and then it doesn’t do well, and I’m just heartbroken.
So making short videos allows me to express myself more creatively, and I’m able to share more instead of just sticking to one piece of content. I can make all sorts of stuff and I don’t have to get too attached or too heartbroken if something doesn’t perform. Now it’s just become a kind of expression, I get to express myself. It’s fun, it’s short, and bonus points for the huge growth.
When it comes to long-form content, too, [Shorts] doesn’t cut me off from that possibility. I could also create long-form content if I wanted to. I did it before; I could do it now. And I think the fear that comes from a lot of people is like…training their audience? I mean, I started long-form and then all of a sudden went cold turkey and did short-form. And that was scary at first! I was like, “Am I gonna lose subscribers? Am I gonna alienate my audience?”
But the thing is, at this point in time, I feel like almost every single person who is consuming online content has seen at least one short-form video. I think you have to depersonalize it. Don’t take it personally, because you have to think of it in the grand scheme of things where, moving forward, it’s taking over. Like, why is Instagram Reels a thing? Why is TikTok a thing? Why is YouTube Shorts a thing? It’s because a lot of people want to watch short-form content.
Tubefilter: Very true. Do you feel like you’re moving toward making a mix of short- and long-form in the future? Are you going to give long-form another shot?
JC: Yes. This also comes back to full creative expression. Let’s be real, I could fit anything into a short-form video if I needed to. But when you take a piece of content and it’s like, “Oh man, this would be really good if I was able to show the ins and outs of it. Maybe some BTS, maybe some cool shots.” But that’s a lot to cram into 60 seconds.
That’s what I’ll do with long-form video. But it’s more of a feel of strategizing it out, like, what’s a good long-form video versus something that could stay short-form.
Tubefilter: So in a lot of your videos, you talk about foods you grew up with, and foods that your parents and grandparents cooked for you as a kid. But when did you fall in love with making food yourself?
JC: I think growing up, I was being nurtured by my dad. I would always get fascinated because he would make me try this thing, and I thought it’d be weird or gross or I just wouldn’t like it, but then I ended up liking it! And it’s like, “Wow, that’s insane.” That would happen, little bits of that would happen as I was growing up.
But I would say I didn’t really get obsessed with trying all sorts of food until later, probably like college years, or maybe even after college, once I graduated college, because you kind of need an income to explore all this stuff and spend all this money on all sorts of food. [laughs]
I think it’s because I went to college in a place that had a lot of food options and a lot of diversity, and I made a lot of friends from diverse backgrounds and they would show me their food and share their food with me. So yeah—starting college, meeting new people outside of the people I knew growing up in high school. That really helped me explore more food from around the world.
Tubefilter: So you try lots of foods in your videos, but you also cook your own food. I feel like a lot of channels focus on either/or, but it’s rare to see an even split with both. How do you approach that?
JC: It’s so funny, I keep saying it’s just the feel of things, but…it’s the feel of things! In the beginning I didn’t want to put myself in a box because an ordinary person wouldn’t be like, “I’m only going to make food at home for the rest of my life.”
I feel like…A lot of people say the thing content creators need to do is “niche down,” and I got that in the beginning. I think it’s a great way for people to get to know who you are. So in the beginning I was known for my Filipino recipes. But eventually it’s human nature to just get bored.
So I was like, well, if I’m bored, my audience will probably be bored too. How can I mix it up?
People aren’t like robots, where they’re just programmed to do one thing and that’s it. Even robots can do more than that! So I thought, maybe I’ll throw in some travel stuff right now, and get a feel for it. I’ll throw in some stuff I made the other day when we went out to eat at a restaurant that’s local.
I think at this point I’d trained my audience to watch out for me always having something different and fun, because the idea of my channel is that I’m not trying to force-feed anybody a particular dish or a particular regional cuisine. I want people to explore things.
That’s why you may even see something trendy on my page, because maybe that’s a thing that’ll get people to land on my channel, but everything else—like the mix of all these different things—that’s the point of it. I want them to see how big the world of food is, and how there’s always something for everybody. Everyone I’ve met personally that I’ve introduced a new type of food to, they’re like, “Oh my god, this is actually really good.” And that’s their gateway food to trying more things. That’s my favorite hobby, getting someone to try something new, and then all of a sudden they’re really immersed in a new culture.
Tubefilter: A few of your videos from Hawai’i stuck out to me because I love passion fruit. And passion fruit can look fancy, but it’s like two bucks. So that was interesting because it seems like you try to spotlight regional foods that basically anyone could afford, rather than ingredients or dishes that might not be accessible for the average person.
JC: For sure. I take an issue with—I mean, I see why they do it and I see the purpose of it—but I take an issue with that typical person who turns it into a sport. Like in a culture a food is considered a delicacy, but then they turn it into a sport. I remember Fear Factor did this a lot.
But now I think it’s changing a lot. It’s shifting, the way people think about food nowadays is less like, “Ooh, it’s freaky. This is crazy. Could you eat this? I’m gonna eat this.” It’s just an outdated way to turn food into kind of a sport. And now I’m glad to see it’s more like, “No, this is normal. You will eat this.” That’s also how I would love to present food.
Tubefilter: Backing up a bit, how did you decide to go into content full-time? Was it a quarantine-time thing?
JC: No, it was not a quarantine-time thing, which is funny, because I feel like a lot of content creators made it during quarantine because they had nothing else to do, so that’s when they got big and stuff.
It’s a funny situation, I actually quit my job back in I think 2017 or early 2018. I would say I took a really huge risk, because I was traveling and then I was like, “Man, I can’t do this. I can’t go back to my job. I’m missing too much of the world.”
I was already making YouTube videos every week, and I was like, maybe if I quit and use my savings, maybe I’ll make it within like six months or something. I have to try.
And, um, I didn’t. [laughs] It was after that, past our main quarantine period, that I made it.
Tubefilter: How did that go down?
JC: I think it was last July, my videos started popping off. I was trying really hard to make the once-a-week work, but I got disheartened and it’s scary, just how mentally taxing it is to quit your job. I had the job where people were like, “Are you crazy? Why would you quit that?” It was a tech job. I had, you know, pool tables, free food every day. We had all-expenses-paid trips every year. It’s like, why would you quit that?
So that was always running through my head as I was basically scraping by. I was like picking up random jobs. I was also just trying all sorts of different things, and I was always going back to YouTube. It sucked for those years that it wasn’t working out, but I’m glad [the other jobs] didn’t because I just kept coming back to YouTube. YouTube was the one thing I loved to do. No matter how crappy things ended up, I was like, “Well, whatever, I should probably just make this YouTube thing work.” Because this is the one thing I did love.
And then yeah. Thankfully. Wow. We’re here.
Tubefilter: Do you remember if there was a specific video that took off, or was it just a rise across all your videos once you started posting three times a day?
JC: I do know my most-viewed video, when I was climbing, is one that says “Peas and carrots.” And that was rough because I didn’t actually cook carrots in it. It was peas and corn. So it did really well, but it was like, “Oh my god, I’m gonna be known for like—”
JC: Yeah! Like, I swear, I was so tired, and it was three a day, and the whole time my script said peas and carrots, and I was saying peas and carrots, and the title said peas and carrots, and people were like, “There’s no carrots.”
Anyway, that worried me for a bit. I wondered if it was only doing well because of my mistake. But then there was a collective rise, because YouTube I think finally picked it up. So I was like, “Okay, these pieces of content are working. People are watching it.”
But that was the one video in particular. I was like, is this what my career is gonna be like? Is this just defining my career?
Tubefilter: So it’s been a year since the three-a-day posting schedule started. What’s the average day look like now compared to this time last year?
JC: Oh god, there’s so much that’s changed. First of all, I traveled a lot, and that’s why we were in Kansas City before we were in New York City. Then before that, we were in Houston. Travel is such a privilege that I am super grateful my YouTube channel is able to support.
I now have my partner, Doug, full-time working with me. He takes care of a lot of stuff.
And there’s just been so many more opportunities. I met so many amazing content creators. I’ve got my core group of friends now that are all content creators. My friend groups have shifted. I’m very much like, every single day I am thinking about this as a business now. I’m thinking about what else I can build upon this brand that could live on past just me creating videos.
So traveling is a big one, hiring—I don’t know if I wanna say hiring, but having my partner on board to take care of managerial stuff. It is so helpful to have a partner.
Tubefilter: I think people underestimate how much a support system is necessary, especially when you take off fast.
JC: Yes, for sure. It can get really, really lonely. I wish a lot more up-and-coming creators had the support system, but it’s kind of a chicken and egg kind of thing. The more you grow, the more likeminded people you’ll meet in this space. At least for me, I had a really hard time finding a group that I could just confide in, because it’s easier to find you. That’s just what happens. Your numbers grow bigger and it’s easier to find you because you are showing up in recommended or browsed. That’s how I was able to find other friends. And then you meet that one friend and you meet more friends through that friend, and now it’s like, wow, I’ve got so much support.
I really wish I had it also when I was starting out. And I think part of it is like, you’re right, I grew super fast. But I had been in this game, I guess, for like four years or five years, maybe four years at that point. I am so grateful for that now. I know the grind that it takes to get here. It just so happened that this is how it played out for me specifically.
Tubefilter: Since you’re making so many videos a day now, how much brainstorming do you do?
JC: I would say a lot.
As I’m producing, or even if I’m just eating, or I’m taking a break or whatever, my brain is constantly running. My friend did introduce me to meditation so I can have that time to turn it off and just chill. But all the time it is constant where I’m like, “What can I do next? What’s the next cool thing?”
And that’s fun! I think a lot of people would be like, “Don’t you get tired? Isn’t it unhealthy to always be thinking?” And it’s like, well, we all think all the time. It’s just that my brain is now thinking about new types of content to do. And oh my gosh, there’s so many. There are so many ideas in my backlog of like, “I can’t wait to do this series. Can we do this idea? And this, and that?” I just, I could make three videos a day, every day, for the rest of my life, until I die, and I would never be able to go through all the ideas I have. It’s just endless.
Tubefilter: That’s a good thing.
JC: It is. It’s great. If anything, I’m frustrated that I can’t split myself into 10 people. I want to do it all.
Tubefilter: What kind of plans do you have for the rest of the year?
JC: There’s still a lot of travels to do–just hanging out and collaborating with other creators. That’s happening all the time. That’s one of my favorite things to do. I just get so excited. Even though I am mainly an introvert, I would say, when I meet my friends, that is when I’m the most extroverted. I can go to these cities and we’ll hang out, and we’re always thinking of new ideas.
So anyway, that’s something, and then I’m also going to be releasing merch soon, and possibly some kind of food item. That would be so fun, because like, you watch these videos, but you can’t taste it. You can make it, but you can’t taste it right now. I would love to have something physical, other than merch, something you can actually taste, that’s a good representation of what I’m trying to do on my channel. That’s in the works right now, but I don’t know if we can get it out this year. It’s possible–I mean, it is only May. But that’s something I would love to have everybody get their hands on. I would love for that to happen.
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