Card games, music, dating and drywall: How TikTok is helping young Montanans get famous | Local News

When Helena-born Austyn JR Brown was fresh out of high school, he hit a slump.

College didn’t sound right, and trade school didn’t make sense for him either. He hoped to do something with his acting. He’d been a lead role in almost every play he’d ever been in, and it made him happy.

As he explored his options, he began posting videos on TikTok in 2019. He didn’t have much of a goal in mind other than making himself laugh and showing off some of his theatric chops. His first week, he uploaded over 40 videos, quickly accumulating around 10,000 followers. It was a cheery hobby that reminded him of the goofy skits he’d film of him and his brothers when they were younger.

One day, Brown filmed a video of him making jokes about Cards Against Humanity, an infamous comedic card game that has players fill in the blanks of phrases by using absurd and crass cards.

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Popular TikTok creator Austyn JR Brown thanks his audience in a video for their support on October 25, 2020. This image is a screenshot of his one-year anniversary video on TikTok.

Courtesy photo

The next morning, his phone was buzzing and buzzing. Overnight, his Cards Against Humanity video had gotten over four million views, rocketing him into the public eye.

“It was so surreal,” Brown said. When he first realized what was happening, he went into a near panic. “I never thought it could happen that fast, if it could happen even, to be honest.”

A few videos later, he got a sponsorship deal with card game company “What Do You Meme?,” and cash began flowing.

“OK, this could be a thing. This could keep going as long as I keep going,” Brown remembered thinking. The comments and messages about how his videos brightened people’s days served as inspiration, and he changed his goals to keep people laughing.

Months passed, and he was working with entertainers from Miami and Los Angeles.

TikTok had made Austyn JR Brown a known name and put money in his pocket, all from his bedroom in Helena. And he’s not the only Montanan to do it.

TikTok was launched to American audiences in 2017, and has since exploded in popularity. Its short video model allows viewers to scroll through dozens of videos in just a few minutes, generating millions and millions of views every day.

The app features a For You page, selecting videos from across the platform based on your viewing habits. A lucky creator can have their video broadcast on someone’s For You page and suddenly go viral. Anyone can become famous from anywhere, a major step in bringing rural people into the spotlight.

For some entertainers, this platform has been key to getting their career off the ground, especially in industries that usually require a young hopeful to be in a big city.

That’s something Billings-raised musician Jonah Prill ran into.

“Look at the ’90s and 2000s. You only had CDs, and the biggest worldwide broadcast you could get was television,” Prill said. In the past, musicians had to travel to a music city to get a shot at fame, he said, or hope to be noticed by a scout. That made getting famous from Montana a tough task. “But on social media, anyone can pick up a guitar.”

Billing's native Jonah Prill

Billings native Jonah Prill is representing Montana on “American Song Contest.”

Image courtesy NBC

Prill started his social media presence by posting his photography on Instagram, a picture-sharing platform. Like Brown, he wasn’t sure what his career would be, and his content reflected that. As he expanded to TikTok, he began posting about his hobbies, showing off himself experimenting with different options. Some went viral, putting around 100,000 followers under his belt, but he still felt directionless.

At some point, he posted a video of himself playing his guitar, and his media began to boom. The videos of him singing, playing harmonica and strumming away landed him gigs across the country, and he eventually landed in Nashville, Tennessee to write and record his work.

He’s playing among the greats, he said, but it couldn’t have happened as quickly without social media.

“Had it not been for TikTok, it would’ve taken years of traveling and shows and holding a sign on Shiloh saying, ‘Come to my show!'” Prill said. “I can reach a hundred fans in a minute online, or I can play an acoustic gig and get five fans.”


Jonah Prill playing at the Eighth Grade Talent Show at Will James Middle School.

Photo courtesy Kim Prill

For some of the stars, going viral was unintentional. Bozeman-based Ashley and Brittany Luly, or “Those Drywall Chicks,” posted videos of their family’s drywall business for fun and were surprised the views skyrocketed. Some of the first few viral videos kept making their phones shut down because of the overwhelming data.

Their brand morphed into showing women in a man’s world, depicting their stylish makeup and hair while walking on stilts and getting their hands dirty. Lowes and McDonald’s paid them to promote their products, and they were well-recognized at an Arizona convention for people in the construction business.

They said they’re sometimes uncomfortable being recognized in public, but they’ve learned to see the silver lining. Brittany remembers a woman tapping her shoulder in a Bozeman WinCo and asking if her 6-year-old daughter could get an autograph. Brittany was appalled at first.

“What 6-year-old is watching me put up drywall?” Brittany thought.

But she recognized it for what it was: young girls being inspired to enter worlds they didn’t know they could join.

Huntley native finds viral success with dating show 50 Dates 50 States

Matt Wurnig stands next to his custom wrapped 2021 Dodge Challenger on his parent’s ranch in his hometown of Huntley. Wurnig is the star and creator of the viral dating series 50 Dates 50 States, which has amassed over 22 million views on TikTok alone since its founding in 2020. Wurnig credits much of his creativity to growing up in Huntley and continues to call his hometown his homebase.


Inspiration is a shared sentiment among Montana creators. Huntley-raised entertainer Matthew Wurnig, who has created a dating reality show on TikTok called 50 Dates 50 States, wants small town kids to know they have a place in entertainment. Many of his creative roots came from his Huntley adventures and childhood friends, and he said Montana gave him the character and integrity he needed to be noticed by producers.

“You don’t hear much coming out of Montana,” Wurnig said. “If I can inspire some Montana kid to chase their dreams and shoot for the stars, that’s cool to me.”

Despite the spread in fame, Montanans appear in the limelight less often than their peers. When Prill meets an out-of-state musician in Nashville, they’re usually from Georgia, Texas or North Carolina. It’s especially hard when Montana tends to discourage music and entertainment as careers, pushing their kids to enter college or trade schools, Prill said.

“Music seems to be out of the question out West,” Prill said.

Brown doesn’t see Montanans or rural state people often in his industry either, and he’s met people from across the world.

But for those interested in a taste of fame, Brown said TikTok is worth a try.

“Just do it. You know the meme from Shia LeBouf? ‘Just do it! Don’t let your dreams be dreams!’” Brown said. “The more effort you put into something, the more fruit it will bear.”

“…on social media, anyone can pick up a guitar.”

-Jonah Prill, musician



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