Viral video sensation preps for new USA sitcom, offers advice to current Belmont students
The path to her current national tour isn’t what alumna Melissa Radke expected from her life’s journey when she was a Belmont University commercial music student in the late ’90s, but despite the bumps in the road, she wouldn’t have it any other way. The Lufkin, Texas native has become an internet sensation with online videos that have reached over 59 million people on her Facebook page alone, and she has amassed a following of more than 325,000 across her social media channels. Moreover, Melissa, her husband David (also a Belmont alum), and their two children, Remi and Rocco, will be the subjects of a new USA network unscripted family comedy series set to premiere this fall.
Radke returned to Nashville last week for a stop at Parnassus Books as part of an ongoing national tour to promote her debut book, “Eat Cake Be Brave,” which was published by Grand Central/ Hachette earlier this summer. “Last year I traveled all over the United States as a public speaker for civic group, corporations, benefits, galas, schools, etc. This year has been spent getting the word on my book out by traveling and doing appearances from ‘Megyn Kelly’s Today’ show to Hallmark’s ‘Home and Family.'”
Her success comes as a result of years of hard work that began when she first created a public Facebook page and, as she notes, “was off to the races” with her unique and inspiring storytelling. “By the end of the first week I had 470 followers, and I thought that was amazing! I would just put up silly, little videos for me and my 470 friends and family. Until one night I made a video called Red Ribbon Week. We posted that video the next morning before I went off to work and by the time I left work at 3 p.m., it had almost a million views. One day later, 4 million. A week later, 10 million. Today it has been viewed over 100 million times all over the world. That little video changed the trajectory of my life. If that sentence sounds dramatic, IT IS! It’s been absolutely crazy. But what I always want people to know though, is this: I was ready. I had paid my dues and then some. I worked hard for many many years, singing for people who rejected me, speaking to tens of people, writing for a local magazine that had a very small circulation. Whatever it took – I would do it. And yes, I thought that part of my life was over. But God. He knew better. So when that video went viral and people and media started contacting me, I was ready, because I had been working. I had always been working.”
Another viral video, titled “Eat Cake Be Brave,” was viewed by a literary agent in New York City who thought Radke’s words and ideas should reach an even broader audience. Shortly thereafter, eight publishing companies were bidding for the rights to her debut book. Now, she hopes “Eat Cake Be Brave” can help others be more bold in their own lives. “I want readers to get to know me a little better, to feel like they are just really great friends who are meeting me over Mexican food and Diet Coke, and I’m just spilling my guts. But what I want them to leave with is the idea that all it takes is a little spark of bravery to start a forest fire. That’s what it was for me. I didn’t blow the candle out on my 41st birthday cake and change the world the next day. No! I simply started saying yes to little things; if I was asked to do something that scared me – I did it anyway. If I was asked to speak or sing or walk up on stage in front of people – I did it. If it felt scary, I did it. If it felt strange or foreign, I tried it. Is it because I had been studying how to be brave? No. Was it because I had seen an inspirational cat poster hanging in my kids classroom? No. It was because decision by decision, day by day, minute by minute, I would decide to do the bravest thing I could do. And it wasn’t just changing my career (as it turns out), it was changing my life. From the inside out.”
As a student at Belmont, Radke was a commercial music vocal performance major who sang in Jazzmin and was selected to participate in the annual Commercial Music Showcase her senior year. Though she endured several rejections during her college years, moments that became significant parts of her story, she says she wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, Radke credits her Belmont experience with providing the foundation for the attributes she needs for the spotlight she’s in today, pointing especially to School of Music faculty member Sandra Dudley. “She made me feel like I could – and would – one day set the world on fire. She was not just a fan of my voice, she was a fan of ME. All of me. She hears good voices all day long, and she teaches good voices all day long. She really put a lot of stock into the individual, too. When the crowds come out and the cameras click and the fans scream – what kind of person will you be? She taught us how to be good humans, and I’ll never forget that. She was one of the best cheerleaders I’ve ever had in my life.”
With her own career now in high gear, Radke also took a moment to offer advice to current Belmont students, whatever path they may be choosing. “First, I would want them to know that in the course of their life they will face some rejection. Maybe they already have. Maybe they are facing some of it right now. We all face rejection, it’s part of our journey. What we cannot allow to happen is that we cannot allow it to define us. Our rejection is not the end of us, body shaming is not the demise of us, dream killers will not have the last word for us. There must be something inside of us that is stronger than the words thrown at us. But that is up to you – and no one else. No one else can do that hard work for us, we have to do it ourselves. So however you want to do it, through your faith, through counseling, through journaling, whatever path you choose just make sure you are reminding yourself daily WHO you are, WHOSE you are and what the truth about you really is. Secondly, there is a section in my book that says ‘We will lose all the girls if we teach them that never stopping equals strength,’ and what I mean by that is this, we are in a relentless culture. Keep trying, keep going, never stop, get better, work harder, get up and try again, dust yourself off and keep at it. Doing that, day in and day out? It’s unhealthy. Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is to quit forcing a dream or a destiny that might not be for us. I just KNEW my voice would make me famous – and it is – but not at all in the way I originally thought. The minute I stopped throwing myself against a brick wall was the minute God grabbed me and said, ‘I need you elsewhere. I’ve been needing you for a long time but you were just absolutely sure you knew what was best for you. You didn’t. You had no idea.’ He was right. He was so very right.”
As for her future, Radke says her goals are changing from when she first started that Facebook page several years ago. “I used to want to be funnier, funnier, funnier, I wanted to keep people’s attention and collect more and more followers. Not anymore. Now, I want to continually be an encouragement to people who have dreams that they want to pursue. I want to be a cheerleader for those people who felt like I did at one time, like there’s was a wasted life. Because it isn’t wasted. Not one minute of one thing they have gone through is a wasted story. And my goal now is to make sure people know that and do something about it!”