Russell Horning didn’t believe it when his mother told the Lawrenceville teen last week that Katy Perry wanted him to be a part of her musical performance on Saturday Night Live.
Horning, 15, is something of a sensation on Instagram for the dance videos he has posted. He has celebrity followers. Rihanna, for example, shared a video of him dancing on her Instagram page back in December to illustrate how she felt about receiving eight Grammy nominations.
But, getting called up to perform with one of those celebrities on a major national broadcast where millions of people were guaranteed to be watching? He wasn’t sure that was really a thing.
“I thought it was too good to be true and it wasn’t actually going to go through, and then on the way to the airport, I was like ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually happening,’ ” Horning said.
Needless to say, Horning may be the Internet’s favorite dancer after his appearance with Perry on the show, during her performance of “Swish Swish” with an army of female dancers and drag performers, is getting him lots of attention. During the performance, he came out after the other dancers and performers participated in a mock fashion show and swung his arms from side to side and did other moves while everyone else on stage tried to emulate him.
He was one of two Gwinnett County connections to the show. The group, Migos, which is made up of former Berkmar and South Gwinnett High School students, appeared with Perry during her performance of “Bon Appetite” on Saturday night’s show.
But it was Horning that had people talking after the show.
In addition to videos of his appearance going viral on social media, the number of followers he has on Instagram went from just over 400,000 before the show to more than 534,000 as of Monday night, according to his mother, Anita Redd, who is also his manager.
She said she’s been fielding calls about using his name and likeness on everything from socks to backpacks since his performance with Perry. The backpacks, in particular are a reference to the fact that he wore a backpack during his performance on Saturday Night Live, but also because he calls himself “Backpack Kid” on Instagram.
Horning also shot a promotional video for the Georgia Swarm lacrosse team at Ronald Reagan Park on Monday, and will appear at the team’s upcoming game on June 4. He is also doing a commercial for Checkers, to promote their $1 Fries campaign, this week, he mother said.
“I’ve just been managing my phone, responding to emails and setting up times for interviews and now I’m collaborating with people on designing a backpack based on him, designing socks based on him, T-shirts, hoodies (and) caps all since Sunday,” Redd said.
The teen has been doing dance videos for social media since 2014, but he said his @i_got_barzz Instagram feed didn’t start to getting big until about six months later, in January 2015. He’s done videos with various artists since then, including Ayo and Teo, Candy Reign, Supa Peach, Lela Brown, DJ Shade and Darrel Bailey.
He said Perry discovered him when one of his videos popped up in her recommended videos feed on social media.
Horning was on the Saturday Night Live set rehearsing for eight hours last Thursday, four hours last Friday and then rehearsing, performing and then appearing with Perry and the cast for the closing credits during a nine-hour period on Saturday.
Despite having to rehearse so much, Horning said he enjoyed the experience.
“It was very heartwarming,” he said. “Millions of kids want to be on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ but she picked me to be with her.”
He later added that Perry was friendly to him and his family, defying his expectations about what meeting a celebrity would be like. The singer asked about his brothers, asking the family to thank his oldest brother, who is a U.S. Marine in Japan, for his military service and chatting up Redd about her balm and 3-D container business.
Perry also shot a video with Horning for Instagram before the show on Saturday, with the teen doing his dance and Perry trying to get in on the action and attempting — albeit not too well — to do his dance. Horning wrote “When your mom tries to look cool,” on his Instagram post that had the video attached.
“She’s a really nice lady,” he said. “I thought she was going to be mean and stingy, and that the fame got to her head, but she’s actually really nice and doesn’t think the world revolves around her.”
Perry offered Horning’s family tickets to attend her concert in Atlanta later this year.
Redd said the offer to have her son appear with Perry on Saturday Night Live happened quickly. She was contacted a week ago and asked if he’d like to appear with an “A-list celebrity” on Saturday Night Live.
“I looked up the three people who sent it and everyone of them had a background with her,” Redd said. “One was her choreographer, one was her filmographer and one was on her tour. Then I looked up ‘Saturday Night Live’ to see who the musical guest was, and it was Katy Perry, so I know hours before they actually told me. So, I waited for him to come home from school. I made the arrangements and they told me who it was.”
Despite Perry’s friendly attitude with Horning and his family, he admitted the live performance did make him nervous.
“The whole country was watching us so, yeah, I couldn’t mess up, because if you mess up on national television, you are screwed,” he said. “You cannot go back from that, so I just cleared my mind and did what I knew I had to do.”
Horning said, however, that he enjoyed the experience and was glad to do it.
“It was the experience of a lifetime,” he said.