Tay Zonday morphed from an unknown musician to an Internet superstar who got booked on national TV shows after his song "Chocolate Rain" - an amateur clip of his baritone crooning - went viral last year. Now he's among the 12 winners of the second annual YouTube Video Awards, recognizing the top user-created videos of 2007.
YouTube users voted on six nominees for each category: music, sports, comedy, instructional, short film, inspirational, commentary, creative, politics, series, eyewitness and "adorable."
"It's the new Emmys," Zonday, 25, said of the video-sharing site's awards in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's the next Oscars. The next People's Choice Awards. It'll be interesting to see what happens five years, 10 years (from now)."
His competition included comely singer-songwriter Mia Rose and "the vegetable orchestra," featuring a jam session with a carrot flute and squash drum.
Neil Cicierega's video featuring "Harry Potter" hand puppets (and Professor Dumbledore without any clothes on) won for best comedy video. Guillaume Reymond's "Human Tetris" won most creative video.
Chris Crocker, who shot to stardom in his video freak-out over Britney Spears' public meltdown, was beat in the commentary category by a clip from Michael Buckley of the popular online show "What the Buck?" slamming fellow YouTube celebrity Lonelygirl15.
The Obama Girl, aka Amber Lee Ettinger, whose "I Got A Crush On Obama" clip has been seen more than 7 million times, didn't wind up winning in the politics category. That honor went to the serious-minded "Stop the Clash of Civilizations" video by the global organization avaaz.org.
"The (political) video that actually won in an election year wasn't one that had anything to do with the election itself," said YouTube spokesman Aaron Ferstman. "(It's a) video that deals with ... serious issues like discrimination, and that video's done in kind of a neat way that speaks to young people."
Best eyewitness video was the epic "Battle at Kruger," which has drawn more than 26 million views to its astonishing footage of a baby water buffalo surviving an attack by lions - and a crocodile! - in the African prairie. It was up against the news-making clip of a University of Florida student pleading "Don't tase me, bro!" as police removed him from a John Kerry forum.
Ben Shelton's "My Name is Lisa" - a drama about a young girl and her mother who has Alzheimer's - triumphed in the newly added short film category. The winning Web series was "The Guild," a comedy about a group of obsessed online gamers.
The Texas Country Reporter's video about a blind painter won most inspirational video. The "Balloon Bowl" clip of a guy skateboarding in, well, a balloon-filled bowl snagged best sports video. And the incredibly cute, compulsively watchable "Laughing Baby" clip was voted most adorable.
Dan Brown's video "How to Solve a Rubik's Cube (Part One)" scored in the instructional category.
Ferstman said the prizes consist of "notoriety" and a trophy he described as "very heavy with a metal base" supporting a "big glass `play' button."
Ferstman said: "These are the (videos) that really will stand out and over time, you know, you'll say, `Hey, do you remember the Laughing Baby'?"
Zonday, who streams music from his YouTube channel, MySpace page and personal Web site, said he hopes to earn "a living making art and producing music," and is pursuing a voice-over career. He's flattered by the numerous online parodies of "Chocolate Rain," which has garnered nearly 16 million views.
"A lot of people see political commentary in (the song)," he said. "A lot of people find humor in it. A lot of people, they say their 2-year-olds can't stop repeating it at bedtime, so lots of people get different things out of the song. And I think the greatest consequence and the greatest mileage it can have is to get people asking questions."
What's the key to YouTube success?
"Just be very authentic and put yourself out there," he said in his mellifluous voice. "You'll never know what will happen."