Metro Detroiters unaware of TikTok creator Tatayanna Mitchell’s upbringing may recognize a familiar backdrop to some of her videos.
Spoiler alert: It’s the Somerset Collection.
Better known as @therealtati, or just Tati, Mitchell has amassed 5 million followers on TikTok since she began making videos last year. The 22-year-old has become one of few Metro Detroit natives to reach her level of virality on the platform, and her success has translated into large brand deals and a voiceover in a movie debuting in theaters Friday.
Like other young adults on the platform, she began making content not with the expectation of blowing up, but because she was looking for a distraction during quarantine. Mitchell saw popular TikTok creators like Charli D’Amelio gaining momentum and thought, “Why couldn’t I do that?”
“It happened extremely fast,” Mitchell said. “I started for the hell of it just because I was bored.”
Her videos offer glimpses into what she’s wearing, what she’s doing and what she’s cooking. Many of Mitchell’s videos include her reacting to content other creators make, often eliciting comments from viewers enamored with her sense of humor.
She’s known for one-liners that have become ubiquitous on the platform. A faux relationship with fellow creator Devin Caherly that captured the hearts and laughs of viewers last summer also helped increase her visibility. Mitchell’s keep-it-real personality is also a draw, especially on platforms where people can curate a perfect picture of their lives if they want to, said Zach Cole, a talent manager who works with Mitchell.
“She’s not trying to be a carbon-copy influencer,” Cole said. “She’s just living her life and giving her authentic reactions online.”
A star is born
Born in Detroit, Mitchell grew up in Clinton Township and graduated from Clintondale High School. Teachers knew her as hard-working and talkative. Her peers voted her class clown.
She’s been working since she was 16, most recently at McLaren Macomb Hospital before switching to content creation full-time and moving to California. Mitchell’s father, Terrence, said she has developed a strong work ethic coming from a family of blue-collar workers, and that upbringing helped her develop the drive to be a success.
“One thing I know about my daughter is that if she wants something and she puts her mind to it and strives for it, she always seems to achieve it,” Terrence said. “When she was younger, I always said, ‘You’re going to be great at something, I don’t know what it is, but you’re going to be great.’ And this platform that she’s on is her calling.”
While Tati stumbled into TikTok fame, her success was by no means a fluke. Even at a young age, she knew she always wanted to be a public figure of some sort, thinking she could be well suited for movies or voice-over roles.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be some type of personality,” she said. “With the opportunities I have coming to me, it’s so great it’s crazy.”
Terrence can even remember her mimicking cartoon characters as she watched them on TV as a child. “She’s always had that unique voice,” he said.
He can pinpoint the roots of her interest in cooking, which has become a major part of her online platform and is the theme of a separate, 1.2 million-follower TikTok account she runs. Tati would watch her grandmother cook as a child, Terrence said, gleaning tricks and honing the finesse she now brings into her food videos.
Fittingly, cooking videos were some of her first to blow up on the platform. From there, she began branching out, hopping on point-of-view videos and other trends as they became popular on the app. And, as she put it, “the rest is history.”
Mitchell’s TikTok presence is a mixed bag of all types of videos. She still makes food videos — including a popular dollar-store meal series — and also keeps the fan-favorite reaction clips coming. But she doesn’t shy away from trying other types of content, because trying new things is true to who she is as a person.
“I’m a personality-based creator, so I feel like I can spice it up and try different things,” she said.
A year ago, the #Tevin hashtag — born out of her collaboration with Caherly — was the talk of TikTok. Videos using the hashtag from Mitchell, Caherly and fans have now accumulated 79 million views in total — highlighting just how large her reach has become.
“She’s obviously found her niche, but has been able to cast a wide enough net to reach 5 million followers,” said Bernadette Bowen, a PhD candidate at Bowling Green State University who studies participatory cultures.
Bowen said Mitchell’s breakthrough on the platform is especially notable given the creators who usually reach virality have Eurocentric features.
Since last summer, Mitchell has collaborated with other well-known online personalities, such as Nikita Dragon. In a video with @bryanboy, who has 1.3 million TikTokers, he jokingly named her the “Duchess of Michigan.”
Mitchell also has been busy over the past year replicating her success online in other areas. She’s booked brand deals with companies such as Fashion Nova and Walmart, a collaboration that was a “proud dad moment” for Terrence.
“I never knew social media could have as much of an impact on someone’s life as it impacted mine,” Mitchell said.
This year has also provided a crash course about what it means to be an online figure. She learned her worth to brands and how to articulate her value. Mitchell has also ensured she prioritizes her mental health given how toxic the internet can be, going on hikes and sometimes taking breaks from posting.
She’s also had to acclimate to living in Los Angeles, where she moved last month to pursue more opportunities. While she misses her family’s cooking and seeing her parents and siblings every day, she said it’s bittersweet for them knowing it was a step she needed to take.
“It was hard to move and to not see my family,” Mitchell said. “But they know it’s what’s best for me and that I’m going to be good out here.”
As Mitchell ends a whirlwind year that included rapid online growth, a career that was unimaginable before the pandemic and a cross-country move, she’s both proud of what she accomplished and already planning her next career steps.
Among them: Her role as a voice-over character in the animated movie “Smelliville,” which hits theaters this weekend and streaming services at the end of the month. The children’s movie follows a family that arrives in a rubbish dump.
In five years, Mitchell isn’t sure if she will still be on TikTok. (Who knows if the platform will even still be relevant, she pointed out.) But she still plans to be online, likely on YouTube and other platforms. Tati also has business goals outside of the internet: she’s hoping to break into the dessert-making business, get into cryptocurrency and invest.
And while Mitchell now splits time between the West Coast and her native city, she never plans to lose her Detroit spirit.
“I’m just remembering where I came from and being humble through the whole process,” she said. “I’m just enjoying and appreciating every single moment. I’m still the same person moving from Detroit to L.A. in such a short period of time. It’s really life-changing, and I’m beyond thankful for it.”
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