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Netflix Famous: How Noah Centineo Became a Star Overnight

The ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ and ‘Sierra Burgess Is a Loser’ star is a model for a new type of celebrity: the instant streaming idol

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On Friday, August 17, Cleo went to her room with a cup of chamomile tea and opened her laptop. It just so happened to be her 17th birthday, and she already knew she would spend part of it watching To All the Boys I’d Loved Before. Her anticipation for the movie—and Noah Centineo’s role in it—had been building for some time. She’d caught the smoldering 22-year-old in Camila Cabello’s “Havana” music video, which then led her to watch him on the television series The Fosters, which then led her to watch and rewatch the TATBILB trailer. After seeing the movie, in which Centineo plays a thoughtful jock named Peter Kavinsky who woos his shy classmate Lara Jean (Lana Condor), she knew what she needed to do: start a fan account on Instagram.

“Bear in mind that I have never made a fan account ever and never thought I would,” Cleo—who goes to school in London and preferred to be identified by only her first name—said in a DM from her @noahcentineowoah Instagram account. “I think it’s the character of Peter Kavinsky that brought out a different side of Noah that I hadn’t seen. It’s easy to confuse Peter and Noah, tbh. I almost felt obliged to make it. I needed a fix of Noah—well, of Peter.”

Cleo was not alone in her enthusiasm for Centineo. By Monday morning, he was christened the latest “internet boyfriend.” In his bashful, hunky demeanor, critics saw the makings of a young Mark Ruffalo. In his Twitter musings—which include cryptic romantic messages and at least one stray acknowledgement of Lauryn Hill—onlookers saw an actor who could live up to his vulnerable on-screen persona. On Instagram, where Noah frequently posted portraits and clips from his life on the road, fans saw his toned body, mussed-up ’do, and bedroom eyes. He’s a teen heartthrob the masses have chosen to commit to, and at a breakneck pace. Before TATBILB dropped, Centineo had 95,000 followers on Twitter and about 791,000 on Instagram. Less than a month after its release (and at the time of publication), those numbers have ballooned to more than 1,050,000 and 9,500,000 on Twitter and Instagram, respectively. He has been interviewed by outlets like Vulture, Teen Vogue, and BuzzFeed (while playing with puppies). Netflix’s official Twitter account, which is ostensibly responsible for promoting a wide variety of content but which more often operates as a promotional meme generator, changed its bio to “This is now a Peter Kavinsky stan account.”

“I remember being literally his only fan, so it was crazy to watch him blow up and become this huge celebrity that he is right now,” 16-year-old Yasmin Guerra, who is based in São Paulo, Brazil, said in an email. She said the @NoahCentUpdates Twitter account she runs gained an average of a thousand followers a day after the release of the film. “He’s the internet’s new golden boy. It really was amazing and insane to watch it all happening so fast.”

Bar graph showing big boosts in Instagram followers for Noah Centineo, Lana Condor, Joey King, Jacob Elordi, Millie Bobby Brown, and Gaten Matarazzo after their appearances in Netflix programming

Anyone who once ripped Leonardo DiCaprio center spreads out of their Tiger Beats knows that young Hollywood hunks and their corresponding media vehicles have existed for years. But Centineo’s dizzying stardom is unique in its speed, and credit for that is due to both his pillowy lips and the power of major digital platforms. With 130 million subscribers in 190 countries, Netflix programming has an immediate reach in international markets that might have taken the movie distribution outfits of yore months to reach. And as a platform that is especially popular among 18- to 34-year-olds, it also enjoys the benefit of an audience who will post, tweet, and ’gram when they like what they see. As a result of its young, on-demand audience and its push to produce more original content, Netflix has become a new mint for emerging teen idols, like a Mickey Mouse Club on steroids. And the new entertainers they’re introducing to the world aren’t just getting famous, they’re getting Netflix famous.

To earn Netflix fame is to go viral in the realm of on-demand streaming services and turn that recognition into a hybrid role of actor-slash-influencer. It usually happens like this: An unknown actor lands a part in one of the many original movies or television series for which Netflix has created an $8 billion budget. After watching that aforementioned actor in a charming role, subscribers suddenly become fixated with their fictional character and want to see more of that actor online. Often, that leads viewers to Instagram or Twitter (where fans like Guerra consolidate a handful of Instagram Stories from disparate accounts). Suddenly the actor is catapulted into a category of fame that draws high-profile media coverage and brand partnerships.

“These are young stars who think in a mobile-first world because it’s all that they know,” Claudine Cazian Britz, Instagram’s head of entertainment partnerships, said. “They sometimes come up in these moments and it happens overnight. Noah’s a perfect example.”

Centineo might be the poster child for this new celebrity class, but he’s certainly not the concept’s founder. For instance, after the May 11 premiere of The Kissing Booth, another teen rom-com by Netflix, its leading actors, Joey King and Jacob Elordi, have seen their Instagram follower counts grow by about 7 million and 6.2 million users, respectively. The two have also subsequently booked a handful of starring roles. Since the July 2016 premiere of Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown (who plays Eleven) has picked up 14.5 million new Instagram followers and brand partnerships with Calvin Klein, Citibank, and Moncler. Cazian Britz says that typically the followings of these stars can explode within the span of 10 days.

Netflix fame can also be refreshingly democratic, and the digital infrastructure of today now allows young celebrities to capitalize off of breakout moments and nurse growing fan bases with their own personal content. Despite Cole Sprouse playing a supporting role as Jughead on the Archie-inspired show Riverdale, Instagram says that actor has experienced the most audience growth and buzz on the platform out of any of his fellow cast members. (His very fashion-forward Instagram has 18.6 million followers at the time of publication.) Thanks in part to a swell of media coverage and online conversation around her dowdy, lovable Stranger Things character, Barb, Shannon Purser scored an Emmy nomination and a lead role in another Netflix teen rom-com, Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, in which she plays what is essentially the same person. It should be no surprise that her romantic interest in the new film is Centineo.

This new digital pipeline of fans has transformed the traditional press tour. Rather than wait for gossip blogs to post Getty images from TATBILB press junkets, fans simply follow the people Centineo interacts with on a regular basis. “I have a private account on Instagram and I follow everyone he follows and everyone he’s somehow associated with, his manager, friends, family, team, et cetera,” Guerra said. “I also go through his tagged pictures on Instagram and search ‘Noah Centineo’ on Twitter and YouTube.” (Centineo makes this easy by frequently tagging friends and coworkers in his own Stories; Cazian Britz said that she reached out to him after the TATBILB premiere to go over best practices on the platform.) Fan accounts then repost that information for their followers to consume. As a result, traditional paparazzi is usurped by a constant feed of Instagram Story footage that includes the occasional glimpse of Centineo in a car, on set, or at an interview.

“Before, you would have a monthlong press tour going from city to city, talking to multiple outlets,” said Cazian Britz. “For the most part, a lot of movies still do that, but because of Instagram, the talent and the showrunners and the people involved in the project are able to give bite-size pieces of what’s happening in real time to their fans and to create a really interesting groundswell of interest and buzz.”

Because the act of building a strong social media following is itself a pastime of young people, fan accounts focus on creating a community among themselves as well. Cleo frequently adds “appreciation posts” to @noahcentineowoah’s Stories, in which she @-mentions dedicated followers of her fan account who frequently like and comment on her feed. The accounts all trade images among themselves, crediting each other for adding artistic filters or additional artwork, which they sometimes call “edits.” Guerra will also occasionally run live Q&A sessions on the anonymous questions website Curious Cat, where fellow fans ask questions about Centineo, and she and her account co-owner will pool the knowledge they’ve gleaned from their research. The result is buzz in layers, from primary to secondary sources in every corner of the world.

“I find that being a part of this online community is really rewarding because you get to interact with other people who have the same interest as you,” said Amanie, a 15-year-old from Malaysia who co-runs the @noahcentineofacts Instagram account with her “internet friend” Cass, a 17-year-old from Australia. The two met online and created the page in July. It now has more than 15,900 followers.

This constant online conversation—bolstered by the global reach of celebrity-centric platforms like Netflix and Instagram—gives new stars like Centineo an opportunity to build an international fan base. In her initial conversation with the actor, Cazian Britz reminded him to engage with his fans abroad, especially those in Brazil and France, who are particularly excited by the actor. “What we’re seeing here is the globalization of young stars because of the pairing of Instagram and Netflix together that’s really happening overnight,” she said.

For fans like Cleo, following Centineo’s worldwide swell of support is just as thrilling as looking through his work. He may be at just the beginning of his career, but she’s confident she has invested her time in a worthy cause.

“He’s gonna be a megastar,” she said. “He’s a heartthrob and he’s multigenerational: People of any age will think he’s hot. He’s gaining masses of followers every day—we’re talking millions!”