April Cover Story by Emma Riccardi and Jacqueline O’Rourke
Our Parents always taught us to not talk to strangers, but did they ever say anything about being serenaded by a SINGING phenomenon named Francis Karel on Omegle?
Most People meet Francis Karel through an impromptu, surprise concert. We had the pleasure of meeting him over Zoom on a Friday afternoon. Every week, Francis hops on Omegle, a popular site among Gen-Z to meet people, and asks strangers his signature question, “Do you mind if I play you something?” If they say yes, it always leads to a jaw-dropping performance that ends up with millions of likes on TikTok.
Growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, singing was always a hobby for Francis. He never imagined it would become one of the most important aspects of his life, let alone his career. He began recording content for other artists before he really got his own foot in the door. Observing the creative process of the artists he worked for allowed him to tune his craft as a singer and songwriter.
At a music festival in Indonesia, a clumsy coffee spill landed Francis the opportunity of a lifetime. After bumping into a music executive’s path, the two got chatting. If you've seen Francis' TikToks, you know he's incredibly charismatic. Only he could turn spilling coffee into a window of opportunity. The executive asked Francis to forward him some of his work. 2 weeks later, he was on a plane to New York for a songwriting bootcamp.
It’s almost as if that coffee was meant to be spilled. If only my clumsy self was that lucky.
Like many of us, Francis began 2020 with ambitions. His goal was to network with other artists, grow as a creative, and get his name out there. Quarantine could have been a setback, but at the advice of his co-writer, he began posting on TikTok. With his show-stopping voice, it wasn’t long before the twenty-year-old started gaining attention.
"Their (TikTok) algorithm really changed my whole perspective on posting, and that’s what got me more consistent."
From the beginning of his time on TikTok, Francis noticed the lighthearted fun, kindness, and positivity the platform was lacking. In hope of bringing more joy, he began singing to strangers on Omegle. His craziest reaction was a young girl crying–happy tears, of course–grateful she bumped into such a talented, genuine stranger online. What feels like a rare occurrence in 2021!
"I saw a lot of Omegle content that was either negative or where people were trying to make jokes, which I think is hilarious, but at the same time it's coming from a very specific sense of humor. So, I would go there and sing for people, and it was so weird as soon as people started to recognize me because I was trying to find authentic reactions."
When most people think of Omegle, they think of meeting random people and sometimes, being a bit weirded out. However, anyone who gets paired with Francis will just politely be asked if they don’t mind if he sings for them. Nothing weird or creepy, just a genuine person wanting to share his talent with the world. This is the definition of wholesome and a breath of fresh air for Omegle users. An impromptu concert will follow, and your jaw is sure to drop at Francis’s vocals, accompanied by the strumming of his acoustic guitar. As a result of his popularity on both platforms, he now has over one million followers (1.7 to be exact) and over 14 million likes on TikTok.
Francis’s style and sound are inspired by Julia Michaels, Jon Bellion, and Bruno Mars. These artists gave Francis his "Uptown Funk" if you will. Michaels and Bellion’s work showed him that an artist could take part in the creative process of other artists’ work while still producing their own sound. Francis works with co-writers on his own music, but also takes part in the creation and production of outside projects as well. These experiences continue to shape his craft and propel the advancement of his career in the industry. According to Francis, these artists helped mold him into the creative he is today.
“They helped mold me to who I am today.” These artists gave Francis his “Uptown Funk” if you will.
While Francis utilizes social media to display his talent, it can sometimes feel like a barrier. With so much staged, edited, and auto-tuned content out there, Francis wants his over one million followers to know his music is the most personal, authentic extension of himself. His sincerity and openness is apparent in his lyrics, which is how he connects to listeners so effortlessly.
"What would the ‘me’ who doesn’t know how to speak, say to the ‘me’ that needs to hear it? What are truths that I know about myself that I’m afraid to say? And that’s how I create my songs."
These are questions he asks himself every time he sits down to write what he likes to call “self-contemplating songs.” Through his music, he hopes to prompt the listener into a positive and beneficial state of introspection.
Francis’ music is so personal and easy to connect with. On the Zoom, we talked about how it feels like his singing is giving you a hug. And after these past couple months, I think we could all use one.
Francis considers himself a child at heart. He told us he’s “100% for sure a man-child,” but his music reveals his emotional maturity and genuinity. Laced with playful melodies and lyrics, he brings listeners a sense of relief; you know you’re not alone in whatever you are feeling. His music is an outlet through which fans can reflect upon and evaluate their emotions. From the moment you press play, you and Francis embark on a journey, and whatever you’re scared to say, you can sing. And if you’re like us, you’re singing on repeat.
Singer songwriter Tori Kelly is another inspiration to Francis. One morning, to his surprise, Francis woke up to a notification that Tori had dueted his TikTok. Francis has been a fan of Kelly since middle school, and as someone who has gone viral for singing covers of other artists’ songs, it was surreal to hear her singing a cover of his song.
"Hearing that from someone like her, who I look up to… it means so much."
After the duet went viral, the two then did a TikTok live stream of the single. Francis and Tori have all of us begging for the release of an acoustic duet of his song (PLEASE).
Hearing people’s response to his music is the most exciting part of the process, for Francis. Seeing the evolution of a song from bedroom inspiration, to the studio, and finally seeing how people respond is very rewarding.
"I think people are forgetting that being young means you get to try things, you get to mess up, and you get to learn."
In a world with so much hate and negativity, Francis is a beam of light and his music is his force. He hopes to continue inspiring young fans to embrace the freedom that comes with youth.
"I write on a daily basis and it’s so nice to finally be able to pick a few and be like ‘I want these out now.’ It’s making me excited to see the album come together from where it started which was in the bedroom to in the studio with some other writers. Hopefully, the world reacts well to it."
Stay tuned for Francis Karel’s next single dropping in early April, and a future EP, by following him on TikTok and Instagram @franciskarelofficial @francis_karel