Behind the Ears is a YouTube channel that explores the histories of Disney’s hidden gems. Since its debut in early June, the series of video essays have taken a deeper dive into some of Disney’s past projects; ranging from Zoog era Disney Channel shows like The Famous Jett Jackson, to short-lived Broadway musicals like Aida, and even made-for-TV events like the Whitney Houston-produced version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Asked how he would define a Disney hidden gem, Behind the Ears creator Patrick Clanton describes it as a Disney project that isn’t talked about super often. While there may be other YouTube videos discussing it, there aren’t a lot about it. “There hasn’t been a very easy way to watch them,” he said in an interview via Zoom, “and that’s why I kind of mentioned that in a lot of the videos that I do about how you can’t find such and such on Disney+, or this hasn’t been available in any other format since this date. And in terms of like Broadway shows, there’s really not a way to watch them. And surprisingly, there’s not too many YouTube channels dedicated to going back through the history of a Broadway show.”
Clanton’s mission to also touch on Disney’s theatrical works is right up his alley. He is an actor in the musical theatre world. He was inspired to pursue a career in entertainment from watching The Famous Jett Jackson and Cinderella when he was growing up. He started performing in elementary school and eventually studied musical theatre at Elon University. Since graduating, he has taken on roles in the second national touring company for The Sister Act, the first national touring company for School of Rock, and was even part of the Candlelight Processional at Disney World.
“I’ve always been a Disney nerd, but that made me even more of like, ‘Oh, now I actually even love the company as a whole,’” he commented on his experience performing at Disney World. “I don’t know. There was just something about working there that really made me fall in love with Disney even more.”
In March, Clanton was on his way to joining the cast of Finding Nemo: The Musical at Disney World when the COVID-19 crisis really started to ramp up. That same month, his mother died from a blood cancer called multiple myeloma.
Clanton was left in a very low state. “As the weeks went by and the virus worsens and it was clear that things weren’t going to go back to normal anytime soon, I was just like, I need something to do that will bring me joy, that will get my creative juices flowing, and that I can just focus on for a while and really putting my time and energy into, since I have all of this time now.”
He then thought back to an idea he has had for a while about doing a YouTube channel. He’s a fan of Defunctland; a YouTube channel devoted to exploring extinct theme parks and entertainment experiences. “It’s fascinating the stuff [host Kevin Perjurer] talks about, and he had kind of splintered off and made a subseries called DefunctTV where he was talking about ’90s kids TV shows,” he explained. “But his aim was more towards the preschool shows of the time.”
While Clanton would put in requests for videos about shows like the ones from the Zoog Disney era, he eventually thought of the idea of starting up a channel and exploring them himself. Although self-doubt initially got in the way, this period of not being able to do live theatre gave him the opportunity to go for it.
He kicked his channel off by making the first video be about the history of The Famous Jett Jackson. After he posted it, it was a few weeks before Clanton told his friends about it, nervous of what they’d think. “We all just have these demons of self-doubt that get into our mind and make us think, what if people think this is stupid? What if people think that what I’m spending my time on is a waste of time?” he recalled. “I sent it to one of my friends and he was like, ‘Patrick, this is really good. You did such a good job.’”
Clanton continued to keep going, as he put out videos about Aida and Cinderella that were received positively. However, it wasn’t until his video about another show from the Zoog Disney era, So Weird, that he started hearing back from viewers he didn’t even know.
“That was the one where I was like, even though I felt very confident with the first three that I did, that was the one where I was like, okay, I think now I really have to stick with this,” he said. “It felt really good to see so many positive responses, especially with different people, like the people who run [The So Weird Podcast], because I know how passionate they are about that show.
“I was quite nervous for what their responses would be. I wasn’t sure if it would be like, ‘You left out about this happening’ or stuff like that, but everyone was so kind and it feels really good.”
Of the videos he has made so far, Clanton considers the one he did about the Disney Channel reality series, Bug Juice, to be one of the more difficult ones to make. While the previous TV shows he covered could be broken down into who the characters are and how the story flowed each season, that was a lot harder with a show where there was so much covered.
His new video, which explores another short-lived Disney Broadway musical, Tarzan, stepped things up a notch for him, as he incorporated interviews from cast members of the show. “The people that I have interviewed so far have given me so much more insight than I would have been able to find on my own,” he elaborated. “I’m very thankful to them, and I’m really, really excited to have that one finished and uploaded.”
Clanton aims to be as respectful as possible with his approach to the projects he explores, but doesn’t skim over their faults either. It’s why he didn’t gloss over the huge accident that happened during previews for Aida, nor the fact that the third season of So Weird was not well received.
He also aims to improve with each video, such as finding new ways to gather research (such as interviews), and upgrading from iMovie to Filmora, so that he can format footage from the pre-widescreen era better.
Down the road for Behind the Ears, Clanton believes it will get harder to find topics, due to the multiple Disney-focused YouTube channels out there already. He has considered ideas ranging from approaching his channel from a different angle, to possibly starting up a new channel to cover Broadway content.
“So, it’s going to be kind of tough,” he noted. “I might have to start doing some videos where it combines multiple shows or it talks about a certain theme. Maybe I could talk about sports on Disney Channel and how they’ve been represented over the years or something, and [The Jersey] can have a mention. I’m looking forward to the challenge of finding new subjects and new topics, but it’s going to be interesting.”
All images courtesy of Patrick Clanton.