'Presenting Princess Shaw': The Unlikely Story Of Samantha Montgomery Samantha Montgomery is an elder-care worker in New Orleans who also writes and sings her own songs on YouTube. A composer in Israel spotted her and via social media, they began to work together.
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'Presenting Princess Shaw': The Unlikely Story Of Samantha Montgomery

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'Presenting Princess Shaw': The Unlikely Story Of Samantha Montgomery

'Presenting Princess Shaw': The Unlikely Story Of Samantha Montgomery

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Well, now a story about social media and the real world. Online platforms encourage us to share our triumphs and tragedies and our creative work. A new a documentary called "Presenting Princess Shaw" follows one New Orleans singer and music producer who stumbles on her YouTube videos then runs with them. From member station WWNO, Eve Troeh reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

SAMANTHA MONTGOMERY: Hello, YouTube.

EVE TROEH, BYLINE: For the past four years, Samantha Montgomery has sung her own songs on her own YouTube channel as Princess Shaw.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW")

MONTGOMERY: (Singing) I know you want us to grow.

TROEH: When she started, she had few expectations. Well, less than few.

MONTGOMERY: Nothing (laughter). It was just more of an outlet just to sing and just to get 'em out, you know? And that was just a way of me doing it.

TROEH: And a way to cope with loneliness.

MONTGOMERY: When I was just alone, I was alone by myself, that was what I had 'cause I would just go to work and come home. And then at night, it'd just be my go time.

TROEH: By day, Montgomery wears scrubs and pushes a wheelchair. She's a nursing assistant at an elder care facility.

MONTGOMERY: We all going that way, you know that Miss Maria. We can't fight it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I know, that's the trouble.

MONTGOMERY: Yeah.

TROEH: "Presenting Princess Shaw" follows Montgomery from her day at work to her nights creating videos, some of them singing, some of them venting about her busted car, some of them expressing feelings about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW")

MONTGOMERY: But I have to move on and I have to forgive. And I have to forgive myself because I haven't forgiven myself.

IDO HAAR: She was so direct and so honest and courageous.

TROEH: The videos were how filmmaker Ido Haar first got to know her from the other side of the world.

HAAR: This woman really knows what she's singing about.

TROEH: Speaking via Skype from Israel, where he lives, he says he first saw Montgomery's videos through his friend, Ophir Kutiel, known to millions of YouTube followers around the world as Kutiman.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

TROEH: He stumbled on Montgomery's channel while trolling the Internet for snippets of original music. He's a mashup, or a remix artist. He takes the work of a obscure uploaders and mixes it with his own beats plus live musicians, to create songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE IT UP")

MONTGOMERY: (Singing) It's too late to love me. It's too late to know me.

TROEH: Filmmaker Ido Haar wanted to document this process. He'd planned to follow several online musicians, but he honed in on Montgomery. The movie cuts back and forth between her struggles in New Orleans and Kutiman in Israel, who himself is quite a solitary figure, tinkering away alone with coffee, cigarettes and computers until he finishes the full arrangement.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIANO MUSIC)

TROEH: Montgomery has no idea this is going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE IT UP")

MONTGOMERY: (Singing) I know you want us to grow.

TROEH: Haar only told her he was making a film about YouTube artists. He spent months shooting to capture this moment.

(SOUNDBITE OF CELL PHONE PINGING)

TROEH: A ping on her cell phone with a link to the finished song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE IT UP")

MONTGOMERY: Oh, my God.

HAAR: I wanted to document this moment as she would reveal it with a film or without a film.

TROEH: Haar sees this kind of online interaction as evidence of the positive power of the Internet. Both he and Kutiman believe in what's called the free culture movement. Kutiman doesn't pay the musicians he finds online, but he doesn't sell ads or take corporate sponsorships, either. But Dr. Kyra Gaunt, an ethnomusicologist who teaches at City College of New York, says that's naive. Money does flow to YouTube.

KYRA GAUNT: It's designed for the tech industry to profit from the free, unpaid, emotional labor of ordinary participants and subscribers.

TROEH: The "Give It Up" video has more than 2.5 million views on Kutiman's channel. But on Princess Shaw's channel, even the most-watched video has a tiny fraction of that. Gaunt has researched success on YouTube. She has some advice for Montgomery.

GAUNT: I would wish for her everything her heart's desire, first and foremost. But has she copywritten? She says in one of her vlogs, you know, this is my song, don't take it, it's mine. That's not how you own property.

TROEH: Samantha Montgomery has since collaborated on an album with Kutiman, due out on his label by year's end. She says she feels nothing but gratitude.

MONTGOMERY: If it ends tomorrow, I got to do it.

TROEH: She did get to fly to Israel to perform to a packed concert hall in a shimmering gown. But the film ends with Montgomery back in New Orleans, back in scrubs at her health care job - very un-princess-like.

MONTGOMERY: It's not a Cinderella story. It's, like, a story (laughter). It's a story.

TROEH: A story that leaves a question, whether she can convert her social media moment into a music career that pays the bills. For NPR News, I'm Eve Troeh in New Orleans.

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