Buckled in? 3 … 2 … 1.
An afternoon with Stephany Wieland is like a thrill park ride, all sharp turns, teetering peaks and steep slopes that bottom out only to propel a chat to greater velocity.
With a smile as wide as a funhouse mirror, Wieland aims to break through the chatter of everyone trying to find fame through blogs, YouTube videos, DYI or just TMI. So far, the odds have fallen in her favor.
Her video blog, Making It With Stephany, debuted in March, and by August it had earned two Emmy nominations from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: one for lifestyle program, special or series, and a second for on-camera talent as a program host or moderator.
Geez, just typing that is a slog. She cut to the chase in her blog: “SOSOSOSOSOSO lucky to have been nominated not once, but twice!”
As if that wasn’t enough of a loop-de-loop, Wieland ran across a cocktail contest sponsored by Jamie Oliver (“You know, the super intense English chef dude?”). The video deadline was midnight, but — ta-da! — she had one she’d shot in March for a how-to she called Big Momma’s Kiddie Cocktail.
That entry landed her in the top 10, the lone American among international finalists. Then she made the top five, competing against cocktail concocters in Australia, Greece, Bolivia and Thailand.
That enabled her to proclaim, “Vote for me if you love America!” and to make a new video for a Peachy Piña Colada, which enabled her to caress a fresh peach and say the words, “like a butt.”
So she’s on a roll. And yet how many lifestyle/craft/DIY blogs are there in the world? How many stars in the sky? How many grains of sand in a homemade rainbow unity candle for your wedding? (Definitely not a Stephany project.)
In short, the competition is enormous, “and I am so competitive,” Wieland said. “I just want to win at everything.”
Wieland says her videos are sassy. “It’s making magic happen,” which is sort of how she decided to approach life after high school years that she dismissed as miserable.
The videos also reveal that she’s a bit of a potty-mouth, with some mild swearwords slipping in, just as they do in conversation. (Let’s just say that seeing the word “fiddlesticks” in this story is one reason you’re even getting to read it in the first place.)
“I’m a late bloomer,” she said. “In high school, I didn’t give a [fiddlesticks] about what people thought. I’m still the same weirdo, but people like me now.”
Wieland defies the usual assumptions about a Monroe-blonde mother of two who lives in a modest ’80s-ish home on a Stillwater cul-de-sac.
Her sons are 3 and 6. Her husband is a law enforcement officer. She owns more than a dozen eyeglasses, the bolder the better. She has four robots tattooed inside her left forearm.
She wants to make money.
For three years, she’d worked on a concept for a do-it-yourself show. She had a producer and a cameraman, but couldn’t see eye-to-eye with the production company. So she decided to try developing something on her own.
“There are how-to videos out there, but a lot of them are shot by a guy with his cellphone going, ‘Uh, um.’ There’s good info, but you have to sit through eight minutes of crap to get there,” she said. “I’m like, ‘You’re over at my home. Let’s make some [fiddlesticks.]’ ”
Boredom propels her. She has worked as a 911 dispatcher, a wedding photographer, a phone operator, a seamstress and a cook at an Italian restaurant and has dabbled in millinery. She’s run a marathon. She delights in scheming how to get her kids to eat vegetables.
“Instead of doing one thing forever, I look on it as collecting skills,” she said. “I don’t know how to do anything super-awesome, but I know how to do a lot of awesome stuff.”
Wieland has been doing stuff for years, taking a cue from her mother, who made all their Halloween costumes in their home in East St. Paul. (“East St. Paaaauuulllll!”)
“It’s all about mastery, being the best I can be at something,” she said. “I want to know a lot of things. Changing a tire, for instance. I should know how to take lug nuts off.”
An entire wall in her living room looks like ornate wallpaper, but is the result of a go-big-or-go-home stenciling project. “Then when you get tired of it, you just paint right over it.”
One video follows her as she gets a tattoo “because people should know.” Another shows how to customize a T-shirt with an appliqué cut from lace; the Stephany twist is that the appliqué is a skull.
“I’m anti-fancy,” she explained, adding that she wants to stretch beyond “crafty things.” “That’s why I want to do buildy things. Hmm, I should use a better word — let’s say construction.
“I mean, I want to build a treehouse for the boys. I don’t know how to do it, but I just assume I can,” she said.
Then comes the funhouse smile: “And if it doesn’t work, I just won’t build it too high.”
‘Why don’t I make it myself?’
For more than a decade, Nick Kesler has filmed a variety of shows — sports, hunting, commercials — through his company, Clam Lake Films. While lighting and filming Wieland’s videos, he’s learned to trust her instincts.
“She has her own set of rules,” he said. “She doesn’t know enough about being on television to know what she’s not supposed to do — which is great.”
Too often, he explained, people go on camera and talk a certain way or present things in a certain way because that’s how they’ve always seen it done. “She’s got her own speed.”
Plus, he added, “We all know people who are a little eccentric, or have a great eye, or get this great stuff at a thrift store, or find the perfect paint color. But most of them don’t ever do anything with it. She makes something out of everything, and she never gives up.”
For now, Wieland’s videos aren’t blockbusters, averaging 400 to 600 views. She regards her blog as a text accompaniment to her videos.
“People who do blogs like to write,” she said. “I like to do videos. This is how I write: with my mouth.”
Her ideas often come about from seeing something she wants, “and then I think, if I want that [fiddlesticks], why don’t I make it myself?”
She readily volunteers Martha Stewart as an inspiration, but within limits. “When am I going to grill lamb shanks while making homemade ice cream?” she said. “Who the hell is going to do that?”
It’s not that Wieland couldn’t prepare such a meal if she set her mind to it. It’s just that her mind goes in a different direction, such as preparing a curry dinner for four for under $20 that also makes enough for leftovers — “you know, normal people stuff.”
She pauses, just long enough that the silence is notable. “Hey, I’ve burned dinner. But that’s the way you learn how to take things by a different route.”
Oh, and the Jamie Oliver cocktail contest? The guy from Thailand won, which was fine with her “because he was the only other video that was funny,” she said. “Everyone else was so serious.”
In any case, the exposure was priceless. Or, worthless. Stay tuned. The action moves fast amid the bumper cars of the blogosphere.