When it comes to the entertainment business, 15-year-old Mattituck High School freshman Tanner Zagarino has quite the pedigree.
His mother, Elizabeth, was a successful model and actress in Los Angeles and his father, Frank, was an actor and producer for action flicks in the 1990s.
Now, 22 years after his mother starred in the music video for Aerosmith’s hit song “Sweet Emotion,” Tanner has followed in her footsteps as the guest star in a music video by 15-year-old pop singer Alli Simpson.
“It was very easy,” Tanner joked. “I didn’t have to speak or anything, I just had to make faces.”
From a young age, Tanner seemed primed for an entertainment career.
He would always get compliments on his looks as a child, Ms. Zagarino said, but the family was careful not to push a modeling career on him.
“I wanted him to organically come to it when [he was] ready,” she said.
This July, Tanner decided to give it a shot after a friend introduced him to Instagram, a social photo-sharing site. Tanner began slowly cultivating a following by connecting with other accounts to increase his exposure.
He soon had 1,000 followers and his popularity kept growing, surpassing even that of his established modeling friends. He attracted 20,000 followers, then 50,000.
“It started snowballing,” he said.
Tanner now has nearly 250,000 fans on his Instagram page, making him a new kind of Internet celebrity: “Instafamous.”
His account is a collage of modeling shots and bare-chested poses mixed with candid pictures of him goofing off, playing Guitar Hero and speed-eating a White Castle burger.
Tanner posts what he thinks will be fun and what other kids his age will enjoy. He doesn’t try hard — and he thinks that may be the secret to his success.
In truth, it doesn’t matter what he posts. The reaction from his fans is the same.
“OMG, you are so perfect,” commented one fan on a recent post.
“I’m your future wife,” declared another.
“How is a 15 year old this good looking?”
“gaawwwd. marry me.”
Tanner’s adoring fans aren’t just on the Internet. Recently, he went to a concert with friends and was mobbed by dozens of girls who recognized him.
“It’s unbelievable,” Ms. Zagarino said. “I was a successful working model and actress. I did very well. I had a great run. But to fathom 250,000 fans is beyond my comprehension.”
With the fans came job offers. Companies began to contact Tanner through his Instagram account, looking to leverage the 15-year-old’s popularity.
Tanner has been paid by several companies to post “shout outs” urging his followers to look into their products.
He’s said he’s worked with designer Kiel James Patrick, Nectar Shades and is in discussions with an Italian shoe company. He’s also been included in photographers’ portfolios, he said.
About a month ago, the Instagram account turned up something new: an acting gig.
One of Tanner’s friends is an acquaintance of Alli Simpson — sister of Australian pop star Cody Simpson — who has started up her own career. Tanner was invited to Los Angeles to star as the singer’s love interest in her latest music video, “Notice Me.”
“It was amazing,” Tanner said. “They’re the coolest people in the world.”
The shoot was a flashback to his mother’s career. In 1991, she played the fantasy of a boy calling an adult hotline in Aerosmith’s famous music video. The role was a big break for Ms. Zagarino, but she decided to leave the industry on a high note after becoming pregnant with Tanner’s older brother, Frankie.
“I had children and they were my focus,” she said. “I just needed a break.”
Ms. Zagarino is now a personal trainer, and though friends encourage her to get back into the business, she’s happy to stay behind the scenes.
But she said she still feels the urge sometimes to give Tanner hints when he’s on the job.
“I try to keep my mouth shut when he’s shooting because I want to direct a little,” she said. “I try not to be a stage mom ever.”
She said it’s important for her son to learn lessons on his own and to always work hard despite how easily the work may come to him.
“A job is still a job,” she said.
Tanner can also get advice from his father, who is an acting coach.
“My dad is a great teacher,” he said.
Tanner said he plans to start up a YouTube channel soon to have a presence “where the money is.”
But despite his sudden fame, Tanner said he’s trying to pace himself. His parents make sure he’s focused on doing his schoolwork and practicing wrestling as a member of the school’s varsity team.
“He’s not going to be ugly when he’s 18,” Ms. Zagarino said. “There’s no need to rush this.”