At age 33, Bear Bailey thought his dream of being a singer was dead. Then TikTok and his local gas station helped bring it back to life.
Bailey has gained more than a million TikTok followers in less than two weeks since he started posting videos from the Super Serve station near his home in Houma, Louisiana. In the viral clips, the cashiers make song requests and Bailey serenades them at the checkout counter, provoking heartwarming (and often hilarious) reactions from surprised shoppers around the store.
“Bear! I’ve been waiting for you,” cashier Melissa McGee, known to locals as Mama, shouts in one clip as Bailey walks in and breaks out into a cover of John Legend’s “All of Me.”
Bailey, whose real name is James but has gone by Bear since childhood, told HuffPost that becoming a professional singer has been his lifelong dream.
He started posting his work on TikTok in October 2020 and had just under 140,000 followers before the gas station serenades took off. As of Wednesday night, he had 1.4 million followers.
It all began when McGee’s daughters, Renee Hayes and Ashley McGee, who also work at the Super Serve, asked him for a song.
“They found out I could sing, you know, just from living around here, and so on the days that I would go in there to get a snack or whatever, they’d say, ‘Hey, Bear, you’ve got to sing, you’ve got to sing for me,’” Bailey said.
When he did the first time, the women filmed him from behind the counter, and Bailey decided to post the clip online.
“It’s a very humbling feeling,” said Bailey, whose day job is working in construction as a welder. “I’ve sang my entire life, and, you know, I’m 33 and you just get to an age where you kind of give up on your dream because you’re like, ‘This is never going to happen.’”
“And then this happens and it kind of reaffirms, like, hey, I don’t need to give up,” he continued. “I love what it’s showing my daughter who’s 5 years old, like, Dad didn’t quit.”
Melissa McGee, whom Bailey described as being like “the mama to the local neighborhood,” said she thinks of Bailey like a son and is thrilled his videos have blown up.
“We love him to death,” she said. “He has an amazing voice, and somebody needs to sign him.”
As for his hype squad in the background, Bailey said that they’re mostly strangers but that he loves their reactions.
“I really do walk up and people have no clue,” he said. “But, I mean, now people literally are going over there and waiting to see if I’ll come in, and it’s really crazy.”
Many TikTok fans said they love Bailey’s tunes and the way they’re bringing people together.
“Thank you for this feel good video. It’s nice to see people liking each other. Americans are awesome,” one person commented under a video of Bailey singing “’Til Summer Comes Around” by Keith Urban.
While most of Bailey’s posts right now are covers, the singer said he also writes original music — though his goal for now is to keep doing what he’s doing.
“The dream now is just to keep pushing positive vibes to keep bringing unity like our community,” Bailey said. “And the dream now is to write songs that can just help maybe one or two people out — out of a bad situation or out of a bad mood or brighten somebody’s day.”
And he’s already doing just that. In one of his most recent videos, he paid it forward to McGee and her daughters after receiving donations online.
“They’re a big part of this, too. I mean, they hold the camera, they talk in the songs and all that stuff, and they really helped so I just wanted to give back,” he said.