Haliey Welch, aka the 'Hawk Tuah girl,' learns firsthand what it means to go viral (2024)

Melonee HurtNashville Tennessean

Haliey Welch used to wake up at 3:30 a.m. every morning to go to work at a spring factory in Belfast, Tennessee.

But on June 9, while kicking it on Broadway in Nashville during CMA Fest, a YouTuber caught a clip of her cracking a sexual joke and posted it online.

Now, Welch is sleeping in.

She has an online audience in the billions just from media impressions alone. That's not even counting TikTok or Instagram views, which are so massive they're hard to quantify. She's appeared on stage with Zach Bryan at his show in Nashville, and she hung out with Shaquille O'Neal at JBJ's on Broadway.

Prior to the now infamous viral video, Welch had no social media presence. Now she's arguably the most famous girl on the internet.

The USA TODAY Network sat down with Welch, now known as the "Hawk Tuah" girl, and learned the truth about her amid a social media frenzy of rumors about the 21-year-old. It was her second-ever interview, after sitting down with Brianna LaPaglia (aka Zach Bryan's girlfriend) for her "Plan Bri" podcast.

Who is the 'Hawk Tuah' girl?

Welch lives with her "granny" about 60 miles south of Nashville, Tennessee. She's never driven on the interstate, and she's never been on an airplane.

Now she's having to navigate media outlets staking out her grandma's home, trolls on the internet saying mean (and untrue) things about her, and people faking her identity and selling merchandise bearing her likeness that she didn't authorize and doesn't profit from.

She may be small town, but she's savvy. Welch is taking what started as embarrassment and is turning it into a career. She's assembled a team consisting of an attorney, a management company and a PR firm. That team is entertaining appearances with price tags north of $25,000 each, according to her manager, Jonnie Forster, owner of Los Angeles-based management firm The Penthouse.

"Right now, she can make more money holding up a can for five minutes than she made all last year," Forster said.

Welch said she never thought anyone would ever see her now infamous video. But right after it was posted in early June, she saw how many hits it was getting.

"The first week of it, I was so embarrassed," Welch told The Tennessean. "I wouldn't come out of my house. I went to work, but that's about it. Other than that, I didn't go anywhere. But I went from being embarrassed to living in the moment."

Once she saw the merchandise being made and sold online by other people, she thought, "If everyone else is making money off of it, I might as well, too."

She quit her job at the spring factory on June 27.

Did 'Hawk Tuah' girl get fired from her teaching job?

Despite this and many other rumors circulating about Welch online, she did not get fired from a teaching job. She's never been a teacher, and she wasn't fired from her real job. The TikTok video of a man claiming to be her father, a preacher, is also fake. Her father is not a preacher and not the man in the video.

These are the not-so-fun things about being thrust into a limelight you didn't know was coming.

"The negative comments do bother me," she said. "I mean, you go through there and you're like, 'well, you don't know anything about me.' I just make funny jokes. That's just how I joke around. That's my sense of humor."

This is where Forster and entertainment attorney Christian Barker come in.

"We're here to protect the hawk from the vultures," Forster said.

Barker was the first to connect with Welch through work he used to do with the juvenile system in Lewisburg, which is near her hometown.

He met with her and was immediately taken by her personality.

"She's such a sweet girl," Barker said. "She has this interesting spotlight thrown on her, but an opportunity to capitalize on it. She's less salacious and more just funny. She's like the female Theo Von. Once people meet her they are skeptical because of how it came to be, but once they meet her they say, 'wow, this girl has something.' "

What's next for Haliey Welch?

Now it's up to Welch and her team to figure out what to do with her "something."

"After meeting her, we were trying to find out why all the podcasters are calling her 'America's Sweetheart,'" Forster said. "So from a branding and marketing perspective, I was just trying to figure out what is the reason why everyone's fallen in love with this girl."

If you ask Welch why she thinks the viral video struck so many people, she says it's because of her deep Southern accent.

Zach Bryan: Zach Bryan brings out Kacey Musgraves, rocks Nashville's Nissan Stadium with anthems

"The majority of the comments on it are like, 'Oh, we love her accent,' which I admit I have a pretty strong accent," she said. "I've lived with my grandmother my whole life. That's just how I was raised."

Barker said the most important thing for Welch now is to make sure she pivots in a way that's logical.

"She's going to have several unscripted television options on the table as well as a massive merch setup that can help her launch and get paid for the merch that’s out there," he said.

She and her team have created a company, 16 Minutes, which has a hawk wearing a cowboy hat for a logo. Forster said this way, people will know they are buying her merchandise and not a fake.

Podcast: What do Travis Kelce, Nick Jonas and Parker McCollum share? Let's talk Nashville podcasts

What does 'Hawk Tuah' girl want to do with her life?

Right now she's focusing on getting back on social media so people can connect with the real Haliey Welch and not the imposters posing as her online. She's looking forward to her first plane ride to New York and California, both coming up later this month.

One thing is for sure, there's no going back.

"We just want to tell her story," Forster said. "She didn't ask for this. She didn't even have social media. She's kind of the antithesis of everyone who's trying to be a social media star. She's living with her grandma in Belfast and went out partying and said something silly and now everyone's talking about her."

But to Welch, despite everything that's happened in her life the last three weeks, nothing has affected who she is.

"I'm nobody special. I'm just small town girl."

Melonee Hurt covers music and music business at The Tennessean, part of the USA TODAY Network —Tennessee. Reach Melonee atmhurt@tennessean.com, on X @HurtMelonee or Instagram at @MelHurtWrites.

Haliey Welch, aka the 'Hawk Tuah girl,' learns firsthand what it means to go viral (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Last Updated:

Views: 6354

Rating: 5 / 5 (60 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Clemencia Bogisich Ret

Birthday: 2001-07-17

Address: Suite 794 53887 Geri Spring, West Cristentown, KY 54855

Phone: +5934435460663

Job: Central Hospitality Director

Hobby: Yoga, Electronics, Rafting, Lockpicking, Inline skating, Puzzles, scrapbook

Introduction: My name is Clemencia Bogisich Ret, I am a super, outstanding, graceful, friendly, vast, comfortable, agreeable person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.