YouTube star Lilly Singh on the 'all or nothing' attitude that helped her land a late-night show

Lilly Singh will take the host's seat on Sept. 16 for her show "A Little Late With Lilly Singh."
Tyler Essary | NBC

Your late-night TV lineup will look a little different on September 16. That's when Lilly Singh, better known as Superwoman to her nearly 15 million YouTube subscribers, will become the first openly bisexual woman of color and Internet-bred personality to host a late-night talk show.

Taking over the spot vacated by "Last Call With Carson Daly," the Indian-Canadian creator's "A Little Late With Lilly Singh" will be the only woman-led late-night show on a major broadcast network.

Singh launched her video career in 2010 while a senior in college living at home in Toronto. At the time, she was studying psychology with plans to apply for a master's program in counseling, though she lacked enthusiasm for the subject and was struggling with depression. On a whim, she started uploading her own comedic sketches to YouTube. By 2013, her channel had 1 million subscribers. 

Singh's YouTube success led to a 27-stop world tour of comedy and musical performances, a feature documentary, cameos in major movies, brand sponsorship deals that have made her one of the highest-earning YouTube stars, and the creation of her own production company.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Singh shared how she got here — and what we can all learn from her non-traditional path to success.

Recognizing burnout

Just when Singh's YouTube success was landing her more acting roles and she'd launched her own company, Unicorn Island Productions, she realized she was feeling burnt out. 

"I came home one day and I remember lying on my kitchen floor and just crying," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I turned into such a machine. I was feeling that I was completely losing what it means to be human."

Between producing up to nine videos per week, managing a social media presence, blogging and developing other projects, she was working non-stop and rarely took time off. In November of last year, she posted a YouTube video telling fans that she'd be taking an indefinite break.

"I am mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted," she said in the video, adding, "I always preach that you should be happy, you should take care of yourself. And what kind of person would I be if I preached that but didn't actually practice it myself?"

While on hiatus, Singh re-prioritized her personal well-being by reaching out to friends, visiting a therapist and meditating. It was also around this time that she was in talks with NBC about taking on a new kind of talk show re-imagined for the digital age.

Lilly Singh: Find happiness and you'll find success

Crafting your career — and negotiating

Before Singh accepted the hosting offer, she came to the negotiating table prepared. While she wanted to pursue the opportunity, she didn't want to put an end to the other professional pursuits she was building for herself and her production company.

"I didn't want to sign up for it and then be like, 'I can only make a little time for it,' " she said. "I'm very much all or nothing."

The network agreed to retain only talk-show exclusivity, and arranged a filming schedule during the fall that would allow Singh to focus on other projects for the remainder of the year. Singh will continue to work on independent projects through her YouTube channel, production company and elsewhere.

Making an impact

While building her team, which is half women, Singh made efforts to hire a diverse set of producers and writers. "I want them to feel comfortable bringing their point of view because that's why they're in the room," she said.

Beyond her new hosting gig, Singh says her YouTube fans will always remain a focus for her.

"They will not lose me," she told fellow talk-show host Trevor Noah in a Q-and-A for Interview Magazine. "I will still upload, but it won't be so rigorous. It won't be forced by a schedule. It'll be when I'm sparked by an idea. I also plan to capture the creation of my show, and my online community will be with me as I build it. By no means will they be abandoned. I love them way too much."

Singh, who came out as bisexual earlier this year, has found that being her authentic self has only improved the connection to her fan base, something she hopes to continue beyond the TV screen "The very next meet-and-greet that I did after coming out was in India, and I would say 50% of people in that line came out to me," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "To me, that is success."

Singh's half-hour of comedy and interviews isn't completely uncharted territory, but she's hoping her new ideas and unfamiliar face in the scene will make waves.

"There's a small part of me that's like, 'Is everyone going to like this?' " she said. "That's obviously a fear. But I'm going to do what I've always done, which is make something that I think is good, that is authentic to me. That's what has gotten me my success thus far."

Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are divisions of NBCUniversal.

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YouTube star Lilly Singh: How I sparked my career
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