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All Hail the 6-Year-Old 'Shirley Temple King'

Leo Kelly has taught us that there are four elements to the perfect Shirley Temple—and he can easily tell which restaurants nail them.
February 3, 2020, 3:30pm

The best thing on the internet right now is an Instagram account dedicated to a 6-year old earnestly reviewing Shirley Temples. And naturally, he calls himself "The Shirley Temple King."

Leo Kelly—a bright-eyed and precocious elementary schooler who’s understandably in love with the classic combination of ginger ale (or 7-Up, in some cases) and grenadine—rocketed to viral fame at the end of January. His pointed, on-camera reviews are simultaneously concise and endearing. (Smart money says he’ll be on a show like Ellen or Good Morning America before Valentine's Day.)

A star was born when People Food Editor Shay Spence tweeted one of Leo's videos on January 28, adding, "It's so pure and I love him so much." Chrissy Teigen replied, as she does. The clip quickly passed 3 million views. And the young king's number of Instagram followers snowballed from a couple hundred to more than 170,000 before the week ended.

It's easy to understand The Shirley Temple King's appeal, and it’s not just that, as several people pointed out, he looks like a young Seth MacFarlane. It's a mix of his innate charisma, the novelty of his account, the quality of his reviews, and a stream of spontaneous one-liners.

Leo, whose parents started the account for him back in August, isn't afraid to eviscerate a restaurant's weak attempt at a Shirley Temple. Working from a 10-point scale that's beautifully vague, he's already handed out two flat zeros.

In one of his best videos, Leo's parents take him to New Haven, Connecticut's famed pizzeria Frank Pepe, where there's no Shirley on the menu. Undeterred, Leo pulls some grenadine out of his backpack like the Connecticut version of Beyoncé, dumping several tablespoons worth into a glass of ginger ale.

“Unfortunately, it’s a zero,” he says matter-of-factly. “That’s kinda bad, but we also really love their pizza.”

Starbucks' off-menu attempt similarly bombs. Leo looks ready to spit the drink out, exclaiming that it tastes like mango and strawberry, a far cry from the drink's preferred flavor profile.

"It’s disgusting," he declares. "I don’t think I like it. I give that a perfectly not-good zero."

Most restaurants—be they chains or local spots—fare far better, falling somewhere above the halfway mark. Texas-style Hoodoo Brown BBQ in Ridgefield, Conn. outperforms the rest, pulling in a whopping 9.5 rating thanks in part to offering a maraschino cherry garnish with an American flag toothpick. He ends another 9-point review with a chef's kiss.

The young nobleman doesn't ever outline a specific grading rubric, but the reviews make his priorities clear:

  • There must be cherries.
  • It's gotta be fizzy.
  • A glass cup is preferred.
  • Strive for the perfect ratio between the grenadine and ginger ale.

Only one Shirley Temple rakes in a perfect 10—a gift from Santa that arrives unexpectedly on a family vacation.

"I'm going to give this a 10 because A, I never get to have these grown-up cups [it's glass], and B, there's so much cherries, and C, it's SOOOOO good!" he yelps. "So, thank you, Santa!"

And that is the crux of what makes the Shirley Temple King so great; he's 6. That's never more obvious than an end-of-summer piece of cinematic gold where he’s sitting poolside and leaning on a beach ball as if ready to star in a Kidz Bop music video. This time, he’s reviewing an attempt by his uncle.

"I'm not allowed to have Lifesavers and he put a Lifesaver in it, so woohoo to that!" he declares, "But the problem is, there's no cherries." Unk still gets a respectable 8.2.

The King's childlike enthusiasm is part of what makes the account magical. But it's also that Leo is exactly what the staid critics' world needs—clear, sharp, transparent, and independent takes. Not from a self-important chef, a faceless white guy at the New York Times, or a celebrity influencer, but from a random kid with genuine and focused excitement.

Leo is decisive; one sip, and he delivers a verdict. There’s no dramatic pause and cut to commercial before the big reveal, and no waffling. The kid knows what he likes, and doesn’t waste time overthinking it.

At points, he channels an unimpressed Food Network judge. "It’s not like, wowing me, but it's good," he offers at one place. At another, he could be auditioning for Kids Say the Darndest Things as he quips: "I'm going to give that a 6.3 because it is very invigorating."

But his reviews are more descriptive than half the food show anchors in the biz, and they're remarkably succinct. One restaurant is "bougie," another in New York City has "the best" decorations, a third comes up short with a "watery" rendition. In an era where recipes read like memoirs and restaurant reviews verge on literature, it's refreshing to see a reviewer cut out the fluff. No thesaurus at the ready and no industry speak, just straight-talk.

Part of what makes it fun is that the stakes couldn't be lower. Even with newfound fame and influence, if Leo trashes a restaurant's Shirley, it's unlikely to hurt the business (because who's trading on their Shirley Temple cred?). That's a good thing; taste is so subjective, even if the food world's big dogs would like to pretend otherwise, and unless we're talking about a POS like Ken Friedman, a reviewer's goal shouldn't be shuttered doors. By offering a hyper-specialized review of a noncritical component of restaurants, Leo and his followers can engage guilt-free. Like the best escapist content, it’s intentionally frivolous.

This wholesome new social media star is—thus far—uncorrupted by all the pay-to-play influencer refuse cluttering Instagram. For now, the King lacks sponsors, but his mom told Buzzfeed she's open to it, and as Chrissy Teigen tweeted, "He bout to get paiiiiid."

Hopefully that comes in the form of partnerships with brands this Grenadine Lord already proudly reps, like Canada Dry and Rose's grenadine. Otherwise, his appeal will eventually wane, watered down like his least favorite Shirley Temples. That might be a fitting parallel to the real-life Shirley, one of history’s biggest child stars that the camera also loved. Like Leo, she made it big at age 6 (back in 1934). Though she exhibited real staying power, becoming a teenager tanked her movie career. Still, the real Shirley won an honorary Academy Award and went on to become a diplomat as an adult. Overall, not bad.

It's impossible to predict where the wave of fame will take the Shirley Temple King. His reviews have only grown stronger and more confident since he started. There's no more off-camera questions lobbed from his parents—Leo carries these harmless hot takes on his own now. Two videos since his virality deliver the same dose of adorability.

If the account stays true, I'll keep following along, crossing my fingers that he comes to my city to help me and my friends find the best small-child-approved drinks. But more than anything, I hope that this whole thing remains fun for him. And if Leo does woo sponsors, I hope his parents spend some that money on extra cherries for him (for inside and outside the glass cup) and maybe a Lifesaver or two.

Stay gold, King.

This article originally appeared on VICE US.