“We Love The Tik Tok Here At Roc Nation!” the note within the flowers read. Staring at the bouquet in disbelief, Nuckols started shaking.
“We were star-struck,” she said.
For anyone whose TikTok “For You” page has led to Arcadia Senior Living’s videos, the gesture from Jay-Z won’t come as a surprise. Since Nuckols and a colleague started the assisted-living center’s TikTok account in February, they’ve helped the Arcadia seniors find their own stardom — to the tune of millions of views and likes from across the world. Their most popular video is a re-creation of part of Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show.
“We were just trying to create something new and exciting for the residents to do,” Nuckols said. “Something different for them.”
Nuckols, 27, and the center’s director of community relations, Paige Oakes, 28, had talked about creating a TikTok page for Arcadia for a couple of months before officially creating the account.
At the time, Miley Cyrus’s single “Flowers” was topping charts, so on Feb. 1, the duo uploaded a TikTok of Arcadia residents acting out the song’s lyrics, which focus on self-love and empowerment.
In the video, when Cyrus sings that she can “talk to myself for hours,” a resident holds up a mirror, mouthing words while staring at her reflection. Another resident is shown clasping her hands together with the lyric “I can hold my own hand” in the background. The video ends with the line “I can love me better than you can” as a group of six residents embrace themselves and then point toward the screen.
The TikTok was timely. But it also held a separate meaning for Arcadia.
“A lot of our residents that live here are widowers, so we just feel like it’s important to always remind them how important self-love truly is,” Oakes said.
The “Flowers” video, which appeared in local news stories, “lit a spark” to keep looking for what could be the center’s “next big thing,” she said.
Over the next week, Oakes and Nuckols uploaded a few more TikToks with residents, including the “Pretty Girls Walk” challenge and a video of five residents dancing with a football to the NFL theme song ahead of the Super Bowl.
By then, Oakes and Nuckols had gotten into a routine. Once they got an idea for a TikTok, they would knock on residents’ doors to see who would want to participate. Nuckols did the choreography and danced with the residents behind the camera while Oakes filmed. They’d show the residents each edited video and then post it.
The pair wanted the Arcadia residents to have fun with the TikToks. But ever since the “Flowers” video, in the back of their minds, they hoped one of their ideas would make the seniors go viral.
They thought about the possibility each time they pressed the red “post” button for a video.
“Every time we create one, we’re like, ‘This one’s going to be it,’” Nuckols said. “And when it actually happened, we were like, ‘Is this real life?’”
Inspiration for the TikTok that would become their “it” video came from Rihanna’s Super Bowl halftime show. As Oakes and Nuckols were watching it on television that night, they texted each other immediately.
The segment they chose was a clip of Rihanna singing “Rude Boy,” when her backup dancers — dressed in puffy white ensembles — fanned out from a line to reveal the artist at the end.
“We were like, ‘That’s iconic,’” Nuckols said. “That has to be what we do in our video.”
And they knew exactly who would be Arcadia’s Rihanna: 87-year-old Dora Martin. She had a personality that “fit the part to a T” — and an all-red outfit to mimic the singer’s clothing during the performance.
When Martin got the knock on her door, she said yes instantly.
“I was excited that they even asked me,” said Martin, who had already been in the Arcadia TikTok ahead of the Super Bowl. “And I was willing to try anything. I’m just that type of person.”
Over the next few days, Oakes and Nuckols assembled a group of 12 women — ranging in age from 84 to 92 — for the TikTok, helping some dig through their closets for white clothing and finding a mic for Martin to hold during the video.
On Feb. 22, they filmed three takes and, after a group huddle to watch them all, decided to upload the first one that afternoon. The next morning, Nuckols, who said she usually can’t be woken up by anything, heard two back-to-back dings on her phone.
Before even checking to see that the texts were from Oakes, she knew what they said — Arcadia’s TikTok had gone viral.
The video had just hit 100,00o views. But with each passing minute, the number kept rising. Within a few hours, the TikTok had a million views.
The residents who had been in the video asked Oakes and Nuckols all day how many views they’d reached. So when they passed them in the hallways or the dining hall, the pair checked the TikTok to update them on the views.
The video was special for Martin, whose grandkids saw it on the news as it was picked up by stations across the country and called her, saying, “I saw Grandine on the TV!”
“I was just having a ball, to perform for my grandkids,” Martin said.
The Arcadia seniors have another TikTok planned for Thursday — National Barbie Day. Oakes and Nuckols don’t want to give too much away, but viewers can expect the residents to bring fun energy and “lots of pink.”
But for now, the seniors are still reveling in the success of their halftime show recreation. The bouquet from Jay-Z sits atop the grand piano in their dining room — a reminder of how big they’d made it.
They hope Rihanna will call them soon. At the very least, Martin hopes the singer has watched the video.
“I hope she has,” Martin said. “I hope she liked it.”