Maybe it’s the fact that we’re rapidly approaching Valentine’s Day, or maybe it’s because two years of staring at blank Zoom squares has taken a toll on us, but a number of U of T students seem to have fallen head over heels for a mysterious man with a sexy voice.

He’s the main admin behind @transparentutmsu, a student group that claims on its Instagram bio to work toward “accountability and transparency at UTM.” The account hosts livestreams on Instagram to directly engage with students, which is where our mysterious man was discovered. After comments about his voice started appearing on the Instagram account @spottedatutm2.0 — an anonymous confession page — the student group started getting much more attention.

Shen Fernando, the now-famous admin, agreed to speak to The Varsity about his thoughts on being made into an icon and where the Instagram account is going from here. Yes, his voice does have a certain quality that makes you want to listen to him talk — but more importantly, I also think he has worthwhile things to say.

Like many other self-conscious teenagers, Fernando used to hate the way he sounded — like “[a] radio commenter from the 1900s.” But in high school, more and more people wanted to hear him speak, even when he had nothing to say. 

When everything moved online during the pandemic, his voice was always “one of the things [new people] commented on first,” a trend that has clearly continued. According to Fernando, his first livestream only had around 11 concurrent viewers at its highest point. He was worried that students didn’t care about what he had to say. But, clearly, they quickly started to care about something else.

Thirst comments started appearing on @spottedatutm2.0 on January 18, the first one calling his voice “r/gonewildaudio worthy.” Within two weeks, the Instagram page saw at least 20 confessions about him, ranging from sweet to mildly concerning. Fernando picked out a couple of his favourites — he found a confession by a “3rd year gal” especially creative, who requested that, instead of signing petitions, he “sign our wedding papers.”

While that prospective wedding might not be happening soon, sign petitions he did continue to do. Harnessing the power of memes for good, @transparentutmsu helped spread a student petition to get the 110 bus reinstated. When the group started promoting it, it had around 250 signatures; within two days, it had reached 1,000. Reflecting on that extraordinary impact, Fernando said, “It’s one thing to have all these followers joining the [livestreams]. It’s another thing to make them take a minute out of their day to sign a petition.”

Giving what seems to be strong proof to the claim that “all press is good press,” the hype around his voice has only helped @transparentutmsu grow. “Immediately after the first confessions started coming up,” he said, “I noticed that we were getting hundreds more followers.”

The account’s analytics are pretty remarkable. Between January 14 and January 23, they gained 508 new followers and got engagement from 854 accounts — an increase of 6,000 per cent from the week prior. During their last Instagram live on January 21, they got 440 comments and peaked at 83 concurrent viewers. The UTM community, it seems, is clearly tuning in.

But fame is also a double-edged sword. While Fernando finds the confessions mostly in good fun, some have pushed boundaries. “The only time when I don’t like these things is when people start to get into stalking and accusing innocent bystanders of being me. And that’s happened,” he said.

Since the internet apparently just won’t let us have nice things, Fernando wants to remind everyone that there’s an actual person behind the account. He tries to engage with people on Instagram — yes, even the ones who DM him for a voice clip — because it shows them not just that he’s okay with having fun, but also that he’s more than just a voice.

Jokes aside, he wants to express his pride and gratitude for what the community has done and speak directly to the followers that have taken his messages to heart. “We took memes, we took a guy with a voice… and we expanded it into something so much more,” he said.

He also made sure to recognize the other five members of the team and the work they’re doing together. Fernando says the members of the team have taken the newfound fame in stride and already have multiple issues they plan to focus on next, including mental health support and UTM’s new food service provider.

For him, personally, let’s just say Fernando might not be so mysterious for long. In the comments of a request asking him to sign up for the Aphrodite Project, he responded that “[he] flipped a coin and it worked in this anon’s favour,” and that he’d agreed to sign up for the matchmaking service. So, yes — one of the many anonymous commenters thirsting over his livestream might be able to look forward to a Valentine’s Day surprise.