"I don't know if your editor told you, but we have one of your articles hanging on the wall in our office," smiles the accomodating publicist at arm's length. "The potato-salad princess?"
She's on to me.
Just a potato salad-free catering tray away, the teen-sheen pop machine is in full throttle again at Universal's Islands of Adventure. The folks of Fox Family have gathered a veritable motherlode of puberty ticklers for three days of press conferencing with flown-in, pinup-rag journalists, all choreographed for TV-pop regurgitation. Like Woodstock, really. Duly, I'm here like a fly at a picnic -- equal parts shamelessly hungry and shamefully annoying -- chewing up strawberries, cheese cubes and pop stars.
"Stylistically speaking," I lean into nappy jinglehead Shaggy, eliciting quiet sighs and eye-rolls from the Tiger Beat "favorite color" questioners, "where do you think your music comes from?"
"I don't know," he deerly headlights, before exhibiting his vocal versatility with an almost viable front-porch croon, followed by a series of the signature Boombastic "yah, man" grunts the kids are willfully swallowing like fermented Disco Duck slop. Uncomfortably, I stare into his eyes as the serenade continues past your average sung-repartee limit. What if all press conferences were set up like musicals? What if I was dead?
"Well, it works, huh?" I grimace, allowing the conversation to dribble back into talk of summer anthems, ugly people and what it feels like for a girl.
Outside, Destiny's Child's child 3LW (that's three little women, imaginatively enough) are filming an intro prior to their own catered inquisition. They know what it feels like for a girl.
"I want you to spend 30 seconds dissing on each others' outfits," directs a pushy camera queen.
I could spend an hour, probably, considering the color-wheel hair splotches and torn-rag, glitter-girl getups their peripherally present mothers have draped them in. Painted as a Latin diva, a rocky wild child and a gospel hairdresser, the trio exude an air of carefully preconcieved baggage. But when they open their mouths -- and do they ever -- their youthful naivete is as infectious as a locker-room cold sore.
"What do you make of your urban street level success paving the way to your pop crossover?" I hazard.
"It's good," the gospel girl splotches, innocently misunderstanding the question to mean the people on HER street. "You have to impress the people you know first."
Well, I know Wild Orchid, and I also know they don't like me. After I quoted them dissing Christina, the pinched and plucked valley girls reportedly cried real tears and cursed me to a silent mall death. Only today they're kissing me like Kathie Lee, and I can't figure out why. By way of apology -- and for the sort of amusement one gets from throwing a blanket over a dog -- I ask them a big, worldly Miss-America question about their intrusion into China last year (where they played to 60,000 people, or something.)
"They have great shopping!" replies Stacey, rolling her eyes like an abacus to calculate the knock-off savings before leaning in to offer a cultural prediction. "I think Asia is going to be really big soon."
By all indications, Vitamin C's not. On the second day of our superstar extravaganza, we're supposed to lunch with said industry-whore supplement and Swedish Abba-teens the A-Teens. Only, we're not. Both are running a few hours late, a fact that inspires the lovely potato salad-weary publicist Miss Yvonne (Vitamin Y, The Y-Teen) to offer the journalist junketeers a diversionary roller-coaster-ride field trip ... and I'm invited! Except nobody's talking to me but her. ("I work here. I have to talk to you," she says.) That is, until the ride ends.
"That was nice. I like being upside down," glibs a "J-14" journo.
Eventually, bitchy Miss C makes her way into the reconvened press circle, and sets to complaining about being hot while photographers yip to capture her fleeting smirks. One hit two years ago might make you feel a little warm, I suppose -- especially if you're in your 30s and still seeking an audience at a teen event. But hot? Nay.
Far hotter are the A-Teens, whose hyper-kinetic, newly original (they've veered from their intention of simply covering ABBA songs ... sadly) dance drivel has the foursome covered in Swedish dew, and the audience at the Toon Amphiteatre bouncing off the ceiling. Um, that's their single: "Upside Down (Bouncing Off the Ceiling)." On the way through the backstage concourse, I break into a skip and sing a Dancing Queen mockery of the insistent dittie, only to find the A-Teens standing right behind me, potentially contemplating A-attack.
"I think they're on to me," I say to Yvonne.