What Stars from Britney to Beyonce Have In Common: A Trip Through Mouskestardom
by Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith
Mickey Mouskestars are everywhere -- young stars who can credit Disney for giving them their show business starts.Britney Spears
, Justin Timberlake
, Christina Aguilera
, J.C. Chasez, Ryan Gosling and Keri Russell
are all alumni of "The Mickey Mouse Club" show on the Disney Channel. Hilary Duff
and Shia LeBeouf found Disney's cable network a launching pad, too, with "Lizzie McGuire" and "Even Stevens," respectively.
Aaron Carter was ignored by mainstream radio at age 13, but hit the jackpot in 2001 when the Disney Channel put him on an "In Concert" special and ran his video, making his "Aaron's Party (Come Get it)," a winner selling more than two million units domestically.
LeAnn Rimes' career exploded with a Disney special in 1997.
Even Beyonce Knowles
can credit the Mouse with helping her work her acting chops; she acted in Disney's coming-of age series "The Famous Jett Jackson" before tackling the lead in MTV's "Hip Hopera: Carmen."
They've been at the junior star-maker machinery business -- what one Warner Bros. executive called "the Mickey Mouse Channel marketing vortex" -- for quite a while.
How does it work?
For starters, the Disney alchemy has everything to do with keen-eyed talent scouts. The group of 1980s-90s "Mickey Mouse Club" Mousketeers, for example, each went through a tough selection process -- definitely reminiscent of "Making the Band," with notes of "American Idol" thrown in.
Christina, for example, attended an open audition for Mouseketeers in 1989 when she was just eight with more than 400 Philadelphia-area children. She was one of only four selected to shoot an audition tape. She was told at that time she was too young for a part, but was invited back to audition again in '99.
Intense focus on performing is another ingredient of mouse-made stars.
Supporting and competing with one another kicked up the process several more notches for the Mouseketeers. Most of them lived in the same Orlando, Florida apartment complex with their families. They attended their own school together, rehearsed together, went to the Disney theme parks at will together.
"We got to sing and act on a regular basis with other talented people. That made us all better," Christina explained.
It was also a great place to make friends -- including Britney Spears.
"We were very good friends," recalled Christina. "We were the youngest and always looked up to the other kids on the show."
Which brings to mind some of the fabled Mouseketeer gossip -- that Ryan Gosling regaled his curious younger Mousketeer sisters Britney and Christina with blush-worthy material when they asked him questions about sex back in the day.
And as we all know, Britney ended up with Justin romantically -- for awhile -- and he's now touring with Christina.
Also in the romance department, Aaron Carter, who met Hilary Duff as a guest on an extremely-successful episode of "Lizzie McGuire," has a romance going with the tween queen who recently, bitterly, parted company with Disney.
The final -- and crucial -- element of the star-maker machine is the selling of talent. Disney has marketed, merchandised (Records! Toys! Books! Accessories!) and cross-promoted lots of its junior talent right into stardom.
Now if they could only figure out how to retain some of the big money, Grownup Star energy once those juvenile talents come of age and leave the nest. No doubt about it, the days of Annette Funicello-style loyalty to the Mouse House are long gone.
Variety recently proclaimed "Hollywood Keen on Teens," noting, "across the board, 20 million teens and tweens spent $250 billion in 2002 for everything from movies and video games to clothes and junk food."
Mickey is always eager to grab a hunk of that cheese, and to that end:
They've got former "Cosby Show" kid Raven on their tween hit list with "That's So Raven" and the upcoming "Cheetah Girls" telepic, a potential movie franchise.
They've got Lindsay Lohan, 17, who starred in their popular "Parent Trap" remake, and has "Freaky Friday" with Jamie Lee Curtis out this summer and "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen" coming up....
And, trust us, they're looking for new prospective Mouskestars every day.