Zac, Jesse, Bow Wow, Chris...
Teen Idols - Great Pickings Among Current Crop
By Stacy Jenel Smith
While it's true that each generation has its own roster of teen idols, it's also true that there are, to use a wine analogy, great and less-great vintages in this particular vineyard of show business. Think of the Frankies - Sinatra, Avalon, Muniz - and that fact becomes readily apparent.
Luckily for today's teens, it appears we're enjoying a gold medal season - with a positive outlook for a number of favorites to get even better with proper aging. Reasons behind the fecund harvest include the resurgence of the youth-oriented movie musical, and the fact that teen idoldom of today is drawing from a wider talent pool than in times past. As New York Daily News music critic Jim Farber noted in a story on today's teen pop, "...this swelling wave breaks from previous ones in that it comprises African-American male stars, such as new sensation Chris Brown, as opposed to earlier trends."
Zac Efron, 19, is the hot ticket of teen heartthrobs at the moment. With the smash "High School Musical" as well as the WB series "Summerland" behind him, the San Luis Obispo, California-born, soon-to-be USC student is currently making the big-screen version of "Hairspray" with Amanda Bynes and John Travolta. On the music side, in February Zac became the first artist to debut with two charted songs on the Billboard Hot 100 - "Get'cha Head In the Game" and "Breaking Free." And if that's not enough to prove his status, there's the fact a group of eighth grade girls I know, playing the board game of Life, all wanted to name their blue pegs Zac Efron when they hit the "Get Married" square the other day.
Performing has been a lifelong passion for the -- might as well say it -- cute blond as long as he can remember, although he comes from a non-show-business family.
"I used to sing the Tin Man song from the 'Wizard of Oz' at, like, three," he relates. "As I got older, I sang my favorite songs from the radio. My parents thought I had a good voice and they encouraged me. They both love music."
At age 11, he auditioned for a local production of "Gypsy" as a singing newsboy. "My parents thought I should go in and try it. I had a horrid time. I was not excited about auditioning for it." Much to his surprise, he landed the part. After that, "I started acting in a lot of community theater. I did 40 or 50 shows, 'Peter Pan,' stuff like that." It was Zac's eighth grade drama teacher who offered him the chance to go down to L.A. and talk to her agent. Before long, he landed his first professional part, on the series "Firefly." Then came guest roles on "The Guardian" and "ER," leading to where he is now.
While Zac was a recurring player on the series, Jesse McCartney, now 19, was already among the stars of "Summerland."
Jesse began performing as a child in local, then national touring companies doing stage musicals. As a pre-teen, he sang with a junior pop outfit called the Sugar Beats, which earned a Grammy nomination. In 1999, Jesse was selected from 500 kids who auditioned for the pre-fab pop group, Dream Street. The five-member boy band was signed to a big talent agency, toured with Britney Spears and their self-titled CD went gold. Since the group broke up in 2002, Jesse's proven more than capable of keeping fans thrilled on his own, with his successful 2004 "Beautiful Soul" album preceding his own worldwide tour. Recently, the born-again Christian from upstate New York came out with his sophomore album, "Right Where You Want Me." He has the big screen romantic drama "Keith" en route to release in '07. What could make it all more perfect? How about the fact is romantically linked to Katie Cassidy, daughter of '70s teen idol David Cassidy.
Bow Wow and Chris Brown, ages 19 and 17 respectively, are teen idols each in his own right. They bring in double the screaming fan prospects when they perform together, which they've done quite a bit - as in last year's We Ain't Done Yet Holiday Jam tour, and on Chris' remix recording of "Run It." Their most recent duet, "Shortie Like Mine," recently debuted at No. 80 on Billboard's Hot 100. (It's the lead-off single from Bow Wow's Dec. 19 release album, "The Price of Fame.")
Bow Wow, who hails from the Columbus, Ohio suburb of Reynoldsburg, came out with his first album in 2000, as Lil Bow Wow. In 2002, he made his feature starring debut in "Like Mike," playing an orphan who aims to be a pro basketball player.
Virginia-born Brown became the youngest male to have a No. 1 hit on the Billboard Top 100 last year with "Run It!" His Up Close and Personal Tour with artists including Ne-Yo has been an unqualified success. He'll debut playing a new recurring character on "The O.C." in time for November sweeps. And he has the big screen "Stomp the Yard" with Ne-Yo and Meagan Good ready for release in January. Can you say "career on fire"?
When it comes to teen idols, one simply cannot ignore long-time worldwide favorite Daniel Radcliffe. He doesn't have to sing. The 17-year-old, London-born "Harry Potter" star certainly can act. Come February, he'll attempt to prove he can take his skills to a whole different level. That's when he'll begin previews at the West End's Gielgud Theatre in his highly-anticipated debut in "Equus." The Tony-winning, disturbing play about a psychologically-damaged teen who blinds a stable full of horses is a high risk for Radcliffe, involving on-stage nudity and a theme of abnormal sexuality.
"I like being challenged," he recently told London's Guardian newspaper. "Even when you're doing really intense, dramatic scenes that take so much out of you, it's still really fun and energizing. Acting makes you feel so alive."
Having already secured his place in film history, Radcliffe also has two more "Harry Potter" pictures in the pipeline: "Order of the Phoenix," for release next year, and "Half-Blood Prince" in preproduction.
Another of the rising stars out of "High School Musical," 17-year-old Corbin Bleu, has become so popular, this New Yorker of Jamaican and Italian ancestry deserves his own place among our current crop of Teen Idols. Charismatic, with an irresistible smile and a free-flowing shock of hair, he's a multi-talent who plays piano, sings, dances, acts, models (Gap, Macy's, etc.) and can do comedy. Among the stars of the Discovery Kids' "Flight 29 Down" series, he has a pop-R&B album due out the first quarter of '07.
And then there's Aaron Carter. How could someone who's only 19 be in need of image rehabilitation? And yet, he is. Perhaps the E! Entertainment reality show, "House of Carters" will help. Perhaps it will end up with him seeming all the more a bright youthful talent with hit records and plenty of onstage charm -- who's been smothered in cheesiness. Aaron's recent engagement to a Playboy beauty - broken off days later - did not help. His willingness to talk about his past dating of Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan didn't. His family drama involving sparring parents, accusations of mismanagement of earnings and so much more is sad, yes, but also like a Jerry Springer episode with a blond pop music family.
And look at all the acts nipping at poor Aaron's heels, like rising mini Teen Idols Cole and Dylan Sprouse, the 14-year-old twins of "The Suite Life of Zack & Cody" and a burgeoning merchandise business. And Columbia Records pop trio The Jonas Brothers (Kevin, 19, Joseph, 17, and Nicholas, 14), who've been all over The Disney Channel, Nickelodeon, The Cartoon Network and MTV and are touring with teen pop princesses Aly & AJ. (Joe Jonas is dating AJ, Amanda Milchalka -- ooh.)
Oh, yes. There are always new teen idols coming up to succeed those who fall away, as well as those who graduate to adult stardom.