By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
The turnaround at Disney — now the "major profit driver" in the Magic Kingdom, according to the May issue of Portfolio — was thanks in large part to the 2004 hiring of former FX Networks CEO Anne Sweeney. "We found there was this huge demo that was too old for Nickelodeon and too young for MTV," she told Portfolio. "We realized this was an opportunity for Disney to establish itself in the lives of these kids."
To the point where it's become their lives.
The Disney Channel — which, according to Forbes, expects to pocket nearly $80 million in 2008, or more than twice its 2007 income — is an advertisement for itself, an endless loop of promos peddling product. In the morning it attracts preschool viewers giggling to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Higglytown Heroes and Little Einsteins. In the afternoon, the network grows up just a little bit, offering family-friendly variations on '70s and '80s sitcoms such as Silver Spoons, Growing Pains and Facts of Life. Disney has found a way to merge those audiences, to the point where four-year-old boys want to dress like the Jonas Brothers and four-year-old girls want a Hannah Montana wig.
That's why every kid in America — except, maybe, those snatched from the polygamist compound — knows about Camp Rock. They are waiting for it, breathlessly anticipating it. They've been told to, for months and months.
But they are doing more than just following orders: Consciously or not, they're buying into an ideal — the squeaky-clean, sanitized-for-your-protection hallways and mallways of America. It's what Disney's sold for decades: "the American childhood," as Syracuse University pop-culture prof Robert Thompson said in a 2006 Boston Globe story, updated "with the iconography of modern youth." Which means, in this instance, pop songs as catchy as a cold, COSMOgirl! accessories soccer moms steal from their daughters and dance moves meant to be reenacted in front of a bedroom mirror during sleepovers. And stars who could be, like, your BFF, OMG.
"I feel like it goes back to being approachable," says Teen's Bryant. "Our readers are mostly girls, girls getting the sense that, 'This is someone who could be my friend. This is the girl who could be next to me in math class, and we could do our homework together.' I feel like that's what it boils down to, really. The ones that rise to the top are the ones that...these girls can relate to. They have this extraordinary life in our readers' eyes because they're on TV, and they're in movies, and they're recording albums, but at the same time, it seems like someone that they could hang out with."
Truth is, about as close as girls can get to hanging out with Demi is on YouTube, to which she's posted 13 videos starring herself and Grand Prairie native Selena Gomez, Demi's best friend ever since they co-starred with Barney seven years ago. They're nothing more than pajama-party gabfests, two teenagers diddybopping into the camera as they model their Power Rangers T-shirts, introduce the world to hotel housekeeping and discuss their makeup.
But those videos are powerful marketing tools: A video titled "demi lovato and selena gomez UPDATE!!!" has garnered some 1,516,950 views since it was posted three months ago. Still, that's nothing compared with the 2,456,557 views Miley Cyrus and backup dancer Mandy Jiroux received for their surprisingly nasty parody of Demi and Selena's update, posted shortly afterward. (Cyrus in particular barks out a mean "Yo, yo!" that appears aimed directly at Demi.) It's like a Disney show, only far more grown up: "this shits fuckin beat get some fukin lives u guys r like fuckin 17," reads one hard-R-rated comment among 44,734 posted to the Cyrus-Jiroux video. Kids.
Speaking of, Demi's still a kid. It's just a little hard to remember that, as she preens and poses for the camera of Richard Reinsdorf, who's on his first Teen shoot after years of working for everyone from Vanity Fair to Vaseline. She looks much older — sounds it too, especially when she talks about wanting to manage and produce. And direct. Yeah. Direct.
To hear her folks tell it, Demi is entirely in control of her career — has been, yes, since she was five. It was Demi who, when she was eight, told her mother, Dianna, she wanted to skip a beauty pageant in Las Vegas so she could audition for Barney & Friends instead. Dianna remembers that day well: 1,400 kids at "this cattle call," where she met Selena Gomez. Mother didn't think Daughter stood much of a chance. All those girls! So Dianna got Demi and her older sister Dallas ready for Vegas, for "this big deal we did every year." Only, there was a call: The Barney producers wanted to see Demi again. Mom wasn't thrilled.
"I said, 'You know, I don't know about this,'" she recalls. "I was like, 'We audition for stuff all the time, and we haven't really gotten anything. I'm just not sure that I want her to miss that week of fun that she looks forward to every year, all year.' And they said, 'We really, really want to see her here.'" So Dianna told the producers she'd talk to Demi and see what she wanted to do.