Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesday March 23

I think I lost a day in there. How the heck did that happen? It's Wednesday all ready?
So...Toronto has a Complaints Choir. Yes, you did read that correctly. "Complaints Choir". As in, choir which sings complaints.

(No:  I can't sing a note.)
Fossil of giant rabbit discovered on island.
So Sarah Hampson of The Globe and Mail asks, Can "10-year-old pop queens have a happy childhood?" The question was triggered by Willow Smith, with her hit single Whip It still echoing in everyone's heads, co-hosting Oprah's show one day.

I've seen Willow's oldest brother, Trey (he's named after his grandfather and father and is Will Smith III) in ads years back--but other than some modelling, I don't know if he's done anything else. At the time, there was some talk from Will that it was "something" his son wanted to do, and he didn't want to keep his son from doing so. When son Jaden started appearing in movies, the press was told that it was absolutely something that Jaden wanted to do and really, Jada and Will couldn't keep him from doing it. When daughter Willow put out her first single, the press was told that it was absolutely something that Willow wanted to do and really, Jada and Will couldn't keep her from doing it.

As the mother of a couple of children who do their everloving best to be the star of every moment of everyone else's life, I'd like to make a suggestion here:  actually, it's completely possible. You say "no--wait 'til when you're older." And the world is full of parents making similar suggestions. I get that kids get a "leg up" by first appearing on the scene as children--children are cute and interesting, wow, look at how charming and self-possessed they are. And oh! isn't she stylish?! To some, in truth, it's not so much that the child is absolutely determined "to be a star" as it is that in ten years time, the child will be competing as an adult against other adults, and will lose that advantage of being in a much smaller field. Let's face it--there are an awful lot of people posting their own covers of Lady Gaga's Born This Way...but it's the adorable 10-year-old who stands out for being, well, an adorable 10-year-old. Heck, how hard can it be to find a talented 20something singing karaoke?

With most child stars, or wannabe-stars, it's hard to avoid that sense that what hangs around them is their parents lost chances. The child will be the star where the parent was not. Parents will insist that they have no interest in being a star, that the child is driving the train to stardom--but when the child isn't old enough to be signing contracts or driving to auditions or to meet agents, it's an argument that rings a little false. When the parent is insisting that it's what their child really, really wants and the parent goes along with it, reluctantly, it rings very false. From the ages of 4-7, my second son was obsessed with all things dinosaur. He still has a bookshelf filled with what were the latest books at the time. The kindergarten teacher at his school brought him into her classroom to lecture her students when they did their week on dinosaurs. He absolutely, utterly could not imagine any better job in the entire world than to be a paleontologist. Today, at 15?--perhaps ironically for the purpose of this entry--he wants to be an actor. And a stand-up comedian.

To that end, he applied to the local high school with a Regional Arts Program. When he wasn't accepted, he threw himself into drama at his current high school, auditioning for the first play they put on back in November. Got the lead, actually. The director so liked him she cast him in her Ontario Sears Drama Festival entry without an audition. He's provided a voice for an online radio podcast--a freebie project done with his father. Next year, he thinks he might try to write a play for the Peel Student Wrights Festival. Maybe this summer he'll try improv classes.But you know what he won't be doing? Getting an agent and looking for work.If it's what he really truly wants, no matter how mad-talented he might be, he won't be doing that until he's old enough to sign his own contracts. We'll happily give him advice then, and probably even drive him to agents and auditions--but not until he's an adult.

My 10 year old is trying her best to model herself after Taylor Swift. Every day she rushes home from school to practice singing with her microphone and amp, occasionally accompanying herself on guitar. She writes her own songs. She performs at the drop of a hat--especially if anyone else in the family is getting some level of recognition for their achievements.She'll push forward to fight for her place on centre stage--but that stage is in our house, or at her school and will continue to be so until she, too, is old enough to sign her own contracts. She might see Taylor Swift as a role model, but when she's 14, we won't be pushing her forward to start her career. It can wait.

I understand the arguments that some parents make--that there really is something to the idea of getting the kid out the door and onto the stage while they have the advantage of interest because there are fewer other performers on it at that age. YouTube is filled with talented children whose parents hope that someone will see their child's video and reward them with a career akin to Justin Bieber's (whose story is that when the call came from someone who wanted to be his agent, Justin's mother went to her church elders and they all prayed together for guidance. Eventually, they all decided to send him off to the States to meet the manager--and the rest is history as they say. That was when Bieber was 14 years old. I'm going to try and avoid all cynicism as to why church elders would have felt that was the decision to make).

I think what bothers me about the Smith kids (Will's, not mine) is that they don't need that kind of advantage. If they're truly talented, they can head out at 18, and still have the advantage of their father's name. They can co-star in dad's movies when they're 18. They can co-star in each other's movies. He might not be in a good place now (or have been for a lot of the last few decades) but I was kind of pleased to read that when Charlie Sheen was young, he would make home videos with his friends Chris and Sean Penn--no child stardom for him. (the fact that a lot of his problems seem to stem from his dad's problems, and his dad's work and his dad's fame is a different subject altogether).

But the reality is that the Smith kids' lives are so different from my kids in every way--their parents live for their work, and are constantly seen on red carpets at events and premieres. Perhaps there is no chance for them to be normal kids leading normal lives. Perhaps it is their normal. But to me, sending a child out "on the road" for a publicity tour, for performances, to be photographed on the red carpet and judged on their personal style, to be in the studio working, how can it be normal? They do not need to work to support their family, so they don't have that pressure. And clearly, the parents can say, "this is what you wanted--we didn't need you do to do this." I think of Amanda Bynes, briefly announcing her retirement from show business last year. A lot of people laughed themselves silly and wrote nasty entries about her--but the truth is that she's been working as an actually paid person in show business since she was ten years old.

Think of how hard it is to get a child to do their homework when video games and time with friends beckon...  Imagine that it wouldn't be at all difficult to get them to do anything involving show business--getting to sing or to act everyday?  Now imagine, that you're telling the child that they have to go off to a red carpet premiere of their movie for the fifth time in a month, that they're going to spend the next day in interviews for six hours answering the same five questions. And that they still have to do three hours of school work somewhere in there to meet government standards. There will come a day when the child will be tired of it and wonder how to stop it all. And be told that they need to keep it going, that fame is fleeting...and fame is clearly what's important here.

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