Becoming part of Mickey Mouse's charming TV circle is a thrill for
a Kentwood, La., girl
Annette Funicello, the story goes, was a shy and unknown
12-year-old in 1955, when Walt Disney dropped in on a recital at
her Los Angeles dancing school and decided to cast her in his new
TV series for kids.
Thirty-eight years later, getting on "The Mickey Mouse Club"
wasn't quite as simple for Britney Spears.
The Kentwood, La., 11-year-old was among more than 15,000
youngsters trying out in 13 cities throughout the United States and
Canada. Britney, a singer, dancer and actress with experience on
television and off-Broadway, underwent two auditions -- three years
apart -- and a three-day screen test.
Her perseverance paid off: She was one of seven selected to
be Mouseketeers, joining the 13 veteran cast members on the Disney
Channel's contemporary version of the classic after-school variety
"It was like a dream come true," said Britney, who has
wide-set brown eyes and a broad smile. "It was all I'd really
wanted since I was 8. They called on the phone and said, 'You're
going to be a Mouseketeer,' and I just started screaming. 'I'm so
excited, I'm so excited,' and jumping up and down."
The current version of the "Mickey Mouse Club" is a half-hour
assemblage of songs, dances and skits, resembling its namesake only
in the basic format, the Mickey Mouse logo, and the words to its
The new show is more hip. The Mouseketeers don't wear Mouse
ears and uniforms; they wear colorful, stylish clothes. They sing
the old theme ("M-I-C -- 'see you real soon' -- K-E-Y -- 'Why?
Because we like you' -- M-O-U-S-E"), but follow with a song that
has a hip-hop beat and lyrics like "MMC is always in the groove!"
The new show sometimes tackles serious social issues; a special
hour-long segment celebrating the 200th broadcast, for example, was
devoted to positive messages about race relations (and today's
Mouseketeers, in contrast to the old cast, are a multi-ethnic
It's more hip-hop now," Britney said. "Before, it was more
The new show has been on the air since 1988. Perhaps
surprisingly, that's more than twice as long as the original, which
ran from 1955-1957 but lived on in reruns well into the 1960s.
In all those years, Britney is the first Mouseketeer from
Louisiana, said Lynne Symons, director of original programming for
the Disney Channel.
"We require a lot from our cast members: acting, singing,
dancing and the indefinable fourth quality of personality," Symons
said. "Britney had all four requirements."
This month, Britney moves to Orlando, Fla., where she will
live until October, rehearsing and taping segments to begin airing
in January. Her mother, Lynne, will accompany her, along with her
two-year-old sister, Jamie Lynn. Her father, Jamie, will stay in
Kentwood with her brother, 16-year-old Brian.
Britney is looking forward to the adventure, the Disney VIP
treatment, to being among 20 young entertainers who -- like herself
-- have been immersed in show biz from an early age.
"When you go to school up here, none of the people are like
you," Britney said. "In Orlando, all the kids are like you;
they'll do all the stuff that you do."
Britney has been dancing since age 2 and singing since she was
5 -- at that age, she said, "you don't have to sing real good; I'd
scream it out" -- and has been performing professionally for years.
The mantel in her family's living room is stacked with her prizes
from pageants, talent shows and gymnastics competitions; a big
silver trophy for winning Miss Talent USA in Monroe (La.) last year
stands on the floor because, at 58 inches, it's almost as tall as
At 8, Britney first tried out for the Mickey Mouse Club. She
was among six kids selected from 600 for further consideration, but
was ultimately determined to be too young for the show. The show's
casting director took enough interest in her, however, to refer her
to an agent in New York.
The agent, in turn, helped her land an appearance on TV's
"Star Search" and a starring role in an off-Broadway production,
"Ruthless." She appeared in the play for six months last year.
One opportunity for Britney seems to have led rather smoothly
to another, Lynne Spears said.
"Really, this is the most unplanned thing you've ever seen in
your life," she said. "It was as though I was mindless and things
Still two years away from being a teen-ager, Britney has
acquired the off-hand poise of a seasoned performer.
"I don't get nervous," said Britney, whose role model is
Whitney Houston. "I only really get nervous when I sing in front
of people I know. When I sing in front of people I don't know, I
Whether whirling around in her kitchen eating an Oreo or
standing on stage in a tuxedo, belting out "New York, New York" in
her deep, full adult-like voice -- one hand clutching a microphone
while the other sweeps the air with theatrical, Liza Minelli-style
gestures -- she exhibits a relaxed grace.
Her experiences have set her apart from her peers in Kentwood,
a town of 2,667 about an hour north of New Orleans. Britney has
met celebrities ranging from Donald Trump to "Home Alone" star
Macaulay Culkin's family (everyone except for Macaulay). Riding in
a limosine is no longer a novelty. She's comfortable hanging out
on Broadway and in Central Park and at trendy Manhattan eateries.
"I'm always wanting to get up and go," she said. "Lots of
times, I'll be home and just sitting there watching TV and I'll be
wishing I was on an airplane to New York or Los Angeles or
Still, she gets homesick when she's away too long. She still
likes to play basketball in the driveway with neighborhood kids and
sing for local gatherings like the Rotary Club. Britney hasn't let
fame and fortune go to her head, her mother said.
"There's a lot of kids that this this would ruin, but I feel
sure that this will make an even better person out of Britney,"
Lynn Spears said. "Britney could win the Academy Award in three
different movies and she would still have a humble spirit."
End of quoted article.
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