Teen Idol has always been a scarlet letter on the chest of every young up and coming star. With the help of large corporations teen musicians have rarely had a chance to grow into their music. With the creation of bands such as The Jackson 5 it left the path wide open for more young kids to get into the music industry at very young ages. Parents capitalizing on their children’s success and seeing their face ten years later on Behind the Music has become the norm.
Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, Buddy Holly, were the quintessential Teen Idols and if it weren’t for their premature deaths in 1959 they too would have had a chance to shine. Elvis Presley most notably the King of Rock and Roll strutted his stuff for teens all over the world and made history when he shook his hips on national TV causing an outcry from angry parents everywhere. Elvis went on to be an adult music star and will go down in history as the best performer who ever lived.
The Jackson 5 some would say paved the way for other teen boy bands such as The New Kids on the Block and in later years NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys. Though The New Kids on the Block road the wave of success and was one of the hardest working bands in showbiz they too fell prey to the teen idol curse. Exhaustion and a shift change in popular music were most of the downfall of the band. Throughout the years after New Kids each band member tried their hand at a solo music career, IE. Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre’s solo releases. Jordan and Joey both had limited success with their albums and just proved that the teen idol brand is a hard one to shake.
Tiffany is another fine example of a teen idol uphill battle. After her initial exposure touring with New Kids she gained a large following and began playing venues like malls and community theaters to get her name out to the public. In a short amount of time she was a household name and found herself on the cover of every teen magazine like Teen Beat. She was an instant hit but personal issues and bad management led her down a road that she never thought she’d be at the tender age of 17. Tiffany tried her hand at two more CDs before eventually dulling out of the limelight. Later on in life after a marriage and a child she came back with a CD called “The Color of Silence” an album which Billboard magazine called the best album of 2000 but was barely seen on the radar by popular radio stations. From personal experience I can tell you it was an excellent CD and Tiffany did have a hand in writing each song on the album.
Debbie Gibson (aka. Deborah Gibson) is another casualty of the teen idol curse. Unfortunately with some teen idols they find it hard to let go. Years later still playing and writing the same bubblegum pop music that made them popular, reliving their youth if you will. Debbie Gibson fell into that rut only a couple of years after her last big hit. It’s a matter of familiarity and sometimes when a child loses their limelight they find it hard to let go. Debbie Gibson has been singing, writing and playing the same music since she was 17 and this has significantly hurt her career.
We find that with the creation of the teen idol so comes the inevitable downfall. Just now we are starting to realize more and more the effect of popular music and how it is an ever-changing atmosphere. Can we chalk this up to immaturity and ignorance on the part of the musician? Or could it be something more, could it be big business taking advantage of a young and impressionable musician who just wants to be famous and doesn’t understand the consequences of their actions. Either way we find more and more artists making their way to the shelf and quickly being yanked off by the new best thing.
American Idol is just another example of feeding into this frenzy to see younger and younger singers. The show is a breeding ground for teen idols. Each season we are forced to watch kids perform in front of the camera, critiqued, embarrassed and eventually booted from competition. They say it gives kids a thick skin but all it will do is add to their therapy bill ten years from now. It’s true that music is constantly changing and what might be “in” right now could seemingly be different overnight.
There have been success stories where teen idols have gone on to reign supreme in their solo careers. Just look at Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake the generation gap between the two is large but the influences are truly there. Justin’s first CD Justified was anything but mediocre and the sound was so similar to Michael Jackson you’d swear you put in the wrong CD. Justin’s Falsetto vocals were soulful, powerful, and edgy nothing like his days with NSYNC. This was a success story of taking the word “teen” out of Teen Idol. Justin had shed his bubblegum pop side to be more in line with today’s popular music and it’s paid off. He is now taken as a serious artist, a money making machine, just the name alone associates with fame and fortune.
Britney Spears with her unwavering ability to be both innocent and sexual all at the same time has earned her the Teen Idol award of the century. Britney went from “I’m not that innocent,” to “I’m a slave for you” with little to no work involved. She broke the mold of the Mickey Mouse club and became a woman all in the eyes of a camera lens. Set to be the next Madonna Britney has worked on reinventing herself to flow with the times. Even Madonna had a quickie marriage to Sean Penn and with her Sex book most people thought Madonna would just fade away. Britney is currently following in those rather large footsteps showing us that falling down does not mean falling out.
Throughout the years there have been many Teen Idols, New Edition, The Osmonds, Andy Gibb, Leif Garrett, and many others have had the privilege of wearing the Teen Idol letter upon their chest. Most wear it with pride but others may hide their head in shame. Either way these acts have left their mark in musical history and that is something they’ll never escape. I think that despite what their downfall may have been they played a part in shaping new and upcoming young artists who want their shot at the big time. If not for the drive at least to show these kids what could happen if they don’t act smart about their lives and careers.