On a hot August Saturday afternoon, bright sun beating down on a crowd of over 20,000, my young daughter and I had our attention focused intensely on an enormous iron gate. It was supposed to open at 6 pm, and it was now 6:10 with no sign of movement. The crowd was there for one purpose – to see the teen pop star Selena Gomez, whose television persona as Alex on “Wizards of Waverly Place” had cast its image upon millions of living rooms of families with young children as their parents hurried about preparing dinner, paying bills, checking email, bathing babies.
(A version of this article was published at The Huffington Post:)
Those parents now peppered the crowd, linked to their excited tweens and teens – almost exclusively girls who proudly displayed, sometimes awkwardly inappropriate for their young age, reflections of their teen idol by wearing sparkle makeup, neon-lit hair extensions, lipstick on lips of a nine year old. No surprise here, after all, children trying on masks of possible future selves is part of our nature – what young boy hasn’t slathered shaving cream on cheeks, “shaving” in the hope it could awaken those first whiskers?
Suddenly, the crowd moved forward as one, grateful the first wait was over. My daughter and I found our seats quickly to begin the second wait. With only a few hundred fans dispersed in the PNC Bank Arts Center, the opening act began without fanfare.
A diminutive teen, Christina Grimmee, ran out onto a stage that seemed unready for her. Speakers were randomly placed at the edges, accessories scattered about. More bothersome was the lackluster presentation – everything, including Grimmee’s outfit was dull grey, interrupted only by the singer’s black sneakers and jeans. Grimmee’s voice, however, in its purity and confidence, brightened the stage with a wide palette of auditory “colors.” I seemed to be one of the rare listeners amongst the crowd as they searched for their seats, chatted, texted, munching on their stadium fast food, some listening to their iPods – could I hear faint echos of Selena Gomez singing “Who Says?” from those tiny earbuds?
With Grimmee’s exit from the stage, a transformation took place with stage hands creating a grand arc staircase, neatly arranged instrumentation quickly joined by Selena’s band members. So began the grand spectacle – Selena’s dramatic entrance rising from below the stage, wearing an elegant bright blue silk gown. I need not share the playlist, as this is not a concert review.
Ms. Gomez, at the young age of 19 years, presents herself with confidence, poise, grace and beauty. It was sheer joy to see 20,000 plus fans joining in singing lyrics and raising hands to her personal statements on teenage angst and self-discovery. Each of her costume changes introduced more and more startling color to the stage – sapphire reds, azure, white silk. An awkward moment: Ms. Gomez asked the audience: “Have you ever been in love?” An odd question, indeed, when you are addressing thousands of eight to twelve year olds, it was met with silence, but she plunged into her song, unfettered by the silence interrupted by the occasional song of cicadas.
The most endearing moment was a brief story that she shared with her fans, describing herself as “that little girl from Texas with a dream” who once saved her money for her first CD and attended her first concert along with her cousin, sitting in the “nosebleed sections” to hear Britney Spears – followed, of course, by covers of Britney’s hits.
Comparing the two performers singing “Who Says?” reveals their different palettes and styles.