Tag Archives: Christina Aguilera

Backstage Secrets, Dick Clark — Producer Larry Klein Looks Back at 40 Years of American Music Awards

Larry Klein and Christina Aguilera

The 40th Annual American Music Awards will mark the passing of its creator and godfather, Dick Clark, with a tribute to the TV Academy and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who died this past April.  However, “It’s not going to be a long, drawn-out thing,” promises producer Larry Klein. “It will be short and sweet.  That’s the way Dick would have wanted it.”

Klein would be the man to know.  He’s been working on the show since he got work as a production assistant on the very first AMAs. Even after Clark sold his company a decade ago, along with the American Music Awards show, Klein says no year would pass without his getting together with best buddy Dick and chatting about the event. 

This year’s show will feature performances by some 17 chart-toppers, including Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, Usher, No Doubt, Nicki Minaj, Pink, Carrie Underwood, Pitbull, Christina Aguilera and Linkin Park.  Bieber is up for three awards this year including Artist of the Year.  Bieber’s mentor, Usher, is also in the running with three nominations and the two will face off against each other in the category for Favorite Male Artist: Pop/Rock.  Rihanna  and Minaj lead the nominees with four nods apiece. Drake, Maroon 5 and One Direction have three nominations each.

Things have changed a lot, notes Klein, from the days when the likes of Helen Reddy and John Denver would “would come in and ask, ‘What should I sing?’  What does Dick want me to do?’  Now, I walk in and say, ‘I’m the producer.  Just tell me what you want,’” says Klein with a laugh. 

The special anniversary edition of the AMAs will bring us some highlights of their storied history, such as Prince’s Purple Reign prancing, Michael Jackson’s thrilling moves, and Axl Rose’s unprintable acceptance speech.  Not surprisingly, some of the moments Klein finds most memorable took place off camera.  There have been gargantuan backstage clashes, talent that had to be kept in dressing rooms that were far apart and all that sort of thing, he cheerfully acknowledges, refusing to name names.  And there’ve been heart-stopping near-misses and eleventh-hour changes.  Klein recalls that “a few years ago, the person who opened the show, at the five second mark was not on her mark – through no fault of her own.  She was supposed to be in a container, but there had been problems with it, and when the countdown started, I realized she was behind me.” 

That performer was Mariah Carey, and she did manage to whisk into the egg-shaped, spinning container at the very last second, and start the awards.  “Thank God she had the stage presence to keep her cool.  She could have freaked out,” Klein says. 

  Even though they’ll be glancing back, however, the 40th awards will be focused on today.  Klein says that every one of the 17 acts that will be performing will have its own environment.  “That’s one of the things that sets us apart.  Because of me wanting every artist to have their own atmosphere, their own look – nothing repeated — we have carts containing set pieces stretching out for six to eight blocks in downtown L.A. on show day.”  This year, he says, viewers will get to see some of the backstage action.

The hardest part must be squeezing in everything they want to do.  How does Klein manage?  “We just do it, “ he says.

‘The Voice’ Stars Not Out to Rip Anyone, Even the Competition

Interesting, the jockeying for position among singing competition shows before the kickoff of the 2012-2013 season.  While Simon Cowell has been teasing his new “X Factor” judges by letting the world know Britney Spears has turned out to be Quite Mean, NBC’s “The Voice” team made a point of stressing that they have no desire to be mean — or negative at all.

“We’re not interested in being on a show where we rip people.  That was a common theme,” said Adam Levine, who turned out to talk to press about the show at producer Mark Burnett’s posh Malibu home the other day, along with his fellow “The Voice” music superstar coaches — Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton, as well as host Carson Daly.

“And it proved something.  The blind auditions replaced the need to find terrible singers and rip them,” added Burnett, referring to the early audition rounds full of non-talents and scathing critiques so familiar to “American Idol” audiences.

“I really have been averse to it,” Levine went on.  “I personally have never experienced a positive feeling — I don’t like to see that.  It looks like someone getting bullied and it makes me sad, it really does.  I don’t like to watch.” 

His fellow coaches – remember, on “The Voice,” they’re more into coaching than judging –agreed.

Aguilera even had kind words for Britney, who, of course, she’s been getting sized up against since their “Mickey Mouse Club” days together. 

 “I know she’s a pro and she’s going to give, I think, great advice,” said the pop star, resplendent with blond and lavender hair for the panel.  “I don’t know the format of the other shows.  I just know the format of the show I’m on. But I welcome these very talented women.  Especially in my genre of pop, the media gets in there to pit us against one another and women against women, this and that, and you know, I’m just not down for that at this point in my life.  I have no patience for it, so I’m like, come on, the more the merrier.  She’ll have fun with it.”

Considering the fact that this year, “X Factor” will be going toe to toe with “The Voice” – “The Voice” launches Sept. 10 and “X Factor” two days later — Aguilera is likely going to find comparisons impossible to avoid.  (“American Idol” returns mid-season.)

The wide-ranging talk, accompanied by the sounds of surf and sea birds near the beachside grounds of Burnett’s home, also covered the topic of celebrity mentors.

Green talked about reaching out to artists with whom he has personal relationships and friendships, like Prince and Rob Thomas, to work with his up-and-comers.  Levine has Mary J. Blige.  Aguilera has Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

Armstrong wasn’t a friend, she said, when she went after him to be a mentor for her team.  But they did have mutual respect.  With his “punk, badass” persona, “He brings a whole different energy and different advice than I would give from a female pop star perspective.  He comes from a completely different world and kind of puts a whole new spin on everything,” she observed.

Blake Shelton’s bringing in Michael Buble.  Their paths have converged a surprising number of times, considering they, too, are from different musical worlds.  Shelton noted that he had a country hit with a Buble song, then they worked together on a David Foster special, and a Shelton Christmas album.  “We’ve become friends – as close friends as you can be when he lives in Vancouver, and I live in Oklahoma,” Shelton said.  When it came time to adding a new mentor for “The Voice,” “I thought, ‘This is a no-brainer.”

The joking, teasing, competitive camaraderie between the coaches that is one of “The Voice’s” greatest assets was also on display. Talking about their crammed schedules, Burnett noted that Shelton had been juggling tour dates, and in fact had just made a whirlwind trip back and forth to Washington. 

“Is that what Blake told you?  You guys are so gullible.  Tour!” cracked Levine – who was, himself, leaving for South America tour dates the next morning.  The show’s social media maven, Christina Milian, noted that the four singers can do dead-on imitations of one another.

Daly noted that we’ll see more of Green, Aguilera, Levine and Shelton performing this coming season, “because that’s what they do.” 

But what about “The Voice” come spring?  Burnett admits that the “matrix of tour dates of these artists is a producer’s nightmare” in terms of scheduling.  “We’re all talking, all the time.”

“I want to do it,” said Green.

“We all want this to work,” said Levine.

But there is a chance that the current foursome might help bring in substitutes for themselves to fill in.  “The good news is we’re all friends; we’re all openly talking about it all the time,” said Burnett, who stressed that he and his team knew what they were signing up for when they became involved with touring musical stars at the top of their game.  “This is really like family.” 

Miley Cyrus Latest Disney Darling to Go From Virginal to Vixenish

Miley Cyrus at 2009 Teen Choice Awards

As Miley Cyrus contemplates her disappointing “Can’t Be Tamed” album sales and absorbs response to her latest stream of “Let Me Prove to You I’m a Grownup” antics – lap dancing with a director, vamping it up in tarty outfits on stage – we can’t help but compare her journey to those of so many Disney darlings before her.

What is it about crashing a sweet, virginal image to smithereens that makes it so inviting?

Of course, Britney Spears leaps to mind.  Miley has made it clear she’s a huge fan of  the 28-year-old superstar whose rollercoaster life has provided careers for tabloid writers and bloggers and paparazzi since 1999, when the former Mousketeer caused a stir with a Rolling Stone magazine cover in which she appeared lying on her bed clad in shorts, bra, and open top.  The American Family Association called for a boycott of stores selling her albums.  Shades of Miley’s Vanity Fair Lolita-esque photo brouhaha.

Christina Aguilera, Britney’s fellow former Mousketeer, traded in her girl-next-door wholesomeness for piercings, a neck tattoo, and a string of raunchy songs and videos.

Older audience members remember original Mousketeer Doreen Tracy, who posed for the men’s magazine Gallery wearing her Mousketeer ears and not much else, and who came out with a book, “Confessions of a Mouseketeer.”

Sadly, there is the train wreck that is once-promising Disney movie star Lindsay Lohan.

Somehow, “Princess Diaries” star Anne Hathaway managed to transition to adulthood in such a deft and sophisticated way, her audience accepted her doing nudity in movies and handling exceptionally gritty material – as in her Oscar-nominated turn in “Rachel Getting Married” – with little turmoil

Which is more than can be said for Hathaway’s onscreen grandma, the Queen of Genovia herself, the great Julie Andrews.  Globally adored after successes including “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music,” she was delighted when her husband, Blake Edwards, put her in his 1981 satire “S.O.B.” as a goody-goody actress who makes a musical that flops and is then re-shot as a pornographic film.

Julie Andrews in "S.O.B."

“Mary Poppins Goes Topless” screamed headlines.  It created a furor at the time, but was eventually granted grudging acceptance.  Sure, she did it – but we’d rather watch the movies that have our Julie practically perfect in every way.

Corey Haim Death Gives Other Former Child Stars Pause

By Stacy Jenel Smith and Emily-Fortune Feimster

Corey Haim at age 14

The headlines about Corey Haim continue after his death:  The city of Toronto pays for his funeral because his financially strapped mother cannot afford it.  Haim’s mother says she was informed he died of pulmonary congestion and had an enlarged heart, yet toxicology results have yet to be announced by the coroner’s office – and surely his long, torturous history with drug abuse has something to do with it.  Haim’s mother says he was there helping her as she undergoes chemotherapy treatment for her cancer.  “He was a good boy,” she says.

This is hardly the ending fans would have expected back when Haim and his best pal Corey Feldman hit a stratospheric level of fame as vampire-fighting teens in “The Lost Boys.”  But the years after his 80s fan frenzy heyday saw Haim addicted to crack, enduring bankruptcy, a drug-induced stroke, 15 stints in rehab and industry peers dropping him due to his drug use.  Even Feldman finally had to turn away after Haim’s mini-comeback with their “The Two Coreys” reality show crumbled under the weight of his addiction to prescription pills.

The passing of Haim has given other former juvenile performers pause.  His course, they know, could have been theirs.

One-time “Brady Bunch” sweetheart Maureen McCormick is among those who went to hell and back after becoming a star.  The actress beat addiction to Quaaludes and cocaine – addiction severe enough to have traded sex for drugs, she wrote in her autobiography – to find happiness as a wife, mother and author.

Drew Barrymore’s victory over the addictions she acquired as a child star whose life spun out of control is well known.

Jaimee Foxworth, Mackenzie Phillips, Todd Bridges and Jodie Sweetin are also among the many who have lived traumatic lives and fought drug problems.

Yet certainly, things don’t always go that way.

Fred Savage, who has a very busy behind-the-cameras career as a director in addition to his acting work, has said that he’s sick of being asked how he turned out so normal.

“That really upsets me,” added the Stanford grad, who also pointed out that of his former “Wonder Years” cast mates, Josh Saviano went on to Yale, Jason Hervey had his own production company and was a family man with three kids, and Danica McKellar is successful not only as an actress, but as a theoretical mathematician.  In fact, the actress remembered as Winnie Cooper was a math star at UCLA — and has authored three books geared toward enticing young people, especially girls, into viewing math her way (“Math Doesn’t Suck,” “Kiss My Math” and the upcoming “Hot X: Algebra Exposed”).  Proving that “smart is sexy” as she says, she’s done a photo layout in which she’s garbed in skimpy black lingerie and stiletto heels.  Not the usual idea of a brainiac.

Why are the child stars from one show so well-adjusted and successful – like “The Wonder Years” – while others crash, like “Different Strokes”?

The latter show’s Dana Plato had a wasted adult life that included soft core porn, arrests for armed robbery and forgery, and a drug overdose death at 34.  It had Todd Bridges, who was swamped in drug abuse and trouble with the law until managing to clean up and get his act together again.  (He went on to a recurring role on “Everyone Hates Chris” and serving as an anti-drug advocate.)  And it had Gary Coleman, whose troubles have included bankruptcy, suing his parents and former manager for misappropriation of his trust fund, and being cited for disorderly conduct while engaging in a heated argument with a woman.

“It all starts with family,” declares producer Todd J. Greenwald, whose show credits include “Saved by the Bell,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”

The sense of a juvenile performer having a stable and supportive family “is definitely a factor” for him in casting, says Greenwald, although it’s “not the final say.”

Grown-up child stars who’ve become successful as adults frequently point to having had the right mom and dad as the primary reason for their staying grounded.

For instance, recalled Ron Howard, “I had parents who acted like parents, who didn’t depend on baby sitters on the set, who saw to it that I never lost touch with my peers…There was always time for the kid things.”

And Ben Savage, the “Boy Meets World” star and younger brother of Fred, explained, “Our parents never wanted us to become lost in the limelight of Hollywood.  That’s why I think they emphasized the importance of school.”

On the other side of that coin, of course, there are such notoriously terrible parents as opportunistic ex-con Michael Lohan, the father of Lindsay, who’ll squeeze whatever personal benefit he can out of her fame at whatever the cost to his daughter, a gifted actress who has all but ruined her career with her self-destructive behavior.  The best thing that can be said of Lindsay’s mother, Dina, is that she’s better than the father.

Or the awful mother and father of faded pop star Aaron Carter, or nightmare stage father Kit Culkin – Macaulay’s dad – or arguably abusive Jackson family patriarch Joe Jackson, or Jaid Barrymore, Drew’s where-was-she? mother…the list goes on and on.

But there’s more than just the juvenile actors’ home lives to blame – or applaud – for their adult outcomes.  Certainly they are influenced by what goes on in their work environments as well.

Corey Haim reportedly started drinking beer while on the set of “Lucas” at age 14 and tried marijuana while making “The Lost Boys” – he and Feldman got close during production, in fact, because they were excluded from the “adult” parties that were going on every night on the picture and found their own fun.  In his youth, Haim’s cast mates included the notoriously drug-bedeviled Robert Downey, Jr., Gary Busey, and Charlie Sheen.  Some role models.

Then there are the handlers who’ll say yes to anything a star client wants, if the client is successful enough – even when the client is minor.  And there are hangers-on that find their way into the lives of celebrities, partake of the spoils of their successes, party with them, and sometimes help them spend their money on drugs.  Sometimes the hangers-on are even worse than fair weather friends.

“A lot of people in these performers’ lives, they can’t do it so they want to kill it kind of thing,” notes actress Bijou Phillips.  “Of course, ultimately, everyone has to be responsible for themselves, but there are shady people out there who want to harm.  I’ve seen a lot of that with my family — the vultures, the users trying to look cool who are destructive,” adds Phillips, daughter of the late John Phillips and half-sister of Mackenzie.

Ricky Schroder, who is among the small group of former child actors who transitioned into a successful adult career, tells us he was fortunate to get through it all fairly unscathed.

“There’s not a lot of us who started that young and are still in it.  There’s a lot of luck involved,” notes Schroder, who rose to fame in Jon Voight’s remake of the big-screen tear-jerker, “The Champ,” and in the sitcom “Silver Spoons.”

“The number one thing I did that helped me get where I’m at today is that I truly love what I do.  I love acting, writing and directing, and being on set.  To put up with what you have to put up with in this business, the hills and valleys, you have to love it or else you’ll throw the towel in.  It’s one of the reasons I’m still here,” says the actor, who found success later on in life with “NYPD Blue.”

Though he’s certainly aware of the pitfalls that child actors face, Schroder says he would never discourage his own children from acting.  “I’m supportive of them and I want them to do what they want and hopefully make a living at it.  I’ll help them if they want help,” he adds.  “I have a couple of kids who think they want to do it, but I don’t know if they really, really want to do it.  In the first month when they can’t pay rent and they’re hungry, it’s not so fun then.”

Ultimately, whether a child performer grows into a healthy adulthood or plummets into a morass of disappointment is, of course, an individual matter.

Consider the paths of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera.  On paper, it would appear that Britney had the advantage as a child from a stable two-parent home, an elementary school teacher and a building contractor.  Christina’s parents spilt when she was seven, and, as she has made clear, hers was a household of domestic violence at the hands of her father.  The two stars began their career lives the same way, as fresh-scrubbed cuties on Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Club.”  Each went on to pop stardom, each shattered her girl-next-door image with sexy videos and stage routines.  At one point, it appeared Christina would out-raunch Britney.

However, at 29 Christina seems fairly grounded.  She has a four-year-old marriage (to music marketing executive Jordan Bratman), a two-year-old son and a grown-up career.

Britney’s life has been a drama diva high wire act with no safety net — her 28 years blighted with drinking and drugging, awful romantic choices, a 55-hour marriage and a bad two-year one, and such self-destructive and bizarre behavior that she lost physical custody of her two young sons and for a time was forbidden visitation.  Between her lost periods, she has been, and is now, a superstar to the maximum.  Here’s hoping she finds happiness and a modicum of peace.

End it