The burly guy standing behind me in line at the Park Place 16 cinema waited silently for his opportunity to buy a ticket to see Sylvester Stallone's latest testosterone-laden sequel.
So it was easy to imagine his smirk as I mumbled my shamefaced request for five tickets to the anti-Rambo: "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert."
Several days earlier, it had seemed like a noble, jump-on-the-grenade type act of self-sacrifice when I told my wife I would chauffeur our 9-year-old daughter, Allie, and three of her friends to the concert movie apparently every American girl under the age of 13 had to see. Because we were unwilling to refinance our homes this fall to score tickets to Miley Cyrus' concert stop in Greensboro during Thanksgiving weekend, the $15 tickets to the concert movie seemed like a fair compromise.
But the shudders I triggered in other fathers when I mentioned my Saturday night plans confirmed my suspicion. I would be stepping alone into the preteen girls' shriek-filled realm of glitter makeup, sparkly leggings and bubble-gum pop singalongs.
To be fair, the line snaking all the way out to the front of the Morrisville theater included a few suffering fathers attached to their own small herds of amped-up girls. For the most part, though, this was, as Miley Cyrus would sing, "Girls Night Out." (And there were enough girls to earn the 3-D concert film an estimated $29 million in sold-out showings across the country. It was the biggest movie debut ever on a Super Bowl weekend.)
It may surprise anyone living in a household that survives just fine without having a television locked in on the Disney Channel that Billy Ray Cyrus, formerly best known for his immaculately groomed mullet and the inescapable "Achy Breaky Heart," is now a sitcom dad to his real-life daughter Miley Cyrus on her wildly popular Disney show.
She portrays a brown-haired girl with wholesome good looks who moves from Tennessee out to Malibu with her songwriter dad and goofball brother. She's your typical girl-next-door who moonlights under a platinum blond wig as pop star Hannah Montana. She's living the perfect life as envisioned by most preteen girls, not to mention the Disney executives raking in the millions since her show debuted two years ago.
The show struck its target immediately. Two years ago, Allie and her friends did not know their "Entertainment Tonight" from their "Us Weekly." But one look at Miley Cyrus' Disneyfied version of the rock 'n' roll life, and SpongeBob SquarePants might as well rot alone in that pineapple under the sea. They wanted to be famous. They wanted the limo rides to concerts, the beautiful Malibu home overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the occasional cute boy fawning (but not pawing -- this is still Disney) over them at school.
And after Allie received Hannah Montana's most recent double-CD set this Christmas, the pregame, warm-up ritual for her basketball games no longer included any morning shootarounds in the driveway or any extra work on her drop step. Those precious moments before driving to the gym were reserved for sharpening her choreographed dance steps while blasting Hannah Montana's reminder that "Life's what you make it, so let's make it rock!"
Some girls arrived at the theater Saturday wearing homemade T-shirts professing their undying love for Miley Cyrus and her alter ego. A few older girls wore platinum blond wigs, their eyelids loaded down with sparkly mascara.
She's very big
You almost sense the collective yawn looming in the packed theater when the start of the concert film was delayed for a trailer touting the impending arrival of U2's new concert film. Bono who? (I heard Allie whisper to her friends, "My dad likes them." It was spoken with the same bewildered tone she would have used if she had said, "My dad likes watching films on his Betamax.")
Then the larger-than-life, 3-D sight of Miley Cyrus seated in a director's chair, warming up her vocal cords while a makeup and hair crew attended to her appearance killed the fidgeting. There was Miley having her brown hair tucked carefully into a skullcap before the blond wig that made her famous was installed.
Whether as Hannah or Miley (sans wig), the girl sings in exclamation points. On screen, movie Miley exhorted the thousands of glowstick-waving fans surrounding the stage to stand up and stay up, urging a sea of shrieking girls to sing along. The faithful seated inside the Park Place 16 remained seated, ducking and oohing when Miley stuck a 3-D mike stand into their line of vision.
They didn't dance in the aisles or echo the screaming concert fans recorded on film. Instead, they offered back to the screen an appreciative murmur proving that everyone there had memorized every word. Without my permission, my left foot began tapping along to the relentless beat as Hannah/Miley sunnily sang,
"I'm unusual, not so typical/Way too smart to be waiting around./Tai chi practicing, snowboard champion/I could fix the flat on your car./I might even be a rock star!"
Nothing edgy, no risqué "Oops, I Did It Again" slithering across the stage to offer the cynical among us evidence that a transformation into She Who Must Not Be Named lies ahead. And yet, only the hopelessly idealistic refuse to worry that we've seen this movie before.
Jamie Lynn Spears has her own rapt audience of 'tween girls thanks to her own Nickelodeon show, and the news of her pregnancy has been plastered all over the covers of the celeb magazines that draw my daughter's eyes at the supermarket checkout line.
Jamie Lynn's big sister once had her own army of young fans, and it's a safe bet that no one is encouraging their daughters to rock out like her these days.
Avoiding the fate
So if you're prone to bouts of dark humor, you wonder when People Magazine will break the news that Miley Cyrus is really the child bride of Charlie Sheen. When will she be spotted growing her own baby bump, prompting more conversations I'm not ready to have at the dinner table? (If that happens, I'm putting my money on one of those curly-headed Jonas Brothers performing with Miley Cyrus and making googly eyes at her.)
Maybe we'll escape with a goth period where Miley rejects the pop-making artifice of the business and wears nothing but black (with no sparkles).
Maybe she can follow Mandy Moore or Amanda Bynes, who appear to have survived an entertainment industry gantlet that chews up young female actresses and pop singers and equates that first nude scene or pictorial with the first step into adulthood.
Maybe Miley will remain the barefoot Tennessee girl she portrays late in the concert film, seated on a stool wearing a cardigan sweater and jeans and strumming an acoustic guitar, singing a song written about her dead granddaddy.
Here's to hoping.