Major rock bands often have distinct characteristics that set them apart. Kiss has the makeup. The Rolling Stones have Mick's lips. ZZ Top has those great beards.
For the Super Stars, a new band out of Alexandria, their trademark could be that their vocalist is shy around microphones. Or that their average height is 4 foot 7. But most likely it would be that these rockers are all younger than 12.
Summer camp season is in full swing, this year with a new twist on the usual ho-hum offerings: It's called DayJams, a rock-and-roll camp for the offspring of baby boomers who grew up with Led Zeppelin in their blood.
The founder of DayJams makes an enticing proposition: Give us your children for a week (and $400), even if they don't play a note, and we'll have them in a rockin' band that will perform and cut a CD in five days.
"This would have been very difficult 20 years ago," said David Smolover, founder of the four DayJams camps that started in the last few weeks in Alexandria, Towson, Md., White Plains, N.Y., and Ann Arbor, Mich., for youngsters ages 10 to 15. "But the parents of these kids . . . they are the rock-and-roll generation. It's not a hard sell."
Not only do the kids get a musical education, the camp's philosophy goes, but they get it in the MTV-like form they already enjoy. And while it takes years to master classical music, at rock-and-roll camp they'll learn enough in five days to be able to strut on stage.
Those already proficient with an instrument have the chance to perform as part of a group, Smolover said.
The emergence of any great band doesn't come without growing pains, however. For the Super Stars, the youngest of seven bands that formed last week at the Alexandria camp, that was apparent the first day. All were basically beginners.
Dressed head to toe in purple, Kristen Koopman, 10, immediately became the group's glamorous icon, standing four feet tall, her wavy brown hair sweeping down to her shoulders. Every chance she got, Kristen turned the volume to max, contorted her face as if the dentist was about to drill, and let loose a roaring electric guitar solo.
DayJams was payback time for Kristen, who had agreed to pluck away at the violin for a year if she got to go to rock-and-roll camp, explained her mother, a Federal Reserve Board economist who, in her free time, plays electric guitar in an oldies band.
The Super Stars' other female member, Alexandra Wisniewski, a slight 11-year-old, made big sounds on a set of drums that nearly hid her from view. The daughter of a mother who was told in fifth grade that she couldn't play the trumpet because it's "a boy's instrument," Alexandra wants to be a rock drummer when she grows up. Or maybe an astronaut. Or a fencer. Or possibly a pro basketball player.
Jonathan Jordan, the band's shy 10-year-old vocalist in the baby blue Wizards jersey, also has thoughts of being a musician, but only if he doesn't make the NBA.
Having taken guitar lessons for a year, Vincent Genuario, 11, quickly became the Super Stars' superstar, a small-scale Springsteen.
Then there was Alex Kutosh, a round-faced 10-year-old who had never held a guitar before. Alex spent the first few days of camp sighing deeply and moaning, "This is impossible!" every time he tried to strum a chord.
At their first session, the Super Stars' teacher, Andrew Bell, tried to stir up ideas for the song the band would compose and perform.
"What kind of song do you want to write?" he asked.
"Something fast and loud," shouted Alexandra.
"A love song," cooed Kristen. "A fast, loud love song."
"Oy vey," muttered Jonathan, thinking of the long and winding road ahead.
After more discussion, the Super Stars decided their song would start out slow, then pick up speed. And they wanted a happy melody. Nothing Dylanesque.
Bell suggested a tune and the group took a run at it, the guitarists heading in one direction, the drummer in another. Alex stopped playing altogether and began randomly plucking his guitar, which slumped in his lap.
After an hour, the vocalist still hadn't come up with any lyrics, and soon everyone started looking frazzled.
"Are you feeling the beat?" Bell, a music major at the University of Maryland, asked hopefully.
"I'm tired of the beat," shot back one of the Super Stars.
As the day rolled on, even Bell began to appear worried, suddenly not so sure it was a good idea to have the least experienced faculty member (that would be Bell) teach a motley crew of ragged beginners (that would be the Super Stars). Getting them to play together, never mind before an audience, seemed a herculean challenge.
"Come on, guys," he pleaded. "Are we ever going to have a band?"
By the next morning, that question was on everyone's mind after Kristen suddenly dropped out, stripping the band of its fizz.
But the group struggled on and by Wednesday seemed to have turned an invisible corner. Alexandra's drums and Vincent's guitar were starting to work together, not fight like alley cats. And Jonathan finally came up with some lyrics, a modified version of "We Are Family." Best of all, Alex had stopped repeating, "This is impossible!" every few seconds and was giving his guitar a workout.
But now that they had words to sing, the band hit a new snag: Jonathan, their vocalist, struggled to stay on pitch. What's more, the microphone staring him in the face turned him into a hermit crab.
A whispering lead singer is not the stuff of which rock-and-roll legends are made. DayJams' vocal teacher, Lydia Hunter, tried to get Jonathan to loosen up and move while singing. "It's a confidence thing," she said. "But he'll do a surprisingly good job on Friday."
Two days later, Friday dawned. Six hours before the lights were to go up, the Super Stars held their first practice in the auditorium where they would perform. From the stage, the room's hardwood floor seemed to stretch for miles as the nervous band members looked out. Speakers and microphones towered over them.
The band tried a few chords. An echo in the hall threw the sounds back at them.
"How are we supposed to perform in here?" asked Alex. But he had bigger things to worry about: His fingers weren't cooperating in playing his guitar. "I'm hitting the wrong notes," he said.
"That's okay, as long as you're having fun," said Bell. "Just don't hit too many of them."
Then Bell attempted to psych up the band.
"People are going to be watching us, so let's go crazy," he said, showing the guitarists how to jump around on stage. "Act like rock-and-roll stars!"
Shortly before 5 p.m., camcorder- and camera-wielding parents began arriving by the minivan-load.
One by one, the bands took the stage. The Marf Weezels and the Ill Harmonics, both with older members, were silky smooth.
Now it was the Super Stars' turn. They walked out single file, to the roar of deafening silence. But then their drums kicked in, their guitars fell into place and Jonathan closed his eyes, opened his mouth and poured out perfect lyrics that filled the hall.
After three minutes of the best performance the Super Stars had ever put together, the drums rolled one last time, the guitars blasted a final, deafening chord and Jonathan let out an extended yell.
Staring out in amazement at the cheering crowd, the band members realized . . . it was over.
But for one brief moment there, they truly were rock-and-roll superstars.
To watch a video clip on the Internet, go to www.washingtonpost.com and click on Metro.
CAPTION: Above, Alexandra Wisniewski, 11, and Kelsey Keel, 12, practice the drums at DayJams, where organizers promise to turn even beginners into rockers in five days. Alexandra was a member of the Super Stars, the camp's youngest band, along with Alex Kutosh, top. Though Alex, 10, had never touched a guitar before, he was part of a successful performance by week's end.
CAPTION: The Super Stars practice. From left, Alex Kutosh, Alexandra Wisniewski, Jonathan Jordan and Vincent Genuario. With them is their teacher, Andrew Bell.