Putting Mandy on The Map
With More Than Just a CD To Sell, She's Got Hype Hopes
By Richard Leiby
Here she comes in black leather pants and a clingy purple top--her teeth perfectly white, her hair lightened and feathered just right--standing nearly six feet in platform soles. A willowy girl-woman being fussed over by an coterie of imagemakers and product-placers.
"Hey, guys," she greets her fans. She smiles radiantly; they smile back awkwardly. Shes loves her fans and would love to chat, but as they say online, "GG"--gotta go. She's catching a flight back to L.A. to work on her next video and then host a show called "Mandy's Mountain."
She is Amanda Leigh Moore of Orlando, a lovely piece of bubble gum now being inflated by the teen pop culture machine. As music for suburban kids--including the expertly manufactured sounds of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync--soars in popularity, Mandy Moore is along for the ride.
Four months ago she sang at a waterfront festival in Alexandria, a charity cook-off, before an audience of a few dozen people. Most probably had no idea who she was.
Now Mandy has a hit single called "Candy" and a half-million-selling album, "So Real" (no irony intended). She is ubiquitous on MTV--the network should change its name to Mandy Television--which immediately seized upon her as a pretty new face for shows that appeal to the acne cream demographic.
She is on the covers of teen beauty magazines and clothing catalogues. She's the official postergrrl of the Wet Seal clothing line, and she also pitches a colorful new CD player for Sony. She wears one in her video; it's all about cross-marketing.
Mandy just landed a global Neutrogena contract that will put her perfect skin--that lone little mole seems strategic somehow--on thousands of ad pages and billboards. There will be tie-ins and support from her label, Epic/550 Music--a division of Sony--which expects to leverage the exposure into getting a second single up the charts.
"We want to make sure every kid has heard of her," says Scott Carter, whose title at Sony is senior director, product marketing.
Mandy also has two official promotional Web sites. She is the object of debate, affection and ogling on more than 100 other Internet sites--including one that polls its readers on what part of Mandy's body they like best.
She is 15 years old.
Her mother, a former journalist, marches Mandy in the direction of the Viacom Building's cafeteria. Tray in hand, Mandy resembles a gangly sophomore, but her days in the Catholic school lunch line are so over. She left halfway through ninth grade, opting for tutoring so she could pursue her singing career, which has already included tours with multi-platinum acts 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys.
We're doing lunch. But she has only 30 minutes, and time is running out.
She grabs three rolls and a cookie. Stacy Moore, being the mom, makes her get clam chowder too. ("Something healthyish," explains Mandy.) Either one parent or the other--Dad is an airline pilot--travels with Mandy.
Her parents don't like to talk to the press, so we can't ask how they feel about the marketing mania that surrounds their daughter. But Mandy says she has wanted this since the age of 6, when she announced she was going to be a singer. "My parents never pushed me to do anything."
She started out doing musical theater, then sang at Orlando Magic games, performed at Disney World and acted in commercials. She's had an agent since she was 11.
The stress, the invasion of privacy, the industry sniping that she's "Sony's version of Britney Spears," the constant demands on her time--all that can be "overwhelming," she admits. "But it comes with the territory." And it's all worth it: "I'm so thankful to be doing something like this at my age."
She realizes there is a force at work. It started building when she signed with the label at age 13, and now it can't be stopped.
"All these different types of things are starting to mesh now--all these ways of getting your music out and being seen," Mandy says, fidgeting with her hands and hair, trying not to talk with her mouth full.
"It's like one huge force of, like, publicity. Of people seeing you and hearing you. It's--"
She pauses, as if to make sure she will say the right thing--which she will, because she's getting to be pro at this. She chirps: "It's very cool, though. It's cool to be in a world like that now. You know, where you get to try a little bit of everything."
Mandy wants to be a multi-genre star of stage and screen. She wouldn't mind being huge like Janet Jackson and Bette Midler and Madonna, who are among her heroes. Especially Madonna.
Part of what created the Material Girl was blatant sexuality--the same carnal trajectory that is now propelling bleached-blond bombshells Spears and Aguilera to fame--but Mandy says she won't play that game. She doesn't like to show her midriff, she says. "I don't want to wear anything . . . where I look like I'm 20 or 21."
On one cover of the new teenStyle magazine, Mandy wears a cropped T-shirt with "Candy" spelled out in red sequins across her chest. Her midriff is showing.
She also is on record as opposing breast implants: "I would never have cosmetic surgery," she told the teen publication Jump after it was reported that Spears had a boob job at 17. "Why rearrange yourself just to get attention or make other people happier?"
Despite the singer's tender age, the album doesn't lack for sexual subtext. The first words on her single are a breathy "Give it to me." Then she sings, "Body's in withdrawal every time you take it away. Can't you hear me callin', begging you to come out and play?"
She didn't pen the lyrics, of course. The producers and the writers interviewed her for ideas.
"Some of it is my life," she explains. "Some of it I haven't experienced. But I was really careful to make sure that everything I was singing about is believable for a 15-year-old, you know?"
She wanted to keep it real.
A Star Is Groomed
A FedEx man named Victor Cade discovered Mandy. A part-time talent scout, he noticed a bony 13-year-old cutting jingles in a small Orlando recording studio. Her singing voice was brightly polished. He also knew she'd be a looker.
"It's that model look, which I recognized when I first saw her," Cade recalls proudly. "I thought, 'This girl is going to beautiful when she grows, and she is growing fast.'
"She was groomed to be a star--she was well groomed by her parents," he adds. "I kept telling the people at the studio that Mandy was a star. They weren't paying me attention."
He pushed tapes and pictures on his friend Dave McPherson, whose claim to fame was signing the Backstreet Boys in 1993. Now an Epic senior vice president, McPherson flew to Orlando to meet Mandy and hear her sing. He looked deeply into her hazel eyes.
"She really had a look of a 30-year-old person, in her eyes, even though she was 13," he remembers.
"I was concerned about comparisons to Britney," McPherson says. But he sensed Mandy could handle what he calls this "treacherous" business.
And his friend Cade was absolutely right about another thing. "She just blossomed during the recording process into this stunning 5-foot-10 model woman that looked like she just walked out of the pages of Vogue magazine," says McPherson. "She's developed into a full-fledged personality."
Mandy is in front of a boisterous studio audience starting the day's "Total Request Live" countdown. The show, which airs at 3:30 p.m., a prime after-school viewing slot, allows callers and e-mailers to break in with comments as the videos unspool.
The videos tend toward T&A and guys in their underwear. Great eye candy for the multi-tasking generation.
The unblemished face of a pretty teen singer fills the oversize monitor. She's got blond hair with just a hint of dark roots at the part--that familiar "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" look. It's . . .
". . . Jessica Simpson, who returns to the countdown with 'I Wanna Love You Forever,' " Mandy reads from the cue cards as a girl who might be her doppelganger shimmies on the screen. Jessica is 18, another rising star in hip-huggers and a crop top, signed to Columbia Records.
The new bubble gum pretty much sounds all the same, chewing over eternal teen themes--Is it a crush? Does he really love me? Will he walk me home?--but no matter. The market is so huge--more than 30 million American kids between 12 and 19, who collectively spend $140 billion a year--that to keep up with the demand, labels are snapping up younger and younger acts. Especially girls.
In part, industry officials see them as a wholesome alternative to the bump and grind of hip-hop and the screeching rebellion of metal-punk: The girls are promoted to merchandisers as "role models." But they also are coveted because they appeal to other girls--who, as a market force, spend more than boys on music. Not to mention cosmetics and clothing.
Epic recently signed four 13-year-old girls in Tampa and will be pushing their record to radio soon. They're called P.Y.T. (It stands for "Prove Yourself True," not "Pretty Young Things," according to publicist Tracy Bufferd.) The tentative album photos have them posing in clingy white outfits, baring their tummies.
Another new act on Epic is 3 Little Women. Bufferd excitedly describes them as "a nice ethnic blend--a Puerto Rican, a mulatto and an African American." They are 13, 15 and 16.
At the Sony building on Madison Avenue, there seems to be no greater satisfaction than finding a girl who can cement the crucial promo tie-ins with magazines like Teen People (circulation 1.5 million) and mall outlets like Wet Seal and Contempo Casuals (458 stores).
"Everything people are trying to sell right now has to have an element of entertainment attached to it," says Lori Lambert, Epic's vice president for strategic marketing and development. "It's about a big vision. It's making kids feel like that person, that product, that service--that feels like me, that sounds like me, that looks like me."
Ready for Takeoff
Mandy Moore cried in November the first time she saw her video on MTV, the network she'd been watching with utter devotion since she was 12. There she was lip-syncing "Candy," driving around with a bunch of gal pals in a brand-new green Beetle.
Of course, those were actors. Her real friends were in summer camp and couldn't do the shoot. Actually, she wasn't driving--not old enough. The car was towed around.
"It's just like doing a commercial," she says, "except, like, I was the product. Everyone was working for my benefit."
Because she spends so much time on tour and on airplanes (next month brings promotional visits to Europe, Australia and Asia), Mandy rarely sees her Orlando friends. She chats by cell phone and laptop; her social life is her America Online "buddy list."
She doesn't have a boyfriend. It's too hard, being on the road all the time, to maintain a relationship, she says. Also, people gossip.
But she knows the right guy will come along and hopes that someday she'll get asked to the prom. "If anybody at my school remembers who I am!" She has a sunny, self-deprecating laugh.
"Five more minutes. We've got to get her in a car."
It's Bufferd, Mandy's publicist for the last nine months and her near-constant companion. She is thirtyish, with long brown hair parted down the middle, more Marcia Brady than Buffy. "My big sister," Mandy calls her. (Mandy has two brothers.)
Time to fly. There's a video to shoot for her sweet new single--"Walk Me Home"--and a lot of promos and marketing to be done.
"We'll keep working this for another year," says Scott Carter, the product man. A gold record--500,000 in sales--isn't what it used to be. Gold is practically an embarrassment these days, Bufferd agrees. Some teen acts are moving 10 million, 20 million units.
Mandy doesn't eat much. She leaves one of her three rolls untouched and most of the cookie. She forgoes about half of her soup.
"I don't feel like I'm growing up too fast," she says, smiling and on-message to the end. "I feel like I've been 15 forever."
She just can't wait until April 10, her birthday. She displays her new learner's permit, which includes an impossibly glamorous DMV photo. "I'm ready to turn 16--and drive!"
Then she darts into a dressing room. Mom guards the door. Mandy can't keep the chic leather pants and purple top she wore on MTV. They belong to the clothing catalogue.
© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company