gamut (2007-47)

Hannah Montana Rulz!

The tweener pop phenomenon is tops among 10-year-old girls, but not many of them will get to see her sold-out shows

by Matthew Everett

Lexi Armstrong loves Hannah Montana. Like, seriously loves her. For real. She soaks up everything Hannah Montana-relatedâ"the Disney television show, the music, Hannahâ’s double life as the girl-next-door and a blonde pop-diva superstar, the chart-topping CDs, the DVDs, the series of paperback books, the jewelry, the clothes, the line of dolls and accessories, all the stuff that goes along with the franchise of Americaâ’s number-one pre-teen pop phenomenon. Lexi is, after all, a 9-year-old girl, and youâ’d have a hard time finding a girl between the ages of, say, 7 and 12 anywhere in the United States right now who isnâ’t totally into all things Hannah Montana.

â“Iâ’ve watched it since it came out,â” Lexi says, sipping on a milkshake in McDonaldâ’s after school. Even her older brother Devin, whoâ’s 10, likes the show.

â“He likes her!â” Lexi says, as Devin shyly nods his head. â“He thinks sheâ’s pretty!â”

When Lexiâ’s mother, Christy Jenkins, writes down a list of all the Hannah Montana gear that Lexiâ’s getting for Christmasâ"keeping it covered with her hand so Lexi wonâ’t see, of courseâ"Lexi sits across the table and stares, frozen, her straw stuck motionless in her mouth. When her motherâ’s done, Lexi creeps forward, trying to get a look. Her mother pulls the paper away and covers it up. Lexi sighs and leans back. Then she moves forward again.

â“Let me see!â” she says. â“Iâ’ll give you my milkshake if you let me see!â”

But who does Lexi like better: Hannah Montana, the singing sensation, or Miley Stewart, the regular kid whose classmates donâ’t know sheâ’s really Hannah Montana? â“Hannah Montana,â” she says, right off the bat, like thereâ’s not a shred of doubt about it. Of course itâ’s Hannah Montana. Sheâ’s the star. Right?

â“And Miley,â” Lexi quickly adds. â“I like them both.â”

Thereâ’s plenty of confusion about Hannah Montana these days. For one thing, the television show, which premiered in March of 2006 on the Disney Channel, is a Möbius strip of self-reference, a kind of running tweener commentary on celebrity and authenticity and questions of identity. Hanna Montana the series stars Miley Cyrus, the 14-year-old daughter of â“Achy Breaky Heartâ” singer Billy Ray Cyrus, as Miley Stewart, who, when she puts on a blonde wig, becomes the pop star Hannah Montana, although only her family and closest friends know her secret identity. Billy Ray Cyrus plays her father, Robby Stewart, on the show. He has his own secret identity as Robbie Ray, Hannah Montanaâ’s manager and father. The plot typically centers around a family squabble, and thereâ’s a lesson at the end about being nice; in between, thereâ’s usually some threat that Miley will be outed as Hannah Montana, and a chance for her to sing a couple of songs.

Itâ’s a standardized half-hour sitcom format that only barely contains a dizzying windmill of fantasy, real and imagined celebrity, secrets, and double lives: A real-life singer whoâ’s spent nearly 20 years trying to live down a novelty country hit plays a single father with both feet on the ground trying to protect his daughter from the perils of fleeting fame: Except the same show that sells these homespun family-friendly values has turned its imaginary star into a real one, and now she faces the same fickle pop-culture marketplace that turned her dad into the butt of two decadesâ’ worth of jokes. And the current Best of Both Worlds tour, which is stopping in Knoxville on Saturday, Nov. 24, plays on that tangle of fantasy and reality: Itâ’s billed as both Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus. The opening segment is dedicated to the pop diva; in the closing, sheâ’ll perform not as Hannah Montanaâ’s on-screen alter ego Miley Stewart but as Miley Cyrus, the actress who plays both parts. Got it?

Beyond the labyrinthine unraveling of fame and celebrity that can make the show confounding for those who arenâ’t held in its sway, the showâ’s off-the-charts popularity compounds the confusion for outsiders. From an adult perspective, the showâ’s appeal is understandableâ"a nice, normal kid with a comfortable and satisfyingly suburban regular life also gets to be a starâ"and not that far removed from what Disney and Nickelodeon have done in the past. But the sheer scale of Hannah Montanaâ’s success defies comprehension. The 10-year-old set hasnâ’t seen this kind of market dominance since the late 1990s, when Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and the Backstreet Boys sold millions (and millions and millions) of albums. Thatâ’s So Raven, High School Musical, and Hillary Duff have topped cable-TV ratings and music charts and sold tons of tie-in merchandise to pre-teen girls. But Hannah Montana is something else entirely, a world-beating pop-culture hegemony and steamrolling economic machine, a one-girl entertainment conglomerate that reigns near the top of every standard of measurement for pop cultureâ"TV ratings, music sales, merchandising. And, of course, ticket sales.

Demographics can explain part of Hannah Montanaâ’s successâ"there are a lot of girls around the age of 10, and they have more disposable income than ever. But those numbers donâ’t fully account for this particular juggernaut. The real power of the Hannah Montana machinery fully revealed itself this summer, when tickets for the Best of Both Worlds tour went on sale. The 54-city North American tour sold out in just minutes all across the United States and in Canada. Scalpers and ticket brokers are now charging several times the $26 to $56 face value for tickets, sometimes more than $2,000. A week before the Knoxville show, StubHub.com, the ticket outlet for eBay, listed prices for Thompson-Boling seats ranging from $225 for the uppermost rows on the uppermost level to $2,495 for seats on the floor. (The promoter released a new batch of original-price tickets for sale online and over the telephone a week before the show.) In Chicago and Pittsburgh, tickets are going for more than $3,000; in Hartford, Conn., the top price listed is $4,500. For the Atlantic City show in January, StubHub.com has several listings atâ"get thisâ"more than $20,000. Thatâ’s for a single ticket.

Seats for the Best of Both Worlds shows have been harder to get than tickets to fall tours by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and The Eagles. A Ticketmaster official told the Los Angeles Times, â“Hell hath no fury like the parent of a child throwing a tantrum. People who have been in this business for a long time are watching whatâ’s happening, and they say there hasnâ’t been a demand of this level or intensity since the Beatles or Elvis.â” But The Eagles are one thing; the fact that the Hannah Montana audience is almost entirely children has prompted widespread outrage not just from the parents of disappointed children but from government officials, lawyers, and talking heads. An economist from the Federal Reserve even chimed in on the controversy a few weeks ago on the agencyâ’s website, and a lawsuit was filed this month against the Hannah Montana fan club over the ticket debacle.

Beci Shoemaker was one of the few people who actually got tickets the morning of the sale in August with no trouble. â“My sister was going to be doing a walk-a-thon that morning, so she asked me to get online and order them for my niece and her friends,â” Shoemaker says. â“Of course, we had no idea what was going to ensue.â”

Shoemaker works at Book Eddy, right next door to the Disc Exchange on Chapman Highway, one of the brick-and-mortar outlets for Ticketmaster. She says 100 people were lined up in the parking lot the night before the sale, but only the first two got tickets. â“They had said theyâ’d hold some for me, and when I went over there they were really apologetic. I said it wasnâ’t a big deal, Iâ’d gotten them already. They were like, â‘Oh my god, no way. We donâ’t know what happened.â’â”

Christy Jenkins is one of the rest of themâ"she logged on to the Hannah Montana website that morning and came away with nothing. She called the Ticketmaster line and got the same results. â“They were sold out in 15 minutes,â” she says. â“I didnâ’t know what to do. I canâ’t pay $2,000 for a ticket. No way. These scalpers got them and they probably wonâ’t sell them for that much, and those seats will be empty. They could have gone to Lexi or all those other kids that wonâ’t get to go.â”

Even Lexi, who really, really, really wants to go, says she wouldnâ’t want her mother to pay that much for tickets.

Riley Harris is 9, so, you know, she likes Hannah Montana, too. She also likes some of the boys on the show. She not only has posters of Hannah and Miley hanging in her bedroom, she has a poster of Jake Ryan, a recurring character on the show, sometimes Mileyâ’s boyfriend, played by 18-year-old Cody Linley. And sheâ’s got a crush on the Jonas Brothers, the three real-life brothers whose pop act teamed up with Hannah during the seriesâ’ second season and is the opening act on The Best of Both Worlds tour.

Sheâ’s seen every single episode, most of them more than once. What she likes mostâ"more than â“everything,â” even, which is her first response to the questionâ"is Mileyâ’s double life. â“I like that she can be famous and be a small-town girl,â” she says. But she just shrugs when sheâ’s asked if the appeal of that secret life is that maybe she, too, could turn into a pop star by the time sheâ’s Mileyâ’s age. â“I guess,â” she says.

But itâ’s not just the metaphysical questions of identity and transformation that pull her in. Itâ’s the boys. â“I know exactly which episode is my favorite,â” she says. â“Itâ’s the Jonas Brothers one.â”

The flip side to tickets selling out as fast as they did is that, for all the kids who seem not to have gotten tickets, a lot of people didâ"and yet nobody seems to even know anybody whoâ’s going. Victoria Iannopollo and Jada Torney, both 10, say their parents tried to buy tickets when they went on sale and, like nearly everybody else, got nothing. â“I donâ’t think I know anybody whoâ’s going,â” Jada says. â“A bunch of people I know wanted to and tried to get tickets.â”

Victoria says she wouldnâ’t mind if her parents paid maybe just a little bit more than face value to get tickets from a broker, or if maybe they won tickets for her in a radio or online contest. â“There are a lot of contests Iâ’ve been begging them to do.â”

Sometimes that kind of extra work is the only way to get in. Laura Phillips, 9, is going to see the show in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Nov. 27. Not only does she get to go out of town, she gets to go on a school night. â“My mom said when she was a kid, she never got to do anything like that,â” Laura says.

Lauraâ’s mother, Kimberly Phillips, wasnâ’t sure about the timing of the Knoxville show anyway, since the family was planning to visit relatives in the Midwest for Thanksgiving and would have had to come home early to make the concert on Saturday. But she tried, with the expected results. After that, Phillips immediately paid $30 to join the Hannah Montana fan clubâ"members were given the chance to buy tickets before they went on sale to the general publicâ"and got a pair for the closest show. When tickets for the Charlotte show finally went on sale to the public, Phillips says, they sold out in 10 minutes.

Phillips actually ended up with a couple of extra tickets. She bought four, just in caseâ"she knew they were in demand, and maybe some family members or some of Lauraâ’s friends would be able to make the trip to North Carolina. Laura and her parents agreed to keep the news of their trip somewhat muted, since so few of her friends will get to go. (Laura does know someone who knows someone who works at Thompson-Boling whoâ’s getting a couple of free passes, but thatâ’s it among her friends and classmates.) Theyâ’re also trying to handle getting rid of those extra tickets with as little fanfare as they can manage. They know how hard it was to get them, and they donâ’t want to take advantage of their good fortune to make a few bucks.

â“I wouldnâ’t have bought tickets from a scalper,â” Phillips says. â“I just wouldnâ’t have done it. We were lucky. It was a fluke that we got them. Weâ’ve got these two extra tickets. Iâ’m trying to get the word out to my family to see if any of them want them. But Iâ’m not going to sell them for two or three times what I paid for them. As long as I get my money back, Iâ’ll be happy.â”

Laura seems to agree. She knows sheâ’s lucky to be going to see the hottest thing among girls her age, and sheâ’s really, really glad to be going. But when sheâ’s asked if she would have wanted her mom to pay what scalpers are asking if she hadnâ’t gotten tickets, she thinks for a few seconds, looks away, looks back, and shakes her head.

â“No, I guess not,â” she says.

But thatâ’s easy to say when youâ’re one of the few whoâ’s going to see Hannah Montana.

What: Hannah Montana: The Best of Both Worlds

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena

When: Saturday, Nov. 24, at 4 p.m.

How Much: A bajillion dollars, your everlasting soul, and the blood of a newly slain kid goat. Seriously, itâ’s going to take a ton of money and a lot of grief to keep your daughter happy this time.

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