"It's Mili-an," rolls the Latino boy prepping the interview.
"Mili-ahn?" quizzes the very white boy about to conduct the interview.
Millions of (hooked on) ethnic phonics later, and I'm pretty sure there should be a rolled "r" in there somewhere. Or maybe that's just my mouth. It's an early 8 a.m., and the new Christina Aguilera, Johnny Wright's Christina Milian, is in town to promote her slap and bounce single "A.M. to P.M.," having just fallen off the 'N Sync "Pop Odyssey" road show.
The real treat is that she's doing so at a Winter Garden high school in a first-period media and journalism class. Even better, I've been sent to cover it for a national teen mag, meaning without even a hint of irony. That's OK, though. The fact that I'm here is irony enough.
"Somebody take a pass and go get the journalists some sugar," fidgets the nervous 30-something teacher.
Sugar would be nice. Holy water might be better. I'm shaking like a whore in journalism church, making sure that every lift of the Styrofoam cup positively exudes media success. Here's what you need to know, kids. Journalists have no discipline, only hangovers and guilt.
Journalism students, however, need some discipline -- or at least Ritalin. Things around here are a little freeform, a little "Head of the Class." Everybody's snapping with post-raver baggy wit and nobody's getting anything done.
"I'm going to need five students," I Howard Hessman. "After your television interview, we need to stage a sort of roundtable discussion of teen issues, y'know, what's important to you."
Volunteers are scarce. I've got 20 minutes, between 9:10 and 9:30, to orchestrate my teen-talk coup, and I'm getting a little worried. My sugar's not here yet.
Christina is, though. She has just bounced into the room with her requisite entourage of tour management, publicist, mom and, well, bodyguard. She's beaming with energy. She's only 19.
Christina is escorted into the mock-up television studio and chaired next to a Britney and a JC for some spirited inquiry. The Britney's sporting a denim miniskirt that might win her a job someday and the JC's pushing some Morris Day, bright-red-slack situation that might lose him one. Regardless, they're prepared with a laundry list of standard pop questions and ready for bleary, first-period repartee. Each query is met with a strongly trained publicity charge. Christina's gonna make milli-ahn's, I'm thinking, scratching for the lint and pennies lining my pocket. She's better than Christina Aguilera. But then, who isn't?
Me. I'm struggling to get the attention of kids now two points removed from my demographic, and failing like a fourth single. Eventually, charmed by the possibility of national teen publication, several submit. I do color my hair, after all. So here we are, all Indian-style circle, and all I can think is who's gonna kick in the "Kumbaya." Pass the sugar.
"So, I'm gonna start," I teen. "What's the toughest thing facing kids in school these days?"
"There's so many different issues right now," Christina Miss Americas. I love her. "When I was going to school -- I'm Cuban -- I hung out with everybody; black or white. I didn't care. What's great about what I'm doing right now is that I've gotten to meet all types of people. You've gotta get along with everyone."
"It seems like high school is all about being popular," flirts the phonically correct Latino boy. "Were you popular?"
"I knew a lot of people, but I don't think I was popular. Most of the time I was in home studies, but the year I went to a performing-art school I only had two friends. The rest of the people were kind of fake and stuck on themselves. I'd rather hang out with real people. My friends were people you'd never guess, like one punk-rocker guy and this girl who totally dressed '50s. I hung out with people most people would stereotype."
She's my new best friend. Me, Christina and a '50s girl would make a great band. Then, predictably, things take a turn for the dirty. But Christina's not like the other Christina. There will be no Limp Bizkit love affairs, here.
"What's your stance on kids having sex?" continues the flirtatious Fabio.
"There's so many babies having babies. That's a life that you're taking care of. You should wait for somebody you really love. It's better if you wait and get married. You're young."
No, I'm not. Though pretending to be is sounding good.
"What about drugs in high school?" digs Romeo, far better than I could. Maybe I should be in this class. "Did people ask you to participate?"
"Oh, they offered," she offers. "I come to my mom. She's tried everything once. That's important, to have somebody to come to who knows better than you."
"I think it's so stupid. I get a high on life. I have a great time. It's illegal, anyway. Why get in trouble?"
Why? To learn a lesson ... so that you can become a journalist.
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