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"In other markets this event has drawn 14- to 15-year-old girls," huffs a walkie-talkied mall representative, seemingly baffled by the overwhelming presence of "ballers, ballers" at the Destiny's Child record-signing here in the Big Florida Mall. Boys can be bad, and there's a palpably libidinous hiss spewing through the crowd of onlookers in the Burdines wing today. What do you want signed? Are Destiny's Child in trouble?

Maybe. After all, they're on a mall tour.

I'm cornered off in the mall office where the expected throng of people who coordinate these sorts of nightmares are having their typical watercooler repartee. "How many units did Christina's Spanish album move? ... I'm thinking top-10 ... No. 1 on TRL!"

Everybody loves the Madonna record. Really.

Unremarkably, someone's talking female vocalists with the secretary (again), and there's a general query going on about a certain Fleetwood Mac chanteuse that didn't burst a boob.

"I love Christie McVie! It's Christie, right?" asks some sweet bovine in office dress.

"Oh, yeah. Christie," the room assures.

"It's Christine!" I groan, no longer able to maintain.

"Long live the Eagles," chimes the secretary, seemingly not interested in what it is the crazy kids are grooving out to. I'm biting my lip.

Glance meeting

; ;

An interview is promised -- or at least a chance to eavesdrop on somebody else's interview -- and I'm having trouble trying to wonder anything at all about Beyoncé, Kelly or Michelle. The chart-savvy trio have lost a few points in the charismatic-identity department, seeing as someone jammed the "eject" button on their lineup couch. In fact, seeing them, you almost expect a slot in the floor to open up to remove one bounce-a-licious babe and plop a fresh one down -- one with a clean face.

"Do I have any crumbs on my lips?" asks Beyoncé (eject!), having sampled the food-service wares of marbled sandwich halves and stiff chocolate-chip wafers spread out in front of the three girls who obviously haven't eaten since '97. "We can eat after the interview ... " they agree, harmonically. Or, perhaps, never.

For one shining moment, "The Facts of Life" is on the TV, but Tootie is quickly banished in the interest of irony. Channel 2 is conducting an excruciatingly low-end interview for its teen-interest vehicle, "O-Town," and the girls with the stuttering issue are seemingly impressed by the interviewer's wet, bored baritone. "So, is Destiny's Child's message, like, for the ladies or for the brothers, y'know?" he grumbles.

"Well, we're women. So the message is obviously from a woman's point of view. But the men can turn it around, too," they offer, diplomatically. And then ...

"It's all about independency ... ," Kelly mistakes. Sure it is.

Some pretty hefty talk about message, light and the Lord Jesus Christ follows, as does some chatter about philanthropic forays into AIDS research and breast cancer. But Destiny's Child are really all about the clothes, so their pet project is an inner-city sort of after-school special, in which the pretty pop stars disburse coats for the coatless. "Get these kids some coats!" Kelly protests to the camera.

Three for the road

By the end of the painful teen probe, I'll take a straitjacket and a martini. The girls brush by and introduce themselves, sweetly, and I glare into their eyes searching for darker sides and hidden animosities. Nope. Nothing. And then it's off to the event at hand -- a ridiculously overattended mall clot, wherein the lowest-common denominator of Spencer Gifts mall trash line up to pay respects to three girls who repeat themselves for effect.

We're rushed through the back corridors of the mall, following the screams to find out which side door to pour ourselves out of. It feels remarkably real, like another one of those fantasies where I'm Lindsey Buckingham and I'm running through the entourage of dealers and plaster casters to catch up to Stevie for our big stage entrance. Only, I've lost my voice and I'm completely naked. Give me that shawl!

Anyway, the girls are rapturously received by the ballers blocking the boutiques. The obligatory "they really can sing!" moment is introduced, as the children of Destiny howl through a flaccid "Amazing Grace" with all of the grace of Whitney Houston on a bender. Find a note! XL106.7's Nikki Knight follows with some nonsense about rules, and how, for some reason, a large portion of today's pop lemmings will not be meeting their Destinies. By now, the crowd is jumping, jumping, and security heads are beading in anticipation. Of what? Who cares? "Everybody take a step back," chides Nikki.

Please, everybody take a step back.

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