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Staged and confused 

Britney Spears is out of control. A few weeks back she was making soft-core news for popping out of her floppy flapper tassel dress (got milk?) while perking peerlessly to the tune of her own "poor Britney" power ballad, "Lucky," at the Fox Teen Choice Awards. Last week at the MTV Video Music Awards, her pop was a little more planned as she vamped her tepid rendition of the Stones classic "Satisfaction," losing trou, hat and, well, dignity to mark the transition into her fabulously horrific paean, "Oops, I Did It Again."

Oops, indeed! All hail the new whore Britney!

Forgive me, then, if I expected a touch of "Showgirls" scandal brushed and glossed with hot-sex frontal nudity at her TD Waterhouse Centre appearance on Sept. 9, in front of 20,000 mealy children who could perhaps benefit from a lesson in suggestively choreographed crotch -thrusting. (Who couldn't?) It seemed like the perfect time for Britney to promote her apparent sophomore media-binge period, wherein her previously chirpy uncertainty ("Sometimes I laugh/Sometimes I cry ... ") gives way to her increasingly ravenous hiccup/burp/growl issue, all while the world watches and wonders exactly which powder it is she's putting on her nose. I thought things were moving along smoothly here. After all, Debbie Gibson wasn't a whore until her third album.

Alas, loose Britney stayed at home, while her head-cheerleader alter ego mailed in predictably robotic renditions of her increasingly insipid catalog -- fully clothed. Her boytoy Justin Timberlake must be holding the reigns here, somewhere.

Justin time

"Oh my god, Justin and his family are totally backstage!" harkens a busty 12-year-old in a bedazzled halter just four rows away, only moments prior to Miss Britney's charade.

"Nah-ah!" cry (and I mean cry) all three of her trusty gal pals (or more likely treasurer, secretary and scribe for the stalkier side of Justin Timberlake's naughtiest fan club).

Maybe it's Justin's nasty cornrow, b-boy touch that's turned our Britney into a pink-scented lubricant! The thought! Anyway, Justin and company will make a staged cameo on the screens overhead toward the end of the show, calling on prechosen audience victims to bark like dogs and cluck like chickens, all to the gleeful delight of their tender peer groups. Somebody's gonna go home and kill themselves. I would.

Hopefully they'll take with them the unseasoned opening talents of the gayer-than-George Michael Don Phillip(!), the spelling-impaired Innosense (whose blue-lamé Dallas Cowboy cheerleader bodysuits couldn't deflect the painful scrutiny that comes with so severe a lack of talent), and the even-gayer-than-Don Phillip BBMak. (They had guitars, only they weren't plugged in.) Were you to forget any of their names, and believe me you could be forgiven for doing so, they were all printed largely across backdrop sheets -- like a Motown Revue, only without any of the soul.

Who needs a soul, anyway?

Out and about

Apparently not the O-Town boys, who agreed willingly to relinquish said personal feature the day they signed on with Big Poppa Lou Pearlman and Mickey's ABC for their oddly amorphous "Making the Band" saga. "There's a chance you won't get signed," threatened Lou about the Friday-night drama-mean. Whose taking that chance? The quintet just inked their big deal with the Arista-ousted Clive Davis' new label, J-Records, and should continue their weekly assault on the homebound teen set for at least 13 more episodes next season. Are any of them gay yet? Um, yes.

But that's not in evidence Sept. 10 in the Wal-Mart shopping center parking lot, just south of Bithlo, just north of hell, where the five boys and 2,000 girls are baking in the afternoon sun. O-Town are signing glossies under a big blue Pepsi tent, and I should be ashamed of myself for suggesting that I be here. It's Ashley, you see. He just broke up with his girlfriend and I think he needs me. Anyway, I pal around with the publicity folk, while trying to eavesdrop on the sweaty Pearlman.

"He's got family crawling out of the woodwork," informs the publicist. "Turns out that most of them aren't really family ... "

Turns out there's suspicion that Lou is. Only it's the unfounded sort of gay commentary (ahem) that comes from poor writing queens in the free press. Watermark has apparently printed an interview with a light haze of pedophilia washed over it. "It's a publicist's nightmare," says the publicist. Anyway, we like Lou. He gives us things to talk about. Like Ashley.

I mention my little crush to the publicist, remarking that I'm not leaving without Ashley strapped to the back of my four-door sedan. She vows to introduce us, which I don't really want to happen, as I prefer to keep my illusions decorated and hidden behind the bottle of brandy at the top of the linen closet. I'm the last to walk down the hallowed row of girls with nothing to say (they cut the line to see them in half, as O-Town's draw has already outgrown this sort of planning situation), and Ashley is my first. OK, not my first ... my first, today.

"Billy is an entertainment writer for the Weekly," gloats Ms. Friendly Publicist.

"It's very nice to meet you," pours precious Ashley, my clammy hand gripped in his beautiful forever.

Only, Jacob's caught my eye. The bad one. The wigger. He's had his hair highlighted, and his countenance now resembles something of a Justin-lite. I'm torn. Maybe if I latch on to Jacob this early in the game, cleverly ditching Ashley, I too can ride out the pop publicity machine into my own second-album hooker makeover, wowing the paparazzi and yet remarkably never really saying anything.

Except "Oops."

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