There would be no Broadway plays for me. Unfortunately, my talents have always been limited to vocalizing. In other words, my dancing sucks. Any dreams I had of Broadway were dashed by my two left feet and general inability to take stage directions, as were any aspirations I had to follow in the footsteps of Debbie Gibson, the 1980s equivalent of Taylor Swift. I have always been at my best in the studio where I can only be heard and not seen.
It was only much later that I became grateful for not having the requisite looks or dancing talent to become a child star.
Child Stardom — Is It Worth It?
If child stardom was toxic in my day, it is nothing short of fatally poisonous nowadays. I watched my peers and idols who “made it” in the music business get their lives trashed by addiction, bad music deals, and the general negative consequences of fame. David Cassidy spiraled into drug addiction. Michael Jackson turned his lost childhood into an apparent fetish for adolescent boys. Both Tiffany Darwish and Debbie Gibson resorted to posing for Playboy long after their songs had faded from the national consciousness. The effects of fame seemed to get worse with each passing generation of child music stars: Britney Spears, Justin Bieber.
Nowadays, I look at Taylor Swift and I see someone who is at the top of her game: beautiful, elegant, and talented. However, she does not seem happy. How could a person be happy when her every move is scrutinized by an all-devouring, gossiping public? Especially when said person seems like a bookish intellectual of the type who truly enjoys Friday nights at home with a cup of tea, a devoted mate tinkering in the garage, and a pair of cats?
In Ariana Grande, I see deep investment in a bizarre, Mickey Mouse Club aesthetic when it is patently clear such an aesthetic has a short shelf life and quickly diminishing returns. She reminds me of Christina Aguilera, whose failed investment in frilly, vacuous popular music stings the ears with wasted vocal talent and clichéd, meaningless, overblown production.
So yeah, I don’t steer my students, not even the ones with Alicia Keys level looks and talent, towards becoming childhood stars because frankly I care far too much for them. I don’t want to shepherd them towards a system that eats artists alive — far more so when they are young children or teenagers.
What Makes A Musician?
The happiest musicians are the ones who can disappear into the realms of playing, composing, and creating at will. They are happy regardless of their level of money or fame, because music is their primary focus, not maintaining an image or fulfilling contracts. Some of the happy musicians I know are actually wealthy and famous. Others are just scraping by. Their financial status does not make them any less musically brilliant.
I don’t steer my own students towards the Disney/Warner media/Clear Channel machine. I want them to be happy. I want them to always have music as a fun release. I want them to understand music from its foundations on up, so they can do what they want with it, taking it apart and putting it back together again as I do.
In summation, fame and money isn’t everything, especially for a musician. It’s great when a musician manages a comfortable life by profiting off of a culture that values appearances over almost everything else, however, it’s not worth losing the actual music, and that is all too often what happens. I can’t steer children towards a machine I am glad I avoided like a bullet dodged. Music has to be its own best reward — we study it so we can play it, enjoy it, and love it from cradle to grave.