By Paul Lane
NORTH TONAWANDA —
Never before have I worked so diligently to see someone half my age.
Yet there I was at last week’s appearance by Justin Bieber at the Riviera Theatre, trying to work my way into the venue (and then backstage) despite the absence of a press pass (which I was probably issued, but no one knew where the issuer of the passes was).
While I stood outside the theater, which hosted a free Bieber concert that he performed for Edward Town Middle School students, I was overwhelmed by the passion that kids tend to have for the entertainment idols they’ll eventually regret worshiping. All the girls had on Justin Bieber T-shirts, and the guys took signs in.
From Webster Street, I could hear the hundreds of kids screaming in that unmistakable high-pitched wail that can only be made by the species known as the 13-Year-Old Girl. The screams never let up throughout the four-song set, as many of the girls proudly wore their tears and fought off the urge to faint as Bieber crooned.
I didn’t know much about Bieber before this show. I saw him perform the previous weekend on “Saturday Night Live,” and I heard that he had the No. 1 album on the Billboard chart, but his sort of teeny-bopper music isn’t my thing. So while waiting to hear Bieber sing, I had no idea what to expect.
What I got, though, I never could anticipated. He tried to work in some of the dance moves of his mentor, Usher, but looked disjointed in doing so. He answered all interview questions with simplistic responses such as “cool” and “awesome” (his reply when asked what it felt like to be the top-selling artist in the country). And he definitely sounded better when singing than when trying to engage the crowd in discussion.
He was ... a kid, a gangly, awkward 16-year-old kid who’s still trying to learn how to be himself. The No. 1 spot on the Billboard chart, home to the likes of Aerosmith, the Beatles, Pearl Jam and the Rolling Stones, was now occupied by someone whose voice may or may not have changed yet.
Attracting as much attention as he does — he was just on the cover of People, while TMZ and “The Oprah Winfrey Show” crews were in NT to film Bieber’s show — would be a lot to bear for the most seasoned performer.
But Bieber’s still as bland as school cafeteria soup, and he just got his driver’s license a couple weeks ago.
Bieber has absolute talent as a singer. But his stage presence and timidness when talking to others might not even get him past the Hollywood round of “American Idol” (as the “Idol” judges would say, his song choices are sub-par, to say the least).
He’s only been “it” for a few months now, so Bieber — despite his already-enviable status — has nowhere to go but up. Once the Canadian crooner (he hails from Stratford, Ontario) figures out what he wants to be and matures, he could be a lasting presence on the pop music scene (as opposed to another 98 Degrees or New Kids on the Block).
Hopefully, he will grow up to be more than just the object of teen girls’ adulation and make the most of his talent. Then, maybe next time, I’ll truly want to work my way into one of his shows.
Whatever anyone thinks about Bieber’s music, he deserves credit just for showing up.
Bieber’s performance was sponsored by KISS 98.5, the radio station that holds an annual School Spirit fundraiser in which schools raise pennies in hopes of landing a free celebrity concert. Edward Town students raised 1,692,750 pennies to win the show, and the Riv was used because the school auditorium couldn’t hold the entire student body.
Bieber committed to the show almost a year ago, before his poster was hung on the wall of every teen girl’s room in America. His time is worth a lot more than pennies now, but he still came to do this free show because he said he would.
In that regard, at least, Bieber’s maturity level well exceeds his years.