There was some interesting fashion at the Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Awards, but looking at the photos just made me feel a bit sad. Not about the clothes, because even though it’s depressing to see ten year old girls working hand-on-hip poses in leather short shorts and bodycon dresses, I was delighted to see that dickie bows and suit jackets with rolled up sleeves are such a hit with boys of this age. I can only hope that this is a thing in real life too, and the geeky Don Johnson look is big amongst the confirmation set this year! I also got endless amusement out of their names, as I clicked past boys called Kolton, Zoran and Todrick and girls called Peyton, Keltie and Pia Mia. At a glance I mistook one girl’s name for Focaccia, which really wouldn’t have surprised me.
But looking at all those smiling, gorgeous faces, I felt sad because I couldn’t help wondering how many of them might be dead, in rehab, or just seriously messed up by the time they’re 21, and why it is that so many parents continue to happily take a chance that their child will be the one in a hundred to survive child stardom intact. I don’t know the actual odds, but, anecdotally, they’re not great. Like if someone approached you and said “Can I take your child and throw her out on the motorway? There’s a one in a hundred chance that she won’t get flattened by a car,” you would say “Absolutely not!” But if someone approaches you and says “Can I take your child and put her in a movie? There’s a one in a hundred chance she’ll turn out to be a normal, functioning adult,” you apparently think “Hmmm. I like those odds! Let’s do this!”
I don’t know how carefully the parents of Sophia Grace and Rosie have weighed this up, but the former YouTube sensations were at the awards, in their trademark get ups of pouffy dresses and tiaras.
This time they weren’t on the carpet for their regular gig interviewing celebrities for The Ellen Show, they were there because they’re now proper little child stars in their own right, and they’ve a new movie to promote, a princess caper that plays on the personas they’ve been cultivating. Making famous personalities of little girls, and making them famous FOR their personalities, has to be the riskiest route to child stardom, because excitable little girl in a tutu might be adorable on an eight year old, but what happens when they get too old to dress like princesses and that chattering stream of consciousness dries up? How will they handle it when Ellen no longer wants them on her sofa, when they’re rejected, not for lack of talent or ability, but because who they are is no longer amusing or entertaining to people? What are the long term repercussions of peaking professionally at age ten, and what are your career options later in life? Do you just pretend the whole thing never happened and go work in a bank, smiling politely every time someones asks “Didn’t you used to be…?” Or does being someone who used to be famous consign you to a lifetime of cashing in on your novelty value on reality TV? If Sophia Grace and Rosie are 40 year old princesses on Celebrity Big Brother in 2044, somebody shoot me.
Once that set in, all I could think about, looking at these kids, was that any one of them could be the next Amanda Bynes or the next Zac Efron. At 26, he seemed to have escaped the child star curse, but now it seems he is the latest in a long line of Disney kids to succumb to a proper, drug-fueled meltdown. After two recent trips to rehab, you would have to be pretty naive to believe that he accidentally stumbled into the dodgiest part of LA last week, with a “bodyguard” who has a criminal record, and was beaten up by vagrants under a bridge that happens to be notorious for drug dealing and heroin use. His name has been mentioned in Star Wars casting rumours, so his career is worth a lot of money to a lot of people right now, and that story reeks of a cover up by a management team who would rather push him to keep working, and not let a huge window of opportunity close, than encourage him to acknowledge his problems and take time to get the help he needs. That’s the curse of the child star, a commodity first and a person second. One after another, these Disney and Nickelodeon kids crumble under the pressure and the weight of expectation that is placed on them at such a young age, but there’s never a shortage of new faces, backed by pushy parents, determined to take their place and beat the odds.
And some of them do! Also at the awards was former train wreck Robert Downey Jr, who not only schooled Johnny Depp in staying cool, wearing a leather jacket and blue sunglasses indoors without looking like a dork, he also reminded me that not every train crashes and burns. Some just derail temporarily, even spectacularly, before getting back on track. I’m rooting for Zac Efron and hoping he’ll be one of the lucky ones.