For tweens, Selena Gomez is the whole shebang

Disney teen queen and Justin Bieber’s girlfriend Selena Gomez, 19, performs Saturday to a sold-out crowd of screaming fans at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Gomez, of Grand Prairie, Texas, stars in the Emmy Award-winning show Wizards of Waverly Place.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Disney teen queen and Justin Bieber’s girlfriend Selena Gomez, 19, performs Saturday to a sold-out crowd of screaming fans at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Gomez, of Grand Prairie, Texas, stars in the Emmy Award-winning show Wizards of Waverly Place.

CLEARWATER — Newly anointed queen of tweens Selena Gomez surveyed her Ruth Eckerd Hall kingdom Saturday and asked the shrieking sold-out crowd a question: "How many of you have been in love? Or maybe thought you were in love?"

Most of the crowd of 2,180 was made up of prepubescent females, and most of those prepubescent females raised their hands fast and strong. This included, much to my surprise and severe heart palpitations, my 7-year-old daughter.

Oh, no. Nononono.

Dads are different from moms. We panic at that stuff. It freaks us out. So I never asked my kid who she was in love with. Didn't have the guts. For the sake of sanity, I assumed it was Buzz Lightyear and moved on, rocking vicariously through my daughter, who, like all the lucky girls around her, relished the big, silly show with naive, pogoing abandon.

The Gomez gig — especially with all the swirling rumors that her beau, Justin Bieber, might show up — was THE place to be this weekend, a wickedly tough ticket to score, forcing parents to power-play all over Tampa Bay in hopes of landing a seat. As a result, the mood inside the intimate venue was frantic, giddy, the line at the merchandise stand one of the thickest, hungriest I've seen.

As no surprise to anyone, once the lights dimmed, THEY ALL SCREAMED: for opening act Christina Grimmie, who sported a shiny mullet (yikes if she becomes a trendsetter); for Allstar Weekend, four sets of shiny boy teeth who grinned out generic power pop and looked like hunky villains in a John Hughes teen movie; and finally, for the 19-year-old Gomez, the likable heir to the Hannah Montana throne. The whole shebang lasted almost three hours (!), but the volume from the throngs never dipped.

A striking brunet with a princess smile and a hot TV show (Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place), Gomez has great gobs of charisma. That's good, because she has a perilously low level of singing ability, which is no doubt why her vocals were all but nonexistent at the start. It's also why no less than 10 people were onstage with her, including her "band," the Scene, plus two backup singers who work so hard you'd think Gomez would let them wear something other than hideous swan dresses.

The whole thing looked like Busby Berkeley directing an Abercrombie & Fitch ad. But hey, pretty blinking distractions and big dancey beats were the main, and only, point. No one expected her to bust out Blowin' in the Wind; she has three albums, each one as slick and soulless as the next. Then again, she did sing a medley of Britney Spears songs, and not even Britney Spears sings Britney Spears songs. Plus she rapped the rhymes from Nicki Minaj's Super Bass, and you know what? She was good!

Dressed not unlike a Vegas showgirl (or at least the fashionable daughter of one), Gomez flashed some gam, a little midriff, but this was G-rated good-girl stuff all the way. Although Gomez can't croon very well, her Mouse House employers make sure their starchild has access to the top pop songwriters. That includes Emanuel Kiriakou and Priscilla Hamilton, who penned the sublimely catchy Who Says, a neo-I Am Woman that Gomez played during her spirited encore, which capped a 90-minute set with panache.

On the way to the car, my daughter, with just her second concert under her belt, reached for my hand and said, "Thanks for taking me along on your job, Dad." Was I misty-eyed? Nah. Just a little confetti in my eye.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com. Follow him on Twitter (@seandaly poplife) and Facebook (facebook.com/sean daly.tampabay).

For tweens, Selena Gomez is the whole shebang 07/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 1, 2011 2:09am]

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