Nadine Albadawi has something to say. Well, scream, actually. After all, it's important that she get her point across.
"The Jonas Brothers are real!" says the 13-year-old Tampa girl, as her fave band in the whole wide world — the ONLY band in the whole wide world — finishes a preshow sound check for 100 lucky fans at the Ford Amphitheatre on Thursday. "That's all that matters! They're real!"
They are not the Beatles. They're not yet Elvis either. But the Jonas Brothers are the biggest story in pop music. Heck, pop culture. The Disney-owned scamps with those fabu 'dos have three albums in the top 10, including the new A Little Bit Longer. They have a No. 1 cable movie (Disney Channel's Camp Rock) and a fat merchandising deal with Target that costs me $30 every time I take my 4-year-old daughter into that store.
The Jonas Brothers are also the LOUDEST story in music. Nick, Joe and Kevin Jonas — 15, 19 and 20, respectively, God-fearing good boys from the tony burg of Wyckoff, N.J. — played their catchy power pop for a sold-out crowd of 20,000 at the Tampa venue, raising the noise meter to some 120 decibels.
It's the kind of noise that makes you cry with joy — well, for the first five minutes at least. After that, it just sounds like a terrorist tactic.
Everywhere you look, the Jonas boys are being stalked by young girls. The guys love it, of course, courting 500 people to a preshow meet-and-greet. More important, they're constantly stalked by a rabid press, including yours truly, who was invited to spend the whole day with the band. The guys don't seem to mind that either.
So while this accessibility makes them look "real," it also makes them look like cutie-pie rock stars who can't get a lick of quiet, of privacy, of anything resembling a normal life. It's a brilliantly built mob scene.
Just like the Beatles.
Just like the King.
• • •
The Jonas Brothers have fairly large, floppy bare feet. Nick, the Cute One, guzzles Diet Dr Pepper. Kevin, the Nice One, likes to trumpet the joys of Red Bull. Joe, the Funny One (but also kinda cute), is slightly stoop-shouldered and genuinely sweet. He even gave me a fist bump. Right back at ya, Buddy.
The Jonas Brothers are as nice as you (and your parents) hope they are.
I learned these things hanging with the guys at the Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel before the show. When the brothers faced yet another formal press conference, they were downright waxen, poised and posed. Not rude, but not a ball of laughs either.
Someone asks Joe about his rumored romance with country star Taylor Swift, and with neither a pause nor a smirk, he answers: "She's a wonderful girl. Anybody would be lucky to meet her." The press chuckles; the Jonas Brothers do not.
Someone asks Kevin, who's turning 21 this year, if he'll celebrate with an adult beverage on his big day. "Um, I'm not there yet," he says. Somewhere, those infamous "purity rings" they own were gleaming heavenly.
The brothers are famous for never acting like brothers. Never sniping, digging, punching each other in the head. They travel with their mother, father and younger brother, a.k.a. "the Bonus Jonas," one big, polite happy family.
But keep watching. Saddlebrook officials cooked up a team-building exercise for the guys. Each had to build a boat out of cardboard and then race it across the pool. It was obviously meant as a zany photo op.
"Oh, no," whispered PR rep Carolyn Weyforth. "Not when it's about competition. You watch."
And indeed, with the theme from Gilligan's Island playing from a loudspeaker, Nick, Joe and Kevin went at it. Nick made a teepee (Paradise Pyramid), Kevin a canoe (Titanic 2), Joe a shanty hovel (Pool Master 5000). When they finally launched, Nick sank, but Joe and Kevin remained afloat. Two feet from winning, Kevin's boat took on water, and Joe, cruising to victory, immediately ripped into his sibling with a closed-door ferocity: "You're out! You're out!"
Not a punch in the head. But as for trash talk, I'll take it.
• • •
It's easy to get cynical about pop culture these days, especially with such vapid tartlets as Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears doing their best to be dumb. And the Jonas Brothers certainly garner their share of snipes from people who don't believe they write their own songs or play their own instruments. (I was at sound check and at the show; the boys can play. Trust me.)
Disney, after all, is all about make-believe.
And yet when the Jonas Brothers finally took the stage at 9 p.m., descending on a shiny hydraulic lift and kicking into theme song That's Just the Way We Roll, you couldn't help but get a little misty-eyed.
"The last time I went to a show like this was Andy Gibb," said Mia Alvis, a Sarasota mom with two giddy kids in tow. "It's nice. I hope that purity ring stuff sticks. I like that."
Maybe the Jonas Brothers will get only as big as Andy Gibb. Or Hanson. Or New Kids on the Block. But on this night, on this tour, the Jonas Brothers were the biggest act of the 21st century. The fans felt it. The oft-jaded press felt it. As my pal Nadine would say, it was definitely, deafeningly real.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.