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The case of the missing heartthrob

Obsession with teen pop idol Aaron Carter has taken Tabatha Puyear and Carolann Newsome to some strange places.

Once, they tailed the towheaded singer to Boston Market, where he was eating a turkey sandwich with his even-more-famous brother, Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys.

On Thursday, Tabatha, who is 13, and Carolann, who is 18, found themselves in another weird place: the third floor of the Hillsborough Circuit Courthouse.

"Hopefully, Aaron wins his case," sighed Tabatha. She was wearing a Nick Carter T-shirt, jean shorts and flip-flops. Her toenails were maroon. Carolann was dressed similarly, but her toenails were a sparkly blue.

Their attire meant they couldn't sit in Judge William Levens' courtroom for the proceedings. So they stood outside, hoping. They had seen a preview of the hearing on TV, and thought Aaron Carter might show up.

Carter's attorneys walked bycarrying big briefcases containing Carter's lawsuit against his former manager, Lou Pearlman.

Carter, 15, says Pearlman and his Trans Continental record label cheated him out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Carter's attorney, William Yanger of Tampa, says attorneys for Pearlman and the record company have repeatedly ignored his requests for documents necessary to try the case.

The details of the proceedings escaped Tabatha, although Carolann said she was familiar with Pearlman's legal troubles.

Pearlman and Trans Continental once represented the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync, both of which sued to be released from their deals, accusing Pearlman of deception and cheating them out of royalties. Those cases have been settled.

A history of deliberately deceiving clients, including Carter, the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync and Take 5, substantiates a racketeering charge, Carter's suit alleges.

Carter was born in Tampa, which is also the hometown of Tabatha and Carolann.

Carter started singing when he was 9 and rose to fame in the late 1990s with hits such as Crazy Little Party Girl, I'm Gonna Miss You Forever and Shake It.

He followed that up with the 2000 release of the album Aaron's Party (Come Get It).

Teenage girls around the world would love to get within arm's length of him. Tabatha and Carolann have done it several times _ they each carry their autographed ticket stubs in their pocketbooks and can't count how many times they have seen him perform.

"I love everything about him," said Tabatha, leaning against the concrete courthouse wall. "His looks, his voice, his body."

She giggles.

"His bootaaay."

The hearing started, without Carter. His attorney said he was filming a movie north of Tampa and might not be able to make it. Tabatha and Carolann stood outside the courtroom door, just in case.

Inside, lawyers argued about when, where and how the paperwork should be turned over. According to Pearlman's attorney, Renee Chamberlin, his old attorneys who were handling the Carter case are now suing Pearlman. They refuse to turn over many essential records to her.

Outside, Tabatha asks a reporter, "Who's winning?" She points to the courtroom.

It's a little difficult to explain, the reporter said.

Judge Levens ruled Pearlman and Trans Continental must pay Yanger $2,500 in attorneys' fees. They must get the records. He also ordered the former attorneys _ who aren't even present _ to hand over the needed documents.

Tabatha and Carolann had moved into a waiting area. Shoulders slumped, they were clearly deflated.

"Let's wait two hours more," Tabatha pleaded. "He still might come."

Carolann _ who is more of a Backstreet Boys-Nick Carter fan anyway _ rolled her eyes.

"Don't get your hopes up, girl."