By Robbyn Mitchell
TAMPA — Cell phone cameras clicked and flashed in WestShore Plaza's Finish Line shoe store. Flo Rida was in his element; his young guests were not.
Shannon Maldonado, 13, and Wismy " Will" Cadet, 14, tried their best to coolly peruse the shoes as the chart-topping rapper turned to pose with fan after fan who came up wanting to immortalize the moment.
"It's crazy," said Shannon, an eighth grader at Fox Chapel Middle in Spring Hill. "But it also feels really good being in front of all these cameras."
Both teens won a radio contest with WLLD-FM 94.1 to get a $500 back-to-school shopping spree with Flo Rida.
Will, 14, a Spoto High 10th grader from Tampa, listened to the radio all day Sunday hoping he'd be the first caller when the DJ signaled it was time.
It was early afternoon when he dialed the number and got right through. Four days later, he was stepping out of a Mercedes-Benz limousine van in his best suit.
"It's like SUPER Christmas," Will told the horde of media that stuck cameras and microphones in his face at random intervals. "When I was trying to tell my dad I won, I was so excited I couldn't even get it out."
Flo Rida, the Carol City rapper whose hits include Low, Whistle and Wild Ones, had come to Tampa on a tear of radio promotions for his new album, due out in the fall. But for two hours Wednesday afternoon, he was shopping buddy to a couple of teens.
"I wish I had the opportunity to receive a gift like this when I was young," said Flo Rida, who also did some shopping for himself Wednesday. "I just hope Shannon and Will stay focused, stay in school and become successful so they can help someone else."
Shannon was happy to get the shopping spree, which she shared with her older brother, Ryan. But more than that, she wanted to meet Flo Rida.
"He's such a good rapper," she said. "I just look forward to hanging out with him."
An aspiring rapper and singer, she wanted to talk music business with one of her idols.
"I'm pretty good at both," she said. "I even had a few solos in elementary school."
But once she was in the crush between excited shoppers, entourage and media, there wasn't much time to talk about anything.
"I hate shopping with my wife, and this is 10 times worse," said Harry Maldonado, 46, Shannon's dad and a retired Department of Children and Families employee.
As the thick entourage sauntered from store to store, the kids were able to get in a few words.
"Flo Rida asked me if I could buy him something," Shannon laughed. "I said 'Maybe.'"
Will got excited in the first store and almost spent his whole budget. Three pairs of tennis shoes, shorts, shirts, socks and a backpack came to $472. He looked at the register total and made a quick decision. "You can take these off," he said as the cashier touched a box of Nike Air Jordan sneakers. Then the total went down to $322. Just enough for some shirts and jeans.
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After Macy's, Will was spent. He actually went over budget by $9.
"It was fun," he said. "I've got everything I need."
Shannon finished her shopping in Wet Seal and topped off her bounty with a gold-colored metal link watch — a nice accessory, but one that paled in comparison to the jewelry Flo Rida himself was wearing.
She filed the day away in her list of great memories. Along with meeting a rapper, feeling like a celebrity, getting free clothes and doing TV interviews, she also got to ride in a limo van across the Howard Frankland Bridge for the first time in her memory.
She took out her phone and snapped pictures of Tampa Bay.
"It was beautiful," she said. "It was all so beautiful."