Early this week, I was invited to cover a “private party” thrown by Seventeen Magazine to celebrate its October issue. Ashley Tisdale and Aly Michalka — some Disney actresses my little cousin likes — would be there promoting a new CW show called Hellcats, in which they play sexy, sassy cheerleaders. I’m always down to throw back a few with teen idols and milk them for quotes, so I emailed Crushable, “Sure, sounds like weird fun.”
Then I realized the party was at 1pm, in the Seventeen offices, and there would be children there. A booze-less photo op. This was to be more weird than fun, but interesting nonetheless.
With scenes from How To Lose Friends and Alienate People flashing through my head, I trekked to the massive Hearst building near Columbus circle. Upon entering, I gawked like a yokel at its shimmering, aspirational architecture. Waterfalls. Angles. Just like I’d read about in blogs!
As I ascended one of many escalators to the elevators (escalators to the elevators!), I thought back on the time I’d emerged from my room in PJs to find my roommate’s friend art-directing a photoshoot of young Lydia, clad in nothing but fancy lingerie. The image of her tiny frame ordering massages and petting our cat juxtaposed absurdly with the powerful Death Star into whose maw I was fast disappearing. I felt woozy. The crazy space elevator I was riding in at warp speed didn’t help.
Up on the 44th floor, a publicist showed me into the giant multipurpose room in which the event would take place. A racially diverse squad of cheerleaders from New Rochelle High School (second in the nation!) were practicing their moves, while a small group of Seventeen employees sat picking at fruit plates.
“It’s a surprise for the girls,” the publicist explained. “Why do they think they’re here?” I asked. “Excuse me?” “The cheerleaders, um, if it’s a surprise for them?” She laughed. “No, it’s a surprise for Aly and Ashley.”
Before long, “the girls,” Ashley Tisdale and Aly Michalka, made their entrance, and EIC Ann Shoket introduced them. “You guys know who these ladies are,” she said to the cheerleaders, then beckoned the actresses to sit in chairs and watch them. “Oh my God!” said Aly, black-rimmed eyes widening.
Safety concerns prohibited the team from acrobatics (“We were scared somebody would flip out a window,” one staffer explained), but the routines were nonetheless impressive, making everyone smile. “You guys, like, killed it,” said Aly afterward. “How old are you guys?” asked Ashley, and they all replied at once. “I wish our squad could be that good,” she said.
Next, the actresses posed with Shoket in front of their October issue cover. Ashley looked like the fresh-faced American teen she’s known for playing, while Aly’s poofy white dress and heavy makeup were more, um, adult. “I hurt my foot over the weekend so I can’t wear heels,” the 5’10″ Shoket lamented, as she stood on her tiptoes.
After this, I got to ask the budding TV stars some questions. (I was the only press person there, as far as I could tell.) I found out they’d only done a few of their own stunts so far, but the ones they had done had been “exhilarating.” “I had only my cast members beneath me,” Ashley explained of her basket toss. “I had to trust them.”
“How sexy will the show be?” I inquired of them both. “It’s sexy but it’s tastefully done,” replied Ashley; “it takes the bubblegum out of cheerleading.” “Cheerleading is such a confident thing,” continued Aly. “It’s fierce. It’s going to show the gritty side of cheerleading…like, it’ll show us sweating and working out.” There was more that I didn’t write down, but she definitely said the word “fierce” at least once more.
“Do you think this will grow you up in the eyes of your fans?” I asked Ashley, who is currently best known for her role in the ‘tween favorite High School Musical. “I don’t want to run away from my fans,” she answered, premeditatedly, “but they’re all four years older than when High School Musical started…in my career, I want to take baby steps. The CW is a good place for that. I’m growing up, and I want to take them along with me.” Fair enough. At any rate, the 25-year-old Tisdale’s role as a college girl should be much less ridiculous than the 20-something actors’ portrayals of high schoolers on the same station’s Dawson’s Creek, a show she says she adored as a kid. Whether due to her image or the fact that she looks young, it’s hard for my brain to accept her as her real age.
The actresses then signed magazines and posed for photos with a bunch of young fans, which included some non-cheerleading girls as well. “Who are they?” I asked, gesturing to them. “Friends of Seventeen,” replied the publicist. “Did they write into the magazine? Or win a contest?” “No,” she said, evasively, “we just have a lot of friends of Seventeen…teen readers.” Mysterious.
Before being shepherded out, I scored a signed magazine for my twelve-year-old cousin, who will totally freak when she sees it. “Thanks for coming,” Ashley told her fans. “You look so cute.” And then they were gone.