Bubble Gum Babes

Four South Florida girls hope to follow Christina and Britney to the top

Brittany Mullen ambles into DM Records in Boca Raton a little after 2 p.m. on November 15, upbeat, eager, and, as always, ready to work. Even though she's only 13 years of age, this is where Brittany wants to be. She's one of four Funn Club girls the label assembled, crafted, polished, and launched this past April toward the prefab pop orbit of 'NSync, Spice Girls, and the Backstreet Boys. Brittany is, of course, pretty, talented, and very ambitious. She has the groovy air of a surfer girl and the wholesome, blond, glowing, patrician good looks of a Ralph Lauren model.

Her most used expression? "It's all good."

While DM plots the Funn Club's path to success, the girls dream of entering the mythological supra realm of celebrity superstardom. Brittany wants to own a house on the ocean in California or Florida or both. She'd drive a Ford Expedition. And the Funn Club would have its own television show.

Danielle, Emmi, Kelsey, and Brittany
Colby Katz
Danielle, Emmi, Kelsey, and Brittany
Clockwise from upper left: David and Mark Watson watch the Funn Club from the sound booth; Danielle, Emmi, Brittany, and Kelsey sing "Beginning End" in rehearsal; Danielle is hoisted into the air by her cheerleading squad at Coral Springs Christian Academy; and Danielle performs on Broadway in Les Miserables as a child.
Colby Katz
Clockwise from upper left: David and Mark Watson watch the Funn Club from the sound booth; Danielle, Emmi, Brittany, and Kelsey sing "Beginning End" in rehearsal; Danielle is hoisted into the air by her cheerleading squad at Coral Springs Christian Academy; and Danielle performs on Broadway in Les Miserables as a child.

She's hoping that, any day, she'll tune into Radio Disney and hear the Funn Club's song "Whoomp! There It Is" played over and over and over again. Her bandmates share variations of her dreams, good looks, positive outlook, and vaulting ambition.

Today, Brittany is dressed boy-sexy in a tight-fitting, stretchy, red tank top that hugs her flat stomach. The shirt is tucked into superbaggy khaki shorts that dangle below her knees and stay up with the help of a wide, black, leather belt. When she enters DM's break room with her mother, Cendy, the other members of the Funn Club -- Emmi Kozulin, Danielle Raniere, Kelsey Laverack, and their mothers -- have already assembled.

While the moms commiserate about the downpour that made driving to the studio on I-95 harrowing, the girls just talk, popping from subject to subject like pinballs. The bandmates didn't know one another until they met in the studio this past summer to begin learning songs and dance routines. They became friends on their rehearsal breaks, Danielle says: "We started talking, and now we just talk and talk and talk and talk."

Emmi, who is 15 but looks younger than the others because she's only 4 feet, 11 inches tall and slim-hipped, gives the group a little street edge with her matter-of-fact approach and slicing wit. Today, Emmi has a bad case of laryngitis that is keeping her conversation to a minimum. She notices Brittany's hair, which is straight, freshly cut to about four inches below her shoulders, and recently streaked blond on blond. "Did you... ah," Emmi says waving her hands around her head, "your hair?"

"Yeah," Brittany responds, "I wanted to have it dark underneath and blond on top."

"Cool," Emmi says approvingly.

"But my mom wouldn't let me," finishes Brittany.

Then Mark Watson, who co-owns DM with his brother David, enters the break room. He's a hulk of a man at six foot one. In a teacher-like authoritarian voice, he announces that it is time to rehearse.

The girls race down the hall in a clump. The studio they enter has a drum set in one corner and a nice swath of gleaming wooden flooring that looks like the perfect platform for dance. The Watson brothers take their places behind a wall of dark glass at the studio's soundboard.

Kelsey walks up to the black glass and fiddles with her hair. She's only 12 years old but already budding glam-girl gorgeous with honey-colored skin, gigantic, wide-set blue eyes, and cheekbones that could be used as skateboard ramps. Danielle joins her, raking her fingers through her long chestnut mane, and then Brittany.

It's the first time the girls are wearing wireless headsets, which will be great if they work, because the Funn Club members perform energetic, hip-hop-style dance routines while they sing.

Emmi's voice crackles when she speaks. "Do you want me to sing?" she asks, looking forlornly into the glass sound booth. There's silence. "So I'm not singing?" She waits a couple of seconds. "Am I supposed to sing?"

From a microphone, Mark tells Emmi to test the headset and to conserve her voice.

"Check, check, check, check, checking, checking," Emmi scratches.

The four line up in the back of the studio to sing "Beginning End," a sweet upbeat and quick-tempo number. A swirling electronica track with a strong bass introduces the tune, which the Watsons acquired for the Funn Club from L.A. songwriter Will McKenna. "Don't," the girls sing, "let the beginning end." Kelsey steps out. Her voice is complex, ranging from throaty and bluesy to sweet to soaring. "When we talk, I hear the emotion," she sings. "It's like your voice inside my heart. And our first kiss I felt your devotion. 'cause we were friends first from the start."

The girls run through the song with precision, moving in sync to a tightly choreographed dance. Danielle is stage-savvy. Even though she's wearing what looks like plaid pajama bottoms, she rivets attention when she swivels her hips and then stops with dramatic punctuation. The four do the song a few more times, working out the spacing as they dance. Their voices are sweetly appealing with a sultry, yearning undertone, but the headsets are too big and keep slipping around.

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