Bubble Gum Babes

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For a few years, she threw herself into being an ordinary kid. "There was a long time when I didn't want anything to do with [show business]," she says. She played soccer, took gymnastics, and became a cheerleader. Most important for her, she surrounded herself with friends.

In November 2002, her dad heard about the DM Records audition and told Danielle about it. She was eager to try out but didn't start rehearsing until the night before. She stayed up until 1 a.m. practicing A Moment Like This by Kelly Clarkson, singing the song over and over. On the drive to the convention center, Danielle was despondent. Her voice had left her. She could hardly speak, much less sing. "I cried the whole way there," she says. When she got on stage, a miracle happened. When she opened her mouth, her voice returned.

And when DM called to let the Ranieres know Danielle had been picked, her mother rushed to a basketball game where Danielle was cheering. "Guess who got a record deal?" she said.

Danielle, a ninth-grader at Coral Springs Christian Academy, says the most difficult part of the Funn Club is sacrificing her social life. She worries that if she isn't around, her friends might forget to invite her along. But she is clear about her priorities: "I just can't skip rehearsal to go to a party. Now I realize that I have to put it first, before anything else. Or I would always regret it."

Although she's young, Danielle knows what she wants from life and is puzzled by friends who act as though such decisions are a long, long way off. "I can't imagine being my age and not knowing what you're going to do with your life. For me, it's singing or nothing. I don't even have a backup plan."

Brittany, however, has short-, medium-, long-term, and master plans. Today, she will finish a science project on how light affects the growth of plants and complete a journal entry explaining the role of expansionism in the development of the United States. Soon, she wants to secure a cell phone with unlimited minutes so she can stay in touch with her friends if the Funn Club goes on tour. And next year, she hopes to land at a high school with lots of boys. With only one male in her eighth-grade class of six kids at Appletree Montessori, she feels deprived -- even more so because she has to wear navy-blue slacks and a light blue shirt as her school uniform. It's not a good profile for meeting boys from other schools.

"They call us Smurfs!" she says. Brittany chafes at the Montessori routine. She doesn't like meditation time. She refuses to run track during gym class. She'd rather jog in the evenings. Her friends say she's a rebel, but her mature demeanor and thoughtfulness reflect Montessori values.

The master plan "is to become a superstar," she says, "to get recognized eventually for my own feelings and thoughts and what I have to give to the world."

To that end, on Mondays, she takes guitar lessons. On Tuesdays, it's acting class. On Wednesdays, she studies voice. She's free on Thursdays. Friday or Saturday, she travels to Popstarz hip-hop dance classes in Fort Lauderdale or South Miami. Then, of course, there are rehearsals and performances with the Funn Club and the PopStarz teen dance troupe.

Today, she has just returned home from her Monday guitar lesson, where she showed the teacher her new purple Fender electric guitar. The Mullens spent $675 on the instrument and an amplifier. Brittany's plan is to learn all the Funn Club songs on the guitar and then play it in shows. "They don't even know I have a guitar yet," she says of Mark and David. "They know I'm looking at an electric, and they keep asking me if I'm getting any good. Their main concern with me playing the guitar is that it would be too much."

With a little prompting, she straps on the guitar and stands under a pink, flowering, silk tree to sing the first song she ever wrote. She strums the guitar as she talks about the number. "It was one of those afternoons when I wasn't doing much and, you know, I was thinking about how this year was one of my hardest years because all of my friends left my school. I was kind of sad and lonely, but at the same time, it was kind of an independent thing for me."

She stops and starts and then sings, "Was I something for you to hold onto?" She hits the wrong chord and stops. "Sorry, sorry," she says and then starts again. "'Cause I want to run to you, but I can never seem to get through to you."

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Susan Eastman
Contact: Susan Eastman