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Billy's TV tour de force fades into day of classes

The 14-year-old movie critic returns to Seminole Middle School after his trip to New York.

By MAUREEN BYRNE AHERN and JULIANNE WU
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 14, 2002


photo
[Times photo: Carrie Pratt]
Outside the school's band room, Billy is interviewed by Channel 10 before the start of his first class.

View related 10 News video
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SEMINOLE -- When Billy Norris arrived at school early Friday, he was greeted by four girls: eighth-grader Jennifer Larivee and seventh-graders Nicole Lobmaster, Alex Honegger and Lindsey Parker.

Within minutes, he was surrounded by 25 students, mostly girls.

Middle school groupies, of sorts.

Such is life for Billy, who just returned from a a three-day media blitz in New York City, including spots on the Late Show with David Letterman and Good Morning America. Media outlets across the country wanted a piece of the 14-year-old movie critic after a story about Billy's trip to the Late Show appeared Tuesday in the St. Petersburg Times.

Although the eighth-grader at Seminole Middle School wanted to stay home Friday, his mom, Sandy Norris, made him go to school. "I think it's time to bring him back to earth," she said Thursday afternoon, talking from a cell phone while strolling in Manhattan.

But school on Friday was anything but normal.

A number of students from the school's wind ensemble, who were selling Krispy Kreme doughnuts for an upcoming band trip to Orlando, stopped long enough to clap for Billy as his mom dropped him off in the driveway. Some were shouting, "Bill. . .eee, Bill. . .eee."

Read Billy's movie reviews and view video coverage of his trip to New York. Click here
And he was followed around by a TV crew and a Times' reporter and photographer.

In addition to writing movie reviews for the Times' Xpress section, Billy plays the bass guitar. He arrived at school Friday for an early morning practice with the school's jazz band.

But practice had been canceled. That left time for Billy to mingle with fans.

Sporting a brand-new Late Show With David Letterman T-shirt, denim shorts and white sneakers, he entertained the crowd, which now had doubled in size. They were all eager to hear about Billy's whirlwind trip to the Big Apple.

He was a guest Wednesday on the Late Show With David Letterman, where he dissed Britney Spears' acting. "He put me at ease real quickly by telling me a few jokes, and then it got to the point where I was making him laugh," Billy said Thursday while waiting for a flight at La Guardia Airport.

Also Wednesday, Inside Edition captured him on camera for a spot on the next day's show.

Billy appeared Thursday morning on ABC's Good Morning America, where he and film critic Joel Siegel reviewed The Rookie, and on CNN's American Morning show. Siegal told Billy to call him the next time he's in New York so they could catch a movie together.

Needless to say, Billy was up late Wednesday and up early Thursday for early morning radio interviews. A trip to Starbucks for a Caffe Mocha was in order.

"We don't ordinarily pump our kid up with coffee, but we thought he could use it," Mrs. Norris, 46, said Thursday, moments before she, husband Bill and Billy boarded a plane for Florida.

Even with all the media fanfare, limos and green rooms, Billy made time to visit his 85-year-old grandmother on Long Island.

The elder Bill, a restaurant manager, is proud of his son. "I think he handled himself far better than a lot of grownups would have," he said of the back-to-back interviews.

Billy sums up the trip as "incredible." But he says he's still not sure why so many people are so interested in him.

"I guess it's just one of those human interest stories that people love," he said Thursday at La Guardia.

While enjoying his 15 minutes of fame, Billy was somewhat of a pragmatist about the whole thing. "I was gone from school for four days, so I've got lots of stuff to make up," he said at school Friday. "I really don't believe it. I've gone from being a regular kid to all this. I'm not used to it, but I'm enjoying it. I realize it can come and go."

By the time Billy got to his French II class, his entourage had dispersed.

Then, it was time for business.

"We watched you on CNN," said his teacher Nancy Freeman. "We're so proud of you."

Earlier, principal Judy LeBoeuf weighed in on the subject of Billy's fame. "It's wonderful for him and exciting," she said. "He is a wonderful student . . . very involved, very conscientious. And he does a good job in all things."

So what's next for the famous teen movie critic?

Possibly a double major in music and journalism at college. But for right now, a long nap.

"I feel really sleep-deprived," he said.

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