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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Two minutes into my talk with Corbin Bleu - one of the hottest, cutest cogs in Disney's indomitable tween-pop machine - I feel a great urge to call the kid Cubby. Maybe offer him a Nehi. Maybe reach through the phone and ruffle his fortress of impossibly cool hair.
Seriously, there hasn't been a star this genuinely gee-willikers since Annette pulled on a sweater and spelled M-O-U-S-E.
"I'm pretty squeaky clean!" the actor-singer-lunch box icon chirps in his Jimmy Olsen timbre, calling from a tour stop in Kansas City, Mo., and promoting his concert tonight at the Ford Amphitheatre in Tampa.
It should be noted that Bleu, who is 18, makes the call himself, no Disney flak punching the digits, no snotty handler limiting my questions to the boy prince. A self-dialing teen star? I'm impressed.
This is a big weekend for the Brooklyn native. As well as his stop on our shores, Bleu stars in the made-for-cable movie High School Musical 2, which debuted Friday on the Disney Channel. By the time it is rebroadcast tonight, there's a very good chance its songs will have been memorized by every 12-year-old in North America.
If you have no idea about this world-turning phenomenon, your neighbor's kid will be happy to tell you all about it.
The first Musical, which also starred Bleu as basketball star Chad, was seen by 170-million viewers and spawned a concert tour, an ice show and millions of dollars in merchandise, including a soundtrack that was the bestselling CD of 2006. "We thought it was going to be a good movie," says Bleu. "But we had no idea it would turn into a phenomenon."
Bleu says he likes the sequel - but not as much as the original. "I feel that we can't top the first one," he says. "I mean, come on, it's High School Musical! But I can say that the choreography is better."
Bleu is in negotiations to star in a third installment of the franchise, which makes good business sense. Thanks to his High School success, he has also scored a record deal and another smash flick, the double-dutch drama Jump In!, whose premiere was the highest-rated Disney Channel movie of all time . . . well, for now, at least.
"I did have the title, but High School Musical 2 will beat its butt," he says, trailing off into a guilty giggle after saying the b-word.
A golly-gee whiz
In this day and age of celebutante terrors and teen tabloid train wrecks, Bleu is polite, mannerly, positively old school. You can practically hear him blush at the word "groupies," and he brags about living with his mom and dad. His father, actor David Reivers, is accompanying his son on tour. "I have a really good relationship with my parents," Corbin says proudly.
His innocent demeanor is even more impressive considering he has been an actor and a model for Target, Toys R Us since he was 2 years old - making this 16 straight years of work.
"I'm so tired," he says. "I think I need just one week for a break, so I can go for the next 10 years."
And what would he do on this break?
When asked about enfants terrible a la Lindsay Lohan, he says that because of them, "There's a stereotype on young actors. People are constantly trying to find something about us that's negative."
On the set of HSM2, he says, there were constantly reporters and paparazzi around trying to get dirt on him and co-stars Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Tisdale and Zac Efron, all of whom are one long eyelash away from being milquetoast. But the best investigative efforts yielded nothing.
Hudgens, Tisdale and Efron (who poses partially topless on the cover of the new Rolling Stone) are gradually exploring their sex appeal in their work. But Bleu seems content with selling himself as the cute ideal, a major reason the Disney Channel leans on Bleu (and the likeably silly Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus) more than most of the others to promote its Web site and related wares.
"That's something that's under consideration: making that transition from childhood to adult," Bleu says, as if maturity is just another contract wrinkle. "I'm not ready to ditch my fan base. As I get older, things will get slightly edgier."
Edgier for Bleu is refusing to play any songs from High School Musical on his current tour. He sticks to his debut disc, Another Side, an entirely benign dance record reminiscent of early Michael Jackson. "I aspire to get to that caliber," says Bleu about the King of Pop. In a rare flash of immodesty, he adds: "It hasn't been just one person who has" made the comparison.
Bleu took an active role in designing the look of his live show: "When you go to a concert, I don't just want to hear music, I want to see something."
For instance, for opening song We Come to Party, he "designed the whole entrance. . . . It has these spandex triangles that rip away and open and reveal!"
Wait a minute, Corbin. You rip off your clothes and reveal everything? You're naked? Corbin Bleu is naked?
"NO! NO! NO!" he says, surprised and laughing. "On the stage! Not on me! It's not that kind of show!"