Demi Lovato poses, pre-breakdown. - Jason Merritt/Getty ImagesEver since Demi Lovato's airport meltdown, there's been a lot of chatter about a so-called "Disney curse." The conspiracy theory: There is a direct link between The Mouse and the downward spirals of Lovato and troubled ex-Disney stars Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears.
Any truth to this? The Famous called upon Disney expert Jennifer Armstrong, author of "Why? Because We Still Like You," a new book on the Mickey Mouse Club, to give us some perspective.
The Famous: This Disney Curse sounds ominous.
Jennifer Armstrong: It's not Disney. Disney's not doing anything specific andsinister behind the scenes to damage their child stars. The question is really, "Should kids be child stars at all?" And Disney happens to be very successfulright now at making quite large stars of these kids who come to them. It's notDisney doing anything that anybody else wouldn't do -- if you're in the businessof child stars, this is the way it goes.
TF: What do you think of Disney's response to Demi's breakdown?
JA: Disney's a welloiled machine. They had to deal with theVanessa Hudgens photo scandal and all the Miley Cyrus controversies and that sort ofthing. That's the other place where I have to give them credit on this Demithing. I don't know what kind of contract she had to tour … but the fact thatthey seemed to be on board with her quitting the tour and going (into treatment) is agood thing. I think they would have looked terrible if they didn't. I have togive Disney and her parents credit for the fact that she's leaving the tour inthis very public way. They could have just tried to suck it up and get herthrough the rest of it.
TF: How much influence DOES Disney have?
JA: They do lock these kids down in terms of "You have amulti-platform agreement. You're gonna have a TV show and a record deal andmany times, even products." Like all the crazy things we don't even realize ... "Hannah Montana" sheets and all that. When you sign with them now yousign a whole big giant (contract) and they are the ones who make you stars. In thatsense, you're pretty beholden to them and they're absolutely involved in thesesorts of decisions. Because it's their tour, it's their record, it's theireverything. I think they would prefer that they never have any of theseproblems because their brand cache is built on this very child-friendly,squeaky-clean image. ... They've always sort of tried to keep alid on this as much as possible. But the thing is, they're in the business ofadolescence. And I just think it's impossible to manage adolescents. Yourbiggest stars are at the most tumultuous, crazy time in their lives. You don'tknow what you're gonna get.
TF: These kids - Demi, Miley, Selena Gomez, the Jonas brothers, etcetera - all seem to live in a bubble. And they all seem to date each other too. So maybe it's a toxic bubble of Disney's making.
JA: It's like high school with millions of dollars involved. Whoelse are they gonna date, first of all? They're home schooled, most of thetime. ... You're just dealing withsuch high stakes, that while of course (Demi) is doing great and she's on tourand she did (the hit Disney Channel movie) "Camp Rock," and she has a Disney contract, you don't know what kind of rejection she's dealing with in private — whether it's from her big-star boyfriend (Joe Jonas) orfrom the press, what people are saying about her. Or, if there's things shewants to do and people won't let her, whether it's like amovie role or she's auditioning for things and not getting them. Themore and more that piles up on you when you're 18 and maybe you already hadinsecurities, I can't imagine how muchpressure that has to be and how devastating it has to be. … If millions ofdollars are being made in your name, even thousands, you just don't get to quitso easily. It doesn't mean that mean adults are making her work behind thescenes. She might just feel the pressure, and if you think of any overachieverkind of kid, I would have been the same way. And if I knew that my family wasdependent on my income for instance, I wouldn't quit, even if I felt reallyhorrible about it and I just wanted to go do something else. She could likelybe the same way.
TF: There definitely seems to be an overachieving, perfectionist vibeabout Demi. But meanwhile Miley Cyrus seems very "type B" and very good at letting things roll off her shoulders.
JA: Any of the kids who've made it this far tend to beoverachiever perfectionists. But Miley makes me think a little bit about (ex-Mouseketeer) Christina Aguileraversus Britney Spears back in the day. I always felt Christina was like, "Iwear assless chaps, WHAT." She owned it, always. She never tried to pretend shedidn't know what she was doing. She never gave off the vibe that she was toldto do things by her handlers. … She was super confident and she did not letanything stop her. Whereas I always felt like Britney was constantly trying toplease everybody. There was some kind of vibe there to me, that she wanted tobe a big star and be liked and do everything perfect and ohmygod. Christina had just a little more of that Miley swagger of like, "This is what'shappening now -— deal with it."
TF: Would Disney be able to deal with the dark force of rebellion that is Taylor Momsen?
JA: You know, Taylor Momsen kind of strikes me as more of a Christina Aguilera type - to the extreme, because she isn't under the Disney auspices at all.
Jennifer Armstrong writes about pop culture and teen stars at Entertainment Weekly magazine. Her book "Why? Because We Still Like You" is available on Amazon. For more information on Armstrong, check out her website.