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KIDS, Incorporated: Dreams Come True

I’ve always been a music fan, though the artistic merit of my early influences may be called into question when you realize that I was mostly listening to audio cassettes of The Chipmunks and Disney folk songs. These sing-songy tunes were fine for the naïve 3 year old listener, but by age 5 pop music entered my world thanks to the weekly musical exploits of the 1980’s brightest stars: KIDS, Incorporated. Not familiar with this weekly TV show from the studio that brought you Our Gang/The Little Rascals? Then, “Everybody look around, there’s a sound, something special’s gonna come your way…”

Talk about wish fulfillment for the young pop star at heart, KIDS, Incorporated was a TV show that ran from 1984-1993 and featured talented young people from 6 to 17 performing the top radio hits of the day on stage in front of cheering crowds. It was like MTV Jr. with music video or live concert segments featuring covers of Michael Jackson, Rick Springfield or Cyndi Lauper tunes. All these performances were interspersed between a story featuring the kids from the titular musical group learning “very special lessons”. This makes sense since the show originally aired during the early days of The Disney Channel.

I think it must have been during one of the free preview weeks that I first laid eyes on the show and instantly became a fan. As soon as I saw them strut their stuff under the brightly colored stage lights, clad in glittery jean-colored outfits and confetti I knew I wanted to be a part of this group. In fact, after that brief exposure I started having vivid dreams of performing with the group as their 6th member and while I was awake, I started performing for anybody in earshot.

Though the cast rotated over the years the definitive version of the “band” in my eyes was Latin teen sensation Gloria, spikey-haired Ryan, soulful singer “The Kid”, wise older sister Renee and her younger sibling, the spunky Stacy! Whenever I think of the show, these are the “real” KIDS, Incorporated to me. Watching their adventures opened up a whole new world of possibilities. The problem was that we never subscribed to The Disney Channel, so the only time I saw the show was every 6 months during the next preview week.

As a result, each time I caught an episode they seemed to have a new member. “Wait, what happened to Gloria and who is this little Asian girl?” or “Wow, Renee is getting cute. Oh no, Ryan quit! Phew, at least he’s in The Monster Squad!” It was a constant shock each time I tuned in, so by 1990 when Stacy was the only original cast member left, I said good-bye to my former idols and started listening to Weird Al Yankovic and Madonna. A strange mix I’ll grant you, but I was a strange kid.

After a 5 year gap in my KIDS, Incorporated fandom the fire was re-ignited when one afternoon when I happened upon a lonely VHS tape in the clearance bin at local video and music store, The Wherehouse. When I popped the tape into my VCR during that summer before my freshman year of high school, I was amazed to find that it was the pilot episode of the show I had loved so much in my younger years. Though the 10+ years since its filming had made it look seriously dated, it was great to re-connect with an old favorite.

As it turns out I was an even bigger fan of this pilot episode than the series I used to watch. In this origin story, rival bands were competing for the opportunity to be the house band at The Malt Shop, later called The Place. It was basically a night club for kids where you could get wild dancing to the sounds of “Private Eyes” or “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. This original incarnation of the show focused less on story and opted to move quickly between different medleys from “contemporary” acts like The Police, Stray Cats and Olivia Newton-John. I watched the tape over and over again that summer. Little did I know that I would soon be closer to fulfilling my pre-teen dreams of joining my favorite singing group by filming a pilot of my own.

Flash forward to 1998, I am contacted by the dance teacher at our high school who has seen me in a couple drama productions and apparently taken notice. She tells me that her brother is a television producer in Los Angeles and is looking for some kids to take part in a pilot episode for his new show and she wants me to audition. WHAAAT? I’m told to pick any song and come prepared to lip-synch to it in front of a camera. Oh, so basically just do what I do in front of the bathroom mirror every morning? Check.

Having now become a KISS fan I chose one of their lesser known songs and "sang" my heart out one Saturday morning in the school’s multi-purpose room. My audition featured plenty of air guitar, flirting with invisible crowd members and spazz-tastic dance moves, I might as well have been on stage. Next thing I knew, I got the call that said I had been chosen to be a part of the show and to report to a rehearsal space in L.A. somewhere.

When I got there I saw the familiar face of the dance teacher who got me the gig and 3 not-so-familiar faces that were about 2 feet closer to the ground, I was told they were my new “band-mates”. It was here that I learned the premise of the show: kids would be chosen to perform lip-synch versions of the latest pop hits and compete for prizes. In my case, I was teamed with three 11 year-olds to perform the swing throwback song Zoot Suit Riot by the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. None of this seemed ridiculous until we actually went in for the filming.

A week after learning our routine, we arrived at the KTLA-5 TV studio for the taping of what was then known as The Big Stage. Outfitted with our Zoot suits, we took our spots on stage and that’s when I realized this wasn’t quite as glamorous as I thought it would be. See, I had auditioned as a lead singer crooning to a fake audience, but now that there was a real audience I was relegated to playing fake keyboards behind a cute 5th grader, who had swagger. The most I got to do was kick my leg up high and shout “Riot” during the chorus. This was not the breakout performance I thought it would be.

Things got more ridiculous when they called us out after the song to be interviewed and 15 year old, 6’ 2” me towered over these tiny tikes. I looked like I had just landed in OZ and met the Munchkins. At least it wasn't as bad as the pairing of the 16 year old guy and the 12 year old girl who performed "Your The One That I Want" from GREASE on playground equipment (Yikes!). But hey, I made $100 that day and got a taste of what KIDS, Incorporated had gotten to do every week for my amusement.

The problem was that instead of rocking it up like my TV idols, I ended up more like a pre-Saved By the Bell Mario Lopez playing the drums in the background. Oh, you didn’t know "Slater" was on the show too? Yep, he was just totally lost behind the drum kit while "The Kid" hogged all the glory. But just like the future A.C. Slater, I got a second chance.

In the 6 months after the pilot was shot, the show got picked up by the Fox Family Channel for their Saturday line-up and after a slight makeover it was transformed into a new program called Great Pretenders. Even more exciting, I was called back to do a solo performance (I guess those leg kicks got somebody’s attention). I had another 1 day rehearsal to learn a choreographed dance to “Where It’s At?” by Beck and though certainly not what I would have picked, I was still grateful to get my moment in the spotlight like my heroes on KIDS, Incorporated. What I could never have dreamed was that I was about to share a stage with them.

See the other change the producers had made was hiring a basically unknown girl group called Wild Orchid to host the show. At least I had never heard of them, but once I saw the trio on the monitors from backstage I instantly recognized 2 of the members, it was Renee Sands and Stacy Ferguson from KIDS, Incorporated! I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t slipping back into one of my childhood dreams, but no, there they were and I was about to be talking to them!

I actually saw the 2 TV sisters walking around backstage and I contemplated striking up a conversation, but chickened out. I mean besides the fact that it would have been super-geeky (“I loved that show you did when you were 8.”), they were also very attractive women and if there’s one thing a 16 year old ego can’t handle, it’s looking like an idiot in front of a hot girl. So I just admired them from afar (technically that’s creepier) and waited for my moment to take the stage.

I had a great time performing for the 10-13 year old crowd, even if I did have to improv a dance for 30 seconds during a musical breakdown in the song. The costume was pretty ridiculous, but at least I could kill time with the DJ gear set-up in front of me to bring the lyric “Two turntables and a microphone” to life. Once it was all over, my heart skipped a beat because Stacy Ferguson was walking towards me. By the way, do you recognize this woman?

I mean, I know I’ve been telling you she was on a TV show I loved for the last 1,500 words here but it’s most likely you know her from her post Wild Orchid/Great Pretenders gig as Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas and solo stardom. Yep, I shared a stage with "Proto-Fergie" (she was definitely building up to her funky hip-hop persona that day) and though she was being paid to shove a microphone in my face, Stacy did give me a legitimate compliment by saying, “You know how to work that crowd bay-bee!”

We only shared a microphone for 60 seconds that day, but I couldn’t have asked for a more thrilling minute to live. I was literally sharing a stage with a member of the group that awoke in me a love of performing and though I didn’t win the competition that day, I walked out of there a winner in my heart. Super-sappy I know, but it was a cherished moment and made my memories of watching KIDS, Incorporated that much sweeter.

If you want to watch these words in action you can click the links below as I recently uploaded them to YouTube. The written word is one thing, but when you see the ridiculousness in real-time it takes on a whole new dimension. Thanks for reading!

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE BIG STAGE PILOT

CLICK HERE TO WATCH MY EPISODE OF GREAT PRETENDERS

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Draven Posted on Nov 02, 2015 at 05:13 PM

We never had the Disney channel. I watched it on ABC on Saturday mornings and before we even had a VCR I used to record the show on my cassette recorder/player so I could sing the songs again later. I had a huge crush on Stacy! I don't remember watching it after around 1988 so that's why I don't remember any of the newer players like Jennifer Love Hewatt. It definitely got me into singing!

NLogan Posted on Sep 24, 2014 at 03:33 AM

I wanna hear more claims to fame stories like Hoju's. If you met a famous person tell us about it in the forums.

http://www.retro-daze.org/site/thread/id/908

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 06:56 PM

Yeah, I think I'm going to order both those books from the points store as well. Fascinating story I'm sure. There's actually a documentary called Toy Masters this guy has been trying to put out for years featuring interviews with the major players in the MOTU story. The trailer (which apparently got taken down) has one of the creators referring to the other's claims as "Pure Barbarian Fiction". You can check out the site here: http://www.toymastersmovie.com/

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 06:21 PM

That doesn't sound all that different from filmation's treatment of motu. I still frequent the site incognito under a different name. I am eyeballing those books in the point store. I haven't read them yet. I have heard that they shed a few details on mattel's re-use of existing molds as in my article. I stumbled upon that wjilebuying some motu for my son on ebay and came scross what I thought was a weird variant that turned out to be big Jim. Then the hunt was on for others.

And now back to your regularly scheduled hoju article.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 05:20 PM

@NLogan - Yeah, I spent a few years at the He-Man.org website contributing mostly in the Fan Art Forum. Then one day the site Admin, Val Staples, asked me if I wanted to put the silly He-Man comic strip I and Devin "Goatman" Duchscherer had been posting into the newest iteration of the comic (which was, at the time, The Rise of The Snakemen series). Naturally I went totally bonkers and was like "YES YES YES YES YES!" We did four strips, with three of them getting published before Mattel told Val that the strip had to go because they didn't like how their characters were being treated in the strips (as buffoonish, egotistical, lazy, confrontational, etc.). It was fun while it lasted.

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 04:15 PM

I pegged you for*

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 04:14 PM

@Vapor the only contribution to motu that I ever did was to piss off the serious collectors by swiping their photos of the figures for my retro junk article. That and cause them to scratch thier heads at the few errors that crept in because of lack of proof reading. They didn't understand that I couldn't just go back and creditthem because the article had been submitted. I tried in the comments but they thought that was half-assed. I pegged you f2f or a motu man when I saw the books in the point store.

Hoju Koolander Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 03:25 PM

@Vaporman87-You're Dad met Ric Flair? All I can say is "Whooo!" Hey contributing to MOTU is way beyond my TV appearance, people actually have your work in their collections.
@NLogan-That summer crush story is great. I didn't have the technical set-up to transfer VHS and do screen caps when I wrote the Great Pretenders article all those years back, so now that I do it seemed the perfect time to create a better version of that article with visual documentation.
@vkimo-I look forward to your Toni Braxton cover album dropping soon.

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 02:06 PM

I never made the connection between Ryan Lambert in kids inc and monster squad until now.

vkimo Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 12:09 PM

Just watched the videos, that was awesome! You definitely had the personality that shows look for. If I were on stage as soon as the music hit I'd lay down on stage crying, leaving the audience to wonder if my anxiety induced performance to Toni Braxton's Un Break My Heart is rehearsed or not.

And man, Fergie was smoking! In a career ending act of sabotage you should have tilted her back and planted a kiss. Woulda been worth it

vkimo Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 11:53 AM

Yeah I remember reading your Kids Inc article on RetroJunk years back and I don't remember you getting down with Fergie! Great article and definitely a cool facet of your youth.

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 03:47 AM

Waitaminute! I'm pretty sure I have seen articles from you here and on other retro sites for over six years. You have been sitting on this little gem for that long without a peep! Unbelievable. Why didn't you post the pics in your previous Pretenders article?

On a somewhat related side-note. Martika's Toy Soldiers was the anthem/theme song to a crush I had at a summer camp at a ski resort when I was around 11-12. We listened to the tape in her room. For those who don't know Martika (Marta = Gloria on Kids Inc).

NLogan Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 03:20 AM

Whoa! Now that is a claim to fame! I totally forgot about Kids Incorporated until now. I so remember watching it.

Vaporman87 Posted on Sep 23, 2014 at 02:49 AM

Wow. Just... wow. I LOVE this story. This is something special. I can't even come close to providing a similar moment in my own life, at least not as far as sharing a moment with a superstar.

KIDS, Incorporated was a show that I caught on an on-and-off basis. There would be times that I would be flipping through channels and catch the show, watch it to it's conclusion, and mostly forget about it. I was not one of those kids who ever thought I would be anybody famous or working with anybody famous.

Only my dad can say that in my family. He spent some time at a dinner with Ric Flair once, and once met Johnny Bench I believe. I... didn't LOL.

I suppose if I were to pick an accomplishment in life that might have produced a similar feeling, it would be the work I did for the Masters of the Universe comic book. To actually be able to contribute even the smallest, goofiest thing for a property I grew up loving so much, was really special... even if Mattel said I had to go after 3 issues. LOL.

I think those weeks/months I did that work, I felt like I was doing something pretty cool that transcended my otherwise quiet and unassuming life.

Wonderful story Hoju.

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