My mom told me about this, and I went to work crafting an artistic endeavor so amazing, so influential to generations to come, that I cannot even recall what it was now. Some Mickey Mouse thing, as my dad would say. We sent it off and I eagerly awaited hearing the results.
Turns out mine was one of exactly two entrants; not feeling like being dicks, the cable company decided to just give both families a free month of The Disney Channel.
Turns out it was a real thrill for my sister and I, and Mom and Dad recognized it; once our freebie month expired, they did exactly what the cable company had intended by running the contest in the first place, and kept renewing our subscription to the channel for several years to come.
As a result, my sister and I would rush home after school for one key block of programming on The Disney Channel which we could not get enough of. The second half of that block was The New Mickey Mouse Club, which we somehow managed to watch every day for several years while still completely missing the incoming class that everyone talks about now, which spawned a bumper crop of stars including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and probably a couple of others I'm forgetting. We never knew that cast.
Besides, that show was the Garfunkel of the pair, anyway. No, the real draw for us was the first half-hour of that block, featuring the mindbending 80s awesomeness that was Kids Incorporated.
|Yes, logos in the 80s were allowed to be totally unreadable. It was considered "bad."|
|Also, pastel. All of the pastel.|
And we loved it.
Let's start with that owner, a man known only as Riley. Now, I was a child, so perhaps the nuance and subtlety of the plot-weaving in the singing kids' show was lost on me, but if my memory serves, Riley bought an old concert hall which was once known as The Palace. Unfortunately, one letter on the marquee had burned out or been broken or something, so instead of fixing it, Riley simply redubbed the place... The Place. Or, more true to what we see of the marquee, The P*lace. Riley may or may not have done this to the marquee, but I definitely remember this odd asterisk intrusion in the show at some point, and while you might say But wait, that's stupid to an impossible degree, why would he climb up there and put a goddamned neon asterisk on the marquee instead of just replacing the A?!?, I wouldn't put it past a man who buys a business, hires no employees, and runs it all himself while using his freedom as owner to still choose this as his uniform...
|Not pictured: Dignity.|
|"All right, now let's hear another rousing Elton John cover."|
In a bizarre meta-angle, we were also bemused/horrified to discover that the opening credits asked us to believe that the character of Riley was played by a man who dared go out in public with the name Moosie Drier.
Google assures me that he's a real guy, albeit a real guy who was clearly unloved by his parents, or that they simply let him choose his own stage name at age five, via a Speak n' Spell toy with low batteries.
|"It's my homemade stage-name generator! Give it a try, and see if 'Crimp Ballblaster' comes up for you, too!"|
Okay, so we've got Riley, the obvious inspiration for Megan's Law, but what of the Kids Incorporated themselves?
|Other than their being totally tubular, that is.|
No, we're focusing on the core five Kids with this exhaustive, some might say needless, retrospective. And no look back written by me could begin with anyone other than Stacy. I had a gigantic crush on Stacy. Someday Stacy was going to leave Kids Incorporated, move to my hometown, enroll at my school and be my girlfriend.
|Here Stacy sings about leaving Kids Incorporated, moving to my hometown, enrolling at my school and being my girlfriend. The audience at The P*lace that day was confused as fuck.|
|"That's what I tried to tell that judge in Wisconsin!"|
Anyway, it helped reinforce the notion that Stacy was just a normal kid like me, and there was at least a chance. And it's not like I was thinking about sex, at that age; I just knew I got a ticklish fluttering feeling in my stomach when I thought about what I'd say when Stacy enrolled in my school and I first walked up to her in the halls to say something devastatingly charming and make her my girlfriend.
Alas, time passes, and the longer Stacy went on not being my girlfriend, the less I recalled that that was a thing I wanted. Many years later I'd hear that she and another girl from Kids Incorporated had formed a legitimate music act together, called Wild Orchid, about whom I knew nothing else. Not long after that I randomly happened across a blip in a magazine, with the choice attention-catching phrase "got her start on the Disney Channel show Kids Incorporated." And I looked at the full name of my child crush, Stacy...
|Uh oh... I gotta feeling...|
|"You never told them I was a vampire."|
|Bedazzled denim had its day.|
|This may as well have been the Google image search result for "My Idea Of Awesome At Age 10."|
One of those Kids was, confusingly enough, The Kid.
|His "thing" was hats.|
|No way is he getting through Billy Joel's greatest hits this day.|
The writers even incorporated his real name into an episode, in which he's ashamed of his name and goes by The Kid as a cover. Of course it allows the other Incorporated to assure him that he has nothing to be ashamed of, and that he should be proud of who he is and not have to hide behind fakery to try to impress people or make friends.
All of which was then promptly forgotten as if it had never been said, since he was unerringly referred to as The Kid from then on.
For some inscrutable reason I'm assuming was dartboard-related, the writing staff at Kids Incorporated never devoted an episode to dissecting the oddly-named, and just generally odd, Martika.
|Why so serious?|
First, there was the name. At some point "Marta Marrero" changed to "Martika" in the opening credits, with no explanation. That unsettled me for some reason. Plus, her character was randomly named "Gloria," perhaps because of all of the film wasted on ruined takes of child actors trying to call out for "Martika" with a straight face.
Second, it was plainly obvious to me, even as a child, that Martika was way too old to be in Kids Incorporated. It seemed like Kids Incorporated And Someone's Twenty-Year Old Cousin would have made an apt title while Martika was hanging around pretending to be a kid. If Stacy was going to someday move to my town and be my girlfriend, Martika would be our substitute teacher.
|"Any room at your school for a creepy janitor?"|
|Hmm. First Adam's Apple check inconclusive. Try again later in the show.|
Finally, my first actual REAL life girlfriend was in the flag corps in our junior high school, and she had to practice her routine on their driveway for hours on end, going through the choreography that had been married to Martika's real-world pop song "Toy Soldiers." So for weeks of courting this neighbor-girl and waiting for more kissing-time, I had to watch flag twirling and hear "STEP BY STEP, HEART TO HEART, LEFT RIGHT LEFT, WE ALLLLL FALLLLL DOWN... LIKE TOY SOLDIERS..." blaring from her boombox again, and again, and again.
So, not a huge fan of Martika's, any way you slice it.
Lastly there was Renee, of whom no flattering childhood picture exists on the whole of the Internet.
|But blurry movement snapshots are in long supply.|
Also for reasons I can't begin to explain nor fathom, I'd decided that Renee and The Kid were an item, either on the show or in real life (if I even bothered with such a distinction back then, which I kinda doubt). Even though it was completely imaginary, I believe it was my first exposure to the idea of an interracial couple, which I'm glad to say I didn't find the slightest bit odd even at ten years old.
|[REDACTED "KIDS DE-SEGREGATED" JOKE]|
There was a plot point involving a kid who was trying to hang out with the Incorporated, but he was a bit of a pathological liar (he was the punk I obliquely referred to above). He claimed to have attended either a bullfight or The Running of The Bulls in Pamplona, and told a story about saving someone's life by ripping off his shirt and waving it before a bull to draw it toward him and away from someone it was soon to trample.
And with that, the Incorporated had caught him in his web of lies. One of them interrogated him with, "But you said you were wearing a white shirt that day..."
And another of the group chimed in with, "Yeah, and bulls are only attracted to the color red..."
And then the liar collapsed under the pressure and admitted to everyone that he was an insecure liar, instead of, you know, improvising a quick "oh, yeah, I meant red" like a learned, pathological liar would easily do to roll with the punches. And they all forgave him and promised that people will be his friend as long as he believes in himself, tells the truth, and doesn't mind a nickname if his given name is too ethnic.
All the while I was gesticulating wildly at the TV screen, yelling, "BULLS AREN'T ATTRACTED TO RED!! THEY'RE ATTRACTED TO MOTION! YOU COULD WAVE A PLAID SHIRT AT HIM AND HE'LL STILL RUN AT YOU!"
I really wanted to write to The Disney Channel and howl at them for their egregious error. And at once I realized that the show wasn't really for me, anymore. Once you've hit the point where you're calling out bizarre bits like this or pondering why Riley hasn't been remanded to a halfway house at the very least, or why in fuck's sake the stage curtain has the word ASBESTOS printed across it, or whether Martika is a dude, or just how cost-prohibitive a replacement neon 'A' could possibly be... it's time to pack it in, and let the sun set on the time in your life when Kids Incorporated is appointment television.
Which I don't mind admitting was a source of real disappointment.
|"Now you sound just like my old man! Anyone want a hat?"|
"Whoa oh, looks like we maaaade it, we're Kids Incorporated!