Leslie Carter passed away earlier this month, an event that passed me by completely until Frank told me about it.
I don't like to read much into media exposure, but from watching the Carter family reality show, House of Carters, Leslie seemed extremely unhappy in her participation. There are rumblings of mental illness, and I won't indulge or speculate. That's a private concern.
But I will say that House of Carters might have been one of the more uncomfortable television viewing experiences of recent memory. I was probably one of the few people who watched the show specifically for Leslie. I knew her, and had written about her once, when she started publishing candidly about her family life (particularly the difficult relationship the Carters had with their parents, seen occasionally on the reality show) and defending her brothers against online rumors.
The key pieces to read about Leslie, though, are "companion pieces" of sorts. Metal Mike Saunders wrote a piece -- "Tween-Pop Suppressed!" -- about the entire Leslie Carter album, which was shelved before her only single ("Like Wow!") was released. He sent me a copy of the album on cassette tape, as was the style at the time, and I've listened to it a few times. It's quite good, as early-00s bubblegum goes, at least on par with Triple Image or some of the other Radio Disney B-listers. But I haven't listened to it in a while.
In that piece, Metal Mike also references a more disturbing article, "The Devil in Greg Dark," which describes how porn director Dark turned to the teenpop music video world in the early 00's. The video shoot profiled in that piece was Leslie Carter's "Like Wow!," and anyone who wants to decry shady practices in the music industry would do well to note that it's far more likely that exploitation happens in the videos than in the production of the music. A sample:
Because she is one of the Orlando Carters, there was reason to believe that Leslie would show up for the shoot in a manner befitting the Orlando Carters, which is to say rigorously and even pitilessly prepared.
Instead, she showed up with "issues," which is to say she showed up overweight. Leslie Carter is a big girl, and if there's anything little girls can't abide--if there's anything they fear as a rebuke to the possibilities of their own rapacity--it's the prospect of becoming a big girl, and so, despite their applause and their polite smiles, [DreamWorks executives] Frances and Goldie are uneasy, which is to say panicky. They spend a lot of time in hushed conference, trying to select slimming outfits and to devise flattering camera angles, or else speaking to Craig Fanning, who owns F.M. Rocks, the production company making the "Like, Wow!" video. Craig Fanning is the only person in the studio who did not applaud Leslie Carter's first turn in front of the camera.
Although he wears a white windbreaker and white Stan Smith tennis shoes, and although he has neatly cut red hair and a face full of freckles, he has hard, narrow eyes rigged for unsparing assessments, and his assessment of Leslie Carter's first take was this: It's not enough. She's not selling the song enough. She's not feeling it enough and not having enough fun. Leslie Carter has to do enough in front of the camera to overcome her issues, because the singers she is in competition with--Britney and Christina and Mandy and Jessica--have no issues to overcome. They are perfect. Their hair, their makeup, their clothes, everything is perfect. They are pros. You ask them to do something, they do it. They do not show up unprepared. They are not big girls, and now, because Leslie Carter is a big girl, everybody--from the Orlando Carters to Frances and Goldie to Craig Fanning--is counting on Gregory Dark to transform her more than she was able to transform herself. They are counting on Gregory Dark to make her beautiful, to make her commercially viable, to make her--somehow--perfect.
All I'll say is that "Like Wow!" continues to be one of my favorite bubblegum songs of the immediate post-Britney era, and that it's a real shame that the whole album was shelved. If I ever manage to get a copy of it, I'll share it here.
EDIT: Someone's shared the link on Mediafire.
I also didn't excerpt any of the disturbing stuff about the post-production "squeeze" effect they tried using in the video, which the author of the piece dubbed the "Skinnyizer":
Gregory's sitting in another room at the studio, behind a woman working to skinnyize images of Leslie Carter. There's an image of Leslie Carter on the monitor. She's wearing a pink top, and she has ... issues. Then the woman hits a button, clicks a mouse, and--blip!--she stretches, like an image transferred onto Silly Putty. Blip-bloop: Leslie has issues, and then she doesn't.