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By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Loren Moreno
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the coolest Cheetah of them all?
According to young rabid fans of tween recording sensations The Cheetah Girls, they're all cool — Cheetah-licious, to be exact.
"I love them all. I can't have a favorite," said 12-year-old Elizabeth Ritter, a self-proclaimed Cheetah Girl maniac.
Ritter and three friends, all sixth-graders at Island Pacific Academy in Kapolei, just had a Cheetah Girls sleepover during which they watched both of the musical group's made-for-TV movies and imitated the girls while listening to their albums all night long.
"We all wore Cheetah Girls outfits," Ritter said.
This weekend, Ritter and her friends will be among the crowds of shrieking, cheetah-print-wearing 6- to 12-year-old girls (with their chaperones), who know all the lyrics to hits "Strut" and "The Party's Just Begun," when the Disney act prowls into the Blaisdell Arena.
The Cheetah Girls are the latest in Disney's long line of teen music sensations that includes Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears. Like their predecessors, the girl group's ability to claw their way up the music charts should not be underestimated, and neither should the buying power of their young fans (or their parents, more accurately).
The soundtrack to "The Cheetah Girls 2," the group's second made-for-TV Disney Channel movie, ended 2006 at No. 84 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, selling more albums than Gwen Stefani, Janet Jackson and Coldplay, among others. In fact, the album debuted in the top 10 on U.S. pop charts last summer and has sold more than 459,000 copies.
FROM BOOKS TO MOVIES
The Cheetah Girls began as a fictional pop group in a series of teen books by Deborah Gregory that later inspired two wildly popular Disney Channel movies, the first in 2003.
Disney, recognizing a marketing gold mine, turned the fictional band into a real performing group, complete with sparkling outfits, backup dancers and its own line of merchandising. Think The Monkeys or The Partridge Family.
"We all auditioned for the movie as actresses. After the success of the first movie and the soundtrack taking off the way it did, we decided to form a real girl group. For about four years now we've been touring and performing as The Cheetah Girls," said Cheetah Kiely Williams.
The transition from fictional to actual girl group was a natural one, she said.
"All of us come from a musical background in some shape or form. It wasn't a big shift for us. To play a girl group in the movie, you begin to take on those kind of characteristics," she said.
On film, The Cheetah Girls are made up of Adrienne Bailon, 23, as Chanel; Williams, 20, as Aqua; Sabrina Bryan, 22, as Dorinda; and Raven-Symoné, 21, as Galleria. But on tour, Raven, former child star on "The Cosby Show," is noticeably absent because of her own solo music career and her starring role on Disney Channel's "That's So Raven."
What exactly is it about The Cheetah Girls that makes them so popular?
Sure, Disney's marketing machine has a lot to do with it, but band members have their own take.
Williams, also a member of the multiplatinum group 3LW (Three Little Women), believes young girls can find role models in the various group members.
"I think the most appealing thing about The Cheetah Girls is that we are multicultural. We represent girls from different walks of life," Williams said. "I think girls can look at us and find things in us that they see in themselves. ... They can relate to us, and I think that has been the key to our success."
The band's wholesome quality also makes it easier for parents to buy the CDs, movies and posters for their young children. No bare midriffs or explicit lyrics here.
Lori-Ann Navares' 5-year-old daughter, Aaliyah, loves The Cheetah Girls so much that she constantly watches their movies, wears cheetah-print clothes and pretends to be Dorinda from the group. Navares is OK with her daughter's obsession because she says she likes the message that the group sends to young girls.
"I do think they are good role models for the kids. The movie itself teaches them a lot of good things — how to handle certain difficult situations, to pursue their dreams," Navares said.
Williams also believes the message of their music appeals to young girls.
"We send the message of loving yourself and really letting your inner youth shine, and not being afraid of who you are," she said.Advertiser wire services contributed to this report.
Reach Loren Moreno at email@example.com.