Richard Nisley


The Teen Idols: Washed up at 20
Pop Culture Released - Jan 08, 2013

Kathy Young was singing since age five and had a burning desire to be a pop singer. Everybody said she had the voice, the talent, and the looks to make it.

Her big chance came at a teen variety show being taped for TV in Hollywood that she attended as a member of the studio audience. She heard a record producer would be there. After the show, she went backstage, introduced herself, and asked for an audition. Impressed by her guile and her looks, he agreed to give her a tryout.

On the day of the audition, however, she was a no-show. Earlier that day she had suffered a concussion and nearly drowned diving into a friend’s swimming pool. Ever determined, she called from the hospital and another tryout was scheduled.

Three weeks later, she arrived at the studio on the day a vocal group named the Innocents was recording a cover of a song that had been hit in the 1940s called “A Thousand Stars.” The record producer was not at happy with the group’s lead singer and asked Kathy to give the song a try. The producer liked what he heard, ordered a pressing, and a month later “A Thousand Stars” by Kathy Young and the Innocents was a top-ten hit across the country and the number-one record in Los Angeles. Kathy Young was 14.

After Elvis Presley’s singing career was launched by Sam Phillips’ independent record label in Memphis, Tennessee, everybody was looking for the Next Big Thing. If you were young, had the right looks, and a decent singing voice, you had a chance to make it as a teen idol. Only it took lots of moxie. Jerry Lee Lewis wouldn’t take no for an answer and slept on Sam Phillips’ porch until Phillips agreed to give him an audition.

In those days, being little more than a child was not that unusual for teen idols. In 1959, 13-year-old Dodie Stevens had a number-three hit with “Pink Shoe Laces.” A year after Kathy Young’s hit record, Linda Scott scored a top-ten hit with “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” She was 15. In 1963, Little Peggy March (age 15) and Lesley Gore (age 16) scored their first hit records.

As difficult (and lucky) as it is to have a top-ten hit record, a follow-up hit is even more difficult. Most teen idols following in the wake of Elvis Presley were One-Hit Wonders--washed up by age 20. That was the fate of Kathy Young, Dodie Stevens, Linda Scott, Little Peggy March, and Lesley Gore.

Having a hit record can be a highly intoxicating experience. For about two years, you’re hot property--confronted with screaming kids clamoring for you autograph at shows across the country. All five girls toured with the likes of the Everly Brothers, Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Roy Orbison. For a couple of years, Linda Scott co-hosted a weekly dance show with fellow teen-idol (and one-hit wonder) Steve Alaimo. Of the five girls, only Lesley Gore managed a follow-up hit.

What do you do after it’s over? Kathy Young married and raised a family. Today, she tours and occasionally appears on public television, as do Linda Scott, Little Peggy March and Lesley Gore. People in their 60s turn out in droves and scream like kids.

It’s amazing what one hit record can do.

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