Variety celebrates Power of Youth

Honorees get festive on the Paramount backlot

At Variety’s third annual Power of Youth, the kids were more than alright; they were fed, painted, wooed and delighted.

Despite a sometimes chilly and overcast Saturday afternoon, New York Street on Paramount Pictures’ backlot was transformed into a tween fantasia in which all of the food was pizza or burritos, cupcakes were handed out regardless of whether you’d eaten your dinner and spray-painted tattoos were available on demand. Even better, the kids could find some of their heroes walking down the street and ask for autographs — even though their parental chaperones might have had no idea who they were.

This was a street-party circus with nine-foot-tall stiltwalkers, unicycled jugglers, poplocking dancers and face-painted rollerskaters. And then there was the entertainment — Naturi Naughton belted out the theme from “Fame” from a fire escape while a cadre of dancers kicked and twirled on the street below; School of Rock performed a sharp version of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy,” even though the lead singer was a decade younger than Ozzy’s own kids; and Honor Society, a band signed to the Jonas Bros.’ Hollywood label, delighted the row of screaming girls pressed against the barricades.

In addition to giving kids a decidedly good time, Power of Youth honors young performers with the @15 awards and benefits charities the Starlight Foundation and LA’s Best. Award-winner Annalynne McCord stopped in the Best Buy @15 kiosk to bid in the POY’s eBay auction — albeit for a walk-on role in her own show “90210.” Said her friend, laughing, “I’m not sure that’s a wise business decision.”

While there seemed to be no end to the celebration of youth, many of the kids enjoying the event also displayed a worldiness that belied their years.

“You have to have connections. It’s not enough to have talent, you have to have connections,” said Marissa Heart, a veteran singer and actress who has been in the business since she was three. (You may remember her as a nine-year-old contortionist on “Star Search.”)

Added Keana Texeira, 15, “You can’t do just one thing. Over at Disney you may start with dancing but you’ll end up singing.”

Cassie Scerbo, the 19-year-old star of ABC Family’s “Make It Or Break It,” said, “Everything’s about singing and dancing and acting. And internet, internet, internet.” She says her Twitter feed currently has about 5,000 followers “and I maintain it myself. We talk back to the fans as much as we can.”

Careers weren’t the only concern among these sophisticated adolescents; a tiaraed Brittany Sullivan, America’s Miss Teen 2009, traveled with her mom Susan from Gaitlinsburg, Maryland to serve as a teen ambassador for Starlight’s Midatlantic Children’s Foundation. “She’s raised $8,000 for Starlight and dedicated two fund centers,” said Susan. However, the 17-year-old Brittany already has her eyes on the future; she says she plans to major in communications and hopes to be a host for the E! Channel.