UNIONDALE, New York — They came in minivans, SUVs and station wagons. They performed synchronized dance routines in the parking lot, set up tailgating spreads with apple slices and tortilla chips, and squealed with delight ... loudly and often. An army of young Hilary Duff-ettes, many of them dragging bewildered parents and bored older brothers by the hand, ready to dance, sing and scream for their idol.
That Hilary Duff has become a cottage industry is not exactly breaking news — her debut album, Metamorphosis, has sold more than 3 million copies, and her latest film, "A Cinderella Story," grossed $30 million in less than two weeks. What is noteworthy is that in a rocky tour landscape (fellow teen queens Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera have both called off their tours), Duff is packing them in. It's also noteworthy that somewhere along the way, she's been anointed spokesperson for a pop generation.
Parents in the parking lot of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum saw Duff as the anti-Britney, a safe, non-sexualized (and non-chain-smoking) "wonderful role model" who's "got a good image" for their girls. Duff's young fans (mostly falling into the "tween" demo) love her not just because she's "nice to everyone" but also because she most definitely "rocks." So when Duff ran onstage — decked out in a black tank top and studded skirt, clutching a hot-pink microphone — she was walking a tightrope: trying to be both the role model and the rabble-rouser. And she pulled it off.
Kicking it off with a guitar-heavy version of "Girl Can Rock," Duff bounded from one side of the stage to the other, slapping hands, blowing kisses and even flashing a Dio-worthy version of the devil horns. Whether or not the girls in attendance caught the song's "grrrl-power!" message was debatable. For many, it was their first concert, and those seemed content to wave glowsticks, smack around beach balls and scream. A lot.
Duff segued into the punky "Weird," the first single from her next album, which, as she told the crowd, "comes out on my birthday, September 28." The announcement was greeted with more glowsticks and beach balls. And, of course, more screaming.
Her set featured all the hits: "Come Clean," "So Yesterday," "Party Up," all played with a surprisingly bratty aplomb. The fact that Duff's backing outfit featured a heavily tatted dude shredding guitar and a mushroom-headed bassist bouncing around in the background was certainly flaunted; she made sure the kids applauded "her awesome band" no less than three times in an hour.
There was no Britney-esque cavorting, and save a few stray tugs on her skirt, about the most risqué Duff got was when she performed a song called "Do You Want Me?" There were more messages of empowerment ("It's hard to be what you are ... and harder to be what you're not!" and "Take a crazy chance! Do a crazy dance!"), and an encore duet with sister Haylie (who opened the show) to pump the soundtrack to "A Cinderella Story" (see "Hilary And Haylie Give The Go-Go's A Double-Duff Treatment"). And then she was gone.
Duff's army of young supporters clapped wildly, waved handmade signs and started loud "HI-LA-RY!" chants. They wanted one more song. And Hilary obliged, sprinting back onstage and launching into a cover of the Who's "My Generation" (which finally got the parents out of their seats.) And by the song's end — which found Duff thrusting her fist into the air and inverting the song's famous lyric into "I hope I don't die before I get old!" — she had made her statement ... that she did in fact speak for all of these young girls wearing Hilary T-shirts and "HD" visors. And it kind of spoke for itself.
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