"I just say, 'Fee, it's stormy outside,' and she knows to clear everyone away and let me be by myself," says Spears.
She smiles. You tell her that she is much more of a kid than you expected, and then, a moment later, you ask whether you have offended her.
"No, not at all," she says. "It makes me feel good when people realize I'm just a kid, because people expect so much out of me right now."
There are ten buses in Spears' tour convoy, but it's not difficult to guess which one is hers. It is the one with the bedroom in back, complete with lace and candles and a queen-size bed that sports a lavender comforter and pillows that say BRITNEY.
We pile onto the bus to ride to the venue, and, although the trip is short, Spears insists on giving the rolling tour: the living room, the bunks, the tanning bed, her bedroom. It is obvious that great care has been taken to make Spears' home on wheels as comfortable as possible.
Spears was raised in Kentwood, Louisiana, a small town an hour outside of New Orleans. Her brother, Bryan, is four years older; her sister, Jamie Lynne, ten years younger. The family is tightknit, very committed to the Baptist faith, and both parents continue to hold down jobs. Her mother, Lynne, is a teacher, and Spears' father, Jamie, is a building contractor. Because the closest work for Spears' father is in Memphis, he only comes home every other weekend.
"I don't think people realize how hard it was on my family to have me do this," says Spears. "It wasn't overnight."
Some of the strains were financial. "It was really tough, but something always worked," says Lynne Spears. "We had just enough to make it work. Of course, we didn't eat very fancy."
And then there were the strains created by distance. When she was nine years old, Spears and her mother, who was pregnant, moved to New York so Spears could attend the Professional Performing Arts School. Eventually, with the arrival of Spears' baby sister, the three female Spears lived in Manhattan while the males resided in Louisiana.
"We had the clothes on our back and a few pictures," says Lynne of life in New York. "We'd get a sublet for a few months and then move on."
In New York, Spears landed an off-Broadway play and a few commercials, and she won as a contestant on Star Search. A year after that, she moved to Orlando for two years to be a member of the new Mickey Mouse Club. After a brief stint back in Kentwood, she was shipped back to New York to audition for Jive Records. This time, Spears left Louisiana for good.
"I was so bored," says Spears of Kentwood. "I was the point guard on the basketball team. I had my boy-friend, and I went to homecoming and Christmas formal. But I wanted more. I mean, it was fun while it lasted, but then I got the record deal, and I left."
Spears was in ninth grade. Today, she has completed high school correspondence classes up through grade eleven. You ask Spears why her parents allowed her to leave at such a young age.
"Because they knew I wanted it so bad," she says. "I thank God every day for my parents."
When Spears spoke to her mother this afternoon, her family had just laid the foundation on a new house in Kentwood. It is not a mansion, says Spears, but will be much bigger than the house she grew up in. Besides, fans have begun to come to the old house and knock on the door and steal dirt from the yard.
"I mean, what do you want with dirt?" asks Spears.
The plan is for Spears to head back home when her current tour winds down. You wonder if, after life on the road, without rules, she is subject to any ordinary eighteen-year-old's restrictions.
"I go through that," she says. "My mom will say, 'You have to be in by 11:30,' and I'll say, 'What?'"
Culotta's head swivels.
"Believe me, there are rules on the road," says Culotta.
She and Spears laugh.
"Because I have to answer to her mom," continues Culotta. "It's awful. I have to be her friend and her authority figure. She gets so mad at me."
"I sneak out," says Spears.
"So she has people who take care of her," says Culotta. "She has me, and she has bodyguards. She has people taking care of her."
We arrive at the venue, and Spears is immediately hustled onto the stage for sound check. When she finishes, she speed-walks down a long corridor, where her dancers and the members of LFO (one of the prepackaged teen dance-pop groups that is opening the show) stretch and bounce like escapees from a Tommy Hilfiger boot camp. Spears heads straight to her dressing room.
It is a large room that usually houses a minor-league hockey team, but tonight it has been transformed with flowers, two couches and floor lamps. A fluffy pink robe hangs from a wardrobe door.
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