My Teen Idol by Sharon O'Donnell
I was new to the Internet at the time and was a bit skeptical of using it until my husband Kevin told me, in hopes of encouraging me to use it, “Hey, I bet there’s even a Bobby Sherman site on there.” A few minutes later, a color photo of Bobby appeared on our computer screen accompanied by the sounds of “Little Woman”, his first hit song. I was immediately transported to my childhood, to the days of going swimming in the outdoor pool at Pullen Park and listening to Bobby’s records over and over with my best friend, Tina. To the days when the Vietnam War filled the nightly news, when drugs and casual sex were becoming ‘hip’; yet, I was protected from it all, cocooned in an innocence that is what childhood should be. My friends and I were aware of the current events, but we did not feel threatened by them. We felt safe, lost in a world of bike riding, spelling tests, and Bobby Sherman songs. He made being good ‘cool’; he was never arrested or in and out of rehab or even said cuss words on stage. I admired Bobby, a guy who in his 20s was suddenly catapulted to fame and fortune but kept a level head and was a good role model to his impressionable fans. As I scanned through the Bobby web page, I read letters from other fans, all remarkably expressing this same feeling: that somehow we wouldn’t have grown up the way we did, become the people we are, if Bobby Sherman had been a different sort of teen idol. I also found out that Bobby was volunteering as a trained emergency medical technician in Los Angeles – something he still does today at the age of 68 -- proving what his fans knew all along: he truly cares about people.
And then I saw the announcement of the Teen Idol Tour concert, and I knew I had to be there. I was destined to see this website and find out about the concert three hours away. My older sister Mary went along for moral support. I managed to obtain a couple of backstage passes to meet Bobby before the concert. Though I had met other famous people before, I had never felt this level of excitement. I think that’s because I had wanted to meet Bobby for so, so long; it was the culmination of a childhood dream.
When I was seven, I sent fan letters to Bobby but knew he couldn’t possibly read them since he received 30,000 letters a week. Then I had an idea I thought was ingenious at the time: knowing that Santa Claus went to everybody’s house, I wrote Bobby a letter and left it on the coffee table beside Santa’s milk and cookies along with a note asking Santa to deliver it (I also left one for Elvis Presley and ‘Rob’ on “My Three Sons”). Of course the letter was never delivered. So when I went to meet Bobby in Myrtle Beach, I took along a copy of that letter plus a newspaper column I wrote once about how grateful I was to Bobby for being such a wholesome teen idol and role model. I had both of these framed, side by side.
As my sister Mary and I waited backstage before the concert, the memories danced in my mind. There was the time in second grade when my mother took Tina and me to Bobby’s concert at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh. He walked on stage, singing “Hey Mister Sun”, smiling and waving the peace sign while thousands of girls screamed at the top of their lungs. I sat in the balcony in stunned silence, waving the peace sign back to him and not quite believing that Bobby Sherman from the pages of Tiger Beat and the “Here Come the Brides” show was there on stage in front of me. (My mother let us ‘splurge’ and get the $2 color poster of Bobby instead of the $1 black & white.) And when the music stopped and the stage was empty, I remember I felt empty, too, because I knew he would never even know I had been there in the balcony.
Twelve years prior to the Myrtle Beach concert, I actually talked to Bobby on the phone after I had sent his manager some material I had written, and Bobby called to say thank you and that he liked my writing. I’ll never forget the day I came back from lunch to my PR job to find the pink phone message slip on my desk; ‘Bobby Sherman called’ it read. ‘Said he’d call back’. Which he did. When the receptionist realized it was THE Bobby Sherman she just about had to be resuscitated since she had been a big fan, too. Bobby asked me to send him some more of my writing, which I did occasionally, and once he sent me an autographed postcard. He also had given me his mailing address and I'd sometimes send him a Christmas card with photos of my sons.
So as I stood in a small back stage room of the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, waiting with some other thrilled fans to finally meet Bobby, I wondered what I should say to perhaps trigger his memory about our past contact or if I should just start from scratch and introduce myself. I decided to start from scratch since he probably wouldn’t remember me at all. Suddenly, the door to the room opened and in stepped Bobby, dressed in a black shirt and silver pants (strategically tight silver pants, I might add), looking handsome and much younger than his 55 years. I backed up a bit, wanting to be the last fan to meet him, thinking I would have more time with him that way. But he took one look at me and stopped in his tracks.
“I know you,” Bobby said, looking perplexed, trying to figure out how he knew me.
“You do?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know if you’d remember or not, but we’ve corresponded before.”
He smiled and nodded in recognition. “I’ve read some of your articles,” he
I turned to Mary, who was nervously taking pictures of Bobby and me. “He
remembers!” I squealed, sounding like a starry-eyed groupie more by the moment. Bobby put his arms around my waist and hugged me. Crap, I realized I was taller than he was, and I suddenly felt like an Amazon oaf. I bent my knees so that I’d appear shorter in the photos, although later when I saw the photos, I looked like I had severe posture problems. Oh well. It was still a fabulous moment. If I had only known back in 1971 that one day this would happen.
Later, he made his entrance through the audience of screaming women, stopping to sign autographs on outstretched album covers. He passed by me and smiled. “Have a great show!” I yelled.
He reached over and briefly held my hand. “Thanks, Sharon,” he said. As he launched into one of his hit songs, I felt like I was seven years old again. But this time, I wasn’t sitting in the balcony. And this time, Bobby Sherman knew my name – if only for a night.
Mary, who is eight years older than I am, was never a Bobby fan because her peers were into The Grass Roots and The Doors and Robert Redford. But when I asked her on the drive home, what had been the best part of the trip, which had also included relaxing by the pool and great restaurants, she didn’t hesitate. “Bobby Sherman!” she shouted truthfully, grinning. Ah, yes, a convert.
As the years went by, I still sometimes sent a Christmas card to the address Bobby had so kindly given me in 1986, but I wasn't sure if it was still viable or not since it had been so long and I hadn't heard back from him in a while. But when my childhood friend Tina's 50th birthday approached early this month, I decided to write to the address and ask him a favor: to email or call my friend Tina, a fellow Bobby Sherman fan, for her 50th birthday. I sent the letter, and then didn't think any more about it because I really didn't think the letter would actually reach him. About a week later on Tina's birthday, I was at a movie when my phone vibrated, and I saw I had a text -- probably from one of my sons I thought. Then I noticed it was from Tina. It read, "OMG -- Bobby Sherman!! How do you pull such things off? Best present ever, girlfriend. I'm telling everybody!" I was so excited that Tina had finally received the phone call from Bobby that we used to dream about. And what a guy for following through for me!
My Bobby Sherman lunch box and my issues of Tiger Beat magazine are long gone; but, the memories he gave me are invaluable. In today’s world, the term ‘teen idol’ has been replaced by ‘sex symbol’, a shallow term that doesn’t measure up to the first. It doesn’t bring to mind the same depth of devotion of fans, the same extent of excitement. Bobby was quoted on the web site years ago, saying there aren’t any ‘teen idols’ any more because today’s pre-pubescent girls are too blasé about such things. He said, “Nowadays, you go from birth to puberty – there’s nothing in between.” The same is true for the female celebrities my sons hear about – Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears. I think of how much I learned during that ‘in between’ time, about myself and about life; and, I ache for all those young people out there rushing to grow up.