“Selena won’t do anything without the approval and love of the fans,” says veteran designer Tony Melillo, co-owner of Cynosure Holdings, the branding firm that created Gomez’s boho-feminine, budget-conscious juniors line for Kmart. “She’s mass. She appeals to everyone.”
Her Hispanic heritage was key to Disney’s casting of her—as it was to Kmart’s, a sizable percentage of whose customers are Latino. But Gomez (whose father is Mexican-American) doesn’t speak much Spanish, and says she didn’t really think a lot about being Latina until she attended the 2009 ALMA Awards and heard host George Lopez describe the difficulties he’d encountered as a Hispanic entertainer. “I was completely floored by that,” she told me at the hotel. “I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.”
Raised in Grand Prairie, Texas, by her divorced mom, who was 16 when she was born, Gomez landed on TV at age seven in Barney & Friends. She was 12 when Disney picked her out of thousands, after holding open calls in five cities, and several supporting roles later she was cast as a sassy teen with magical powers in Wizards, among the top-rated shows for six- to 14-year-olds. The series debuted three years ago; two years later, a spin-off Disney Channel movie delivered 13.5 million viewers, making it cable TV’s second-highest-rated scripted telecast to date. A recording contract with Hollywood Records soon followed, as did plenty of play on Disney Channel movie soundtracks and Radio Disney, which helped Gomez break into the mainstream with her upbeat pop-dance tunes.
Just what it takes to fuel this new breed of teen stardom was apparent in July, when Gomez hit New York in promotional high gear. In the halls of Sirius radio one morning, she was running through interviews and posing for pictures with execs, DJs, and their kids. She was dressed in skinny jeans, a peach silk camisole, and six-inch Christian Louboutin peep-toe pumps, and her hair was curled into soft waves. “First spin of ‘Round & Round’ in America! Right here!” one DJ bragged as onlookers snapped pics with their camera phones and told Gomez how much they loved her.
It was a refrain she would hear everywhere she went. “Selena! Your entourage has grown!” Taylor Strecker, the boisterous Cosmo Radio host, greeted her as she caught sight of Gomez’s team, which, apart from her mother, cousin, and publicist, included a security guard, a makeup artist, and two PR guys from Hollywood Records. In their rowdy live interview, Strecker plugged Gomez’s films, concerts, music, and clothing line before bringing up Gossip Girl actress Taylor Momsen, who was in the news for telling a journalist that her vibrator was her best friend. “There are so many girls your age who are just so slutty and out of touch,” Strecker said. “How have you escaped being an asshole?” Gomez laughed. “My mom—my mom goes everywhere with me.” Earlier that week I’d asked her what age she relates to most. “Fifteen,” she’d replied. “I’m about to be 18, but I don’t have enough experience in a teenager’s world. My cousin’s 18, and her friends are talking about college and fighting with their boyfriends, and I’ve never experienced any of that stuff, because I guess I’m living a different lifestyle. I’ve been raised around adults, but I’m still very naive.”