Tween queens are riding high
They are an Australian entertainment phenomenon who have been swarmed by legions of pre-teen fans during live appearances in Sydney this week.
The Wiggles? Hi-5? Maybe Kylie Minogue? Try the girls from The Saddle Club.
They are the cast of an Australian-made television series of American author Bonnie Bryant's book series about three friends who share a love of horses, and have found themselves surprise superstars with the nation's five- to 12-year-olds - the demographic known as "tweens".
Thousands of youngsters have turned up to live appearances by the 14-year-olds in shopping centres this week, desperate for autographs and eager to become involved in the bond shared by the main characters in the show.
A CD featuring songs sung by the characters has achieved gold status - for sales of 35,000 copies - and a second release is also selling strongly.
"I think the show connects with young fans because they understand the concept," said Keenan Macwilliam, who features in the series, which has been screening on the ABC for two years.
"They look up to us because we are older girls and we ride. A lot of them say, 'We play Saddle Club in the playground'."
Filmed in Victoria and made jointly by Australian and Canadian production companies, The Saddle Club is centred around the fictitious Pine Hollow Stables and the lives of three friends, Lisa, Stevie and Carol.
The cast is made up predominantly of Australians and Canadians.
Before the most recent series ended in June, the ABC said The Saddle Club was attracting 463,207 viewers nationally, drawing almost three-quarters of girls aged five to 12 who are watching TV in that timeslot.
Buoyed by the success of the show's CDs, its three principal stars are all considering singing careers. "I'd like to be like Kylie Minogue," says Lara Marshall, who plays Lisa Atwood. "She's one of my idols, the same as Nicole Kidman."
Neer Korn, the director of the social and market research company Heartbeat Trends, which tracks the opinions of young people, says the success of the show may stem from its theme of friendship.
"A tween's greatest fear is loneliness," he says. "Having friends is absolutely pivotal."
By Daniel Dasey
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
July 17, 2003
The Sydney Morning Herald