Over the last decade The Walt Disney Company has held a monopoly over the teen pop music scene. Via their cable networks, The Disney Channel and The Family Channel, performers such as Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez have become household names. But it can often be argued that Disney’s success in discovering young musical talent harkens back to over a decade earlier to the 1990’s, when performers such as Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera made their debuts on a little program called The Mickey Mouse Club. Yet, there seems to be one band that Disney doesn’t mention anymore – The Party. Do you remember The Party? I’m sure a few of you might, but for the most part Disney has brushed this pop music experiment under the rug. However, the success of all of these future acts sit squarely on the shoulders of The Party legacy. They were the group that began the partnership between Disney and pop music…or were they? History actually paints another picture which the Disney Company has tried hard to rewrite. Despite the fact that The Party was a minor success for Disney between 1990 and 1993, they didn’t deem the payback high enough. They considered The Party to be a failed musical experiment and in doing so, missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. They have been trying to rewrite the pop culture history books ever since. There is a secret behind the successful Disney pop music machine, and it all started with The Party.
The Party’s story began in 1989 with Disney’s third revival of the fabled Mickey Mouse Club on The Disney Channel. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s The Disney Channel was still a premium network which people had to subscribe to and pay additional fees to enjoy. In the 1980’s this was considered a luxury. As a result, only a small percentage of North American households, primarily upper middle class and higher, actually got to see Disney Channel programming. This would be an important factor contributing to the limited success of The Party compared to the current success of Disney’s pop industry. Some of the early success of The Disney Channel included K.I.D.S. Incorporated, which featured future icons such as Fergie and Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a Hailey Mills vehicle called Good Morning Miss Bliss, which would be cancelled after thirteen episodes, but retooled by NBC with the majority of the original cast titled Saved By the Bell, which became a massive teen hit..
The New Mickey Mouse Club, or MMC as it was most often referred, was an ultra slick update of the classic kid’s show that shared the franchise name, but discarded the traditions and lacked the charm of the original. Probably the biggest difference was that these kids didn’t wear Mickey Mouse ears. Can a Mousketeer be a Mousketeer without ears? That is still debated in some circles. Anyhow, a cast of twelve polished show-biz kids and two dorky adult hosts were hired to do a daily sketch comedy program, much like SNL or Laugh-In, with songs and dance numbers added in. It wasn’t great, but The MMC filled a void on The Disney Channel for programming that appealed to older kids after school. It was not the most popular program on television for teenagers, but as far as The Disney Channel was concerned it held its ratings. But it was clear that something had to be done to keep the momentum of the series going. With a bunch of talented kids that could sing and dance hanging around the set, there was the potential to launch The MMC in a variety of directions. But it was clear that what the program really needed was a breakout star. The original Mickey Mouse Club had Annette Funicello who became a massive teen idol. A true star was what the new MMC seemed to lack. In 1989, the biggest teen heartthrobs in the world were undoubtedly The New Kids on the Block. Thus it became very clear to the producers of The MMC that they too needed a pop band. It would be a way to buy into current music trends, fashions and styles, and hopefully catapult one of their Mouse Club members to teen idol status.
In 1990, the producers of The MMC pulled together five of their regular cast members who could perform well together and formed a pop ensemble. The group consisted of Chase Hampton, Damon Pampolina, Albert Fields, Tiffani Hale and Dee Dee Magno. It was clear that there was also a PC agenda in place when putting these particular kids together. The five kids chosen for the band were representative of different races and sexes. Putting three boys and two girls in a pop band together was a fairly bold move that had never been done before. Furthermore, Albert was black and Dee Dee was Asian while the other kids were white. They dressed Damon and Chase up like New Kids on the Block, gave Tiffani and Dee Dee Blossom-esque makeovers and Albert was given an urban hip hop look. The only thing that the producers hadn’t given them was a name….or so they wanted viewers to believe. The group was introduced to The MMC audience and a “Name the Band” contest was held where viewers were invited to write to the show with suggestions on what the band should be called. However, what the audience wasn’t told was that a band name was already chosen – The Party. Now this wasn’t just a really lame name. It was actually an acronym for “Positive Attitude Reflecting Today’s Youth.” Yeah. That fact, however, was forgotten even quicker than The Party was forgotten themselves.
Meanwhile, The Party was already in Disney’s brand new recording studio – Hollywood Records. As the first band to be signed to the label, they recorded their first full length, self titled album which was released in August 1990. They also went on tour that summer as the opening act for Taylor Dane and Vanilla Ice. The Party’s first single, Summer Vacation, got a bit of attention, but floundered at #71 on the Billboard Top 100, while the album suffered at #116. Their next single, I Found Love, did even worse, but by the end of the summer they had some success with That’s Why, which went all the way to #55. It was a slow start but Disney knew that The Beatles weren’t built in a day, and continued to promote The Party heavily. Most importantly, they made the group completely accessible to teen magazines and so The Party became regulars alongside photos of The New Kids on the Block and the 90210 gang. Also, a TV concert special was produced by Disney called The Party in Concert which gave the group another chance to shine for the Disney audience away from the confines of The MMC. Basically, Disney was trying to make The Party seem far more successful than they really were, and for the most part it worked. They quickly gained a fan base all their own.
Yet the weirdest success would happen in 1991. Too busy to record a “real” album due to MMC commitments and tours, a second album was released consisting of remixes from the first album, and cover songs recorded during the original recording sessions as a way to keep the ball rolling from the mild success of the previous summer. Strangely the album, In the Meantime, In Between Time, would be their biggest success when their pop cover of the heavy metal song In My Dreams by Dokken went all the way to #34 on the Billboard charts, and found its way to #16 on the R&B charts. A total shock to all involved, The Party would never see chart success like that again. The rest of the album, which consisted of a strange assortment of covers by artists such as The Who, Elvis Costello, Jim Reeves and The Waitresses, didn’t produce any hits. But a video for In My Dreams was in heavy rotation on MTV and The Party went back on tour opening for R&B band Hi-Five. Although The Party still hadn’t recorded a massive hit, they were a fixture on the teen cultural radar. They weren’t the biggest teen stars in the world, but they seemed to be on their way, which satisfied Disney.
However, things were about to change. In 1992, a massive shift on the musical landscape would occur, affecting not only The Party but other pop acts as well. With the Generation X movement in full swing, disenchanted teenagers began to turn their back on the pop industry. They were turning to the far more cutting edge sounds of grunge and hip-hop. Meanwhile, the kids in The Party were starting to get older themselves. Now all in their late teens, singing songs for the pre-teen market just wasn’t realistic for The Party, who had their own desires to evolve. For the most part, the members of The Party seemed to be bringing little to the band creatively. They sang and danced the way that the House of Mouse had dictated, but it was clear to all involved that The Party was going to have to appeal to an older audience in order to maintain itself. For their second studio album, Free, a team of heavy hitters were brought in to try to remodel The Party into a more mature look and sound. Hip hop and soul producer Teddy Riley and the infamous Dr. Dre penned a number of the songs on the album, and The Party were clothed in styles that reflected grunge, Goth and hip hop culture. Next, The Party was sent on tour with Color Me Badd in the summer of 1992 to coincide with the new album and the new look. However, the older, more sophisticated audience refused to embrace The Party. With their affiliation to Disney, their presence on The MMC plus their previous pop tart personas, The Party seemed to be faking it more than making it in their new arena. Despite a third Disney concert special and an appearance on the hit TV show Blossom, Free was a massive flop without a single song finding its way onto the Billboard’s Top 100 or getting any radio attention. Realizing that “the party was over”, Damon, who was arguably the band’s most popular member, decided to leave the group. This would be the beginning of the end for The Party.
With the dismal failure of Free, plus the fact that The Party had not had a major chart hit in their four years as a group, Disney decided to pull the plug in 1993. A final album, The Party’s Over, Thanks for Coming was released with almost no fanfare. Consisting of leftover tracks from the Free album, the record was completely ignored. Nobody bought it. Meanwhile, The MMC’s ratings began to sag. Now in its fifth season, the kids were growing older, and the youth appeal was beginning to get lost. That fall Disney decided a full makeover of the MMC franchise was necessary. Menudo-ing nearly the entire cast, the majority of the current MMC members were let go from the show, including Albert and Dee Dee. Chase and Tiffani were the only members of the cast invited back as the now adult hosts of the program. A casting call was sent out for more talented kids, and they came in droves. By the time the kids were sorted through, a new cast of MMC members, including future megastars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and Ryan Gosling were among the cast. Interestingly, Jessica Simpson and Matt Damon tried out as well but were passed over. This was the new golden age of The MMC….or so Disney would like you to think. In reality it was a whole different story which time has erased, and Disney would rather you forget. In reality, the failure of The Party lingered on the minds of Disney executives and left a bad taste in their mouth. As a result, they were blind to the talented powerhouse that they now had before them.
Today Disney Entertainment would like you to believe that Britney, Justin and Christina got their start on The MMC. To an extent that is true. They got national exposure, they were trained by the best there was in vocal coaches and choreographers and their careers were obviously somewhat developed by their time on the show. However, by the time that the new younger cast of The MMC hit the airwaves, the Disney executives had lost interest in the show, had little faith in these new kids and were not about to give them any money or promotion in any musical endeavors. They had done that with The Party and received little payback. The ghost of The Party would haunt the final years of The MMC and despite being a showcase for some of the most exciting talent in pop music; Disney did not see the potential that these kids had. Instead, after two final seasons The MMC was cancelled. Justin, Britney and all the rest were out of a job and were forced back into the public pool. During their time with The MMC not a single recording was made at Hollywood Studios, not a single tour was negotiated, or a single song sold to a radio station. Disney had given that chance to The Party, and they were not going to do it again. In retrospect, that was possibly the biggest mistake they made. The year that MMC was cancelled, Justin Timberlake and MMC member JC Chasez would join N’SYNC and rocket to the top of the charts. In 1998 Britney Spears would combine sex and pop music with her debut album …Baby One More Time and rival Madonna as the greatest female pop icon in the history of music. In 1999, Christina Aguilera would leave audiences spellbound by bridging the gap between the pop and R&B markets. Disney had all these artists at their disposal, but due to the resentment of The Party’s failure, they let them slip through their fingers. A mistake they would not repeat. Instead of pointing out publicly their mistake of letting these entertainment powerhouses go, the Disney party line was to point out that they “discovered” them and taught them everything they knew. Realizing that they did have the power to make successful pop acts, Disney began to sign more talented kids in hopes that lightning could strike twice…and it did over and over. Time has proven that Disney has what it takes to make talented young performers and rule the teen market.
But if this is the case, what went wrong with The Party? Although the kids involved with The Party had lots of talent, the concept of The Party was far too forced and fabricated. The kids themselves did not seem to be in charge of anything, from the music to their clothes. The Disney executives that made the decision felt that they knew what the teen market wanted by imitating what was popular, thus becoming followers instead of trend setters. Perhaps under the same oppressive conditions that The Party suffered under, Britney, Justin and Christina might not have become the successes they did. They seemed to have management and made choices without the heavy fist of the House of Mouse over them, and as a result had a greater freedom of expression and found their own individual voices and styles. Disney obviously figured this out, and by the time they began to sign people like Zac Efron, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers to iron clad contracts, although still restrictive in many aspects, they allowed a bit more room for creative expression. Furthermore, the Disney Channel became a basic cable channel in 1999, entering all homes across North America. When The Party were at their peak they were only accessible to a minority of television audiences. However, future Disney stars became popular and accessible to the general population, increasing their popularity amongst mostly pre-teen audiences. Finally, Disney has a far more sophisticated team that promotes and produces the current crop of Disney kids. The Party was sort of the trial run. It was the failed experiment on the road to success, but through their failure Disney was able to perfect the winning formula.
So what happened to the kids from The Party? Where are Chase, Damon, Albert, Dee Dee and Tiffani today? How did they survive after The Party was over? Their stories are a mixed bag, full of success and failure, contentment and madness.
Damon Pampolina, the first to figure out that The Party wasn’t going to last, left the band in 1993. He tried his hand at acting for a while, but found it hard to stay on top of the entertainment world and returned home to Texas where he sold real estate for awhile. In 2008 Damon reteamed with Albert on a failed hip hop project called NDecent Proposal, but has since decided to stick with acting and is currently shopping himself around to various sit-com pilots. Situated now in Houston, Damon currently helps run his father’s company PRP Entertainment which provides emcee services for various Houston based functions.
Albert Fields has stayed active in the music scene since The Party ended, but wisely changed his name to Jeune as a way to separate him from his days with The Party and to be taken seriously as a performer. In 1995 he released a solo album, and one of his songs, I’m Da Fan, was used for the 1996 Wesley Snipes/Robert DeNiro film The Fan. Although he has had little success in the music industry in the last decade and a half, Albert continues to persevere on the indie scene.
After The Party folded, Chase Hampton found some success as lead singer for an alternative band called Buzzfly. For most of the last decade Chase has worked as a coach for an LA based performing arts school while taking small roles in TV programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files and Sabrina the Teenage Witch. However, in 2007 Chase decided to get back into the game and released his first solo album, Something to Believe, which he wrote and produced himself. A follow up EP, Drugstore Girls, was released in late 2010 and Chase has been touring across America in 2011 to promote it. Chase is out there still today looking for the pop super stardom that eluded him in the 1990’s.
Easily the most successful of The Party alumni is Dee Dee Magno. Instead of chasing after pop star dreams, Dee Dee set her sights on Broadway where she gained success playing the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. After a lengthy national tour playing the same role, Dee Dee found further success when she took the role of Elphaba’s evil sister Nessa, the Wicked Witch of the East, in a 2006 national tour of Wicked. Her husband, Clifton Hall, who she met during Miss Saigon, took the role of Fieryo in the same production. Dee Dee and her husband finally settled in San Francisco where they reprised their Wicked roles between 2009 until the show closed in fall of 2010. Currently Dee Dee is taking a break from acting, having just given birth to a second child. Pop success never found its way to Dee Dee, but instead something far bigger found her.
The most tragic of The Party is Tiffanie Hale. After the cancellation of The MMC, the pretty co-host fell completely off the radar, which has lead to many rumors about her whereabouts and actions, including stories about suicide, drug addiction and institutionalization. Unfortunately, the true fate of Tiffanie is unknown, but the most popular story is that she lives in the LA area, has been in rehab on multiple occasions, and is living with schizophrenia. Whether these stories are true or not, it can be assumed that Tiffanie barely survived The Party.
And thus ends the story of The Party. Barely remembered but not forgotten. But what should be reflected upon is that The Party is important to the history of the current pop industry. They were the first of the Disney pop groups, achieved minor success, and formed the building blocks of things to come. The current crop of Disney kids, such as Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers are The Party’s legacy. If not for The Party, they would probably not have succeeded or even existed. The Party started it all; even if Disney would rather you forget them.