Sunday, October 12, 2003

Lil' Romeo brings his act to Nick


By John Rogers
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Erica Lynn O'Keith and Lil' Romeo in a scene from Romeo.
(Nickelodeon photo)
When Lil' Romeo and his father, Master P, decided they'd make a TV show, they had little doubt about which network they wanted it on.

"SpongeBob SquarePants and Fairly Odd Parents are my favorite shows," says the rapper, who recently turned 14. The programs, featuring the animated adventures of a bumbling ocean sponge and a boy with equally bumbling fairy godparents, are Nickelodeon's most popular series, regularly landing in the cable Nielsen ratings' Top 10.

"But now," he adds playfully, "the best show on Nickelodeon is going to be Romeo."

The show (8:30 p.m. Saturdays) follows a teenage wannabe rap star and his less-than-enthusiastic father, with Romeo and hip-hop impresario Master P more or less playing themselves.

"The main difference is the Romeo on the show is basically trying to get to where I'm at right now," says Romeo, who has two albums and a hit single.

To do that, the TV Romeo must go behind the back of his music executive-father, something similar to what the real-life Romeo did when he used to sneak into his father's recording studio.

On one of those clandestine visits, he brought a recording engineer with him who cut a record, then played it for his father when he returned from a business trip.

"He came home and heard the song and said, 'Who is this?"' Romeo recalls with a chuckle.

After it was revealed that it was Master P's eldest son, a star was born - but not without some trepidation from his father, who Romeo says would have preferred that he spend his time concentrating on school.

"He really didn't want me to do it. I wanted to do it," he adds during a phone interview from Vancouver, Canada, where he and his father were putting the finishing touches on their show's first 20 episodes.

The show's cast includes the family's scatterbrained, ukulele-strumming nanny, played by Victoria Jackson. Although best known for her years on NBC's Saturday Night Live, Jackson is in real life an accomplished ukulele player. Her character can't understand why the instrument won't work on a hip-hop album.

Jackson also was a champion gymnast who used that talent in her act to read poetry while doing handstands, and viewers can expect to see the actress, now 44, still standing on her hands.

"This is like the super, superperfect role for me," she says. "I've always wanted to do Maria in The Sound of Music, and I feel like I am in this show, but an insane one."

The casting of a white nanny and foster brother opposite the black father-and-son team was deliberate, says Romeo, adding that his family and series co-creator Thomas Lynch were going for a "multiracial Partridge Family" look.

"We wanted something everybody could watch and have fun, too," he says, making the comparison with the hit '70s show about a family rock 'n' roll band.

The Monkees also was an influence, acknowledges Lynch, who was the creative force behind children's shows such as The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Journey of Allen Strange. So there's a music clip in every episode of Romeo, something The Monkees pioneered in the 1960s.

As for taking the show to Canada to film, Lynch says it wasn't so much about saving money as keeping his young star from being mobbed by fans and media.

"I thought I knew how big he was, but this kid is just a megawatt," he said of Lil' Romeo's appeal. "Just walking through the street with him you feel it, with people waving and coming up to him."

People who idolize him for his music should enjoy it while they can, Romeo hints, indicating he has other ambitions, particularly if he can add about a foot of height to his 5-foot-6-inch frame.

"In the future, I want to be an NBA player. That's my goal," he said.

When he makes his move, he'll be following in his father's footsteps again.

Master P, the rapper-turned-music-mogul-turned-actor, tried out in the '90s for the NBA's Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors - though the 33-year-old mogul was cut by both teams.

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