Sunday, January 11, 2004

Spears' wedding stunt embarrasses folks in her Louisiana hometown

By Cain Burdeau
The Associated Press

[IMAGE] Jamie Lynn Spears, here at a press conference with her big sis, is a talent in her own right.
(Enquirer file photo)
KENTWOOD, La. - Folks in Britney Spears' hometown don't see the humor in the superstar's weekend wedding joke.

Spears' 55-hour marriage to fellow Kentwood resident and childhood friend Jason Alexander has engulfed the town in an unwanted media frenzy and it has rekindled an old question: What's she done for Kentwood lately?

"It's embarrassing to have the worldwide media attention with the buildings in such run-down, decrepit conditions," said Tammy Shaffett, a co-owner of The Hair Studio on Avenue F, the main street that once had traffic and a movie theater.

The wedding had the makings of a great yarn. Alexander - a hulking former high school football player - and Spears, wearing a white baseball cap, midriff-bearing shirt and torn jeans, jumped in a limousine and got hitched at the Little White Wedding Chapel on the Strip at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 3.

Hours later, the 22-year-olds renounced their wedding by calling it a prank that went too far, and wrote the whole thing off with an annulment. Joke over.

Just call her Baby Britney. At age 12, starlet Jamie Lynn Spears is a leaner, lankier, warier replica of her outrageous older sister.

They share the same brown eyes, flat nose, slightly pointy chin and streaked hair. They answer questions in an identical Southern drawl. And just like her sis, Jamie Lynn is making her own strides toward stardom with two Nickelodeon shows.

She stars in the sketch comedy program All That (Saturdays, 8 p.m.) and is in talks with the kiddie channel to star in an as-yet-untitled series set at a coed boarding school.

"I want to be a respected actor," she says, fully made up and totally dead serious. "Maybe one day I'll be a singer. I don't want this to be a part-time thing."

Neither do any of the other semi-famous sisters, all angling for their slice of the family fame pie:

Jessica Simpson's sib Ashlee, 19, stars on the WB's 7th Heaven and is recording a disc while shooting a reality series about the making of the album. Kiddie star Dakota Fanning's sister Elle, 5, has already starred in I Am Sam and Daddy Day Care and will appear in the Kim Basinger thriller Door in the Floor and the family comedy Because of Winn-Dixie. Hilary Duff's older sister Haylie, 18, has filmed the series Alexander the Great, which wasn't picked up by MTV but is being shopped around to other networks, and is recording a solo rock album. Beyonce Knowles' younger sis Solange, 17, just signed a deal with UPN to star in a show and is busy working on her musical follow-up to last year's Solo Star.

But the stunt turned into an embarrassment for Kentwood - population 2,200 - as Alexander returned home to his family with a flock of reporters, television crews and paparazzi following.

Since getting home, the Southeastern Louisiana University junior was "kind of hibernating" and collecting his thoughts, said his father, Dennis Alexander.

The media hunt for Alexander overwhelmed Kentwood as reporters questioned the town's residents to find Spears' groom. Reporters staked out his family's home and sheriff's deputies were called in two days in a row to disperse the crowd.

"Yesterday it really caused chaos," said Robert Alexander, Jason's grandfather. He said Dennis Alexander, an auto mechanic, had to close his garage Monday because of the intrusion.

Downtown, television satellite trucks set up near the main intersection.

Some residents said they want to be proud of Spears and her success, but think the pop star hasn't shared her wealth with her hometown, which is languishing from a dying dairy farming industry.

"I wish the improvement of our town got as much attention as Britney Spears' wedding," said Dylea White, a co-owner of The Hair Studio.

"She should give some of her money to the town. She should help out. I know if I had some of that money I would," said resident Heather Patterson.

Spears' publicist did not immediately return a call for comment.

And now that Spears has abandoned her wholesome girl-next-door persona with tales of wild partying, her nearly nude magazine spreads and the kiss she shared with Madonna, many people here don't like what she represents.

"She's not building character. She's not a mentor to anyone," said Ellice Womack.

There are some signs that Spears hails from here: a mansion she built for her family, a few banners on stores and an exhibit at the Kentwood Museum.

The exhibit, done on a shoestring, includes faded photographs of the budding pop star. Items from her childhood bedroom, including dolls and her bed, are on display behind glass. Her "Mouseketeer" leather jacket hangs in a corner.

"She's just a very nice, hometown country girl," said Carolyn Nettles, a museum worker. "We all know her. She's just like one of us."

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