In 2003, American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini appeared in a contractual obligation disguised as a film. From Justin to Kelly was a Bacchanalia of white boy rapper sidekicks, bucket hats, pukka shell necklaces, sincere uses of the word “posse,” towel dance choreography, bare midriffs, and whipped cream bikini contests. Looking back on the film, Rolling Stone wrote, “like the Titanic or the Hindenburg, it was the kind of catastrophe that few people witnessed first-hand, but everyone remembers as if they survived it themselves.”
I survived it first-hand. I saw it in the theater. It would be stripped from theaters and rushed straight to VHS and DVD a mere six weeks later. That’s forty-two days. 1008 hours. I could not wait 1008 hours to see From Justin to Kelly in the shameful privacy of my home. Instead, I was compelled to see it immediately. The film grossed just $4.9 million dollars back of its $12 million dollar budget. Twelve dollars of that is mine, and I live with that fact every single day.
But I was not alone that evening in the theater. I had an accomplice. You might think of her as more of a victim. I invited my victim to see the film with me, a girl I liked very much. She agreed. I was thrilled.
She was the standard-issue unrequited love. We worked together at a retail job. We were friends. We folded shirts together, and she got her creases perfect. I was no slouch myself with the shirt folding board, but I pretended to be stupid at it to make her smile and show me, yet again.
We chatted at work by day and on AIM by night. She suggested I get a cell phone so we could text. I ran out to the mall after work. As I sat in the living room, talking with my mother about this new cell phone thing I bought, it dinged with a message. Then it dinged with another one. Every pleasure zone lit up in my brain, flooding me with serotonin. My forehead was dizzy with endorphins. My mother teased me that I must be very popular. I ran to my bedroom to pour over these dings, these “texts,” as though I were a child carefully unfolding the Valentines given to me by grade-school crushes.
I became privy to her innermost world, her moods and away messages, her hopes and dreams, her boyfriends. I became a silo. I stored her secrets, her smile, my cyanide and longing. She did not return my affection, and I knew it then, starkly, harshly, agonizingly.
But I also knew this: she deliberately agreed to see From Justin to Kelly. In the theater. Opening weekend. With me. My excuse is that I love dumb shit. A contractual-obligation beach romp movie with pop stars in the tradition of Mariah Carey’s Glitter and Britney Spears’ Crossroads was like crack to me. I saw both of those films in the theater as well. I hid a lot of dark secrets in my silo.
I don’t know what her excuse was, except she must have suffered from some type of obscure, infinitesimal cognitive dissonance. It was in that tiny fraction — a ding — in which I lived and hoped that she would one day see me. I was a poet then. I’m not now, thank God. I’ve stamped that phase down to the bottom of the silo, like pushing the garbage down in the trash bag so you can pile more garbage on top. She was the first person I showed my writing to.
Perhaps it was the voice of God that compelled me to see it. As though God spoke to me directly one afternoon, imploring me to see a film in which Kelly Clarkson reportedly broke down crying in a last-ditch attempt to get out of the contract. Yet God spoke to dozens of us. Dozens.
We flocked to the theater, where we sat in silence. You can usually hear people munching on popcorn and slugging Cokes. In this theater, you could hear them grit their teeth, inuring themselves to the horrors of the doofy white boy rapper doing a rap called “Chick-Seeking Missile.” In the grand finale of the film, the entire cast did a rousing group dance off to a karaoke cover of KC and the Sunshine Band’s That’s The Way (I Like It.) We sat side by side, like burial plots, entombed forever as two people who saw From Justin to Kelly in the theater. Rumors include at least one person who paid to see this film self-immolated in the lobby afterwards.
I don’t think you read this, but thanks for seeing that movie with me, and giving me a fractional ding of confidence to put my writing out there. Back to the silo of memory with you, along with this film, where I also store grain for the cows and sheep, bad poetry, and other stamped to the bottom dreams.