SAN DIEGO - Uh-oh! Katy Perry’s born-again minister parents were in the house. How would pop’s new poster child for sexual experimentation deal with it?
As usual, she went straight to the point. After her second song at the sold-out House of Blues, she announced: “I’m so nervous. My parents are in the audience tonight. God bless them. They made me.”
She explained how her parents didn’t allow boys - or sugar - during her pre-teen years. Then Perry, still proudly naughty at age 24, confessed about her forbidden first crush: a boy at a Christian ice-skating night when she was 12.
The decade’s most colorful and refreshing American pop star with the No. 1 hits “I Kissed a Girl” and “Hot N Cold,” Perry oozes unabashed bubble-gum fun while provocatively pushing buttons. She’s been called the new Madonna, the next Gwen Stefani, even “the love child of Zooey Deschanel and an anime character.”
She is famous for having no filter when she speaks, though she felt compelled to apologize last year after describing herself as a “skinnier Lily Allen.” After her San Diego show, she pulled up her skirt for a male reporter to show the bruises on her leg from four hours of dance rehearsal for that weekend’s Grammy Awards. But she did censor herself a bit for her parents’ sake.
“Usually, I kiss a girl after every single show,” she said. “Tonight I made sure it was on the cheek. Plus, I didn’t know if the girl was over 18, and I didn’t want to get into that kind of mess.” She giggled girlishly. “My parents liked it. They fully love and support me.”
Without prompting, Perry confessed that it wasn’t her best performance. “Tonight I was, like, 85 percent. But I also started dancing today at 11 (a.m.) for four hours for the Grammys, and I also was stuck in a car for four hours driving,” she said as midnight approached, along with a 5:30 a.m. radio interview with Ryan Seacrest in Los Angeles, where she lives. “So I definitely work. It’s a lot of iced Sprites on your kneecaps after your show. But this is awesome.”
When Perry told her mom about the exhausting day of Grammy choreography, “she was like, ‘Oh, yeah. I remember when I was dancing on the stage at the Fillmore with Jim Morrison and the Doors.’ I’m like, ‘Mother! I’ve never heard that story.’ And she was like, ‘That was B.C.’ She likes to say B.C. - before Christ. Omigod, my parents are ridiculous. I’m going to turn into them, I’m sure. In some shape. We always do. We always dread it.”
Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson was the middle child born to two pastors in Santa Barbara, Calif. At 9, she began singing in church as part of her parents’ ministry, and at 15 recorded a gospel album in Nashville. Two years later she moved to Los Angeles and signed a pop deal with Island Def Jam, only to be dropped after making an album with producer Glen Ballard. Then came another near-miss: Columbia let her go after she had almost completed an album with the Matrix production team.
She became Katy Perry (it’s her mom’s maiden name) to avoid confusion with actress Kate Hudson after signing with Capitol Records in 2007. That fall the sharp-tongued lyricist released the single “Ur So Gay,” the most vicious pop putdown of an ex-boyfriend since Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” That sassy ditty set up “I Kissed a Girl,” last year’s bi-curious sing-along anthem of the summer from her “One of the Boys” CD.
The song was sparked by an “unspoken spoken-of curiosity,” she said. “I’ve always been the girl who said exactly what I thought. I’m not shy at all. As I grew into myself, I realized the one friendship that I had in my early teenage years was actually a huge crush. I was always kind of curious about what it would be like kissing someone like myself. I went ahead and tried it. It was an amazing life experience. I think a lot of people, girls especially, you get them into a group and they say, ‘Of course I’ve kissed my best friend.’”
The bouncy, suggestive hit has made Perry something of a poster child for sexual freedom as well as a magnet for confessors. Backstage in San Diego, a young woman in the meet-and-greet line confided to Perry that she’d taken the singer’s brother, David, to her own mom’s recent lesbian wedding. That caused a mile-wide smile on Perry’s face, framed by her new bob-with-bangs hairdo.
“I Kissed a Girl” landed Perry on the grungy, rock-oriented Vans Warped Tour - uncharted territory for a pop tart who dresses like a Bettie Page pinup.
“That tour taught me to go, go, go, go,” she said. “No set times, no soundchecks, no showers. It doesn’t matter if you have a hit song. ‘Get in line for catering, please.’ No favoritism at all. It was me and 12 other guys in a bus, face to face, all the time, smelling like crap. I felt like GI Jane afterward. Everyone had a bet that I was going to die or have to drop out. That made me smile, of course.”
“Jesus” is tattooed on Perry’s wrist. “There’s not really an eraser for that,” she said. She hasn’t gone to church recently because she’s been on tour for eight months. “I haven’t been home for anything, not even to hang curtains,” she said without sounding whiny. “But I have my moments with God on my own, by myself. Hopefully every day.”
No doubt, Perry has her serious moments. She’s a driven, hard-working careerist who can craft songs for stars such as Kelly Clarkson when she’s not cutting up like a flamboyant cartoon, as she did on the Grammys, descending from the ceiling in a gigantic banana.
She has a fruit fixation, decorating the stage at her concerts with giant inflatable fruit.
“It started with my obsession with the 1940s and cherry charm bracelets and strawberry-and-cherry pattern baskets on women’s dresses,” she explained. “Then my obsession got really big when I went to Japan and I’d see dancing bananas with faces on them. So I decided to take it to a whole ‘nother level. It’s fun, it’s kitsch, it’s cute. Some of it is phallic. Some of it is playful. I have no idea.”
People are responding to her fruitiness. New British star Estelle saw Perry perform at the Grammys and the Brit Awards, where she was named best international female artist. “I like Katy Perry. She’s a bit herself,” Estelle said. “She’s walking out and saying: ‘I’m not doing what you think I’m going to do.’”
It’s an appeal that crosses generational lines. “It’s done with a fun spirit,” said Sheila Saunders, 49, of Carlsbad, Calif., who went to the San Diego show with her 15- and 20-year-old daughters. “Embrace life while you can.”
Perry’s own mom couldn’t have put it better.
KATY THE CAREERIST
No overnight sensation, Perry is a polished pro with a solid resume:
At 17, she made an album for Island Def Jam with producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morissette, Aerosmith). It was never released.
Columbia Records paired her with the Matrix, the production team behind Avril Lavigne. The label dropped her, but the Matrix released those recordings two months ago under its own name.
She appeared in videos for Carbon Leaf’s “Learn to Fly,” Gym Class Heroes’ “Cupid’s Chokehold” and P.O.D.‘s “Goodbye for Now.”
She co-wrote two songs for Kelly Clarkson’s new CD (including current single “I Do Not Hook Up”) with hit tunesmith/“American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi.