The Singin', Dancin' American Idyll

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American Idol proved there are teenagers — not just tweens and men recently released from prison — who like to see wholesome singing and dancing, the kind you saw on Ed Sullivan. Early Ed Sullivan. When American Idol was launched, creator Simon Fuller assumed teens would coronate slutted-out model wannabes, as they did in the English version of his show. But while we might sell our Baywatch image to the world, when the children of Wal-Mart get to vote for their stars, they choose talent. The kids, it turns out, may be too all right.

This Friday, with the release of From Justin to Kelly, a teen musical starring the winner and runner-up of the first Idol, Fox is testing — at a relatively cautious $12 million budget — how much we have overestimated the transmogrification of teenagers from wholesome to gangsta. If American Idol's staggering ratings prove that large swaths of teens just want to have fun, then a new market opens up. Britney may have to buy a whole shirt.

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J2K bravely time-travels all the way back to the innocence of Annette and Frankie beach pictures and Elvis movies in which Ann-Margret doesn't appear. The movie takes Grease, whose script it basically copied, and then actually tones it down. "To get the PG rating, we couldn't say 'sex' or 'If you've got it, flaunt it.' Back in the day, you could get away with stuff you can't get away with now," says Idol runner-up Justin Guarini, 24, in a New York City hotel suite. "In Grease they were smoking," says Idol No. 1 Kelly Clarkson, 21, sitting beside him. "In high school." Wait until she hears about the gum chewing.

Fuller decided to make the movie about halfway through the first TV series, hoping the final two contestants would be a guy and a woman. He told the final few contestants they would be up for roles if they won, and they all, as you would imagine, agreed to sign up. Then Fuller hired his brother Kim to write the movie. Kim's only other script was Spice World, a movie starring the Spice Girls, the group Simon created.

"It's not supposed to be In the Bedroom," explains Clarkson, playing with her hair. "And movies the critics like, I don't understand. Sorry, I'm not that artsy. I loved Waterworld." In fact, Clarkson and Guarini can't wait to see Dumb and Dumberer, and enter into a long and oddly impressive quote session from the original. These two have clearly been around each other a lot. Usually in front of the media. But they have a likable self-star-struck quality about their new celebrity. "At the MTV video music awards, [TLC's] T-Boz actually called us by name," says Clarkson. "I don't know what she said because I couldn't hear anything after that."

So maybe teenagers really are like this, as they've always been: a little optimistic, a little overexcited and a little into just having a good time. Maybe we took small cultural differences — new slang, new fashions, new music — and, as our parents did, misinterpreted them. The Idol team is already planning a Bob Hope — Bing Crosby — style buddy musical comedy for Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken, the winner and runner-up of the second season of Idol. It might turn out that you can't lose money underestimating the niceness of teens.