The 15-year-old Canadian sensation isn't just returning to headline Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Saturday. He is headlining what organizers say is a different kind of concert, the prototype of what could become an annual event drawing teens and tweens (and the parents who love them) to the area.
They're calling it The Pop-Con - part pop concert, part music convention - giving teens and tweens the festival experience their older brothers and sisters had to wait years to have.
"We saw a void that exists out there," says John D'Esposito, the talent buyer from concert promoter Live Nation who dreamed up The Pop-Con. "We wanted to give young fans a hands-on experience with pop culture."
The Pop-Con features full sets from Bieber, who recently landed his first Top 5 hit with "Baby," Disney star Selena Gomez, Nickelodeon stars Nat and Alex Wolff and local heroes Push Play, among others. But the daylong event also includes teen-targeted shopping, meet-and-greets with all the stars and industry professionals who will offer advice to fans looking to become musicians or actors themselves.
D'Esposito says he has been planning The Pop-Con for two years, looking for the right venue and the right headliners for its launch. He says Nassau Coliseum was the right place because of the connection between the arena and the exposition center.
A star is born
Picking Bieber as the headliner was an even easier decision, he says.
"It was great timing on everybody's end," says D'Esposito, who lined up Bieber in October, before the raucous crowd at Roosevelt Field resulted in the mall's closing. "This is a big show for him. . . . It's a way for people to see that he is an arena artist. It's good for him music-wise."
(To ensure that Long Island Bieber-mania doesn't get out of hand again, D'Esposito says the show will include more security than the usual Nassau Coliseum concert. "They know how to handle crowds there, obviously," he says. "We just want to make sure everyone is comfortable and we will need a few more people since the fans will be going between the concert and the exhibits.")
The Pop-Con isn't just an opportunity for Bieber, though.
Long Island's Push Play, who recently scored a national radio hit with "Midnight Romeo," say they are looking forward to making their set a special one.
"It'll be amazing," says singer CJ Baran. "Playing Nassau has been an ultimate goal for all of us. We'll have a couple of surprises to celebrate."
One surprise Baran is willing to share beforehand is that the Nassau show will be the last Push Play appearance before it goes on hiatus. "We're going to be taking a little break," says Baran, who will focus on a solo project while his bandmates head to college. "It's incredible to think that just four years ago, we were in the Nassau parking lot handing out fliers and now, we'll be playing on that stage."
Baran says The Pop-Con is a chance for fans of the various acts playing to get introduced to some new music. "It's such a great idea," he says. "We got to play six or seven shows with Justin Bieber last year. His show is so much fun. And we're friends with some of these guys already, like Sean Kingston and Mercy Mercedes. It's going to be a good time."
D'Esposito says he hopes that it will be a good time for the audience as well. He wants to build The Pop-Con into the younger brother to the successful Bamboozle Festival, which D'Esposito also developed.
"We want to get the foundation laid and see how it plays out the first time," he says. "We could have done two days with it this year, but it's just the first step, our first impression."
Hey, big spenders
The Pop-Con could end up becoming big business. Tweens, after all, have $43 billion in spending power annually - about $2,047 for each of the 21 million American children between 8 and 14 years old, according to the Research and Markets study "Tween Spending and Influence." That doesn't even count the billions that their parents spend on them.
The Research and Markets study said that though these children are "still largely influenced and guided by their parents," they are also "eager for independence and to be recognized as individuals."
One way they can express that independence is in the music they choose. Enter Miley Cyrus, Nick Jonas, Bieber, Gomez and the new, ever-growing crop of teen stars. Though they are far more interactive with their fan base than previous generations thanks to YouTube channels, MySpace friendships and multiple Twitter updates, actual face-to-face interaction is still a premium.
Events such as The Pop-Con may be a way to change that, especially giving people a chance to get some priceless one-on-one time with up-and-coming stars. (The concert's VIP passes - which cost $150, for some backstage access to the day's performers, up to $750, which includes meet-and-greets with Bieber and Gomez and access to star-making experts and a private lounge - sold out almost immediately.)
"We're giving fans a lot of reasons to come here," D'Esposito says. "We have our plan in place. All that's left is for everybody to have fun."
JUSTIN TIME: TWEEN TALK WITH THEIR TWEEN IDOL
Who better to chat with tween heartthrob Justin Bieber than a pair of tweens. Kidsday reporters Jacky Vayner and Jessica Lefkowitz from Waverly Park Elementary School in East Rockaway met the 15-year-old singer and asked him all the requisite questions. Here is their conversation, reprinted from a recent Sunday Kidsday:
How and where did you get discovered?
I got discovered about two years ago by my manager, Scooter [Braun]. He found me online. I put YouTube videos on the Internet and got discovered that way.
What do you like most about singing?
I just like to be able to perform for the fans and be able to interact with my fans.
What inspired you to sing?
Well, actually, I always just loved music. I always just loved to sing and stuff. It just kind of happened.
Do you go to regular school or are you home schooled?
Home school. I love it; it's awesome.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town called Stratford, Ontario, in Canada.
What do you like to do when you're not performing?
When I'm not performing, I like to go to the movies and hang out with my friends.
Which celebrities are you friends with?
I'm friends with Taylor Swift, Usher . . . and a couple of others.
Do you get nervous when you perform?
How has being famous changed your life?
Just being able to travel around the world. I get to see some of the great places and stuff.
SOME OF BIEBER'S FAVES
Song Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror"
Hobby Playing hockey