LOS ANGELES - Remember as a child when it felt as if Christmas morning was never going to arrive? The Clique Girlz have been living with that same unbearable anticipation for 18 months now.
The impossibly young vocal trio, made up of sisters Destinee and Paris Monroe (13 and 12 years old, respectively) and Ariel Moore, 13, moved with their families from the Jersey Shore to Los Angeles at the beginning of 2007 to pursue their dream of becoming pop stars.
"We came out to L.A. for three days of meetings and never went back," says Destinee. Then she sniffles, "I miss my puppies."
The girls . . . sorry, the Girlz, have spent most of their time on the West Coast laboriously assembling their debut album, due to be released at the end of the summer.
"We're really excited and pumped," says Destinee. "We've recorded over 60 songs and now we have to pick 12. The label wanted us to experiment with what our sound would come out to be. We would do R&B songs and really pop songs and then we did pop-rock and we said, 'Oh my God, we so have to do pop-rock.' "
"We've been working on our style, not just our sound," adds Paris. "Our clothing, our fashions. It's kind of a pop-rock look. We like a lot of colorful things."
"We all wear Converse sneakers," says Ariel. "And we like a lot of glitter and cool sparkly jewelry."
Wait, back to the music for a second. Sixty songs?
That may sound excessive, but in the music business, a group's first release is more than ever considered to be make-or-break. The trio's record label is confident of the Girlz' potential; it wants to make sure the initial presentation is as good as possible.
Already, the Girlz have a three-song EP for sale on iTunes. They're scheduled to perform on the Today show on June 17 and to open for John Legend's Fourth of July concert on the Parkway. Their music - imagine a crunchy version of Lindsay Lohan's albums - is surprisingly mature for their ages.
"We don't have that many young artists," says Martin Kierszenbaum, senior vice president of A&R for Interscope Records. Veteran producer Vincent Herbert (JoJo, Ashley Angel Parker) brought the Girlz to the label's attention. "We weren't looking to get into the young-music scene. But every step of the way, our people were so impressed with their talent. We want to make a strong record to showcase their vocals and phrasing."
Of course, it's easy to take the long view when you're an adult. But try it when you can still order from the kiddie menu.
"We feel like it's taken five years" to make the album, says Destinee. "Since we're kids we expected it to move fast and it seems like it's been taking forever and ever."
"We have a very short attention span," adds Paris.
That much is apparent on a spring afternoon inside a squat rehearsal studio in a warehouse district adjoining the Burbank airport. The girls are little bundles of energy, constantly singing to themselves, trying out dance moves and checking their cell phones.
They are excitedly preparing to open for Raven-Symoné on her Pajama Party Tour, eager to get their first glimpse of their very own tour bus.
But days before the tour is scheduled to begin, it is canceled for what Raven's camp describes as "unforeseeable circumstances." (In the music business, that often translates as "sluggish ticket sales.")
For the Clique Girlz, the cancellation is another speed bump on the road to fame.
Fortunately, even being on the fringes of show business is pretty thrilling for these Jersey kids.
"My mom was walking down the aisle at the supermarket and she met Mario Lopez," says Destinee. "I was so mad because I want to meet him so bad. We are Saved by the Bell freaks."
"We have met so many people in this business," says Paris. "Avril Lavigne, the cast from High School Musical. We're friends with the Jonas Brothers. Ooh, and Ryan Seacrest. At the Kids' Choice Awards he sat right in front of us."
"The artists that are on our label already know about us," says Ariel.
"[Interscope chairman] Jimmy Iovine plays our tapes for everyone," says Paris.
"We were on the red carpet at the American Music Awards," says Destinee, "and [singer] T-Pain came running up to us and was like, 'Oh my God, it's the Clique Girlz. I'm such a fan.' And we said, you know us?"
Ariel jumps in: "And T-Pain said, 'Jimmy showed me your video.' "
"He shows everybody our video," says Destinee, with that weary adolescent air.
But there are surreal moments, too, as the Girlz wait anxiously in the green room for their moment in the spotlight.
In March they flew to Japan to sing the national anthem for Major League Baseball's season-opening game between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland A's at the Tokyo Dome.
"When we got there everybody looked at us because no one there has blond hair," says Destinee.
"After we sang at the venue," continues Paris, "one person came up and took a picture of us. And then three more. Then 15. Finally there 50 people snapping pictures of us. We were standing there smiling and saying [with lockjaw], 'OK, my teeth are hurting.' "
A quick perusal of the tabloids doesn't paint a rosy picture for former child stars. Makes you wonder how any parent would encourage a child to pursue a career in showbiz.
But Ed Monroe, the father of Destinee and Paris, insists that the Girlz are unstoppable. "Honestly, I didn't want them in the business," he says. "But they're driven. That's all they do. They wake up singing."
The Monroes took out a second mortgage on their home in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., to construct the home recording studio where they recorded the demo that brought them to Los Angeles.
Legendary Philadelphia music promoter Larry Magid, who has been consulting for the Clique Girlz on concert presentation, thinks the youngsters will benefit from the Monroes' familiarity with the star-making machinery. Ed is a guitarist, producer and sound engineer who has managed live events at the Trump Taj Mahal for many years. The girls' mom, Lenore, worked in record-label marketing and promotions.
"They've been in the business, so they're more aware of the pitfalls," Magid says. "I never got a sense they were living through their kids. Hopefully, the parents, because of their background, will be an asset rather than a detriment."
For now, the girls seem cheerful and grounded, following their online home-schooling program for three hours a day and even doing household chores.
"We fold our laundry," says Paris. "We're always cleaning up."
"I was over at their house yesterday and they were like all playing [the video game] Rock Band," says Ariel, who has been best friends with Destinee since they were fourth grade classmates at the Dr. Joyanne D. Miller School in Egg Harbor Township. "And Lenore was like, 'Clean up your room!' and I was like, 'I'll do it.' I'm like their sister."
In the rehearsal studio, Lenore hovers like a mother hen. She stands directly behind a reporter during an interview with the girls, coaching them on their answers by emphatically gesturing and silently mouthing phrases, like a sign-language interpreter pumped up on Red Bull.
Her influence can be seen whenever one of the girls reverses a response mid-sentence, as when Destinee is asked if being transplanted from New Jersey was difficult.
"We kind of missed it when we moved out," she says, then glances up and pauses. ". . . But no. We kind of adapted to it as we kept going over the months. Oh, I kind of miss the Shore and stuff. But now we're just straight L.A."
The threesome giggles at this description.
Right now, the Clique Girlz are all about making a splash with that first album. But Girlz being girls, they can't help looking ahead.
"We've saved some songs that were a little too old for us right now," says Ariel.
"We've already got like five songs for our next album," says Destinee.
"We're already thinking ahead and our album hasn't even come out yet," says Paris.
"We're still young," says Ariel, "and so our next album, we'll probably be like 15 or whatever."
They might look like a blur of blond hair and teeth, but the Clique Girlz have distinctive favorites: