At age nine, Priscilla Diaz is too young to compete on American Idol, but she's determined to become the youngest rap star, ever. Performing as P-Star, she plays gigs in playgrounds, shopping malls, nightclubs, at open mic nights and wherever she can gather a crowd. P-Star Rising follows Priscilla on stage, back stage, in the recoridng studio and, more importantly, in her daily family life.
As the film begins, Priscilla is living with her dad and older sister in a shelter. Her mom, a strung-out drug addict, is entirely out of the picture -- except for a brief and disappointing reunion that happens on camera, later in the film. Priscilla's dad, Jesse, is a former rapper whose career never went anywhere, but he's successfully transferred his dream of stardom to the talented and precocious Priscilla.
Priscilla pretty much accepts it as her responsibility to make it big and provide for her family. With Jesse acting as her manager, she signs a deal to make her first CD. The $10,000 advance they receive puts the family into a nice apartment, buys some bling and a SUV. The change of lifestyle is drastically rags to riches, with no restraint. Priscilla steps up as a little diva who's running the show. But she's basically just a kid with some talent, huge ambition and a lot to learn.
Unfortunately, P-Star's rise to fame and riches isn't as meteoric as Priscilla and Jesse would like it to be. She becomes a minor celebrity, but Jesse's breezy spending of her CD advance has the family again scrambling to make ends meet. Priscilla fronts for a moderately successful kids band, and lands a leading role on PBS' Electric Company series. So, she does wind up supporting her family, but not in quite the way she'd hoped. And, she still dreams of becoming a rap star. So, how old do you have to be to qualify for American Idol?
Priscilla is talented, bright, pretty and likable -- and is unsually self-aware for a child of her age. She's actually quite the phenom. She and Jesse are certainly engaging as the film's central characters, and their story is compelling. But what's most interesting about this documentary is the perspective it adds to the overview of contemporary American youth, and our society's astonishing adulation of adolescent fame and wealth. And, the film actually raises a lot of questions about child welfare. Jesse obviously adores Priscilla, but does the managerial role he plays in her life provide sufficient guidance and support for her emotional development?
As filmmaker, Gabriel Nobel never comments on Priscilla and Jesse's ambitions, motives and decisions, nor on how they're played out during his four years of following them. He just documents their story, and lets you draw your own conclusions. Maybe they won't be the same as mine. But do watch P-Star Rising on PBS on Tuesday, February 9. Then come back here, and leave a comment to express your opinion.
(PHOTO: P-Star performing. Courtesy PBS.)