When OK! Magazine announced 16-year-old Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy in December 2007, it was the best-selling issue since the magazine's American debut in 2005. "We knew it was a very big story, but it took us a little bit by surprise just how big the story became," says Rob Shuter, OK!'s executive editor. "The nightly news was talking about it."
But the story wasn't exactly a publicist's dream. Jamie Lynn was, after all, barely old enough to get her driver's license, and she was a tween icon thanks to her sitcom, "Zoey 101." In October 2007, Jamie Lynn told NEWSWEEK that she didn't have a boyfriend. Ooops! More than a few adolescent health experts cringed at the headlines. "The media doesn't show the downside to teenagers getting pregnant," says Warren Seigel, a pediatrician who founded the Adolescent Medicine Program at Coney Island Hospital. "All they're seeing is the upside ... This concept of having a baby might feel good emotionally when you look at the magazines, but its not reality." To top it off, the announcement of Jamie Lynn's pregnancy came on the heels of the sad news that her big sister, pop princess Britney Spears, had lost custody of her two young sons after a number of incidents where the 27-year-old star had acted bizarrely and been hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation.
But OK! didn't miss a beat in picking up on the Spears birth, quickly organizing a photo shoot with the new mom and teenage dad (and fiancé) Casey Aldridge. The magazine released the exclusive, first photographs of baby Maddie this week, reportedly paying $1 million for them. On the cover, Jamie Lynn, now 17, gushed over how "being a mom is the best feeling in the world." NEWSWEEK's Sarah Kliff talked to Shuter about what message that sends to teens, OK!'s relationship with the Spears' family and why Americans can't seem to get enough of celebrity babies. Excerpts:
NEWSWEEK: On the cover of the magazine, Jamie Lynn says that "being a mom is the best feeling in the world." Do you think you're giving your readers, many of whom are Jamie Lynn's age or younger, an overly glamorous take on teenage pregnancy?
Rob Shuter: I think what we've done successfully in this story is point out that Jamie Lynn is an exceptional situation where she's a young girl but she's already made a handsome living. She's not worried about paying her electricity bill. I think we talk to her about going back to work and what that would be like. I don't think we pretend for one minute that this story is anything but what it is and I hope what we've done is reflected the reality of the story in a fair way. We didn't go down there to slap this girl on the wrist and tell her off.
What message do you think it sends to your teenager readers?
I think it's a very sensitive subject. I can totally understand why people have concerns about it. I can tell you too it's nothing Jamie Lynn hasn't had to deal with herself on a daily basis. This young girl has made some very hard choices ... She can only talk about her own circumstances but she certainly is not a spokesperson for teen pregnancy. I think what we try to do in this story really carefully is say that this is Jamie Lynn's story. This is not a girl at a high school story. This is a story about Jamie Lynn and her exceptional story in really, really unique circumstances and how she's making decisions. That's what this is about. We don't set out to be the moral authority. We try to present the facts and let our readers decide.
OK! broke the news of Jamie Lynn's pregnancy back in December and now has the first photographs of the baby. How have you developed a relationship with Jamie Lynn to get so much access?
A while ago we had the exclusive Britney Spears sit down interview and photo shoot, really about her comeback. We did the photo shoot in L.A. and unfortunately it did not go as well as what we had hoped ... it was sort of like a meltdown. It was the first time a journalist or a magazine had really spent any time with Britney. There had been all these stories about her shaving her head but all write-arounds and no journalist had really had access to Britney for an entire day. OK! spent the entire day with Britney and what we saw was really upsetting and very scary. We decided as a magazine not to show the pictures from the shoot that were just not flattering and really just tell the experience of what it was like to spend the day with Britney Spears.
I think we gave Britney a really fair story about what happened that day ... we really used the story as a way to say we hope she got the help she needed. The family evidently was very pleased with how we handled it ... it put OK! magazine front and center in Britney's family's mind. So when Jamie Lynn found out she was pregnant, they approached OK! about bringing the story. Many, many other weeklies out there would really turn that into a scandal story, and it's a sensitive, delicate story. And we wanted to handle it in a way that was fair. We didn't want to do a press release, we didn't want to do a big glossy cover, we wanted to tell the truth in a way where we didn't come in with an agenda.
How did Jamie Lynn go from Britney's little sister to international celebrity?
I think she became a star by making very smart choices. The mistake that some magazines make about the Spears is thinking they're not a smart family. That is absolutely ridiculous. These are very, very smart young girls. Britney has certainly had her troubles but Jamie Lynn has really learned from years and years of observing this international superstar as her sister. She's seen things that happened to Britney and really learned the lessons so when it came to her own story, or her own image or her own press, she made really smart choices.
What did you want to get out of this new photo shoot? What did you want to come across about Jamie Lynn?
We wanted to have the most intimate moments. Whenever we do photo shoots with babies, we always want to shoot it ourselves, the original art owned by OK! We have a photographer at their home, we always have to have it at their home. We want them in their most natural environment. We want them at home on their couch, in the kitchen, in the bedroom. We want to go in the nursery, we want to see what toys they have on their bed. I want to see the cribs. Those are the moments we really want. I want to know all the tiny details. Who gets up in the middle of the night if the baby cries? I want all that information. When we're in the home, I love the little details. Our readers love the little details.
How real is the photo shoot? Is that Jamie Lynn's home or are we seeing props?
That lamp with that duck on it, that's her lamp. We don't stage things, it's not a shoot for a glossy magazine or a commercial. This is real life; we want it to look real. The magazines on her coffee table are her magazines. The stuff in her kitchen, that's her coffee maker, not ours. We certainly didn't bring things in for the nursery, that's her nursery. What we turn up with is a photographer and a reporter.
How was Casey Aldrige, Jamie Lynn's fiancé, at the photo shoot?
I think Casey has had this whirlwind of attention upon him. Initially, when we started the photo shoot, he was a little uncomfortable but as the day went on he loosened up a little bit. [OK! spent one day at the couple's house, and then conducted an interview with Jamie Lynn for a few hours the following day.] I think you can see on his expression that he's not as used to having his photo taken as little Jamie Lynn.
Throughout OK! Magazine, there is a lot of baby coverage, looking at who is pregnant and how new moms are losing their baby weight. Why is it such a hot topic?
Our readers love babies. Babies are the new "it" factor in the celebrity market. I think the reason that this is the case is that readers want to see celebrities be themselves, be real, and there's nothing more natural and real than giving birth and having a baby. I think it's catching a celebrity at their most, intimate, tender ... It also helps that most celebrities, by the nature of celebrity, are some of the most beautiful people in the world. I think there's a curiosity factor of seeing if two beautiful people have a baby, what that baby looks like.
How big was the story of Jamie Lynn's pregnancy for OK!?
The attention and press, it might be one of the biggest stories that OK! has ever had in America if not the world. It was an international story. It was on the cover of the London newspapers, the German newspapers, the French newspapers. It was just an extraordinary moment. I think we knew it was a very big story but it took us a little bit by surprise just how big this story became. The nightly news was talking about it.
What's the next chapter? Do you have plans for future Jamie Lynn coverage?
We have a great interest in the Spears family as an entire family, the Jamie Lynn addition and her daughter is something I think we find, as editors, really interesting. Our readers find it very, very interesting and the amount of debate is interesting. This is a story that is a very complex story to tell and I think because of that nature it makes it really interesting. I can't wait to see the decisions she makes, if she stays in Louisiana or goes back to Hollywood. She's very young and could have an amazing career ahead of her.