I was watching the ’80s horror comedy movie The Monster Squad with my 12-year old daughter this past weekend when I went down a fairly large rabbit hole. It tends to be a somewhat common trait for those who identify as geeks, but when I get interested in something, I can get downright obsessive about it. Watching that movie, I was reminded that my sister used to have a crush on Ryan Lambert (one of the film’s stars) when we were kids. After a quick trip to IMDB, I remembered the genesis of her crush: Kids Incorporated. I hadn’t thought about that television show in years, but now I was on a mission to learn all I could find about the long-forgotten gem of my youth. Join me down the rabbit hole and geek out with me, won’t you?
What was Kids Incorporated?
Kids Incorporated (or Kids Inc.) was a musical comedy show which debuted in September 1984. It starred a group of kids and teens whose characters congregated at a youth hangout called “The Place” (originally named “The Palace” during the building’s time as an old music club, but the sign’s “a” burned out and was never replaced) and performed popular songs on stage with a plot between songs. Every episode was different and the story lines were pretty crazy (they included aliens, a genie, robots, and more), but let’s be honest, they were merely cannon fodder to get to the singing and dancing. Much like SNL, the cast lineup changed each season, reflected by a new cast intro each time. In a post-Fame, pre-Glee world, Kids Inc. was one of the only places to live vicariously for those of us who dreamed of being a performer one day.
Why Should I Care?
Um. Are you kidding me? This show was great! Remember, this was before the new Mickey Mouse Club, so until Kids Inc. the only other singing kids show we had at our disposal was Kidsongs, which was utterly dreadful even viewed through a child’s eyes. If you’re a nostalgia junkie like me, then this show is one of the few that should be placed on a pedestal and worshiped as a monument that perfectly encapsulates the ’80s. From the clothes, hairstyles, and music of the ’80s to the arcade games in the malt shop and the free-range kids with no curfew (seriously, where were the parents?!), this show is peak Americana.
The music on the show was fantastic because they covered current hits of the day, some of which still hold up. The kids themselves were stars in-the-making and the show would be the launch point for several now-famous celebrities such as pop star Fergie, actress and singer Jennifer Love Hewitt, and a pre-Saved by the Bell Mario Lopez, among others. Watching as an adult, the show certainly shows its age and doesn’t hold up in many areas like it did when you or I were kids, but that doesn’t detract from the joy of revisiting it.
Kids Incorporated Highlights:
With 9 seasons and 154 22-minute episodes, there are way too many highlights to narrow down, but here’s a few I enjoyed:
1. Great Music
Let’s be honest, the storylines were secondary to the songs, and the good news is many of the songs still hold up. The show featured covers from top artists of the day including Billy Idol, Michael Jackson, Naughty by Nature, Kenny Loggins, and more. Martika was the obvious highlight of the show and went on to have a successful music career within her own right with the #1 hit “Toy Soldiers,” but that doesn’t mean the rest of the cast are slouches. Check out first-year cast member Jerry Sharell (Mickey) nailing a great rendition of Cory Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” below:
2. Celebrity Guests
While the main cast of Kids Incorporated was great, there were plenty of episodes featuring guest stars such as David Hasslehoff, Florence Henderson, Gwen Verdon (!), and a young Brittany Murphy. My favorite guest stint, however, was Jeff Cohen in peak geek form just as he was at the height of his Goonies fame from playing Chunk. Check out this enjoyable cringe-worthy clip with Jeff in short shorts, suspenders, and a beanie singing a song as a practical joker (bonus points for the underrated and uncommon Galpus arcade game). If you could somehow stomach the clip below, you can watch part 2 here.
3. Rahsaan Patterson
Ok. We all know Stacy Ferguson (AKA Fergie) would go on to become a huge pop star as a soloist and with the Black Eyed Peas and Martika had a voice that perfectly encapsulated the ’80s sound, but Rahsaan Patterson was the heart of this show. I mean, besides Eddie Murphy, this dude is probably the only person to pull off wearing a Michael Jackson-esque red leather jacket unironically. Plus, he was able to rock a flipped-up painters cap or newsboy’s hat like no tomorrow. Talented in his own right, he could sing and dance while simultaneously showing all the enthusiasm and charisma in the world! Plus, his name on the show was simply “Kid,” without calling him Rahsaan by his real name until the last of his four seasons on the show. How cool is that? Your eyes cannot escape his magnetism whenever he’s on screen. Here he is giving Fergie a run for her money:
Kids Incorporated Fun Facts:
- Though the initial pilot was filmed in 1983 and it lasted 9 seasons, reruns still aired on the Disney Channel through 1996.
- The series actually went on hiatus for two separate years in the middle of production. Kenny Ford, Jr. (Kenny) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Robin) were the only two returning cast members as the others aged out.
- Stacy Ferguson was actually the longest-serving cast member, starring in six of the nine seasons.
- Michael Mimich cut his directing teeth on 3 episodes of Kids Incorporated, but would go on to enjoy a long career in television directing including MTV’s The State, 143 episodes of The Price is Right, and recently @Midnight.
- The pilot was never aired on TV, but was released as a VHS titled Kids Incorporated: The Beginning. Copies of this VHS are somewhat rare and currently sell on eBay to collectors for $80 or more.
- With the music being the main attraction of the show, it should come as no surprise that Kids Incorporated released four record albums over the show’s run with two achieving platinum status.
Where Are the Kids Incorporated Cast Now:
There were plenty of cast members to share the screen over the years. Some shot to stardom while others stepped out of the spotlight for good. Here’s a look at what several of the early cast members have been up to since Kids Incorporated went off the air (as of September 2017).
- Stacy Ferguson – Better known now as “Fergie,” Stacy rode the pop music train from Wild Orchid to the Black Eyed Peas to a successful solo career. Her newest music video featuring Nicki Minaj is below. You can follow her on Twitter.
- Ryan Lambert – Ryan was a teen heartthrob who is now touring with his fellow Monster Squad cast member André Gower celebrating the 30th anniversary of the cult classic film. They also have a podcast together called Squadcast and can be seen hosting Short Ends on Alpha. You can follow Ryan on Twitter.
- Martika – Her iconic voice carried the show in the early years and proved a success with her #1 Billboard hit “Toy Soldiers.” Martika enjoyed continued success in the music industry and wrapped up a “Totally ’80s Tour” in Australia with Berlin, Men Without Hats, and others in 2016. Check out a more recent Martika song below. You can follow her on Twitter.
- Rahsaan Patterson – After early success on Star Search and Kids Incorporated, Rahsaan continued to work in the music industry. His music earned spots on the Billboard Hot R&B charts and a BET Award for Underground Artist. He continues to create and perform his own music. You can follow him on Twitter.
- Renee Sands – With Fergie, Renee also jumped aboard the pop train following Kids Incorporated as part of the music trio Wild Orchid. Renee Sandstrom-Welles is now a wife and mother, but still uses her talent as a singer most notably as the singing voice of Princess Fiona from Shrek. She is a social media ghost.
- Jerry Sharell – Only featured as the character Mickey in the original season, from what I can gather, Jerry is still active in the music industry as communications director at the Recording Academy (the folks behind the Grammys). You can follow him on Twitter.
The question on most Kids Incorporated fanatics minds has to be whether or not there will ever be a non-bootlegged DVD release of the series. Based on the difficult and costly licensing issues with the music from the show, it appears doubtful. However, The Wonder Years was long thought to be an impossible task as well, but it finally saw a re-release, so never say never. For now, if you’re craving the show, get your fix from the incredible YouTube channel and feel like a kid again. YEAH!