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Orlando Magic LA Times (US), July 12, 2003
By Mona Gable

Fan-girl frenzy has transformed the handsome "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor into a major heartthrob.

Theresa Kelley is a sensible, well-rounded girl. Just a few months shy of 12, she's an ace pitcher on an all-star softball team, plays piano and, for a girl on the cusp of puberty, doesn't talk back to her mother too much. Though it's summer vacation, she's completely engrossed in the new Harry Potter book. "I really, really, really like it," she says one recent afternoon in her suburban L.A. home.

But when it comes to true love, we all have moments when we lose our heads. And Theresa's downfall, alas, is right in plain sight on her bulletin board. It's a small shiny Valentine card with a picture of Legolas, the earnest elf in "The Lord of the Rings." Theresa filched the card from a classmate.

Theresa adores the character Legolas, but her real passion is for the cutie who played him. Like countless young girls across America, she's wild about British heartthrob Orlando Bloom. Would she call it a crush? "Maybe," she says, burying her face. "I think I would sound pathetic if I said it was a crush, but it probably is."

Ever since girls discovered the lithe, handsome Bloom in "The Fellowship of the Ring" and started obsessing about him on the Web his love life, his hobbies, his hair the 26-year-old has become the "it" actor for the preteen set. In "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," the splashy Jerry Bruckheimer-produced flick that opened Wednesday, Bloom has his first real starring role in a big movie, one that could hardly draw more attention to his boyish charm.

Clad in tights and a frilly blouse, his curls bound in a ponytail, he's a good-hearted blacksmith-turned-pirate. Bloom plays straight man to the sexy Johnny Depp and he may be as much of a draw for "Pirates" as the better-known Depp, at least for his young-girl fan base.

In terms of fan-girl frenzy on the Web, Bloom is now bigger than brace yourself Josh Hartnett. And don't even bring up Brad Pitt. On Yahoo's Buzz Index of searches for the top 20 actors and actresses in late June, he even beat out Demi Moore's boyfriend Ashton Kutcher.

Obsessing over movie stars is nothing new, of course; ever since there have been teen fan magazines, girls have fallen for dreamy-looking actors and swooned endlessly about them with friends. But now, instead of the phone, they've got a more powerful tool to fuel their romantic fantasies: the Web, and with it, the astonishing ability to influence an actor's popularity.

"It makes it much easier for information to swirl around in the fan community," says Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which studies girls' use of the Web. "It makes it easier for fans to hang out together, even if they don't live in the same spot. Girls are more into instant messaging. They send each other links for fan sites. And so this is a new venue for kids hanging out with each other and for squealing, the way kids have always squealed about stars."

Every girl's fantasy

Squealing hardly describes it. If the hundreds of postings about Bloom could talk, the screams would be deafening. "I LOVE HIM!!!! He is sooooooo hott and such a great actor!!!" shouts one teen fan on YM.com, the teen magazine's Web site.

"Since the first 'Lord of the Rings' movie, Orlando Bloom has consistently been one of their favorite guys," says Alyssa Petrano, entertainment director of YM magazine, which featured Bloom and his "Rings" co-star Elijah Wood in a split issue of the January 2003 cover. "He's polling as the No. 1 person no matter who we put him up against."

On YM.com's message boards, type in Bloom's name and it's like stumbling into a party line of feverish, opinionated girls. Is he still dating actress Kate Bosworth (of "Blue Crush")? Who's hotter: Elijah or Orlando? What does Orlando Bloom look best as? "Is this a joke?" replied someone calling herself talentinbloom. "He honestly looks best as himself."

More recently, in anticipation of his appearance in "Pirates," Bloom was "this week's cute boy" on Teenmag.com.

All this fervor, and the classically trained actor, who graduated from London's distinguished Guildhall School of Music and Drama, has been in relatively few films (he's currently shooting "Troy," based on Homer's epic "The Iliad," in which he plays Paris). So why has he pirated so many young girls' hearts? Perhaps because he seems to embody the perfect romantic fantasy for young teens he's sweet, not too heavy on the testosterone and has an accent. A star who is more overtly sexual can be overwhelming for girls, according to psychologists who work with teenagers.

The Internet influence

Still, even teen observers are surprised by Bloom's appeal. "I do think it's a phenomenon that they have glommed onto him so completely when he has not done a movie with a major role," says Petrano. "It's really been a groundswell from teenage girls who are hooked into his looks and his charm."

That groundswell started with girls flooding the Internet, desperate for details about the cute, mysterious elf. Soon there were dozens of Web sites devoted to Bloom and message boards full of lovesick females professing their love, giddily calling themselves "bloom_crazy" and "I luv_orly" and "orli_gurl13." Call it girl power on the Web, but that fan base transformed Bloom from obscure actor into near movie star.

"The first time the Internet became known as this powerhouse of influence was with 'The Blair Witch Project,' " says Stuart Fischoff, a professor of media psychology at Cal State Los Angeles, who examines how various mass media influence culture and entertainment. "From that point, every studio, every star, from the A-list down to the F-list, now has a site. If they don't start it, they get their agent or some fans to start it. It's incredibly simple to build up this fan base."

With Bloom finally having a prominent role in a fairly grown-up film, adults will have the privilege of knowing who he is too. Will there be I luv Orli!!! message boards as a result on CNN's Web site and iVillage.com?

Certainly girls are frantic with anticipation about "Pirates." "I can't wait," says Theresa with a big smile.Every generation of young fans wants stars they can call their own and for this one, it's Bloom. As hard as it may be for some to fathom, punky and her friends won't be storming "Pirates" for Depp, of whom Petrano says, "My readers don't know who he is. He was a teenage heartthrob a generation ago. They'll probably go see 'Pirates' to see Orlando and will be introduced to Johnny Depp through him. They'll never love him. That's just way too old for them."