By Anne Valente
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To be fair, semilegitimate celebrities have appeared at O'Neill's competition, but they've been flash-in-the-pan luminaries of iffy wattage such as Pauly Shore, Mickey "Hey, hey, I was a Monkee" Dolenz and ex-game-show-host Bob Eubanks, who will emcee this year's championships.
At press time, it was doubtful that White would be able to take part in this year's competition, although -- with a round-trip plane ticket already purchased -- he vows to go and try. At the very least, White, who struggled mightily to raise the requisite funding for the trip, says he'll find some sort of forum to strut his stuff for the multitude of talent scouts in attendance.
Assuming -- and it's a big leap of faith -- that the One-Wheel Roller "gets discovered" in LA, White sees franchises, sitcoms, movies, speaking engagements and a pimp-ass clothing line in his immediate future.
"I want to show the world that roller-skating never left, come out with a clothing line, a sitcom called Freestyle," says White, who reports that he and Hicks have just returned from a meeting in New York with Def Jam and MTV, where they pitched a concept that would have the two media heavyweights co-producing a video featuring White skating outdoors to hit rap songs.
If the slipper fits, maybe, but at least this pipe dream is based on White's indisputable talent: skating. For his part, Hicks, who owns Mattie's, a soul-food restaurant on Martin Luther King Drive (where White often works for pocket money) says that "Leo wants to launch his career in the skating biz -- like Tony Hawk."
Fair enough. But Hicks is just warming up.
"We want to get Leo speaking at Toastmasters, seminars, AmeriPlan," he babbles. "The health-plan seminar -- that's our grand finale."
If that's Hicks' idea of a finale, we can't wait to see what he has in mind for an encore.
"I want to launch it where Leo could teach balance on skates to youth. He would be the most suitable person to open a rink than anyone I know. The rest of the stuff will follow."
Maybe. After all, White's trip to WCOPA will, if nothing else, land him and his skates in Los Angeles, the undisputed epicenter of the great American starmaking machine. And if O'Neill is right about one thing, it's that "anybody who's anybody comes in as a diamond in the rough." White, with his good looks, charismatic athleticism, folksy charm and magical one-wheel act, certainly has the raw goods required for a brush with fame.
"It's not who you know but who knows you," says White, finally coming up with a reasonable rationale for his LA trip and the brutal fund-raising struggle involved. "We know a lot of people, but who knows us?"
"Imagine if Leo was in Venice Beach skating all the time," says Atlanta-based filmmaker/actor Ken Scruggs, a St. Louis native who has pledged to cast White in his next film, tentatively titled Tattle Tale."I've seen Spike Lee there. I've seen Denzel. Who knows what's gonna happen?"
Deciding whether to take Scruggs' advice -- "Go west, young Leo, and don't come back" -- puts the One-Wheel Roller at a crossroads. Behind door number one: Ditch the Lou for La-La Land and hope your one-wheel roll turns heads on the oceanfront, potentially leading to riches and fame. Door number two: continue to bank on your status as grassroots icon in your hometown and hope that it leads to bigger and better things.
Scruggs -- whose debut feature, Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun, earned him a best-actor nod at the recent Urban Entertainment Conference in Miami -- initially envisioned Nelly and Cedric the Entertainer in the starring roles of Tattle Tale. But Scruggs, relative newcomer to the movie game that he is, soberly recognizes that the people repping Nelly and Cedric won't give a fledgling filmmaker like him the time of day, at least not yet.
"I'm not at a level where I can get those types of people to review my product," acknowledges Scruggs, who, like White, is 34. "But the show must go on. I'm not one of those writers who have one great script. I'm always writing. One day it'll happen.
"With Leo and a lot of people, the problem most of them have is with the business side of things. Leo is extremely talented. The things he does on roller skates I haven't seen anyone else do. All of the things he wants to do can happen, but there's a process. The first thing he has to do is focus on his current talent."
But Scruggs' talent, filmmaking, is something that leads to fame and fortune if executed masterfully. Its home base is Hollywood, for Chrissakes. Meanwhile, White's talent, roller-skating, had its closest brush with pop-culture iconoclasm a quarter-century ago in the form of roller derby, a choreographed, crassly violent pseudosport whose biggest star, Ann Calvello, had to bag groceries on the side to make ends meet.
In other words, if excellence in one's chosen entertainment genre were all that mattered, White and Calvello would be buying Courvoisier by the truckload and chartering private jets by now.