Jan. 11, 2006 - He can sing, he can dance, he is the same height as Pluto and looks a lot like Aladdin.
For the next six months Stephen Adamo, 18, will be performing at the happiest place on Earth, Walt Disney World, as one of its famous Disney cast of characters.
It all started more than three years ago when Adamo donned his high school's mascot costume, the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawk.
He loved the attention, the crowd screaming and the kids smiling. It was a dream to be the mascot of the high school he attended, he said. And now, through the Disney Theme Parks & Resorts College Program, Adamo will continue the dream.
"The best part about it is the kids," he said. "In that suit you can be whoever you want. I can be somebody else."
For the last five months Adamo has been enrolled at the University of Arizona, in the Honors College. On a full scholarship, he has studied and met a lot of friends, he said. But he couldn't forget his mascot days, and the time when he performed in Disneyland with his high school's show choir. During a mock interview, Disney representatives told him he looked an awful lot like Aladdin, incidentally one of his favorite Disney characters. He is half-Hispanic and half-Italian.
Adamo went to his UA counselor and read about an internship program where students can become employees of the park. He loved the idea of being able to become a character again. He wanted to bring joy to others from inside a costume again. But he struggled with the idea of leaving school. He wasn't even sure if he could leave, since he was on a scholarship.
"It (being a mascot) was so much of my high school, but I was really getting comfortable at the UA," he said.
In November, Adamo took a chance and went to the Phoenix-based audition. He was nervous, but danced and sang the way he was taught, with lots of energy and grandiose facial expressions.
He got the part. He would soon be making the move more than 2,000 miles away to Orlando, Fla. and the Magic Kingdom.
And his mother and biggest fan couldn't be happier.
"He's all the way across the United States," Rose Adamo said from her Oro Valley home, as she wiped a single tear from her eye.
Even though her son has never lived this far away from home before, she didn't want him to miss this adventure.
"'Stephen, this is your choice,'" Rose remembers telling her son. "He had all these plans, but you can't pass this opportunity up."
The famous theme park has not told Adamo what character he will be. When he arrives, he will audition for a face character, and he is hoping to become Aladdin.
His mother remembers when Stephen was a little boy and would sit on his top bunk bed and try to "fly off" with a small carpet. He always had it in him, she said.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the college internship for the Disney theme parks. All employees have to abide by strict Disney guidelines, which include certain hair length, no visible tattoos or body alterations, right down to neutral colored eyeglass frames.
All employees must take a Disney history class to bring them up to speed on the past, present and future of the theme park.
Stephen will live in an apartment near the theme park with other students all on the internship program. He will be paid $6.70 an hour, he said.
It is a lot of heritage and tradition to be stepping into, Adamo said, but that is all part of the fun.
He has never been to Walt Disney World before, and even covers up his ears when his mother starts speaking of the theme park. He wants it to all be a surprise.
"It's like Christmas," Stephen Adamo said. "You don't want to open your gift before you get it."
No matter what the park looks like, where he lives or what character he will be, Adamo is certain it is worth taking a radical sabbatical from his college career. He will pick up his full UA scholarship next semester when he returns to Tucson.
"You're kind of like a superhero," he said about being a character and dressing in the costume. "You don't necessarily fight crime, but you make kids happy."
"And you get paid for it," he said.
Erin Schmidt covers the Catalina Foothills and schools. She can be reached at 797-4384 ext 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org