Chasen Hampton

The Mousekeeters are finally coming home for a grand reunion to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the show’s debut episode and the 90th birthday of Mickey Mouse himself. Featuring cast from all seven seasons of the Mickey Mouse Club, #MMC30 is organized and produced by alumni Dale Godboldo, who is behind the Always In The Club Foundation, and Chasen Hampton in support of Give Kids The World Village, and onePULSE Foundation. Hosted by Joey Fatone, the event is happening on May 18-19 at Walt Disney World® Resort in Orlando, FL.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down for a series of interviews with some of the Mousekeeters who are going to be part of the event, including co-Executive Producer Chasen Hampton. As part of the original cast of the Mickey Mouse Club since Season 1, he went on hiatus after Season 4 but returned as co-host in Season 7. He was also part of the pop group, The Party, along with fellow some of his fellow MMC alumni. Since then, he has remained in the music industry as a songwriter and producer, as well as a singer and actor. He recently released a new single.

Tell us the story of how you became a MMC member.

The craziest thing is I actually never auditioned for the Mickey Mouse Club. Back in ’88, there was that was this worldwide kind of Star Search-ish casting call going on and Matt Casella had started this endeavor and he was looking to find a cast that represented the original cast. So it was that there was a movie called Why? Because We Like You that was going to be produced. Basically, I’d gone through the audition there and I went to Dallas—my dad got a random call and we drove down. I’m from Oklahoma City, so we drove down in the middle of the night and checked into the hotel.

I had done a lot of these kinds of things before, I competed in tri-state areas. But I’m from Oklahoma. So, you know, I only can do so much. But I was winning competitions and doing singing and dancing, and because I was in these random competitions, I could juggle and unicycle and do all these random things like tap dance. And so I walked in the hotel about 1:00 a.m. with a friend of mine and my mom, and I had my boombox in one hand with all my cassette tapes that I was going to sing to or dance to if I needed to.

I had my jams on—you know, remember jams back in the day when people wore these loud shorts? I was 11 years old and this is the coolest part. Across the lobby, I heard some ruckus going on. It was 1:00 a.m., so there was not a lot going on at that time. But in comes three or four adults, kind of having a good time. And they’d obviously been out having some drinks and some dinner and they yelled across the whole lobby, “Hey, look at that kid. Hey, are you here for the Mickey Mouse Club audition?” I turned around and this guy said, “Well, where are the casting directors.” I was like, “All right, cool. Let’s go right now.” They laughed. They thought that was really funny. So he said, “No, we’ll see you tomorrow. I will see you tomorrow.”

The next day, there were over a thousand people in line, and you’re stressing out. When am I going to get in there? The whole bit. Once I went in, he instantly remembered me from the night before, which was just a great fate moment that gave me a chance to kind of relax for a second and not be so uptight. I went through all my stuff and I never came out of that room. My mom came in about 30, 45 minutes later, saying, “I’m looking for my son.” He’d had me come around and hang behind the table with him and he was feeding through auditions and we were just palling around. It was just the easiest thing that ever happened.

Entertainment Tonight came in. They sent me off to Entertainment Tonight to be interviewed and they were kind of telling me, “Well, they really like you.” You know, I was totally green to the whole thing, but that luck and being ready for that moment, it was really important. I was ready and that, and it was good timing that all the planets aligned. It was just an incredible day.

I went to the callback in California and this was still for the movie. I got the part, but at that time, one of the first writers’ strikes of my generation happened in 1988, and all the shows were in reruns, everything. So they just cut that whole thing and said, “We’re obviously not going to do that.” But at the same time in Florida—because Florida wasn’t being affected by what was happening in the film industry and you know, different laws and rules, different union (the union hasn’t really set up there)—they were making these Disney studios, MGM studios.

Now when they first started this show, some people will tell you that no one really knows what the real agenda was for the show. Was it for the Disney channel or was it for the park? Because we were really serving two masters. We were working for the Disney channel, but yet, every part of the set and every part of what we were doing and the recording studios and the dances, there were people walking by and watching us at all times, which we can easily forget. That’s something that kind of weighed into our discipline. I’ve always trying to remember that we’re on every time we’d walk out. It was just kind of incredible.

I made it through that audition, and they had the writer’s strike. Matt Cassella said he instantly just took one picture off a wall and put it on the other bulletin board and said, “Well, I got one guy for this series. Now let’s start building a series.” And they started pulling people from the bulletin board from what he’d cast in, and then they sent him back on the road to find more kids. Before you know it, we were on set and meeting each other for the first time. I don’t really think we knew what we were in for. It was incredible.

One of the really trippy things was we were all people. You’ve heard of the other kids talk about the competition and we all came in, like, “What does do?” He’s a dancer. He’s a singer. We all could kind of do the same thing, but it was really interesting. How do you stick out? How do you stick out in a group where everybody’s as talented as you are? It was an interesting thing and I think that’s where that authenticness and that lesson is really learned because how do you stick out? How am I going to be important or special on this show when I got auditioned for all these great things I can do but everybody else can do them on the show, too? Not as special anymore.

What made us special was really who we were as people. I was a redhead or I could juggle or I was quirky or I wore my heart on my sleeve or I was emotional. We all had these little things that we learned were good things. It was good.

A lot of times when we’re kids, we’re always looking at the TV, trying to be someone we’re not or trying to be like, “I want to be that guy. I want those shoes, I want that shirt.” They let us do whatever we want. I was wearing two different-colored shoes—I had one black shoe, one white shoe—and my hair was all spiked up. But we got mad fan mail for that because we were relatable in some quirky way. I was kind of the quirky guy and there was the heartthrob—you know, there was one of everybody that someone could relate to. It was really kind of special.

That’s how I made it there and I truly think that happened because of luck. That’s not to say I didn’t deserve it. I think luck is a really important thing to talk about. I talk about it to my kids that I teach. People say luck is the residue of design. If that’s true, that’s exactly what happened at that moment because I came in, ready and prepared, even though I didn’t realize I was ready and prepared for that moment. I had all the tools in my belt. Do you want me to juggle? You want me to tap dance? You want me to unicycle? What do you want? I got it. It just happened to be the perfect storm.

What was one of the most important lessons that you got from that experience that helped you get to where you are today?

Number one lesson—that’s really hard to narrow down. The training was unbelievable for later on in life. To know that you can value yourself and all that kind of stuff I just mentioned, it’s really important because there are times when you’re looking for a job or you’re filling out a resume and you’re like, “Wait, do I have the skillset for this? What really makes me fit into this?” Sometimes it is just as easy as going in and meeting the person, shaking their hands, and realizing you guys are a great fit. You guys get along. That relationship can get you that job and make you a better team. When I’m teaching my kids and they’re musicians, I always say, “You know, if I’m going to book you on tour, I don’t care if you’re the best guitar player in the world. I’m going to probably hire the guy that’s not an asshole. If I have to go on the road with you and live with you and eat with you and negotiate money and all this stuff, I want somebody who I can hang out with and we can compromise and talk and listen to each other.” So I think those are really important things. We all learned from each other.

The discipline was insane because the group and the grueling schedule was really incredible. One thing I learned that I wish I would’ve done more of—and I wish someone would have told me—that I try to pass on, and that is to be better at maintaining relationships. We were on tour all over the world as The Party and Hollywood Records. And I’m sitting with everybody—Dr. Dre, Teddy Riley, Snoop Dogg. We were teenagers. When you’re a teenager, you’re just trying to fit in and be cool and someone once told me that to be cool, don’t try to be. That’s one of those things we try to adopt. It’s something as easy as passing a card, getting a phone number. That’s half of it. But maintaining that relationship is the other half. You know, not just calling on somebody when you need something—like we’ve all done it at some point in our life.

Dale [Godboldo] and I talked about this the other day with Joey Fatone—somebody who I’ve kept in touch with since we left the Mickey Mouse Club. We didn’t just call him and say, “Hey man, you want to do this to help us out?” It just made sense. He was there all along. He’s been our bro all along. He’s been supporting us all along. A lot of times when people go to college, they rely on the people and the relationships they made in college. We didn’t really have that. We kind of had this weird experience and then we kind of split off from each other and went back to, “Okay, how do we make it work now?” Well, now we really have to become an entrepreneur. Now we have to kind of sift and remember all these things we learned about branding and content creation and engagement.

Yeah, I would really say the main thing is relationships and maintaining those relationships and knowing when to call on people, knowing how to build teams. Don’t go build a team of people who you think are the greatest at their job. Build them with people who you can trust and want to move forward with.

Tell us what you’re doing as an entrepreneur or business person today.

I spent many a year in Los Angeles running and gunning and doing shows and doing singing and acting and the whole bit. Where I really landed and found myself in love was working with children and I ended up a music director for a studio out in Agora Hills, CA. I had never heard of Agora Hills, CA before I went out there and started doing this. But I ended up with a good 2 or 300 kids and we had summer camps and I just fell in love, sharing the experience I had as a child in this industry because all these guys were children and a lot of times, the parents would be like, “You know, is this right or is my kid even good enough to do this?” I really had that knowledge to tell them, “Yes, and this is what you can expect.” Or “No, maybe you should just try something else. He’s not into it and you’re making him do it. Don’t do that.”

But what was really cool about that—the studio—is the location, the north side of Malibu. It was a really prominent area and I had no idea at the time that my students were all celebrities’ kids like Slash’s children, Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue, the Elton John Band, guys from Tool and Incubus. You name it. They were in that area and they would come and help out. They’d program the keyboards for us or they would run up on stage and do shows with us. I was a teacher here, but even still me, as an artist, I’m getting this amazing experience on stage with Slash or on stage with the Elton John Band, singing Rocket Man with the guys who really wrote it. How is this happening? Again from giving back, and I think that’s a really cool thing that keeps happening in my life. By giving back, I’m receiving some great things. This Mickey Mouse Club 30th anniversary is one of them. The fact that these guys trust me and trust Dale with their memories because this was very important to all of us because we were children. It’s where we grew up or went to school. We had our first kiss or girlfriend. It’s deep. It’s really deep. In fact, it’s so deep, like Dale talks about how there’d be no *NSYNC or these kinds of fun things to talk about, but for me, I met my wife on the first season.

I was 13 years old. She walked in and she was in the audience and she had no idea what she was there for. She got pulled into being in the audience from the studio. We laid eyes on each other and had a crush on each other and we went on a date at Pleasure Island. Our parents dropped us off. And there were no internet or cellphones back then, but, we kept in touch and we’re married today. I have two beautiful children and we go back to Disney all the time because it’s literally where we first met. It’s the pinnacle. It’s everything, you know, and I wouldn’t have what I have now as far as my family is concerned, and my family is obviously the most important thing to me. My wealth is my memories, honestly.

I don’t live too high falutin, but I really love to give back and I really fell in love with giving back to children and I continue to do that to this day, mentoring children. I teach children online. I have a couple of bands out here in Boston who I still work with. I work with guys in CA, still online. A lot of artist development stuff.

I still sing. I’ll never put that down. It’ll never go away. It’s therapeutic for me to be a songwriter and to kind of get my feelings out and be able to still do that. I just had a new single I released called the I Die Without You, an old ‘90s song cover from PM Dawn like they did in the ‘90s. Actually, a really cool story with that is Dale’s talking about what are some of the greatest things about the Mickey Mouse Club, this reunion. It’s going to be really special to us, talking about the fans and the connection to our fans. I did something really interesting with this new single.

A lot of times when we’re creating and doing stuff online, we don’t realize it, but our page has become a little bit too promotional and people are kind of like, “Eh, okay, you’ve got something for sale.” But what I did is I flipped the script and turned it back on them. I said, “Hey, could get everybody send in a picture of them or something they would die without? And they just started pouring in and I said, “Can you also tell me who’s in the picture and what that story is?” And I got flooded with thousands of these messages and engagement that I didn’t have to sponsor. And it just kept coming because people wanted to talk about themselves and tell me about themselves rather than me telling them about me. They already know about me. Why do I have to tell them about me? So here they were telling me about them and I really didn’t even realize what I had done until I started reading these messages. And I started just bawling because some of them were about fertility, the children that passed away. One girl had shown her husband and said, “He just got deported. We need him back. His kids are here.”

I mean, there was just these stories that will rip your heart out. What I did is I took all those pictures that I asked people to send in. I said, “I think I’m going to make a CD cover so we’ll do a little contest.” What I did is I took all those photos and they’re all in here and it made a huge mosaic. And it basically says, “I die without you.” But each one of those is a picture, as you can see. It’s online. You can really get close up. It can get really crazy.

Our fans just mean so much to us because they’d been there for 30 years. They’ve supported us all this time. It’s really special, that we’ve been able to do that. And with the Internet and all that, that’s made it incredibly easier to do that.

What would you say to an aspiring entrepreneur to become successful in today’s age of tech and media? Please share tips.

It is to really listen to what your fans want because they will tell you if you ask. I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult now to navigate the industry because, as you said, the gates are down. Everybody can be a singer. Everybody can call themselves whatever they are. You don’t know if it’s real or not. You can put yourself on iTunes in 24 hours. There’s so much noise. So how do you stick out? I would tell people to not be afraid of change and to be able to pivot and be nimble. They might not end up being the lead singer of a band. They might end up as the background singer of a band. You can still stay within your industry, but you might find your greatest success is not what you originally planned it to be.

I would also be an early adopter in new technology. I think that’s important because it’s kind of the wild west right now with how no one’s making money off selling music. But with licensing and other little nuances of the industry you can get into and find, it’s always changing. It’s always morphing. So I would just really be on the research and then kind of figuring out what’s out there and figuring out how to, not being afraid to try new things and promote yourself on new sites or with new companies.

Why is it important for you to participate in the MMC reunion event? Why would someone want to attend as a guest?

Again, it’s just so special to me that all these years have gone by and all these people are still with us. But I think what’s really going to be special is seeing the families. Our parents are rock stars. My dad stayed in Oklahoma, while my mom went to Florida. People split families to make this work and make this happen. Our families really went out of their way.

I think to see our families seeing the other family members and because we know they haven’t hooked up in so long that’s going to be really fun to watch. It’s going to be really fun to watch the newer generation of our children seeing each other and our parents seeing our children. And I think it going to be really special hearing all the Mouseketeers excited about it. It’s really special to me. The fact that they are trusting us with their memories like I said, and then kind of letting us run with it, not questioning us one iota—just, you guys are awesome. I can’t believe you’re doing this. Go for it. That’s really special.

I want to say real quick, too, as far as someone coming that might be on the fence. You’ve heard of Justin Timberlake, you’ve heard of Britney Spears, you’ve heard of Christina Aguilera, you’ve heard of Ryan Gosling. These are just the people you’ve heard about. There are other people. If you made it through that audition process, you had to be pretty talented. So I think you’ll be pretty surprised. And when you come, you’ll see some performances. Even if they’re off the cuff, you’re going to be quickly reminded like, “Oh my God, you guys are insane.” So we’re gonna have fun. We’re going to let loose. We’re going to get up on stage for them, get the crowd involved. The Party might even do some songs—that’s our old band from Hollywood Records—because it’ll be a number of us there. So we’re going to have a blast, man. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Outside the world of Disney and the MMC, who is the one person you’d like to meet someday? You never know who might be seeing this!

Yeah, man, I have to truly say that the most interesting people to me are usually the people that aren’t famous. I met some of the bombing people—the guys, the heroes of the bombing. It’s guys who do stuff like that or just blow me away. Seeing some of these fans, really finding out about their lives and their struggles and what they’ve been through in their life, has really been special to me.

As far as like just dreaming and thinking, wow, what would that be like? I kind of want to say like Russell Simmons or Rick Rubin, I think would be awesome. I mean, if you’ve got a beard like that and you’re working, you’ve got to know some secrets. I’m very interested in artist management. I went to Berkeley for that. I love learning new things and artist development and finding new talent. I think it’s awesome. I think artist management is something that really intrigues me. So Rick Ruben or Russell Simmons or even Troy Carter, who was the manager for Lady Gaga. Lots of really, really cool people out there.