Bieber Fever hits Rowan County
SALISBURY — Forget the flu. Bieber Fever hit Rowan County this weekend when one of the biggest pop stars on the planet posed shirtless for a photo shoot at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer and chowed down on blueberry waffles and bacon at Waffle House in Salisbury.
Brandy Allen was still giddy Tuesday, two days after her close encounter with Justin Bieber. His tour buses stopped at the Waffle House on Jake Alexander Boulevard about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, fresh from a concert in Greensboro.
Allen, 37, was eating at the counter and recognized the teen heartthrob.
“He is all over my house,” said the mother of two girls, ages 15 and 9. “I've been looking at him for years.”
Bieber and his entourage spent about 30 minutes at the 24-hour eatery, where Allen said his security detail prohibited photos and autograph requests, even throwing a jacket over her phone as she tried to snap a quick pic for daughters Aunika and Naia.
Allen went home empty-handed. “I just lived your dream,” Allen said she told the girls.
Pictures were off-limits at the Waffle House, but the Biebs returned to Rowan County on Monday to work the camera during a hush-hush photo shoot for Teen Vogue at the Spencer museum, where he posed on a train car and vintage motorcycle.
Bieber, who just surpassed fellow singer Lady Gaga to become the most followed Twitter user with more than 33 million “Beliebers,” mentioned the museum event in a tweet Monday night: “think u will like the shoot we did today #teenvogue.”
The museum was closed for the Martin Luther King holiday, so the Canadian crooner and 35-member crew had the place to themselves, with the exception of a few lucky museum staffers.
Bieber, who was scheduled to perform last night in Charlotte, walked off his tour bus two hours late wearing tight leopard-skin pants and a black tank top, reported museum spokesman, Mark Brown.
During the photo shoot, J.B. changed outfits several times, donning a black leather jacket, white tank top, blue shirt and jeans slung low enough to reveal a significant portion of his blue boxer-brief underwear.
“He was topless for a good part of it,” Brown said.
Onlooker photos and videos were strictly prohibited while the production crew from Greensboro photographed Bieber in several locations throughout the property, interim Director Larry Neal said.
Neal said he never spoke to the pop singer, who had a DJ playing what Brown described as “pretty hard-core hip hop” music throughout the three-hour shoot.
When it was over, the Biebster told the DJ to “kill the music” and acknowledged museum staff and volunteers.
“Good to meet you all,” he said, according to Brown. “We out.”
Neal, who was decidedly not star struck over the encounter, said Bieber is “just a little after my time” but added the museum welcomes the business.
Milk Productions, which ran the shoot for Teen Vogue, paid $800 for the privilege of using the state-owned facility as a photo backdrop, with an additional $700 fee to the museum's nonprofit foundation. Both museum and foundation staff and volunteers were on hand during the shoot.
Helping the museum
The museum has been struggling financially since the state cut its annual allocation by more than $700,000.
“It's very beneficial for the museum in showcasing the fact that our property does lend itself to these type of activities,” Neal said. “We do welcome those shoots and movie production on site.”
Bieber followed in the train track of another heartthrob, George Clooney, who shot scenes for his movie “Leatherheads” at the museum in 2008.
Waitress Heather Trexler said Waffle House staff thought they were going to get slammed by a sports team when two tour buses pulled into the parking lot early Sunday morning.
About 13 people came in, filling three booths. It didn't take long for a co-worker to realize one of the diners was the Biebs.
“I just thought 'Oh my God,' “ said Trexler, who waited on the booths.
Bieber ordered two eggs over medium, blueberry waffles, bacon and chocolate milk. Trexler, 27, described him as “very polite.”
“They were trying to be real quiet about it,” Trexler said.
A few people in the restaurant, like Allen, recognized the pop star, but it wasn't until Bieber and his entourage walked out that everyone realized they had been in the presence of teen icon, as famous for his hair as his music.
“After they left, it just went crazy,” Trexler said.
Bieber left a generous tip, she said — $30 on a bill of $108.53, which she split with another waitress.
Trexler faced a dilemma when clearing the table. Bieber, 18, had not cleaned his plate.
They considered keeping the leftovers, Trexler said, but ended up throwing them away.
Bieber has been in the news even more than usual lately after his high-profile breakup with Selena Gomez and a butt-baring photo he posted Saturday to his Instagram account. The picture was quickly deleted, but not before it hit 86,000 likes.
'Let the boy eat'
Bieber was in a playful mood at the Waffle House, Allen said, flirting and playing peek-a-boo with her behind the dancers who shared his booth.
At one point she said he told her, “If you walk around with that silly grin on your face, people are going to think you are weird.”
When security guards ordered her to “just let the boy eat,” Allen said she agreed with the hope that good behavior would be rewarded with an autograph or photo. No deal.
However, members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, also dining at Waffle House in the wee hours, picked up the check for Allen and her friend as a thank-you for revealing the secret after Bieber left.
Allen said Bieber wore a black tank top, camouflage hat and “meggings,” or men's leggings.
Friends didn't believe her Facebook's posts about the encounter until Bieber's outfit in his butt-baring photo, posted shortly after the Waffle House visit, matched her description, Allen said.
About two weeks ago, Rick Fisher, a freelance location scout familiar with the N.C. Transportation Museum, came to take test shots for an upcoming photo shoot, Brown said.
Choices for the high-profile shoot had been narrowed to rail equipment, apocalyptic destruction or a new house, he said.
The museum won. “We didn't know who it was going to be but had an indication that it was a major celebrity with a concert in the area around the same time,” Brown said. “We also knew it was going to be in Teen Vogue.”
Museum staffers searched and found four singers with nearby concerts last weekend — Olivia Newton-John, Tony Bennett, Bryan Adams and Bieber.
“So we were pretty sure it was him,” Brown said with a laugh.
At 8 a.m. Monday, a variety of vehicles arrived at the museum, including a catering truck, box truck for wardrobe, motor home for changing clothes and several SUVs for moving people around the property.
A photographer from New York shot the teen star on the south end of the museum, with the 1950s motorcycle provided by Milk Productions, in the museum's massive Back Shop, near the sand house and old rail cars and inside a passenger rail car.
Brown said he wasn't sure which rail car was used but planned to find out and nickname it “The Bieber.”
Organizers were “extremely happy with the location” after the shoot, Brown said.
“This shows that the museum is a facility that is worthy of a project like that,” he said. “…They found a location that exactly met what they were looking for.”
Fees to use the property and staff increase based on what's needed, Brown said. If photographers or filmmakers need a train crew on site for hours to move rail equipment, that's going to cost more, he said.
No trains were moved during the Bieber shoot.
Before the Biebs climbed aboard, Salisbury's most recent brush with fame came in January 2012 when Aretha Franklin dined at Cracker Barrel and shopped at Walmart. Unlike Bieber, the Queen of Soul signed autographs, chatted with adoring fanes and posed for photos.
Perhaps the teen pop star kept his distance out of concern. He may have been worried about spreading Bieber Fever.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.