Austin Mahone is learning that it’s good to be king — or at least a pop prince in waiting.
San Antonio’s answer to Justin Bieber — Mahone lives in Miami but grew up in San Antonio, La Vernia and Seguin — made his debut Sunday at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo at the AT&T Center. But not before causing a scene straight out of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” when he ordered a Whataburger inside the arena before the show and quickly was surrounded by screaming, giggling young girls.
Two years ago, Mahone was a guitar-strumming 14-year-old kid making homemade music videos in his bedroom and posting them to YouTube. Millions of page hits later, the 16-year-old singer’s got a major label deal and a new single featuring Flo Rida. His debut album, “Junior Year,” is expected in the spring.
Mahone was this year’s hottest rodeo ticket. The sold-out concert was expected to be a screamfest, and that was true before it started, especially for about 180 fans who paid $200 a ticket to sit near the rotating stage.
Near pandemonium erupted down in the chutes normally used for calves and horses. That’s where young fans waited to make a mad scramble for the best seats on the dirt floor. They were the luckiest of the self-described “Mahomies” in the house.
Kelsey Pawelek, 14, knew why she was there. “He’s really, really cute, he sings really good and he’s near my age,” Kelsey said.
In the crush of teens and preteens, mom Jill Cortissoz tried to keep an eye on her 12-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn. “She’s been a fan for years,” Cortissoz said.
Lori Lambert brought her 13-year-old daughter all the way from Sicklerville, N.J., to see this show. “Just to see their smiling faces is enough for me,” Lambert said. Taylor Hagler, 17, said she begged her mom for a ticket. “We had to have ‘em,” agreed her friend Meghan Varela, 17. “I think he could be as big as (Justin Bieber). He’s working his way up.”
Mahone did not disappoint, igniting deafening screams when he hit the stage and opened with “Say Somethin’.” Backed by four dancers, a DJ/MC and occasionally a couple of backup singers, he showed off a dance-oriented, hip-hop/pop sound. He’s more confident than the guy on the YouTube videos, but he still showed humility.
“Just last year, I was up in the audience,” Mahone said. “You all make me feel so welcome. I love you guys so much.”
He’s got some moves, too. Mahone brought a young female fan onstage to serenade her with the Jonas Brothers’ “When You Look Me in the Eyes.” The dreamy moment ended with a hug. He doesn’t play guitar much onstage, but he didn’t disappoint here with three songs on acoustic guitar, including his first YouTube cover song, “Beautiful Soul.” He followed it with Mario’s “Let Me Love You,” teasing the crowd by stopping and starting the song.
It’s impossible to know if this afternoon someday will be considered historic. It was, Mahone said, the first concert performance of his single “Say You’re Just a Friend.” Certainly, Mahone looked like he’d never forget it.
“I love you from my heart. Peace,” he said moments before the obligatory ride around the arena in the back of a pickup truck.
Fans won’t get over it soon, either. Inside and outside the arena, young girls breathlessly compared notes. “I was looking right at him,” one said, “and he was looking right at me.”