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Teen machine Teddy Geiger returns to his Buffalo roots after TV gigs that have stoked the 17-year-old's red-hot career

There are screaming girls now where concert crowds once numbered in the single digits.

The red-eye flights and steady stream of interview requests still need to be scheduled so there's room for tutoring sessions. And let's not forget his past stints on a VH1 reality show competition, a CBS comedy or last week's performance on "Late Night With David Letterman."

If this is Teddy Geiger's life at the ripe old age of 17, think what the Buffalo native will have accomplished by the time he can legally enter the clubs where he's performing sold-out shows like Sunday's concert in Club Infinity.

"I'm just excited I have these opportunities," Teddy says during an early morning phone interview earlier this week. "I used to play shows to two or three people, and now you go back and the shows are sold out. It's very cool to see."

And it doesn't look like that will be slowing down anytime soon.

Teddy is on the road in support of his debut disc, "Underage Thinking," just released on industry giant Columbia Records. Everywhere he goes -- from autograph sessions to concert halls and even in cyberspace, where he keeps a journal on his Web site and has a page on myspace.com -- are those girls (and guys, too) who go by the name of TedHeads.

Mention the TedHeads, and you can actually feel Teddy blush over the phone. "It's all very cool and very weird and surreal," he says, quietly.

His fans are much louder. "He's an amazing singer, songwriter, piano player, guitar player . . . and the list just goes on and on!" exclaims Deandra Modica of Williamsville. "His talent makes me feel like such a bum, because I'm 17, too, and don't have half of his talent."

Mairghread Ryan, 18, of Kenmore, is poetic when she sums up what she likes about his work: "His lyrics make a girl's heart flutter," she says.

And what he doesn't realize is that along with his teen idol status, he has also gained role model status. Angela Stefano, 17, attended second grade at St. Mary's of Swormville with him and can't hold back her enthusiasm about what he has accomplished.

"Just seeing someone that you knew as a little kid succeed and do something like this is so cool," Angela says. "I'm blown away by the fact that he's 17 and made this record; he's got an amazing talent, and he's definitely on the level of many of the older singer/songwriters like him."

Yet the attention doesn't detract Teddy from what's important to him. When his cousin Angelica Catalano asked him months ago if he would play a benefit for Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a disease suffered by another cousin, Teddy quickly said yes and hasn't wavered from that promise. Some of the money from the Buffalo show will be donated for research into the disease.

> The quiet type

As a child, Teddy was always "quiet and inquisitive," recalls his uncle and godfather, Paul Catalano of East Amherst. He also had the uncanny knack to remember anything, including songs, after hearing them once -- a talent he used later to memorize 100 of his own songs instead of writing them down. Another telling trait: He wasn't one of those kids who sought attention; in fact, he eschewed the spotlight.

"We were watching old family videos and saw that Teddy was always sitting and watching," Catalano says. "He was always the kid taking things in -- he never needed to be the center of attention."

Teddy began piano lessons at age 6 and wrote his first song, "Little Tommy Blackbeard," about the same time. He was also always working on some type of invention or project, leading his uncle to think he would follow in his father's footsteps and become an engineer.

His family moved to Rochester when he was 8. He stopped playing piano, picked up the guitar and wrote what he considers his first real song, "Try Too Hard," by about age 10.

"Before that, they were all silly songs," he says.

There was no one moment when Teddy decided he wanted to have a musical career. "It's just something I've always wanted to do throughout my entire life. It's always been important. I don't know what else I would do," he says.

So at the tender age of 14, Teddy decided the time was right to at least try and make a go of it. "It couldn't hurt," he says in the straightforward way he has about him.

> TV timeout

In 2004, he auditioned for a chance to be on VH1's "In Search of the Partridge Family." He made the show and actually performed the Goo Goo Dolls' "Slide." He didn't last after the first round, because producers thought "he was too young," quite an irony since so much about him screams David Cassidy, the actor-musician whose TV alter ego was Keith Partridge. (Like Cassidy, Teddy has a stylish shag, bright blue eyes, a soothing singing voice and the ability to make girls swoon.)

While many young artists would have been devastated with the rejection (witness the many teary-eyed farewells on "American Idol"), Teddy was thinking well beyond his years.

"I didn't want to win it, because I thought it would pigeonhole me," Teddy says. What he wanted was to get his music heard by the right people -- and he did.

Waiting in the wings after the show was Billy Mann, a big-time producer who has worked with the likes of Sting, Pink, and Jessica and Ashlee Simpson. He knew talent when he saw it and was eager to work with Teddy.

"I had just gotten kicked off the show and went backstage, and there was Billy. It was exactly what I wanted to get out of the show," Teddy says.

Mann returned to New York City, where he was able to convince Columbia of what he saw in Teddy; he then spent two months working with Teddy on "Underage Thinking."

But that wasn't all. In the meantime, Teddy won a role that would literally imitate his life: that of a musician looking for his big break in the CBS comedy "Love Monkey." He starred opposite Tom Cavanagh ("Ed"), whom Teddy calls "hysterical." The charming series about life and love centered around the music industry was short-lived, but again, the unflappable Teddy takes it all in stride.

"The show was very, very cool. I learned a lot just from being around the cameras," Teddy says, then returns to the topic he is always focused on. "It was a very good experience to help get the music out. That's what's important."

WHO: Teddy Geiger

WHEN: Doors open at 5 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Club Infinity, 8166 Main St., Williamsville

TICKETS: Sold out

e-mail: truberto@buffnews.com

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