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One Direction fans shriek it out loud: 'This is actually happening'

Catherine McDaniel has been waiting five years. Five long, screeching, ear-piercing, Oh-my-God-ing, fan-yourself, tattoo-your-foot, TEXT-IN-ALL-CAPS-CUZ-YOU’RE-EXCITED years.

Her boys are finally here.

Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson – who make up the world-dominating British boy band One Direction – played Ralph Wilson Stadium on Thursday night. This is the first time since the band was created in 2010 that One Direction has performed here.

“I can’t believe this is happening here,” McDaniel said shortly after 3 p.m. as her ride turned onto Milestrip Road, heading toward Orchard Park, and she spied a green Ralph Wilson Stadium road sign. “One Direction in Buffalo. This is actually happening.”

Related entries:
*Read Jeff Miers' review of the show
*See Sharon Cantillon's photos from the performance
*See all of Don Nieman's smiles gallery

For McDaniel, an 18-year-old SUNY Buffalo State student, and thousands of fans like her, the band’s quick stint here isn’t just a big deal. It’s an opportunity to make an impression.

Tia Piotrowski knew that. She and 11 other teen girls, all clad in One Direction T-shirts, converged Thursday morning at WKSE-FM’s Amherst studio to appear on air with hosts Janet Snyder and Nicholas Picholas, and also do a handful of live TV stints with WIVB’s Lauren Hall.

With long blonde hair that draped loosely over the purple “One Direction” lettering on the front of her shirt, Tia looks 17. But when she starts explaining about the project she and the other girls in this room launched months ago upon hearing the British band would play Western New York, she sounds like a much older executive events planner or community organizer.

Tia Piotrowski, 17, left, of West Seneca, was one of those who spearheaded a fan drive to make and distribute 45,000 paper clouds so that the crowd could hold them up during the song "Clouds." She's with Lauren Heft, 18, one of 20 others helping in the effort. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Tia Piotrowski, 17, left, of West Seneca, was one of those who spearheaded a fan drive to make and distribute 45,000 paper clouds so that the crowd could hold them up during the song "Clouds." She's with Lauren Heft, 18, one of 20 others helping in the effort. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Tia wanted to create a fan project – a grass-roots demonstration that the crowd would do for One Direction during the show. (This is something that happens in many cities the group plays.) Wanting to play off what she knew would be their opening song, “Clouds,” Tia came up with the idea of having the crowd release tens of thousands of white balloons, thus creating a cumulonimbus effect in the airspace above the stadium. She explored the possibility but learned that the stadium wouldn’t allow it, and eventually settled on a simpler, more economical idea: White pieces of paper cut into the shape of clouds.

“These are a cheap option we can provide 45,000 people with,” she said.

Still, buying 45,000 sheets of paper and cutting each into a cloud takes money and time. So Tia and friends Bre Rosen and Mikayla Bushey, both 15, ordered red, white and blue rubber bracelets, each imprinted with One Direction Buffalo, and sold them to raise the $800 needed to buy paper. Then they used their One Direction fan Twitter accounts, which have upward of 20,000 followers, to mobilize other fans to help cut each sheet into clouds. The girls met at each others’ homes, at malls, and even got help from fans in places as far as Kentucky, Alabama and Florida.

“I spent my entire summer cutting clouds,” Bre said.

Tia held out her hand, pointing to a small red sore between her thumb and index finger.

“This is from cutting clouds and it won’t go away,” she said. “It hurts.”

But, oh, would the pain be worth it if the project works. That afternoon, in the stadium parking lot, members of OTRA Buffalo (the group’s self-appointed moniker, based on the name of the tour – “On the Road Again”) were passing out clouds as people exited their cars and headed to the gates.

“We want to give back to the boys for everything they’ve done for us,” Bre said, “and give them a huge smile on their face as the first impression they get from Buffalo.”

The appeal of 1D

Feeling skeptical? You might be thinking that the members of One Direction should be the ones giving back to their fans, who have made them wealthy, influential showbiz power brokers. The fans know that, and they’ll point out that “the boys” (this is what most One Directioners call the foursome) are indeed grateful for their fans: Styles once went up to a girl having an anxiety attack over the excitement of meeting him, hugged her and said, “It’s OK, don’t cry.”

Payne once bought fans pizza. Styles purchased pizza for a group of homeless people in Los Angeles. During a show, when a girl who felt dehydrated wrote “I need a water bottle” on a sign, the band gave her one.

“We feel like we’re best friends with them because they’re not some big celebrity,” said Rachel Giglia, 16, another of the teens inside the Kiss 98.5 radio studio. “Like, they don’t SEEM like big celebrities. They just seem normal.”

Of course, there’s little that’s “normal” about One Direction. Earlier this week, Kiss 98.5 personality “Shy Guy” Shawn VanPatten was talking to The News about the standard boy-band formula, which became strongly apparent in the late ’90s during the heyday of Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync: There’s always a clean-cut preppy one (in Backstreet, that was Brian Littrell; in ’N Sync, it was J.C. Chasez), a young one (Nick Carter in Backstreet; Justin Timberlake in ’N Sync), and also a shy one, an old soul and a bad boy (as in growing shaggy hair or getting piercings or tattoos).

“It makes sense,” VanPatten said, “because if you had five people who looked exactly the same, I don’t think that formula would work.”

One Direction breaks that mold: They are all college-age; no one is markedly older or younger. More than one has bad-boy elements: Styles with his mane of brown hair and torso full of tattoos; Tomlinson with the rumors of fatherhood; former member Zayn Malik for leaving the band in March.

“They’re different,” said Catherine, who shortly after turning 18 had the top of her left foot tattooed with the words “All The Love,” a saying frequently used by Styles. “You feel like you know them.”

Like many fans, Catherine has a personal Twitter and a separate account devoted to One Direction, the latter of which is followed by the band. Social media, said Kiss morning co-hosts Janet Snyder and Nicholas Picholas, has changed the scope of boy-band fandom.

“With ’N Sync you’d buy the album or whatever and go to the show and get the magazine,” said Picholas. “Now it’s much more connected, an instant connection with the band and each member. It’s much more integrated.”

Snyder nodded. “It’s about taking ownership,” she said. “With social you’re able to take ownership of a band, the way OTRA Buffalo took ownership of this concert and came up with the cloud project. That’s their idea.”

“That’s not a corporation,” Picholas added. “That’s them.”

It’s like sports

The word for this passionate brand of fandom is “fangirl,” which also can be used as a verb – “fangirling.” It’s not a derogatory term – fans who are girls (and even boys; users will tell you it’s a gender-neutral term) will call themselves “fangirls” – but it’s not always meant as a compliment, either.

“I had a lot of people at school tell me, ‘I don’t know why you do this.’ They think it’s dumb, embarrassing,” Tia said. But the cloud project, she added, created lifelong bonds. “This summer, I’ve made the best friends I’ll ever have. These are people who understand me and work with me to have this goal and make this amazing. I talk to them everyday. They’re my new best friends. They don’t judge me.”

Take a logical look at fangirling – especially in a football-centric place like the Ralph – and you’ll have a tough time judging it. Sam Maggs, the Toronto-based author of “The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy,” points out that we hardly ever judge sports fans who deck their homes, cars and even bodies in team colors.

‘We’re so close!’

Catherine’s emotions, a concoction of happiness, giddiness, tearfulness and apprehension (“What if there’s a lightning storm and they cancel it like they did with the Jonas Brothers at Darien Lake?”), started well before she pulled into lot at 7.

It started when the concert was announced but amped to a screeching pitch the week of the show. She printed a blown-up photo of the tattoo on her foot, used silver prism tape to affix it to a white posterboard, and used black Sharpie to write, “HARRY, I got my tattoo b/c of you! Thank you! All the love, C.”

She picked out a black dress for the show. She woke up early Thursday and texted a friend in all caps: “I FEEL LIKE RUNNING A MARATHON BECAUSE I CANT SIT STILL OR PROCESS THE FACT THAT THEY WILL BE HERE LIKE HARRY IS GOING TO SEE THE PLACE WHERE I LIVE AND GREW UP.”

After her morning class, she applied winged eyeliner, grabbed her credit card (that night she would spend $90 on two T-shirts and a poster) and headed to Orchard Park, where she met up with friends. Her ticket was only seven seats from the catwalk where Harry and the other lads of One Direction would be doing their version of the boy-band thing: singing and dancing, yes, but without the choreography or frosted tips of their predecessors.

“We’re so close!” she gasped.

Several minutes after opener Icona Pop finished their set, Stephanie MacMillan, a 20-year-old from Cheektowaga who was among the fans gathered earlier in the day at the Kiss studios, stopped by the seats passing out the last of the clouds.

Catherine had hers. And 30 minutes later, when One Direction took the stage to the bouncy opening of “Clouds,” she held hers up.

In that moment, tears aflow, winged eyeliner smudging and vocals chords stretched like strings of a violin bow, Catherine emitted a screech that is part of the lexicon of a truly devoted fangirl. She was far from alone.

But Harry Styles was only steps away. When she held up her sign a few minutes later, he could read it.

That made the moment all hers. And his too.


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