As the star approached, screams and cheers ripped through the clutch of teen and tween girls — loud enough for an appearance by Justin Bieber. But it wasn't Justin: It was his mother, Pattie Mallette.
Having entered public view as the stage mom for the white-hot pop singer, Mallette has carved out her own niche as a speaker and author — and a kind of online mother for 1.5 million Twitter followers. Her recent South Florida visit drew at least a hundred gleeful, squealing fans to Books-A-Million at Sawgrass Mills, eager to pose with her for photos and to get her autograph on their copy of her new book.
In "Nowhere But Up," the Canadian-born Mallette, 36, confesses her own dark childhood: molested at 3, abused by adults as a preteen, raped by a date at 15; acting out her torment with drugs, theft and vandalism; attempting suicide at 17; having Justin out of wedlock at 18.
Finding her own way up through faith and counseling, she now tells her story to others, as she did at last weekend's Women of Faith conference at BB&T Center in Sunrise. She also made time for an interview.
Q. Has it been hard to open up about so many things that you'd suppressed for so long?
A. It's worth living through the pain again. Eventually, I sought counseling, and I advocate people reaching out for help. And writing about it has been cathartic. I'm passionate about seeing people healed of pain. If I can come to a good place, anybody can.
Q. How does Justin feel about the book, and your airing so many dark things?
A. I first told him about it before his career, when he was 12. There were some tears. [But] I felt he could handle it. I talked to him so he could understand why I was so protective of him.
Q. Did your own tragedies affect the way you brought up Justin?
A. I think they shaped most of my parenting decisions. My mom gave me a lot more freedom. It was a busy home, and they had no reason to suspect anything was going on. But with Justin, even if he was riding a bike with friends, I'd want to know where he was going and to call me every hour. He'd say, "Mom! My friends don't have to do that!"
Q. How was it to be a single mom of a talented kid? Was there a time you realized he'd be a star?
A. I knew he was gifted. And we always had instruments in the home; I'd buy them at yard sales, or they'd be gifts from friends. But I never imagined a career for him at this level.
Q. Some reports say you didn't want Justin to become a professional singer. Why not?
A. I didn't mind him being in local singing competitions, but there's so much darkness in the [music] industry. You hear so many horror stories.
Q. How did you change your mind, then?
A. I had to listen to what he wanted. A lot of prayer went into it. And I realized it would probably open doors for him.
Q. You seem so close to him. Do his female fans get jealous of you?
A. Oh, no (smile). I have 1.5 million Twitter followers. They call me "Mom" and ask me a lot of questions. I tell them things like, "Divorce is never the children's fault." I really do have a mother's love for them. I've called this a fatherless generation, but in some ways it's a fatherless and motherless generation. There is such a need for nurturing and caring.