Small Louisiana Hometown of Britney Spears Still Loves Her Despite Meltdown

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Poor Britney Spears.

The paparazzi hound her, judges reprimand her and Dr. Phil offers her advice.

And she's the talk — and worry — of the little Louisiana town she calls home.

"I cry every time I see another story about her on television," said Pam Wright, 44, who works at a convenience store along Kentwood's main drag, U.S. Highway 51. "I think she needs to come home and we'll get her right again. Everybody here loves her. We believe in her."

As Spears' meltdown morphs through broken marriages, hospitalization, her two sons removed from her custody and a plethora of bizarre behavior, residents of Kentwood — population about 2,200 — stand by their marquee native.

"The media should leave her alone," said store clerk Becky Gill, 35. "Everybody has problems, she's not the only one. But she's the one gets her problems on television. She's the one under constant scrutiny."

Amid its abandoned buildings and a dying dairy industry, Britney Spears is the best thing going in Kentwood, located about 90 miles north of New Orleans. And the town knows it.

Driving in you can't miss the hot-pink sign that welcomes visitors to "The home of Britney Spears." Emblems for the local Lions and Rotary clubs and a Masonic lodge, positioned below, seem almost afterthoughts.

Then there is the Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum.

Half its space is dedicated to an exhibit honoring local men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces. The rest is all Britney.

The Spears exhibit, which opened in 2000, includes a re-creation of her childhood bedroom, complete with costumes she wore as a child entertainer and beauty pageant contestant, dolls and stuffed animals, a jacket who wore on the Mickey Mouse Club and a white bedroom set.

There is also a room for her awards, beauty pageant trophies and pink cowboy hat. The walls are covered with Spears posters.

Hazel Morris, 86, who staffs the museum Tuesdays through Saturdays, advises visitors to carefully step into the darkened rooms, then with a flourish turns on a replica of the stage Spears performed on in an HBO concert special.

Built by Randy Head, 30, of Salem, Ore., who worked on it four hours a day for six months, the little stage has 600 colored lights and thousands of parts. When Morris lights it up, a Spears song plays. A tiny Spears doll, microphone in hand, stands on the runway.

"People from all over the world come to see this," said Morris, who said she knows the family well.

Admission to the museum is free, although donations are welcome. Visitors can buy Britney T-shirts, buttons and tote bags, although they're hard to keep in stock, Morris said.

The museum did not have a visitor head count, but Morris said they come in steadily, exiting Interstate 55 and driving the five miles into town.

So far, Spears' troubles have not sparked a spike in attendance, she said.

About five miles out of town is "Serenity," the huge French-country style mansion Spears built for her mother, Lynne. It's just past the crossroad convenience store featured in the movie "Crossroads," in which Spears starred.

Her father, Jamie, still lives in the ranch-style house where Spears grew up. It's closer to town.

"We don't see much of them these days," said Gill of the family. "But everybody in Kentwood knows everybody else."

The town's support extends to 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's younger sister and star of the Disney Channel's "Zoey 101" who made headlines recently with the announcement she's pregnant.

"How many 16-year-old girls get pregnant every week?" Wright said. "It doesn't mean she's a bad person. I don't think this will end her career. Life will go on."

About 10 miles north of Kentwood, just across the Mississippi state line in Osyka, is Nyla's Burger Basket — a Spears favorite. When she opened a New York restaurant in 2002 called NYLA, people speculated the name was derived by combining the postal codes for New York and Louisiana.

Not so, said Mike Price, who with wife Nyla has been cooking for Spears for years.

"She calls when she's coming home and gets us to cook up Southern dishes — mustard greens, cornbread, things you can't get out in Los Angeles," Price said.

He proudly points to the round table, covered with a floral plastic table cloth, where Spears signed her first record contract.

The best thing for Spears now would be some home cooking, Price said.

"She needs to get herself home and get right," Price said. "She needs to get away from that crowd out there and come back where everyone loves her."