THE GIRL GROUP GRINDWITH EIGHT TOP 10 SINGLES IN A ROW, EXPOSE STILL STRUGGLES FOR RESPECT

The tour itinerary could belong to any struggling bar band. Nine dates, banged out on a typewriter, covering the entire month of April--a small club gig in Tulsa, a county fair in San Bernardino, a college gig in Douglas, Arizona. The trip culminates, promisingly enough, with a one-night stand-in beautiful Palm Springs--entertaining hot-to-trot prom couples in a high school auditorium.

It's precisely the sort of low-rent rendezvous most starry-eyed local outfits get sent on when they first hook up with that high-powered, fast-talking agent promising a big-time U.S. tour. But this, surprisingly enough, is the schedule issued by Arista Records for the hot hit-making girl group Expose. Yes, Expose, the Miami-based trio with eight consecutive Top 10 singles, a double-platinum debut album and a chart-scaling follow-up, What You Don't Know, already under their tight-fitting belts. Somehow, the pitchers-and-beer-nuts circuit just doesn't quite jibe with the group's champagne-and-caviar sales figures. Shouldn't all that platinum guarantee the gals a little more prestige on the road? Shouldn't eight trips to the toppermost of the poppermost at least place the group on a few more stages where they don't have to look up at basketball hoops?

"Shouldn't we be playing, like, arenas or large theatres?" Expose's Ann Curless joins in via phone from a less-than-five-star hotel in Kansas City. "Yeah, I agree. I totally agree."

The All-American blonde and the other singers in this ethnically-diverse trio--petite, short-haired Gioia (pronounced Joy-ah) Bruno is Italian born; wavy-maned Jeanette Jurado is Hispanic--often read about their group's phenomenal chart success in the trades. "And then we'll walk into a club in some small town," Curless sighs, "and we'll be thinking, `Why are we doing this?'"

Not all the stops on Expose's tour, of course, are the kinds of places where the group has to worry about competing with clacking pool cues. "It's kind of scattered," says Curless. "We'll do some nice theatres [she counts Saturday's Phoenix appearance at the Celebrity among the "nice" stops], and then we'll do a club that we'd rather not be in. And the high school auditorium," she adds with a tinge of outrage, "We haven't come to it yet, but I'm gonna yell and scream about that one. I don't know what that's about!"

WHEN EXPOSE WAS CREATED in 1985, it's a safe bet that a yelling, screaming blonde stirring up discontent on the road was nowhere in the blueprints. What Miami-based songwriter-producer Lewis Martinee had in mind was for the group to serve as an eye-catching vehicle for his ear-pleasing dance music. From the beginning, Expose was perceived--at least by critics--as the pre-fab studio creation of a Svengali-like disco don. Indeed, none of the three women who sang on the project's first dance hit, "Point of No Return," appeared on Expose's debut album, Exposure. The group was seen as merely an attractive line-up of mindless Stepford singers who simply sang, danced and dressed as they were told and never uttered a peep about asserting their own identities or assuming creative control over their careers.

In some ways, Curless admits, that's fairly close to how the Expose hit factory has operated to date. "I can't deny that there are sometimes disappointments," she says. "Like when Lewis brings in a song that one of us might really want to sing and another person ends up singing it because Lewis or Arista feels she has a more commercial sound on it."

The three have already been assigned specialties. Jurado, who sang lead on Expose's first No. 1 hit, "Seasons Change," now gets all the lush ballads. Bruno, who fronted rock bands before joining Expose, belts out the harder-edged stuff. And Curless, who studied voice in college, handles the more structured pop melodies.

Management isn't much more willing to field the singers' songwriting suggestions, Curless says. As for the opportunity for the women to write any of their own songs or at least offer some lyrical ideas, "I'd like to say Lewis has welcomed our input in that area, but no, he hasn't. Really, he's not as open-minded about writing as I think all three of us hoped he would be."

Martinee, who says he rejected the six or seven songs the singers submitted for the last album, responds: "If they write good material, definitely we're gonna use it. If they don't, then we won't. I mean, we're not gonna do it just to make them feel good. Obviously, they've gotta grow. They just started writing. I've been writing for fifteen, sixteen years."

Not that Curless can argue with the creative dictatorship's effect on the trio's chart success. "We can't really say it's a shame he hasn't let us do our own songs, because obviously the first two albums have done really well for us."

Still, the formula that's turned up a lengthy string of Top 10 hits has also left the group without the kind of personality that helps sell out arena-size venues.

"There's no question that we have had an identity crisis," Curless says. "It was hard for us coming in after three different girls had already made a record as Expose before us. People figured there were gonna be different singers on each record; they'd go, `Oh, this is just a female Menudo.'

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