Come back to Louisiana, Britney's Hometown Neighbors Say: 'We'll Get Her Right Again'

KENTWOOD, La. (AP) - Half the Kentwood Historical and Cultural Arts Museum is dedicated to an exhibit honoring local men and women who served in the U.S. armed forces. The rest is Britney.

You can see Britney Spears' awards, the jacket she wore on "The All New Mickey Mouse Club," painstakingly crafted re-creations of her childhood bedroom and the stage she performed on in an HBO concert special.

Signs of enduring love in Kentwood, population 2,200, for a hometown girl turned good - and lately, not so good.

"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 the 26-year-old singer's meltdown morphs through broken marriages, hospitalization, her two sons removed from her custody and bizarre behavior, residents of Kentwood 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, Kentwood is known for Kentwood Springs - a Gulf Coast brand of bottled water - and for Spears. She grew up in a ranch-style house near town where her father, Jamie, still lives.

Driving into the town about 90 miles north of New Orleans, you can't miss the hot-pink sign that welcomes visitors to "The home of Britney Spears."

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," which starred Spears.

"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 that 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."

Many visitors make the 5-mile drive off Interstate 55 to the museum, where Hazel Morris said Britney T-shirts, buttons and tote bags sell so well they're hard to keep in stock.

"People from all over the world come to see this," said Morris, 86, who staffs the museum and said she knows the family well. She said that although the free museum doesn't keep visitor numbers, she didn't think attendance had fallen since Spears' troubles began.

Morris tells visitors to carefully step into a darkened room, then with a flourish turns on the replica of the concert stage, complete with 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. It took an Oregon man six months to build, working four hours a day.

The re-created bedroom includes costumes Spears wore as a child entertainer and beauty pageant contestant, dolls and stuffed animals around a white bedroom set. The exhibit, which opened in 2000, also includes a room for her awards, beauty pageant trophies and pink cowboy hat. The walls are covered with Spears posters.

Another piece of Britney history is about 10 miles north, just across the Mississippi state line in Osyka. At Nyla's Burger Basket, Mike Price proudly points to the round table, covered with a floral plastic table cloth, where she signed her first record contract.

Price said he and his wife, Nyla, have 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," he said.

He added that Spears could use a little home cooking right now.

"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."