Singer sells out concerts, inspires fan-zines, and wins the hearts of listeners

Tori Amos steps on stage at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh on a muggy May evening, greeted by high-pitched, out-of-proportion screams reminiscent of Beatles fans. She smiles at the mostly female twentysomething crowd and waves both hands. These mere Tori motions bring on louder screams. She cocks her little Tori head in embarrassment, and this brings that Tori screaming to a truly piercing pitch.

”I love you, Tori!” shouts a woman in the front row.

”I love you more!” shouts another.

They reach for Amos like sinners at a revival meeting as she takes to the piano, legs straddling the bench seductively. She plays a few bars and tosses her hair, allowing a lock to fall just so. She lifts her hands off the piano, turns to her crazed fans, then licks her lips. It is perfect. A perfect package of hypnotizing passion.

When you think rock cult, you think of Springsteen or the Grateful Dead. You do not think Tori Amos. You should: She has one of pop music’s most devoted followings. The petite pianist-vocalist with curly red hair has never had a hit single, receives relatively little radio play, and her third and current solo album, Boys for Pele, hasn’t gone platinum.

Yet tickets for her 1996 Dew Drop Inn tour disappeared in less than a day — making it one of the highest grossing tours of the spring ($4.4 million). Even more astounding? The news that Amos’ Atlantic Records is giving her a vanity label — an honor usually reserved for prima divas like Mariah Carey and Madonna.

Not bad for a girl at a piano who sings about self-discovery, rape, God, betrayal, and ”tuna rubber a little blubber in my igloo.”

Huh? Well, the surreal thing is all part of the appeal, her fans will tell you. Fans who call themselves Toriphiles on the Internet, and who adopt Tori-speak when they talk about the singer they call their goddess.

”She tastes like a magical leader pied-piping us into the new millennium,” says Amos loyalist Michael Merriam, 17, a grocery bagger from Vermont. ”An emissary from the faerie kingdom giving us one chance at enlightenment.”

Huh? Exactly.

Most Toriphiles have an intense need to express their own essential Tori-ness. The phenomenon goes well beyond a bunch of young people rushing out to buy Tori tour merchandise like crosses bearing Amos’ name and the quixotic inscription ”We both know it was a girl back in Bethlehem.” Toriphiles also gather for Tori parties where they watch Tori videos, analyze Tori songs, read Really Deep Thoughts, a Tori fanzine that includes an ”ediTORIal,” and play Tori trivia games. (Favorite ice cream? Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia.) One legendary Toriphile is covering his entire body with Tori tattoos.

All in an effort to express thyself, Tori-style. Take Pat Kochie, 43, a homemaker from Southampton, N.Y. ”Tori’s songs are more than music,” she says. ”They’re environments. Some songs are actually incubators for my girls.”