Flashback Friday – ‘N Side ‘N Sync (Feb 1999)
‘N Side ‘N Sync – Teen People – February 1999
Go where no fan has gone before” on the tour bus, backstage and beyond with the fastest-rising pop group in America.
All ‘N Sync want to do is grab a quick bite on the way to their gig at Rosemont Horizon outside of Chicago. But when you’re one of the hottest groups in the country, there’s no such thing as a disruption free lunch. At the Cheesecake Factory, waiters tell them to break a leg, diners request autographs and fans press their noses against the restaurant windows after following them from the Abercrombie & Fitch at Water Tower Place mall. Then there’s the thirty-something blonde in a business suit who keeps staring their way, giggling like a girl half her age. ‘N Sync can’t help but notice, and the next time she looks over, they wave. She blushes bright red and blows them a kiss.
Through it all, Joey Fatone’s cell phone keeps ringing. The last few callers have been friends and family, but this time it’s someone claiming to be a friend of his cousin Brittany – only, he doesn’t have a cousin named Brittany. “This is Steven.” Joey says, using his brother’s name to throw off the repeat caller. “I think you have the wrong number.”
“N Sync founder Chris Kirkpatrick has his own phone predicament. Upon checking his messages (former child star Gary Coleman provides Chris’s voice-mail greeting), he finds that they are all from fans that have somehow tracked down his number. He shrugs it off. “Of course you’re going to lose your privacy,” he says. “Though sometimes you’re like ‘Not another autograph,” at least they want another autograph.”
A year ago, few Americans knew ‘N Sync. Now, who under the age of 21 doesn’t? They’ve had two Top-10 albums, a fast-selling home video and book, and a headlining tour. And when they signed on as an opening act of Janet Jackson’s ’98 tour, they helped make that road show one hot ticket.
“Two years ago, I had a Janet Jackson poster up on my wall,” says ‘N Sync’s top scream –getter, Justin Timberlake. He’s in the back of the bus, making noises that sound like a helicopter landing (He claims these vocal exercises are in preparation for tonight’s show). The others are taking in Full Metal Jacket, a movie they watch so often they can recite most of the dialogue.
Once that bus deposits them at Rosemont and they settle in backstage, that band expands into a five-ring circus. On this, the eve of his 27th birthday, Chris sifts through a collection of balloons, gifts and cards (his favorite is from a fan who caricatures him as one of the South Park tykes). Close by, Justin huddles with two of his biggest fans, Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Amy Timberlake; Joey signs a mountain of CD sleeves; Joshua Scott Chasez – better known as JC – bemoans announcing on MTV that he’s like to be the guy in Janet’s show who gets her famous lap dance (“ I can’t believe I said that!) ; and Lance Bass tries on-so-carefully to to aggravate the blisters on his heels as he pulls on a pair of Lugz boots. “Aww…poor lamb,” mock the others.
Gradually, all the activity dies down. After the quick round of Hacky Sack that has become their preshow ritual, ‘N Sync, their musicians, and their security and wardrobe teams join hands in a circle. A prayer is offered. Everyone hugs. Show times!
Whatever you do don’t call Justin Randall Timberlake “the next Nick Carter.” He’ll only mutter, “I don’t pay attention to stuff like that.” But there are undeniable similarities. At 17, ‘N Sync’s hop-hop-loving heartthrob is, like Backstreet’s, that youngest and tallest. And Justin’s mom, Lynn Harless, like Nick’s mom, Jane Carter, manages pop singers. “Lynn even named her management company after her famous son: Just-in Time Entertainment.) His stepfather, Paul, is a Memphis banker who flies to Orlando on weekends to be with the family. Justin also has two half-brothers, Jonathan, five and Steven, eight month, who live with his father and stepmother in Tennessee.
Lynn never had to coax her son into the spotlight. “I’ve been singing since I was two,” Justin says. “If I could talk, I could sing. I was [always] performing for somebody.” Uncle Jimmy nods in agreement: “Whether he was telling a joke or dancing in front of everybody at Christmas, Justin was always an entertainer,” He says.
Justin’s first taste of fame came on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Club, on which he sang, danced and acted in various sketches from 1992 to 1994. At 13, he left to return to school, to be, as he puts it, “a kid for a second.” But the classroom wasn’t for him. “I got so bored and really down about everything,” he says. “U started to get a little rebellious. I didn’t really get into trouble, but I wasn’t focusing like I could. I didn’t have the inspiration that music gave me, and it hit me: That’s my place in the world. That’s where I belong.”
So he reunited with another former MMC member, JC, in hopes of starting a sinning career. The uo had been recording demos for three months when Chris called with the idea of forming a music group. “It was fate,” Justin says of his return to music. “Not a lot of people know what their love is before they’re forty.” And he may not be the only one. As Uncle Jimmy reveals. “Justin’s got a [half] brother [Jonathan] who watches all the videos and mimics everything they do.”
Just don’t call Jonathan the next Aaron Carter.
“Joey is charismatic. He’s a crooner, a Sinatra.” Says JC of the 21-year-old Joseph Anthony Fatone Jr., aka Fat One (a play on his last name). Joey practically came into the world singing and dancing, thanks to dad Joseph Sr., who used to run a community theater in Brooklyn, New York, where Joey was born.
Growing up, Joey sang in choirs and a cappella groups and acted in school plays. Then, after the Fatones moved to Orlando in 1990, he sang and danced in a Dr. Phillips High School productions of the classic movie West Side Story.
“In drama class there was a bunch of guys, in choir there was a bunch of guys, but in dance there were only two or three,” recalls Joey, the group’s notorious flirt. “Guys would be like, ‘How do you talk to these girls?’ I was like ‘Man, go to dance class!’” After graduation, Joey’s styling moves got him work as the Wolfman in Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue at Universal Studios Florida. (His two siblings, Steven, 24 and Janine, 26, are currently employed by the studios.)
Although Joey’s ‘N Sync success is no doubt a source of pride for all the Fatones (including mom, Phyllis, who manages ‘N Sync fan mail.), it’s especially sweet for his dad, who some 30 years earlier harbored music dreams of his own. “I watch him and think, ‘Jeez, maybe that’s what I would have been doing at [his age] if I’d been successful,” says Joseph Sr., once a member of a Brooklyn-base vocal groups called The Orions. “It’s great to have him be successful doing what he wants to so at the same time [have it] be an extension of what I would have liked for myself.”
Joseph Sr., other hop is for his son to return to acting. Joey Jr.’s all for it, especially if he could play Superman in the upcoming feature film. But rumor has it Nicolas Cage already snagged the role. “They should get me!” the man-of-steel fan shouts. “I could do it! I just need to work out! Or put muscles in [Superman’s] vest, like Batman!”
JC is a vision in red. Slumped in a seat on the bus, he’s sporting a red shirt, red Kangol cap and red, bloodshot eyes. Mr. Sleepy, as he’s sometimes called by his band mates, has just been roused from one of his many naps. But when the self-described “serious type’ begins to talk about ‘N Sync – their success, their future and their work ethic – he couldn’t be more awake. For him, the band is everything, which is something that the other fun-loving members of the group know too well.
“If we make a mistake on stage, I’m the one who says, ‘Let’s really work on that.’ But that’s because I see the potential of this group,” Says JC, 22. “You know, when it’s on, it’s so on, andonce you see it, you want nothing else.”
JC’s just returned from a trip to Baltimore, where he visited family: mom Karen, a writer and editor; dad Roy, who networks White House computers; sister Heather, 20; and brother Tyler, 17. “When I go home, I unwind, eat some Maryland crab,” he says. “Being with them makes me feel like I don’t have to do anything.”
Like other, JC is girlfriendless. He does however. Have firm ideas of what he’s looking for: “I like down-home good girls, ones with good morals. I like that girl who can be herself, and you’re not going to find that with a lot of these show-business girls. There’s nothing better than an honest, good-hearted person. That’s where it’s at: You treat people like you want to be treated. I figure if I stay simple and honest, I’ll be lucky enough to meet someone like that.”
There’s just one catch: he can’t meet her anytime soon. “I went through a small phase in high school when I was girl crazy,” confesses JC. “But now I’ve got a lot on my hands. I got this gig running me ragged, and this is what I’M focused on. It’s one thing to have an album do well, but it’s another to create a career. And that’s going to come from nothing but hard work and dedication. I figure, ‘Okay, I’ll bury my personal life for a good three, four years.’ You have to sacrifice, but tons of people do it.”
“Duck!” Chris’s scream prompts everyone to drop to their knees near Lake Michigan, where ‘N Sync are doing an interview. Then he innocently points to the water: “Look, a duck.”
“Chris is crazy… he needs Ritalin. He’s off the wall.” Says Justin. Christopher Alan Kirkpatrick may be 10 years Justin’s senior but you wouldn’t know it. Perpetually messing with the heads of visitors unaccustomed to his cutting sense of humor, Chris seems bent on being the ruckus leader. At Teen People’s cover shoot, he instigates a bout of Riverdance-inspired footwork, leads his mates in a rousing chorus of Flipmode Squad’s” Cha Cha Cha,” and stages his own imaginary talk show on which he interrogates the freshly dubbed Loser Lance.
Despite all his energy, Chris’s genuine, sweet nature rushes to the surface when during this waterside chat, a wheelchair-bound fan and her family happen by. Upon hearing that they live near his hometown, Clarion, Pa,., he walks right over to greet them.
And there are other surprises; “When I was little, I wanted to be Gene Kelly. He sang and danced,” sys Chris, who grew up as the only guy in a houseful of women: mom Beverly and four sisters (Molly, 24; Kate, 22; Emily, 16; and Taylor, 6). His parents are divorced, and dad Myron “lives on a boat somewhere,” says Chris. “But I don’t talk to him much.”
Chris, who went to college with Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough, had once strummer guitar and sang R.E.M. and Pearl Jam songs at coffee shops. After he moved to Orlando in 1990, he got a gig singing in a ‘50s-style doo-wop act. That job inspired him to form his own harmony group. In 1995, he started ‘N Sync.
“I don’t think there’s ever been a groups like us,” Chris says mater-of-factly. “There are groups like us… that you hear the vocals and maybe they’re lip-syncing. There are groups like us and you can tell they’re sinsin live but their show’s lacking [something]. We’re the first group to throw in their face hardcore dancing and singing, then sing a pretty ballad on stools, then [get] right back in their faces dancing again.”
One of Chris’s favorite parts of ‘N Sync’s show is the intro, where they dance to a medley of current hits. Backstreet, he’s told do this too. “We’ve been doing it for years,” he says, without a smile. “We’re just flattered that they’re doing it now because they didn’t do it before.” He doesn’t sound flattered.
James Lance “Lansten” Bass, 19, has a secret life. When the ever-smiling, ever-courteous, clean-talking native of Clinton, Miss., isn’t performing bass vocals, he managing the careers of two country up-and-comers: Meredith Edwards and Jack Defeo. Where does he find tha time? “I do is at night in the hotel rooms,” he says. “It’s all on the phone.” For help, he’s recruited his mother, Diane , and sister, Stacy, 22, to head up his management company, Free Lance Entertainment. (Dad Jim is a laboratory manager in Clinton.)
Somehow, Lance has always managed to fit it all in. “In school, I had to do everything. I was the president of this, president of that, in this club, in that. Student Council. Honor Society. Plus I had two jobs,” He says.
His third full-time job: Mr. Social. “I never wanted an enemy, so I tried to be friends with everybody,” says Lance, probably the most approachable member of the group. “One night, I’d go out with this clique, the next night, I’d gout with another.” The strategy help earn him the honor of Friendliest Student. But “never Smartest or Most Athletic,” he laments.
For all his ambition, Lance in the only member who didn’t anticipate a career as a performer. “I started liking music in the ninth grade but I thought “there’s no way I even have a chance,” he says. That was until Justin, with whom he shared a vocal coach, called to recruit him.
“From day one, I knew it was going to work,” Lance says. “The first time we sang together, I was like, “This is it.’”
Well, anybody present at the Rosemont concert – where the fans’ screams nearly drowned out the band’s harmonies - would be inclined to agree that ‘N Sync is it. The same conclusion could be reached the next day on the banks of Lake Michigan, where the guys are taping a segment of Brazil’s popular TV show Planet Xuxa. A crowd of fans gather around, clamoring for photos and autographs. When a family with a stroller approaches, the group gathers around the six-month-old, cooing and playing with his feet. Sensing the perfect shot, the show’s director requests, “Sing him a lullaby!” ‘N Sync’s selection? The old Vanilla Ice Hit “Ice Ice Baby.”
Did these five ever foresee causing such commotion? “From the beginning, we said, ‘Let’s be huge,’” Says Justin earnestly. ‘We didn’t want to be the next anybody. We wanted to be the first ‘N Sync.”