Eleven year old Akayla is growing ever more exited as,one by one,the five Backstreet Boys come out to meet the contestants who won backstage passes to the group's Sring,Texas show.First to appear is Howie Dorough,25,the sweetest one(he kept the tour bus waiting on the way to the show because he couldnt lave the hotel without signing some autographs for some fans).When he touches Akayla's shoulder as they pose for a photo,she tembles.Then comes Kevin Richardson,26,the most serious one,whosh ardly cracks a smile through the entire meet-and-greet.Happy-go-lucky Brian Littrell,23,hams it up with the fans singing and dancing.AJ McLean,20,the groups "bad boy",comes out with his spiky hair dyed bright red,wearing gold hoop earrings and a white tank top that shows off the tattoo's on his upper arms.As each boy enters,Akayla,a dark-haired dynamo in baggy jeans and a tank top,jump up and screams,then tentativly approavhes for an autograph,staring up in wonderment.When the last Backstreet Boy,the talles-youngest-blondest-cutest one,Nick Carter,18,appears,she cant take anymore exitment and burts into tears.
After Carter leaves,Akayla wipes a few tear soaked strands of hair from her reddened face,and trying hard to act grown-up,says to her mother and father, "Does it look like i was crying?"
A year ago,like most of America,Akayla had never heard of the Backstreet Boys.But now the Florida-based band has the 3rd best selling album of 1998,Backstreet Boys,and a single,"Quit Playing Games With my heart",that went all the way to No 2.They're selling out arenas accross the country.Prepubescent girls stake out their hotels and chase their tour bus.And according to the Web site searchterms.com,during the month of July,the Boys were cited in Internet searches more frequently than any musical act besides the Spice Girls.
Although the Backstreet Boys are just being discovered in the American heartland,they're practicly senior citizens in the boy-band years.The group released its first single in 1995,when grunge was the rape and teen popstars like New Kids on The Block were fading memories.It bombed.So the band's managers,Johnny Wright(who not so coincidentaly also manages NKOTB)and his wife Donna,took the Boys to Europe,where boys bands--prefabricated vocal groups featuring cute clothes and simple,choreographed dance steps--were still in the rage.Overseas the Backstreet Boys filled arenas,sold 12 million albums and won the 1996 MTV Europe Viewers Choice award."We had some crazy things happen in Europe,"says Dorough,"like fans stowing away on the bus,girls climbing barbed wire fences,and showing up in our dressing rooms with their skirts cut up."
The Backstreet Boys stood out from their slick,manufactured competitors in Europe.For one thing,they can actually sing.Their songs have an R&B edge.And most important,they weren't calculately constructed by producers more concerened with packaging than with talent.Dorough,McLean and Carter met in the early 90's on the Orlando,FL.,kiddietainment circut,auditioning for Nickolodeon,MGM and Universal TV shows.A friend introduced them to Richardson,who was playing Aladdin and a Ninja Turtle at Disney world and he recruited his cousin Littrell,who lived in Lexington,KY.Despite the Boys` quick stardom in Europe,they kept their eyes on what they considered the ultimate prize. "I never looked at success internationaly as success until we made it here," says Littrell. "We'ed sit in dressing rooms in Europe and wish we were in America playing a 30,000 seat auditorium.Now those dreams are coming true."
Behind a fence nest to the Boys` tour bus,a group of young girls waits,hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols,breathlessly asking anyone who passes by, "Do you know the Backstreet Boys?" The bus is equiped with Nintendo 64,a VCR(playing a karate movie)and bunk beds.McLeans bunk is filled with panda bears that his fans have thrown onstage.They're his latest obsession. "I'm getting a panda tattoo," he says "Panda's represent a nonracist frame of mind,because it brings black and while together." McLean,an only child,is a bit of a maverick.His mother,Denise,a publisist for the band,and his father Robert,a computer techinician,divorced when he was 4.mcLean didnt see his father again until earlier this year,when he discovered that he was living nearby. "He recognized me as soon as he saw me," McLean says. "He had a bunch of Backstreet Boys stuff.The first thing i had to ask was,'Why didnt you ever get in touch with me?' He said he was sorry.I still blame him for a lot of things."
Standing in the aisle,Littrell,who started singing gospel music when he was 5,at his Baptist church (his parents Jackie and Harold,are also singers),spontaneously breaks into Minnie Rippertons "Lovin` you,"and the others join in,a five part harmony.It's impossible to tell that just 10 weeks ago,Littrell had open heart surgery for a congenital ailment that almost killed him when he was 5. "I have a medic backstage and oxygen for whenever I get short of breath.," he says,flashing a no worries smile. "The last couple of days,i havnt needed any help"
When they reach the high note of the song,the Boys wait for Dorough,who sings falsetto,to tackle it,but all he can manage is a shriek,and they collapse in giggles.No matter--every time someone opens the door reach that note just fine.
Carter excuses himself for a doctor's appointment.He's not feeling well,and perhaps it accounts for his aloofness.The fact that the Leonardo DeCaprio look-a-like gets more attention from fans than any other Boy might also be to blame. "When we first started,I got a little but of animosity from the other guys," he admitsAs the youngest member,he also gets teased a lot. "Since i turned 18" he says "I want to be treated like an aduly,but they treat me like a baby." Fortunatly,now that the band's opening act is his 10-year-old brother,Aaron,who sings light teen pop,there is an even younger Carter to tease.(Their mother Jane,is Aaron's manager;their father Bob,has his own buisness,repairing boats.)Later the doctor will tell Carter that he has strep throat,but the show must go on.
In a practice that goes back o boy-band prehistory,any notion that the Backstreet Boys have relationships that would put them beyond the reach of their lovesick fans is quickly quashed. "They dont want to talk about that," says one publisist. "The fans own them." When a young blond is reffered to as Littrell's girlfriend,Richardson immediatly snaps "She's a friend.We dont have girlfriends.You really cant in this buisness." When Carter is asked about the puppy he and his girlfriend bought the day before,he is apologetic. "Who says it was my girlfriend?" he says. "That was my cousin.Right now mt love is music." But backstage,just before the Boys go on,Carter turns to his "cousin",embraces her and gives her a long,deep kiss.
Only the nonconformist McLean talks frankly about his love life.He just booked a flight to see Amanda Latona,18,of thw Orlando-based girl group Innosense,when they have a day off beetween concerts. "We were with each other every minute of every day for a month before the tour," he says.Just before Valentines Day,he ended a five-year relationship with Marissa Jackson,the daughter of manager Donna Wright. "We parted on bad terms" he says, "but now were best friends."
It's nearly showtime.Everytime a crew member walks across the stage or a curtain shakes,thousands of girls scream hysterically.Suddenly the lights go down.As white fireworks shoot into the air,the Backstreet Boys pop out from under the stage.No one can hear them sing over the audiences screams,which barely lets up for the two-hour show.They all wear jackets and gloves(it's 98 Degrees outside), but these layers are stripped off item by item as the show goes on.Girls mouth the words to the songs,clutching their hands to their hearts as if they believed that the lyrics say--thay boys are sensitive,sweet and romantic.The Backstreet Boys are living out a fantasy,too.Maybe they wont end up like every other boyband,sentenced to eventual oblivion.McLean says that being labeled a "boyband" is one of their "pet peeves--when your 30,your not a boy anymore." Deep down,though,they realize long-term success is a long shot.
On the tour bus after the show,McLean shows off his tattoos.LAUGH NOW,says one on his left arm.Then he poits to the empty space on his right arm. "I'm getting a CRY LATER eventaully,"he says. "You might as well enjoy life now and cry about it later.You might not be a Backstreet Boy the rest of your life."
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