IT'S NEARING 8:00 on a sweltering night in Phoenix, and as the temperature mercifully dips below 100 degrees, a trillion swelling hormones have collected at the Cricket Wireless Pavilion to experience the Jonas Brothers. Among the undersize pilgrims in attendance are Jordan and Jackie, a pair of blond preteens from nearby Scottsdale. Moments ago, they met the Jonas Brothers in person at a "meet and greet" photo op, and now they stand red-cheeked, quivering and sobbing uncontrollably, as if they've been told that Disneyland just burned down, with the world's supply of kittens and baby pandas trapped inside.
"Omigodomigodomigod," Jordan says, holding her arms aloft and shaking her palms in the air.
"I got tingles in my body all over the place, because I. just. Met. Nick. Jonas," Jackie says.
"I've wanted to meet them for, like, my whole entire life," Jordan says.
How old are you?
It's like this everywhere. At a Jonas Brothers concert in Dallas, I meet a 17-year-old girl named Lauren who hosted a red-carpet premiere party at her house for the brothers' recent Disney Channel movie, Camp Rock. ("Even my girlfriends who weren't into it, we made them dress up," she says.) I meet girls from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, one of whose dad drove them seven hours to the concert ("He wore an iPod"). I meet many fans who, like the Jonases, wear "purity rings," vowing chastity until marriage. I meet a precocious 11-year-old named Hannah (not Montana) from New York. "We have to teach people to like the Jonas Brothers," she instructs me, finger wagging. And why is Hannah from New York in Dallas?
"To see the Jonas Brothers," she says. "Duh."
Back in Phoenix, the brothers Jonas — Nick, 15, Joe, 18, and Kevin, 20 — are preparing to start their show. All three boys stand less than five-feet-ten, and each possesses a fantastic mane of dark-brown hair. Joe's hair is ironed flat. Kevin used to flat-iron his, but now it's curly again, and he's got thick sideburns; Nick, the brothers' chief songwriter and leader, has always kept the curls. Under Nick's fitted brown linen suit is an insulin pump, adhered to his lower back. Nick was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2005 and must carefully monitor his blood-sugar levels; the band's mammoth bodyguard, Big Rob, carries an insulin shot at all times in case of an emergency.
The backstage hallway quickly fills with members of the extended Jonas family. There's the backup band — guys in their 20s, some of whom have been with the JBs since the days when they rattled around New Jersey playing grimy clubs. There's a swarm of female string players in tuxedo shirts hired to play onstage. There's the band's clean-cut co-manager, Phil Mclntyre, and there's Kevin Jonas Sr., the boys' brown-haired, soft-spoken 43-year-old father. A former Christian musician and church pastor raised in North Carolina, Kevin Sr. serves with Mclntyre as the band's co-manager.
The group forms a circle and clasps hands. "Two quick things," Kevin Sr. says. "We brought four people from the grass all the way to the front row tonight, so they're pretty excited." This is a Jonas norm — plucking die-hards from the nosebleeds and giving them the best seats in the house. Kevin Sr. tells the band to look out for a girl's Softball team that just had a 13-year-old teammate killed in an ATV accident. "They're right at the end of the catwalk," he says. "One of them is wearing the shirt the girl was going to wear tonight."
Kevin Sr. dips his head in prayer. "Heavenly father, we just pray that you'll bless us this time, let it be fun and safe and exciting," he says. "Thank you for all the people that are here. We were at 60 percent just a week ago, and it looks full. Lord, we just pray that every person will be encouraged in Jesus' name."
The band members and crew holler. "Bring it in!" they shout. Hands are joined and raised to the ceiling.
"Livin' the dream!" they yell.
Big Rob escorts Nick, Kevin and Joe to their places. Suddenly, the lights go dark, triggering a roar in the 20,000-seat Cricket Wireless Pavilion that can only be described as primal. And it is, in a way. The neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louann Brisendine, author of the bestseller The Female Brain, says the release of dopamine in a screaming teenage girl's brain upon seeing her pop idols is like "injecting heroin." Being with other screaming girls, she says, only makes the effect wilder.
"There's a thing in biology we call synchrony," Brizendine says. "Basically, one girl affects another affects another, and it becomes a domino effect building up to that level of hysteria. They are getting all these brain hits of dopamine, and also oxytocin, which is a love-and-bonding hormone. Teenage girls have so much estrogen, which just catapults the level of dopamine and oxytocin in the brain, creating this sort of ecstatic rush in themselves and others. It truly is a state of ecstatic love."
Tonight in Phoenix, as the Jonas Brothers kick off with their buoyant, guitar-driven anthem, "That's Just the Way We Roll," it sounds a lot like ecstatic love. It sounds like clean, wholesome fun. It also sounds like money.
TWO YEARS AGO,WE WERE in a big red passenger van with a trailer hitched to the back with all our gear," Nick says. It is the afternoon of the Phoenix concert, and the Jonas Brothers are flying to the show in a chartered Gulfstream G4 with espresso-color leather chairs.
"Big Bertha," Joe says. "It had a dent in it, and we'd flip the seats around and call it —"
"The Players Lounge," Nick says, smiling.
Kevin reaches over and shows me a small display screen attached to the wall. "The amazing thing about this plane? It has cameras all over." He flips a channel. "That's the wing." He flips again. "That's another." Flip. "That's underneath."
In the back of the plane sit the Jonas parents, Kevin Sr. and Denise, as well as Mclntyre, Big Rob and the boys' personal assistant, Felicia Culotta, who, like Big Rob, used to work the bubblegum trenches for Britney Spears. As we talk, a pretty flight attendant delivers lunch: chicken fingers from KFC.
"We once played this show in Jersey," Nick says, munching on a chicken finger. "It was, seriously, the most horrible little rock club in the world. It fit maybe 50 people. When we got there, the guy said there was a heavy-metal band the night before that blew out the PA system, so they'd have to take the monitors and spin them around."
"It was out of control," says Kevin. "And our crowds were interesting."
"Curious," Nick says.
Joe laughs. "It was like when you perform in third grade or your little sister has a ballet. They'd all go like this —" he puts down his chicken finger and does a slow clap. "It was like that."
"It had potential," Nick says. ''Like it could be crazy. But it wasn't there yet."
Despite their closeness, the Jonases aren't exactly alike. Kevin, the oldest, is the extrovert, chatting up bus drivers and security guards, crouching on his knees to greet little kids at shows. Middle child Joe, who resembles a prettier version of the actor Peter Gallagher, is the quieter Jonas, with a wild alter ego revealed onstage, where he swivels his hips and twirls a mike stand like a lightsaber. "I'm really inspired by Mick Jagger and Freddie Mercury — the big frontmen," he says. "I heard Jagger does an hour on a treadmill before every show."
Nick, by contrast, is the Jonas Brothers' boss — the spokesman, the best musician, the chief songwriter. It might seem odd for Joe and Kevin to take their lead from their kid brother, but the jonases don't see it that way. "Nicholas has always been older than he was," their father tells me. Despite his heartthrob status, Nick has more Eddie Vedder in him than he does Shaun Cassidy. He says his favorite songs are Elvis Costello's "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and Johnny Cash's "Give My Love to Rose."
Nick says he'd like to do a Jonas-Cash tribute album. "We could call it, Jonas Brothers Pay Tribute to die Man in Black," he says.
Naturally, the Jonases have started to become tabloid targets, and they seem amused by the gossip about their dating life. Lately, Joe's been fending off the rumor - and by fending off, I mean totally enjoying — that he's dating country-music chanteuse Taylor Swift, who was spotted in the crowd at the Dallas concert and who will appear in the band's upcoming 3-D movie. Kevin's been photographed boating in Miami with a brown-haired knockout named Danielle.
"I get it," Joe says. "When I was young, I wanted to know what my favorite bands were up to all the time. And it's funny when there's a rumor. It's funny when you find out there are other celebrities with crushes on you, like when I read that Lauren Conrad from The Hills liked me."
Nick agrees. "The Kim Kardashian rumor [about me] was hilarious," he says. "I was honored, but I was like, 'Reggie Bush would kill me!'"
Of course, Nick's always being dogged by the speculation about his relationship with one particular girl: Miley Cyrus, a.k.a. Hannah Montana, the blue-eyed Disney dynamo who helped break the Jonas Brothers when she brought them onboard her hit TV show and Best of Both Worlds Tour.
"There was a point in our lives when we were very close," Nick says softly of the Miley rumors, "We. were neighbors when we were on tour together. It was good. Just really close. But it would crack me up — I would read these stories online, people saying things that were completely untrue."
Reading the Nick and Miley gossip, you get the feeling that America is in a rush to anoint a Magic Kingdom Charles and Di. After all, the primary engine behind the Jonas Brothers phenomenon — besides the brothers themselves — is the Walt Disney Company, which has made hundreds of millions of dollars blanketing the American tweenscape with a sun shower of G-rated musical entertainment. With its various subsidiaries — including Disney Channel, Radio Disney and a record company, Hollywood Records, not to mention theme parks and merchandising arms - Disney has built powerhouse 21st-century franchises like High School Musical and Hannah Montana. In an era when music companies have struggled to connect with record buyers, Disney prospered by cultivating a demographic that had been largely ignored. "People don't think they have much buying power, but they do," says Disney president Robert Iger. "We decided they should be our core demo."
The Jonas Brothers, of course, are grateful for the support of Mickey's white glove. Disney, after all, fished the boys out of the pop-rock abyss and inserted them into the Hannah-verse, exposing them to millions of love-struck consumers (opening for Miley Cyrus in '07 was kind of like batting in front of Babe Ruth in 1927). But today on their jet, the Jonases want everyone to know that they weren't cooked up in a Disney laboratory by Mouse-hat-wearing demographers, that they play their own instruments, write their own songs, and that, yes, they are, in fact, brothers.
"People seriously ask us all the time," Kevin says. " 'Are you guys really brothers?'"
Joe laughs. "It's like, no, we named our band Jonas Brothers just for fun."
THE STORY OF THE JONAS Brothers begins in suburban New Jersey, in a town called Wyckoff, not far from the George Washington Bridge to Manhattan. Kevin Sr. and Denise, who had met at the Christ for the Nations Bible college in Dallas (Kevin Sr. was the hot musician on campus), moved their young family to New Jersey from Texas in 1996 when Kevin took a job as a pastor at the local Assembly of God Church. The family lived in a nearby split-level red-brick house. The Jonas family truckster was a '92 Toyota Camry. A big family night was a rented movie — About a Boy was a favorite — and sweet-potato casserole.
On Sundays, the family would watch Kevin Sr. deliver his weekly sermon and play songs, some of which he had written, on his guitar. The kids would sing as well. "We grew up in church, playing with our father onstage," Kevin says. (If you go to YouTube — or GodTube — you can find a clip of a tiny Kevin and Joe singing "I Am Amazed" with their father back in Dallas.)
But Papa Jonas also had a fixation with pop music. Kevin Sr. raised his boys on the melodies of James Taylor and Carole King, and even followed the careers of power-pop producers. "We'd have friends over, and we'd be listening to the new Backstreet Boys CD, and he'd talk about how amazing Max Martin was," Nick says, referring to the reclusive Swedish boy-band producer. Says Kevin, "Dad's always taken the Billboard chart and dissected it."
Back when he was little, Nick would accompany his mother to the hair salon, where he would walk among the mirrors singing Backstreet and show tunes for candy money. One day, a woman was there whose son had been in the Broadway cast of Les Miserables. "She said, 'Do you have a manager?' " Kevin Sr. recalls. "She said, 'He needs a manager, because my son did this, and he can do this.'"
It sounds like a Frank Capra plot, but Nick soon landed roles in shows like A Christmas Carol, Annie Get Tour Gun, Beauty and the Beast and, later, Les Miz. Kevin Sr. would shuttle his son back and forth from the city, analysing the harmonies and bridges of greats like Stevie Wonder. "All the way home and back, we'd write songs," says Kevin Sr.
Nick kept a full school workload, skipping Wednesdays for matinees. Meanwhile, Joe had carved out his own stage career (he played the Artful Dodger in Oliver!), and Kevin ventured into commercials. Denise Jonas, a pretty former sign-language teacher who blessed her boys with their fantastic curly brown hair (and who confesses her own teenage crush was Star Wars' Mark Hamill), recalls taking them to auditions while she was "full and pregnant" with her fourth son, Frankie (who is now seven and known as the "Bonus Jonas").
"I really observed the other parents," Denise, 42, says. "I thought, 'I'm a novice, and I don't want to make any mistakes that could be detrimental to us as a family or their careers down the road.' We weighed everything. Sometimes they'd throw a script at us that was full of language not suitable for a seven-year-old." "People always used to imply, 'Are you concerned about having your kids in this business?' " Kevin Sr. recalls. "But they're doing Les Miz, La Bohéme — beautiful works of art."
In 2004, Columbia Records signed Nick to a deal, and soon afterward he released Nicholas Jonas, an album of mostly spiritual songs (a lyric from "Dear God": "Dear God, people take your words and try to twist them around/I know you can't be happy with what's going down"). But Columbia saw potential for a Jonas trio. A record was made (It's About Time), and a grind of weird gigs (opening up on the Cheetah Girls' Cheetah-licious Christmas Tour) began. The jonases all started taking long stretches away from their school, Eastern Christian, to perform.
"The kids thought our family was in the mob," Nick says.
But around the same time, a Jonas crisis occurred. Joe and Nick had gone off to a retreat when Joe noticed his younger brother had lost an alarming amount of weight. "We went swimming, and he took his shirt off, and I freaked," Joe recalls. "He looked like a skeleton."
Nick was taken to a hospital, where doctors diagnosed him with diabetes. "I didn't know if we'd be able to continue as a band," Nick says. Denise slept by Nick's side in the hospital. "The feelings you go through are so vast," she says. "There's grief, because he's lost his health. There's guilt - 'What did I do to my child?' You're uneducated about what it is. Once I understood, I could release that."
"After about the second day in the hospital, I realized that it'd be all right," Nick says. "It would just take time and understanding to manage it."
The insulin pump that Nick attaches to his back has a tiny catheter that stabilizes the insulin level in his system. It's connected to a wireless device that Nick keeps in his jeans pocket; he checks it regularly to monitor his levels. Every day, he pricks his finger up to 12 times to check whether he needs to correct his blood-sugar level. It's become a daily routine, second nature.
"I'm obviously fine now, but when you learn about your diabetes, there's a thing called the honeymoon period," Nick says. "That's the time after you're diagnosed, and your blood sugar is a little all over the place." He says it took him nine months to feel like himself again. "Once you find a pattern with diabetes, you can have normalcy."
"I can't tell you how frustrating it is to hear people belittle diabetes because it's maintainable," says Kevin Sr. "They've never had to sit on a bus when a pump didn't work and a second pump didn't work - this was just last week - and a third didn't, and he had to give him-self a shot when we're driving down a highway. Everybody on our team is on full alert, watching every move Nick makes on that stage every single night of his life."
After Nick's diagnosis would have been a good time for the Jonas Brothers to catch a break. But it didn't happen. Despite endless touring, Columbia Records called in early 2007 and said it was not releasing the band's second album.
"The reason given to us was 'The indicators were not there,'" says Kevin Sr. "It was devastating."
Still, even before the breakup with Columbia, the Jonases had caught the attention of Bob Cavallo, the chairman of Buena Vista Music Group and the former manager of acts like the Lovin' Spoonful, Earth, Wind and Fire, and an obscure Minneapolis R&B singer named Prince. Impressed by the JBs' musicianship, Cavallo brought them to Bob Iger, and the rest is Mouse House history. The Jonases' first album under Hollywood, Jonas Brothers, sold 1.4 million copies. Last year, the Jonas Brothers made a reported $12 million as a group. Recently, they signed a multimillion-dollar deal with Live Nation, the concert-sales company that also handles U2 and Madonna. The Jonas clan now lives in Los Angeles and just closed on a new spread in Dallas, not far from a posh country club.
"It's just like a random place to go on vacation," the young Kevin says. "It doesn't even feel real. I get in a golf cart, go straight to the course. They're like, 'Hey, Mr. Jonas, you going to play today?' It's the best thing ever."
THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF the Jonas Brothers phenomenon? Oversharing. They may wear skinny jeans and narrow ties, but the boys reject the maxim that rock stars should always be cool. The band spends hours cranking out mundane homemade videos about everything from Joe's new headband to the food in the greenroom at The Oprah Winfrey Show. I watch a video of Joe whacking Nick over the head with a plastic baseball bat that had nearly 8 million viewers. On tour, they even show a jumbotron video of Nick putting on his insulin pump. The clip gets a giant squeal, since there's also a quick peek at Nick's flesh. "I think we're editing that," Kevin Sr. says, shaking his head. "Not the right place for them to scream."
Then there are the Jonases' already famous meet-and-greets. Most bands do these — obligatory schmoozefests with sponsors, contest winners, friends of friends and local VIPs. But the Jonas Brothers take it to endurance extremes. In Dallas I watch them greet more than 400 fans in 99-degree heat.
"They are the new music business — work hard, touch your fans," Brad Wavra, a tan, hyper Live Nation VP, tells me as we watch the grip-and-grin in Dallas. "We know a band that used to count the number in their meet-and-greets — if it was 50, and there were 51 people there, they wouldn't meet that 51st kid."
"You got 300 people in the lobby of your hotel, that's not a problem," says Johnny Wright, a longtime boy-band maestro who also advises the JBs. "That's a blessing. Don't go through the back door. Go through the front." So far, the Jonases embrace these rituals. They pay close attention to their meet-and-greets, noting the increasing number of older teenage girls in red dresses and heels (an outfit mentioned in the band's new single, "Burn in Up"), and amorous moms. "The dads make jokes like, 'Keep your hands off my daughter,'" Nick says.
If there is one subject the Jonas Brothers are tired of talking about, it's their purity rings. One afternoon on the band's tour bus, where the fridge is stuffed with Diet Dr. Pepper, Dibs ice cream treats and Smucker's Uncrustables PB&J sandwiches, 1 ask them about the silver bands, which are mentioned in nearly every press account of the brothers. "We've talked about it enough," Nick says abruptly. "We'd rather focus on the music and the movie." I press a little harder. Why not talk about it? After all, their fans (and the parents) like the fact that they wear them. Everywhere I go in the crowds at concerts, girls show off their rings. A spokeswoman for James Avery Craftsman, a large Christian-based jeweler, tells me that sales of the company's "True Love Waits" purity ring are up 25 percent this year. "We can't say for sure why, but it's up," she says.
After my second attempt, Joe looks at Nick. "Go ahead," Joe says.
"Well," Nick says quietly, "to us, the rings are a constant reminder to live a life of values. It's about being a gentleman, treating people with respect and being the best guys we can be."
Was it something you guys all decided to wear collaboratively?
"We all did it at one point in our life," Kevin says. "On our own personal time."
It's the only time that the air gets tense with the brothers. Faith and pop culture can be a complicated mix and often a third rail with the media. The Jonases do not hide their spirituality, but they're not proselytizing, either.
"On a personal level, faith is extremely important," Kevin Sr. says. "But I kind of cringe every time I read references to them being a Christian band, for the simple reason that they don't sing Christian music. Probably because of my background, the boys get lumped into the Christian-music genre. But it isn't their genre."
As modern pop-music controversies go, worrying about being seen as a "Christian band" is a nice problem to have. Disney has already suffered growing pains with Miley Cyrus, whose image took a hit after Vanity Fair published a bare-shouldered Annie Leibovitz portrait that, depending on whom you talked to, was elegant art or proof that we're on a slip-slide to the apocalypse. While Disney's Iger feels that Mileygate was overcooked —"A gross overreaction," he says — he acknowledges the challenges of having image-conscious Disney invested in the unpredictable rock business. "It's tricky," Iger says. "There are no guarantees when it comes to artists aging and behavior that changes with aging. The key is to put it into perspective."
The Jonases admit they feel that pressure. "I think we've always tried to live our lives to some standards," Nick says. "The good thing is that we have each other. On the road, Joe and I share a room, so we'll have conversations where we're in our beds and talk until 2:00 in the morning. We just have that relationship where we're really able to talk about anything."
As for Miley's troubles, Nick gets protective. "She's our friend," he says. "And we'll always have her back." In the end, it really (and scarily) is up to the kids themselves. Total control and supervision of a teen idol is a laugh — go ask Lynne Spears. There's always a tension between business demands and adolescent rebellion.
I think of this when I meet Demi Lovato, the Jonases' 15-year-old co-star in Camp Rock, who is opening up for the boys on this tour. An auburn-haired spitfire from Dallas, Lovato onstage comes off more like a preternatural Pat Benatar than a cutesy pop queen.
I'd heard Lovato was a metal fan, and backstage, as she prepares for her one-song cameo in the Jonas Brothers' show, she confesses her affection for the headbangers. "I had an ex-boyfriend who was a total metalhead," she explains. When asked, she ticks off some of her favorite metal bands: Glendale, Arizona's Job for a Cowboy (sample lyric: "Nauseated/She chokes on her own vomit emitted from her distended and desiccated throat") and Norway's Dimmu Borgir (classic album: Death Cult Armageddon).
"I don't want kids to listen to Job for a Cowboy," Lovato says cautiously. "But there is a certain uniqueness to metal music. When someone comes over to a mike and screams — I can't do that. I listen to pop music and I'm like, 'OK, I get it' — that doesn't fascinate me. What fascinates me is metal." For a second, Lovato looks nervous, as if she's said a terrible thing that will soon have her waiting tables at a Dallas-area Applebee's. She wonders if she should have mentioned the bands at all. "I think [Disney Channel president] Gary Marsh would kill me."
Maybe. But I think it makes her sound 15, and totally awesome.
THE ONE THING YOU DON'T need to remind the Jonas Brothers is that teen-pop success has a short shelf life. They got your memo, thanks. They know that today's pop phenoms are tomorrow's VH1 roadkill, and for every loyal fan, there's a hater loudly predicting their swift demise.
Naturally, the Jonases say they want to make music forever. And because they are capable of writing songs, this is easier to believe than if you heard it from, say, the cast of High School Musical. The guys are eager to hear the reaction to their newest record, A Little Bit Longer, hoping people will see them as a rock band and not just as a passing tween obsession. Nick admits he's fantasized about recording under an alias. "It'd be great," he says. "Maybe even write songs under different names for other artists."
You get the feeling that Nick could junk the whole rock-star thing and be happy. "The success is great," he says during a private moment on that flight to Phoenix. "But we wrote our last record while we were being dropped and playing for 10 people. We know what it's like to do it just for fun."
The challenge, of course, is getting the Jonas audience to mature with the band and not grow up and reject them like a pink stuffed elephant. But this is hard — not many bands are capable of going from Please Please Me to Rubber Soul. To date, the Jonases have not shown much musical interest in politics or world affairs. "I don't think we ever wanted to be a band that wants to be political, because that starts getting hairy," says Kevin.
The trick is getting the edges of your real life in your music, which isn't easy if your real life is protected by Disney. But the Jonases' current showstopper is "A Little Bit Longer," a melancholy an-them Nick wrote about his battle with diabetes; it's not exactly sing-along-in-the-minivan material. And Cyrus' new record contains several pained breakup songs, which will surely be credited to Nick, even if Disney won't touch that subject with a 1o-foot magic wand.
Just before I leave, there's a funny moment. My last night on tour, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, California, a photograph is taken right after the band's pre-show prayer. For some reason, there's a lot of worry about it; a Disney publicist is anxious and politely asks for it to be deleted.
As the publicist makes a case, the Jonas Brothers concert is starting. Nick, Joe and Kevin brush past us with Big Rob in tow, the lights go dark, and there's the unmistakable sound of dopamine and oxytocin releasing en masse. The backstage area begins to vibrate, but all I can think about is the picture. What could it possibly be? Why would the Disney handler want to delete it? Was it Nick making out with a girl? Joe putting on a wig? Kevin playing ping-pong with the devil? Booze? Drugs? Dick Cheney?
Later that night, I'm finally able to see the photograph. It's a picture of Nick, Joe, Kevin and, yes, a beautiful young brunette in a scarlet-red top. Nick has his arm around the girl's back, and the girl's arm is wrapped around his. Her name is Selena Gomez, she's Demi Lovato's best friend and a big new Disney Channel star. The genuine affection in the photo is obvious; these guys seem like the luckiest brothers on the planet.
And if you want a time stamp, it was taken one minute before the Jonas Brothers, a humble family band from New Jersey, took the stage to perform a sold-out concert before 15,000 people, when they were on the cusp of being one of the biggest bands in America.
That photo doesn't look like trouble. It looks like the time of their lives