There are shelves of books on 'N Sync, some suited for the fiction rack, but all agree on one thing: Twenty-eight-year-old Chris Kirkpatrick got the group together. He grew up poor with his four younger half-sisters and his mother in Clarion, Pennsylvania (his father died when he was young). His mother remarried a few times, working odd jobs as a maid and in a flower shop to make ends meet. The family moved often, and by the time he was in seventh grade, Kirkpatrick had attended almost as many schools. He found his niche in musical theater, landing the lead in a high school production of Oliver! when he was still in junior high. "My voice hadn't changed yet," he says. "Not that it would have mattered. It didn't change until I was a senior in high school - and it didn't change much." (His speaking voice is lower than its singing counterpart, but he still sounds like he's fourteen.) Kirkpatrick eventually moved to Orlando to attend college, where he took choir with Howie Dorough of the Backstreet Boys, worked in shows at Universal Studios and sang in a Boyz II Men-esque quintet that fizzled when one member left to join an early version of Backstreet. In 1995, Kirkpatrick began to look for voices to fill out a new group.
He found Justin Timberlake through an agent. Timberlake was born nineteen years ago in Memphis and knew he'd be a singer from the time he was eight. He'd sing in his Baptist church, in his mother's car, anywhere with an audience. "It just always felt natural to me," he says. His mother, Lynn, encouraged him with voice lessons and let him try his skills on Star Search. "He just loved to be onstage," she says. "He wanted to sing all the time. After he auditioned at the mall for Star Search, we went down to Orlando for the show, and that's where he heard about the Mouse Club." At twelve, he was chosen for The Mickey Mouse Club. The Disney Channel variety show lasted five seasons and featured no fewer than five future teen stars: Justin, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Felicity's Keri Russell and Timberlake's future Sync mate Chasez. "I was a little punkass," Timberlake recalls. "But I really started to find myself there. It was a good experience. After that, I went back to school for a year and got into trouble – mailbox bashing and just being a delinquent. I'm just glad I didn't have to go to regular high school. I would have gotten arrested by now. I was kind of like Ferris Bueller."
When Kirkpatrick contacted him, Timberlake had been recording demos and writing songs with Chasez. Chasez was born and raised in Maryland. He is the oldest of three children, and his parents have been married for twenty-five years. When he was young, his father was drafted, both to pitch for the Kansas City Royals and to serve his country in Vietnam. Uncle Sam won the bidding war, and Chasez's father never played in the majors. Papa Chasez now works in computers, and JC's mother edits an international-trade magazine, and, unbeknownst to them, they trained JC for a life on the road. "Every summer we used to caravan wherever for a few weeks," the twenty-two-year-old Chasez says, smiling. "We'd just pick a direction and go. We'd spend days in the car, playing games and seeing weird sights. I've seen every state on the continent from the car. I've seen the World's Largest Ball of Twine, the Largest Rubber Band Ball, the Largest Bee Farm – I've seen 'em all, dude."
In the seventh grade, Chasez entered a talent contest on a dare and sang Richard Marx's "Right Here Waiting for You" (an isn't-it-ironic fact: Marx wrote and produced a song on No Strings Attached). "I won first place, twenty dollars from my friend Casey, and had all these girls start calling me," Chasez says. "I was like, 'Are you kidding? I'm going to keep doing this!' " Two weeks later, he made the cut for The Mickey Mouse Club.
"JC was the cool older guy, and Justin wanted to be just like him," Christina Aguilera recalls. "He was very goofy back then - now he's the serious one. One time he ticked me off so much. I went into the dance trailer and was being the biggest pain – just a childish eleven-year-old – and he turned to me and said, 'Go play with your Barbie dolls.' I was so mad. We all arrived there as dorks, but we all grew up."
"We all knew everyone there was talented, but we all could have gone back into regular lives," Chasez says. "I knew Britney and Christina would blow up: Britney was like a little Janet Jackson, and Christina was like a little Celine Dion." Chasez left the Club at seventeen and headed to L.A. to pursue music. "I got hooked up with some slimy people and got burned bad," he says flatly. "Finally I got in my car and left." He stopped over at Timberlake's house in Memphis, and before he knew it the two were staying with a friend in Nashville, recording demos and writing songs. A month later, Chasez was back home, working his first waiter job at a strip mall and saving money for his next recording trip to Nashville, when Timberlake and Kirkpatrick snagged him for the band.
The three moved to Orlando, scoured the town for a baritone and found one on Seventies night at the club Pleasure Island: Brooklyn-bred Joey Fatone Jr. When he was thirteen, Fatone's family moved to Florida, where he discovered extracurricular activities. "I went to Catholic school in Brooklyn," he says, rolling out his sentences with a New Yawk inflection. "They didn't have any extracurricular activities. I mean nothin'. So when I got to high school here, I started doing plays, acting, dancing, everything." His father, who sang in a Fifties doo-wop outfit called the Orions, encouraged his son. Fatone was soon on the Disney-Universal Studios show circuit, where he met Kirkpatrick. "I did characters – you know, Pluto," says the twenty-three-year-old. "I moved to Universal after high school, and Chris sang in one of the places over there." Fatone was in, but the group still needed a bass.
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