‘N Sync is the Sound of Young America
Still, Pearlman wasn’t satisfied with only the edges of show-business profits. Opportunity knocked when the New Kids rented one of his planes. “I said to my cousin, ‘How can they afford an airplane, these kids?'” Pearlman recalls. Garfunkel gave his cousin a sense of how much money the Kids were making. “I was on the wrong side of the coin,” Pearlman says. “Artie told me, ‘You’re in business; you like music. You should do something like that.’ So as a weekend goof we decided to do a little audition, and one thing led to another.”
That was 1992, and that weekend goof eventually led to the formation of Backstreet Boys, a project that Pearlman says he spent nearly $3 million on before dollar one came back. That, of course, was many, many dollars ago. Now everywhere one looks around these parts, there’s something else he owns – the travel agency that books the bands, the media company that puts them online, the new $6 million studio where they record.
First came lots of rejection. “We had so many record companies slamming the door in our face,” says Wright. “I decided, let’s send them over to Europe and see if we can build a story for them over there.” This would become part of the formula that would also serve ‘N Sync so well – use easy-to-crack international markets as testing waters and as a singing-dancing-promoting boot camp. Unlike in America, European markets never tire of boy and girl pop acts, as evidenced by the massive success of Take That, the Spice Girls and others. Wright was confident that his American teens would stand out, since “a lot of these groups like that weren’t singing, and we were taking a group that could really sing.”
The strategy worked. It was while Wright was overseas with the Boys that Pearlman called him and asked whether he knew that there was another group from Orlando like Backstreet Boys. Wright initially thought he had no time to get involved with a new gang of five, but when the Boys’ label, Jive, split with distributor BMG, Wright saw an opportunity in what he called the revenge factor. He called BMG, and before long a deal was in place for ‘N Sync. Like Backstreet Boys, they worked largely with successful Euro-pop producers and then reworked their album for U.S. consumption.
‘N Sync formed somewhat more organically than their Backstreet brethren. A bubbly literature that tells their legend already exists in periodicals like Bop, Teen Machine and Tiger Beat. Having met up with Pearlman, Kirkpatrick – an Orlando college student who had grown up poor in Clarion, Pennsylvania – tried to put a group together, eventually hooking up with two former Mouseketeers. Timberlake, a kid from Tennessee who got the Mouse gig after losing on Star Search, and Chasez, a middle-class kid from suburban Maryland who had come to Orlando for national talent-show finals, had already headed to Nashville together to cut demos after the Mouse Club was canceled. At a local club, they ran into their acquaintance Fatone – a son of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who had moved to Orlando years earlier with his father, a former singer himself, and his mother. A drama king at Doctor Phillips High School in Orlando, Fatone can be seen briefly in the 1993 film Matinee and possibly as a tyke extra in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America; around that time, he was also working in shows at the Universal and Disney theme parks. “I was a little too short to play Tiger and a little too tall to play Pluto,” he reports.
Finding the right guy to sing bass and complete the vocal mix proved most difficult. Finally, through Timberlake’s Nashville vocal coach, they found Lance Bass, who at first was too busy being class president at Mississippi’s Clinton High School to take the offer seriously. Finally, the morning after his homecoming parade, Lance flew to Orlando, staying with the four members and Lance’s mother. “It was like The Real World,” says Bass. “Except we all got along.”
From the first song they sang together – Lance believes it was the national anthem – something clicked. Everyone brought something to the ‘N Sync party: Justin is, as JC points out, “the All-American guy” – the fair-haired, boyish sex symbol who sings the leads, along with JC – who is, according to Justin, “the serious music guy.” Joey, true to his vaguely Baldwin-esque looks, is, according to all the other guys, “the group’s playboy.” As ‘N Sync’s leading heartthrob, Justin, complains, “Joey’s a womanizer – he takes my women, whazzup with that?” Lance, meanwhile, is “Mister Businesshead,” according to JC, while Justin says that Chris is “the crazy one, the loud one, the Psycho Spice.”
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