Michelle E. Smith, 29, of Haverhilll, showed off her New Kids souvenirs. (Globe Photo / Cheryl Senter)
By Meredith Goldstein and Sarah Rodman Globe Staff / April 5, 2008
They're financial analysts, lawyers, and guidance counselors now, but when the news of a New Kids on the Block reunion tour broke, it all came back: the breathlessness, the palpitations, the need to wait in line and empty their piggybanks to buy tickets.
Of course, the New Kids - Jordan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Donnie Wahlberg, Jonathan Knight, and Danny Wood - aren't exactly "kids" anymore, either. The youngest of the bunch, McIntyre, is 35, and the oldest member, Jonathan Knight, is 39.
"I have a big group of friends who have been e-mailing me left and right," operations analyst Tara Hennessey, 34, of Randolph says of the reunion. "We're already talking about it and thinking if we know anybody that can get us tickets."
To some, a reunion of the Boston-bred New Kids on the Block sounds like a publicity stunt for an aging boy band looking to reclaim some of its youthful fame. But for fans who watched yesterday's "Today" show, a New Kids comeback is the realization of a long-held dream. After a 14-year hiatus, the group will release a new album this summer and go on tour this fall. But first it will return to its old stomping grounds: the Tweeter Center on May 18 for the sold-out Kiss Concert.
As 33-year-old Kristin St. John, a Hyannis native who now lives in Washington D.C., put it, the New Kids reunion is "almost like a bit of a closure."
Meanwhile, other like-minded fans arrived in droves yesterday to a rain-soaked Rockefeller Plaza for the "Today" show announcement in New York, many holding up signs proclaiming their undying love. Two women held a placard announcing they had driven "all the way from Somerville."
To put it in context for New Kids novices and skeptics, yes, this reunion is a big deal. And not just for Boston. At its commercial height (1989-1992), New Kids of the Block sold 70 million records as well as buttons, T-shirts, lunchboxes, and even marbles with their images inside. And like the Beatles and the Jackson 5 before them, the band briefly had its own animated series. In 1991, Forbes named the fivesome the highest-paid entertainers of the year, besting Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson, thanks to a record-setting pay-per-view concert and sold-out stadium shows.
Yesterday, it was a worldwide phenomenon all over again with fans posting messages and tribute videos on YouTube that included desperate pleas for the group to include places like New Zealand, Japan, and Hungary on its tour schedule. In another sign that the band could reach international fame again, major label Interscope Records (home to Gwen Stefani and Timbaland) will be releasing the new album, with veteran manager Irving Azoff (the Eagles, Christina Aguilera) guiding the comeback.
The news is especially sweet for local fans. Michelle Smith, a 29-year-old guidance counselor at Haverhill High School, says she and her colleagues "were like giddy high school kids" when they heard about the reunion.
She fondly remembers being a star-struck teen and persuading her father to drive her and their Costa Rican exchange student to Braintree to loiter in front of Wahlberg's house in hopes of securing an autograph. On Thursday, Smith was even able to find "the box," her collection of New Kids paraphernalia. In it, as she had hoped, was her Danny Wood doll.
St. John is equally tickled and mortified at the memory of interviewing the group for a Barnstable cable-access show when the band played a concert at her high school in 1989. Her mother enjoys showing the tape of the interview to guests. St. John says with a laugh, "I don't blush; I'm beet red on that thing." Now an advocacy coordinator for the Arthritis Foundation in D.C., St. John says she is already planning to travel back to Boston to see her adolescent heroes.
Mark Lamberti, 29, of Somerville will be in line, too, when tour tickets go on sale. He became a New Kids loyalist in 5th grade when he bought the band's Christmas album on tape, which, of course, included "Funky, Funky, Xmas." When he heard about the reunion, the financial analyst was thrilled. He even told off the haters in his office who questioned the need. "I'm like, those guys are awesome. I'm all about them," he says.
Like Lamberti, most fans confessed to having never stopped loving the boy band, even after the great New Kids backlash of '94, when the quintet tried to toughen up its bubblegum image to appeal to an aging fan base gravitating toward hip-hop. Smith says she still wanted to dance to "I'll Be Loving You (Forever)" at her wedding a few years ago. "He said no," she said, referring to her husband.
And while the excitement has returned for fans, as with all boy bands, critics are also weighing in.
Nancee Jenne, who at 60 was never much of a New Kids enthusiast, still was fired up enough to post her doubts on a message board. She questions why Wahlberg, in particular, would want to revisit a past he seemed determined to shed to be taken seriously as an actor. Since New Kids on the Block, Wahlberg has scored roles in films such as "The Sixth Sense" and the "Saw" franchise and the TV series "Boomtown." "For people that are changing fields like he has, I think they really have to work to earn people's respect," says Jenne.
Even diehard fan Hennessey admits to initially wondering "what [are] they thinking?" but says she doesn't mind if it means she can relive her childhood for a night.
"I'll feel like a teenager again," she says, already envisioning herself in the arena. "I think that's what the consensus is with all of the 30-something women: 'I can go back to my youth for a couple of hours.' "