Ten Things We Learned About New Kids on the Block From Their New Biography
We knew Donnie was the leader; Joey and Jordan, the cute ones, and the lead singers; Jon, the shy, sensitive one; Danny, the one who looked like a monkey. We knew that our best friend in grade school was utterly convinced she was going to marry Jordan. And we knew that when the New Kids, now known by the acronym NKOTB, made their triumphant return four years ago, a surprising number of our friends bought tickets and shrieked all the way through the show.
So maybe those friends -- the diehard fans -- knew everything there was to know about the band already. But for those of us who just knew the basics, Nikki Van Noy's new authorized biography, New Kids on the Block: Five Brothers and a Million Sisters, contains a surprising number of revelations about the boy band that practically invented the genre, at least for white folks. Here are the ten we found most surprising.
10. The New Kids were legit.
Or, at least, they weren't manufactured in the way of so many boy bands that followed, like the Backstreet Boys. With the exception of Joey McIntyre, they were all from Boston's hardscrabble Dorchester neighborhood and all went to the same elementary school. It was Donnie Wahlberg who met producer Maurice Starr and recruited the others -- with, again, the exception of McIntyre, who lived a few neighborhoods over and was found after Starr's aide called around looking for "white kids who could sing and dance."
9. Their backgrounds are genuinely hardscrabble.
All five New Kids were from ginormous, blue-collar families. Joe and Donnie both had eight siblings, Danny had five, and Jonathan and Jordan were part of a family with six biological children and typically as many as six foster kids at any one time.
Interestingly, Donnie's younger brother, Mark Wahlberg, was a member of the group's earliest incarnation, called (bizarrely) Nynuk. But when the Wahlbergs moved to a different neighborhood, Mark fell in with a new crowd. "Mark had new friends in Savin Hill, so he didn't want to be in the studio with me," Donnie tells Van Noy. "He wanted to go out and steal cars with his friends."
8. The New Kids were originally marketed to black audiences.
Starr's previous success was with New Edition, so his connections were in black radio. Plus, the New Kids were urban kids who liked breakdancing, R&B and hip-hop -- and at that point, crossover was still rare.
But their album, made with CBS Records' black division, faltered on black music charts; it was only when a DJ on a pop station in Tampa started playing "Please Don't Go Girl" that anyone realized that white girls might be interested, too.
7. They paid their dues.
Among the New Kids' early shows: retirement homes and, Van Noy writes, "a jail where one of Donnie's brothers was incarcerated at the time." In a desperate attempt to woo the inmates, the boys threw cigarettes into the crowd. Donnie tells Van Noy, "I just knew prisoners loved cigarettes, and I also figured it's the only way we wouldn't get humiliated." It worked.
6. Their first big breakthrough? Harlem's Apollo Theater.
They were petrified to perform in front of the notoriously tough crowd. (As Danny explains to Van Noy, this was not Showtime at the Apollo as we see it on TV; it was an even rowdier night for true amateurs.) But they were a hit: Halfway into the performance, Jon recalls to Van Noy, "They started shouting, 'Go white boys! Go white boys!' It was just like, 'What the hell is happening?"