Written by Amy, Amanda
VH1′s latest Driven episode, featuring *NSYNC, was both a three-hankie weeper and a revelation (despite barely scraping the surface of the group’s history). Chances are that it left husks of broken fans across the country, huddled in little piles in their living rooms, with tapes playing on a constant loop.
Broken up with segments on each of The Boys, in order of their additions to the group, it started with Chris. So we might as well start with Chris, too. Here’s what we learned about him: His mother, Beverly, was sixteen when she had him, and thought that Chris deserved a grown-up mom, which she couldn’t be at 16 (*sob*). He had the lead in the musical Oliver when he was in grade school, and at the time he was small for his age. His voice, in the clips they used, sounds almost exactly the same as it does now. Little Chris was really cute with his crooked teeth and big, sad eyes. Chris got a job sacking groceries as soon as he was old enough, to help support his family (*whimper*). In high school Chris played basketball in the gym, because he didn’t want to say “free lunch” in front of all his peers (*cry*). His mom went back to college, working three jobs, so that Chris would be proud of her. By the time he was in college and singing in the Hollywood High Tones at Universal Studios in Orlando, he was only a little taller, but had much bigger arm muscles and girls ogling him. And then he met Lou Pearlman. Lou Pearlman, who stands around with his arms crossed and seems to always have an entourage about him.
Now, let’s pause to point out that the juxtaposition of Sweet, Responsible, Poverty-Stricken Chris with Fat, Disgusting Lou is enough to make anyone’s stomach churn uncomfortably. However, it’s also interesting to point out that there’s absolutely no mention of Chris’ audition for Backstreet Boys. Obviously, he didn’t make it (rumor is that there were already three brunets and they wanted someone fair-haired) – so the question is, why was Lou so intent on putting together a group with Chris all of a sudden. But perhaps that tidbit will find its way into Behind the Music.
Anyway, Lou says, “I want you to put together a group, to get the little sisters of Backstreet Boys’ fans.” Then he takes Chris and his friend Angello (who, by the way, ROCKS) to Planet Hollywood and shows them off. God. Lou=Pedophile.
Enter baby Justin Timberlake. Justin, Justin. Tiny little Justin who holds his feet up off the floor when he crawls, so that he doesn’t get his shoes dirty. Justin who harmonizes with the radio before he can talk. Justin who performs New Kids on the Block with his classmates at age seven and seems to have already mastered the power of The Hips. Justin, the born entertainer who must have sensed what was coming because as a baby, he was extremely obsessive about his personal space and didn’t want to be touched. His mother, Lynn, has long been suspected of loving him too much, but somehow, on Driven, she loves him just enough. Enough to let him participate in an actual beauty pageant, in which he sings “When a Man Loves a Woman” and eventually wins. And cries. And gets a trophy and a sash. The video footage of which destroys grown women (and some men) twice his age. Then he loses on Star Search, a serendipitous moment that leads him to getting cast on the Mickey Mouse Club with JC Chasez.
JC, who was quiet and shy and uncool until his friend Kasey schooled him in the wonders of synchronized hip-hop dancing. Some sparkling green blouses and MC Hammer routines later, and JC, too, was itching for something bigger and better. His MMC audition stands alone as some of the greatest footage ever revealed. Not only does JC bust a move in the dance audition to C+C Music Factory, he sings Richard Marx’s “Right Here Waiting” with as much emotion as we’ve come to expect from present-day JC. Even though his voice cracks, his eyes are still squinty-earnest, and he whips out the Fist of Pure Emotion (not seen on Driven sadly, but trust us, it’s there). JC is a shoe-in for the show, even though vocal coach Robin Wiley says that he was one of those kids who was wildly talented and didn’t even know it. Robin, by the way, is super-cool.
But back to the group formation. Chris needs other cute boys to join him. He gets an audition tape from Justin, and according to Beverly, he loved him immediately (insert your own slashy version of their relationship here). Justin tells Chris about JC, and they call him up. JC’s dad, Roy, tells JC that he’ll regret it if he doesn’t give the group a try. We also learn that JC thought he would go to college. He didn’t, of course, but what if he had been a creative writing major? He could have given Helen Fielding a run for her money. But, anyway, they now have three members of the group.
Obviously, they need Joey, whose baby footage has shown up in countless other places before Driven. Joe Fatone, Sr. is the weepiest parent to be interviewed, and getting through his segment without crying yourself is a real challenge. He just loves Joey so much! And thinks he’s talented! And loves him! And is proud! Because he’s talented! But, also, Joey really is talented. Making girls swoon came naturally (the girls liked to ask him out into the street to “watch him gyrate”). The Fatones moved from New York to Orlando, which Steve Fatone describes as rough, and where Joey suddenly finds himself attending school with MMC kids, like Jennifer McGill and JC. He starts up a pretty successful a capella group (with one of the most unfortunate names – “The Big Guys”? That’s just… dumb.) who filmed a video on what appeared to be the same Universal stage where Chris did his doo-wop gig. Coincidence? You decide. Seemingly one million plays/musicals/singing groups into the Joey segment (the highlight being Damn Yankees, where Joey kicks major ass), he lands a gig in Universal’s Beetlejuice review, playing the Wolfman. Where Lou, Justin, JC and Chris find him.
Let’s take a little break to point out how this all came together differently than we’ve heard about in the past. Does anyone else remember the ‘N the Mix video, where JC, Chris and Justin run into Joey at a club? And tell Joey they’re putting together a group? And Joey says he might be into that? The new version of the Creation Myth isn’t quite a contradiction. But by the time Driven gets to Joey, we’ve already learned that Justin and JC both did auditions of sorts for Chris and Lou (unlike before, when it sounded like they were together based on friendship alone), and that Joey was also scouted for the group. It’s not a cattle-call, like O-Town or Dream, but it wasn’t as casual as we were led to believe, either. The question is what’s still being left out or glossed over for the betterment of the Myth.
And this brings us to the remaining position in the group, bass. The story goes: Some guy named Jason was there first. He didn’t like the direction the music was going, and never wanted to be a teen idol (he said, somewhat bitterly), so on the eve of signing the big contract with Lou, Jason ducked out. This wee bit of Jason is a huge revelation, because his part in all this has always been a mystery. But it’s less juicy than fans might have hoped for. Where was the big fight between Jason and Chris? Where was the jealousy between Jason and Justin? At least he quit, because that left the door open for Lance.
With his ultra-white-bread childhood, raised in a middle-class southern family by the most gentle mom in the entire world, Diane. Lance was really blond, with a crooked smile and a crooked eye. He played at the beach. He was a class officer in high school, and sang in two show choirs, one of which competed nationally. Meredith Edwards says that Lance was known for his deep bass voice, but certainly not his dancing, although he seems to be doing okay in all the show choir footage. And, what is it with these show choirs and dance groups (like JC’s) performing in ugly white pants? Was it a rule? At any rate, Justin’s mom calls Lance’s mom three times in one day – giving us what Amy feels is the hands-down winner for most hilarious moment of the show. The way that Diane Bass describes the day and how her voice hesitantly but firmly explains Lynn’s behavior as “scary” is simply brilliant. Lance knew who Justin was because he watched MMC (insert your own slashy version of their relationship here), and can’t believe Justin would want Lance to join his group. Diane relents under the pressure of Lynn, and they go to Orlando. All the boys love Lance, apparently, because by the eve of his audition they are already talking contracts.
Bring in Jan Boltz, who single-handedly brings Amanda to her knees. He’s willing to bring the boys over to Germany and help them become something big. Except he hates the name, for one, and doesn’t think Lance is good enough. Lance! According to him, all the boys are at a very high “level” but there is one, “his name is Lance,” who is not up to the same level as the other four. Good old manager Johnny Wright defends the name (“Once they get it, they’ll never forget it” – Hey, it’s the JC school of rhyming!), and says that The Boys refuse to sign a contract without Lance. If Amanda ever meets any of the other boys of *NSYNC, she is going to thank them for not letting evil Jan fire Lance.
Are we’re just now up to the part where they go to Germany? Apparently, yes.
They go to Germany; Lance and Justin with their moms in tow. It’s slow going, at first, but eventually they hit it big with “I Want You Back.” A miracle, clearly, as anyone who has seen the original video can attest. Those boys were ugly, yo. Well, except for Chris. Chris was totally in his hot-period (which was revived with his dreds). When they started out, Chris was clearly the heartthrob – he was older, extremely dreamy and was supremely comfortable in his skin. Little Justin is already child porn, Little Joey has already learn to flirt from 100 paces, Little JC has harnessed the power of break dance contortion, and Little Lance suddenly looks like a pretty girl. But still, girls went wild. Justin gets a gold record and turns 16 all in one day.
*NSYNC is very tired, what with performing in 37 countries in one year. They are losing weight, and according to Diane, they were lucky to sleep four hours each night. So Lynn throws “a mother fit” and calls up the powers that be and tells them that either the boys get one days off a week, or she is going to take her child home. Lynn is a hero in this story. Seriously. Lots of crazy fan footage from Reel *NSYNC later, and the boys are going home.
Where nobody knows who in the hell they are. Chris’s mom is working in the arts and crafts department at WalMart, and her boss says they can have a showcase in the parking lot. They expect about 250 people, but thanks to the genius of Lynn (a scary thought, truly), they send fliers to all the people who send Justin and JC fanmail for MMC, and they get about 2500 people. Girls are screaming and, for the most part, all the boys are still ugly.
They still need an American label to sign them, so they go to New York wearing puffy silver vests and those sunglasses “that make you look like an insect.” No one wants them, because the Backstreet Boys are the only game in town. The big break comes when Backstreet cancels a concert special on the Disney channel, and *NSYNC steps in.
You know, really? This part is way less interesting than the segments about the boys individually. There aren’t any surprises. They do the Disney special, and everyone loves them, and they get signed to a label, and they explode on the charts. Along the way they all become pretty damn hot. The only big revelation is that it would appear Diane Bass was the first to question why the boys weren’t making any money with Lou and Transcom. Then it’s just blah, blah blah lawsuit, until they win the big settlement and look even MORE hot emerging from the courtroom in very serious suits and ties, to the screams of young fans.
From there, Driven hurries right to the end. No Strings Attached is released with Jive, and it sets a big record. Justin lets the ‘fro grow and melts hearts, JC acquires those amazing arms, Joey becomes counterworthy, Chris loses the braids and learns the Glare of Hotness, and Lance showcases all three Signature Moves in the “Bye, Bye, Bye” video.
The rest, as they say, is history.