By John Benson
The fact that millions of adult women could be heard screaming this past New Year’s Eve shouldn’t be a surprise. However, what may have caught many onlookers off guard was that the screams — and more than likely tears — emanated from the joint performance of New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) and Backstreet Boys on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.”
That pandemonium now is carrying over to the boy bands’ combined “NKOTBSB Tour,” which comes to Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena on Wednesday.
The Vindicator talked to Donnie Wahlberg — who also is an accomplished actor appearing on the CBS-TV series “Blue Bloods” this fall — about the reunited New Kids on the Block, the fans and the future.
Q. Obviously, before the NKOTB reunion in 2008, you figured one day the act would reunite, but did you ever think it would lead to sold-out arenas?
A. I didn’t know for sure it would happen. I mean, somewhere inside I guess I suppose I knew it was always a possibility, but I wasn’t going to do it just to do it. It wasn’t really until I was going through a divorce that I just wanted to write songs and do something else to sort of have an outlet for what I was dealing with. I wanted to write music again, and that’s kind of what inspired it. I financed it and I got the guys on board to join in with me on that, so I guess in some ways, I knew it would be successful.
Q. Presumably, original fans of NKOTB are now in their mid-20s to mid-30s. Why are they still interested in the band?
A. I guess what really surprised me was the spirit of the fans. The way they’ve come back and the sort of level of emotion and energy they brought. It seemed like a lot of people really needed an outlet for whatever reason. The war is going on. I’ve met so many women whose husbands are fighting overseas, and they say, “My husband told me to come to the concert.” Or it’s women who went through a divorce or just simply people who grew up and stopped being kids and stopped being alive. They got jobs; they got kids of their own, responsibilities and mortgages, and the economy is crashing, and it’s like they needed an escape plan, and for whatever reason, we seemed to elicit something in them that reconnected us to them.
Q. How did the Backstreet Boys partnership come together?
A. There was a mention of them being our opening act at one point, and I scoffed at that personally. I thought it was underselling the Backstreet Boys, and NKOTB and Backstreet Boys. We invited them to our Radio City concert, and the reaction from the crowd when they came out on stage with us was so ... when you’ve been in this business for as long as I have, there are very few reactions that surprise you anymore. We’ve seen it all. And somehow, this reaction we’ve never seen before.
Q. Considering you are now divorced, it must be a different dynamic meeting your original prepubescent fans who now are grown women showing their affection?
A. I don’t do this to get women. I hate to sound corny about it, but I’d much rather stand outside of a venue after a concert and shake 2,000 hands and take pictures with as many people as possible then I would to be shacked up on my bus with some chick. It’s that kind of an experience for me.
Q. Does NKOTB material stand up for you?
A. We have to find ways to make it stand up. Some of it does and some doesn’t. Our song “I’ll Be Loving You” is a classic for our audience, and the only thing we can do to that song is mess it up. So we leave that as is, and then a song like “Cover Girl,” which I’ve never been a big fan of singing, I’ve had to sort of spice it up a little bit and make it more fun and grown-up. It would be hard to take the original version of that song seriously as a 41-year-old guy. “The Right Stuff,” I don’t like it. I don’t know if I ever liked that song, but when we perform it, it’s one of the biggest moments of the night, every night. The building shakes when that song starts, and it is what it is.
Q. Finally, what’s the future hold for NKOTB?
A. I don’t know. I think we just have to keep finding ways to make it fresh for us and the fans while maintaining the foundation of who we are. If we can do that, NKOTB can go on a little bit longer. And if we can’t, it’ll get stale and old real fast for everybody, and I’m not going to partake in that.