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Hangin' Tough

By JASON GAY  |  September 26, 2008

Jordan, who made his eponymous solo record with help from megaproducers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, chose a more conventional touring route, opening for New Kids wanna-bes 'N Sync (a line-up that could be compared to Mick Jagger warming up for the Black Crowes). Julianna, who plunked down $100 for a ticket just to see her dream boy sing four songs at the FleetCenter, says she was one of the oldest fans in the arena.

The recent converts are a source of much debate among NKOTB diehards. "I'm happy that Jordan has more fans," Julianna says. "I thought it was so cute when the little 'N Sync fans were like, 'Jordan Knight, he's kind of cute . . . oooh, I like this song!' But I'm like, 'Shut up -- I know every word!' "

Nicki laughs. "You're like, 'You were in diapers.' "

"Yeah," Julianna says.

"At first they [the new fans] really did bother me, too," Nicki says. "When I went to Joe's Providence show, I saw girls who were, like, younger than 13. I'm like, 'Hello, were you even born?' And it really did annoy me, but I'm focused on Joe being successful. And if his wider fan base is going make him more successful, then I'm psyched for him."

Of course, the return of the New Kids threatens to rekindle another tradition: abuse. Getting ragged on has always been part and parcel of the Blockhead experience. The New Kids might have sold more than 35 million records, but few musical groups of the past decade have been more reviled. Critics absolutely loathed them. Teenage boys could be even more cruel. "Even back in fourth or fifth grade, you had guys who called them New Fags on the Block or whatever," says Josh Bean, a rare male New Kids diehard in Tampa, Florida, who corresponds with Nicki and Julianna by e-mail. "So I kind of got used to it at an early age."

But most New Kids fans are tired of taking crap. Several fan Web sites have passwords designed to root out "nonbelievers" (to enter one site, you must type in the name of Donnie's son, Xavier). Fans are especially distrustful of the media, which they blame in large part for the group's downfall. When I first e-mailed Nicki and Julianna to research this story, they suspected me of being an evil prankster who was putting them on.

Still, Nicki and Julianna believe the worst is over. New Kids fans have gotten older, and so have the critics; the abuse has mellowed, they report, even from men. "At [the Paradise] there were guys there with their girlfriends," says Nicki. "That was so cool."

Things have come a long way since 1993. Julianna is "out of the closet" at her investment firm; even her boss knows that she's an NKOTB fan. Nicki, also out of the closet, recently hosted a superfan get-together at the Hard Rock Café, which was followed by what can only be described as drive-by shriekings.

"We had fans from all over, and afterward they wanted to see the [Kids'] houses," Nicki recalls. "We had a girl from Georgia, a few girls from New Jersey, girls from Washington State and Oregon. When are they going to come out to Boston again? So we know where they live and we went ahead and did it. We went to Jordan's. We went to Joe's house. We went to Joe's dad's house. We went to Danny's mom's house. Stuff like that."

Most tour stops consist of little more than driving up, looking, and taking off. But during one of Nicki's tours, Joey McIntyre's father spotted the gang hovering outside -- and, instead of calling the police, he invited them inside. They shot the breeze about the weather and MTV. He showed them videotapes of Joey and his family performing at the Footlight Club, in Jamaica Plain. To prove it, Nicki produces a photograph of the elder McIntyre squished between beaming twentysomethings. "He's awesome," says Nicki, who in one of the pictures sports a broken ankle encased in a blue cast. "He signed my cast."

Nicki and Julianna say they are careful not to cross the line. After all, youthful obsession is one thing; stalking is another. "There's a group of girls who have coined the term 'lawn dogs,' " Nicki says. "These are girls who go to the [New Kids'] houses and just sit on their lawns and wait for the guys to come out. But I'd never do that. We know Joe's schedule, we know when he's home. Once I knew he was sick, and I was like, 'I could go and bring him some chicken noodle soup.' But I'm not going to go sit on his lawn." (For the purposes of a Phoenix photo shoot, however, Nicki and Julianna are more than happy to pretend they're lawn dogs outside Chez McIntyre in Brookline.)

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