This is certainly something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. After New Kids on the Block split in 1994, I drifted into Backstreet Boys when I was in high school. They were, for a time, “bigger than Jesus” as John Lennon once said about the Beatles. I often describe it now as Jonathan Knight was my first love and then Kevin Richardson was my first rebound guy. Now that these groups are touring together minus my rebound guy, a lot of memories from high school have been coming back to me. Looking back on it now, I think my ride with the Backstreet Boys was crazier than my ride with New Kids on the Block has been, complete with infiltrating a fancy hotel, a busty blonde, security, identity theft and my very own stalker that broke into my house.
Gather ’round, children! It’s story time!
Once upon a time, there was a young girl in high school in a small town in northwest Georgia….
Wasn’t I cute with my short hair? Not. Anyway, in high school, I had an art teacher who was ironically named Mr. Knight. He recognized my gift for doing portrait work and encouraged me to focus on developing those skills. He was my mentor. He was largely responsible for my training as an artist and he bought my first portfolio as a gift. We were even planning for me to go to the Art Institute of Chicago (the Savannah College of Art and Design was our second choice for me) to further my education. I did a lot of portraits in that class and I grew so much as an artist at that time that I was basically allowed to choose my own projects so long as they were appropriate. I did a large project of a man and woman in an embrace based on a perfume ad that I had seen, I did a portrait of Native Americans, and so forth. By the time the Backstreet Boys released their album Millennium, I had a new portrait in mind.
When I began this portrait, I had chosen to do it because Kevin had beautiful facial structure and his eyes were clear enough that I could really practice capturing the soul. That sounds very hippie and New Age, I suppose, but any good portrait artist becomes great when they have the ability to capture life in the eyes. Mr. Knight didn’t really know who Kevin was but the other girls in my class knew and they all thought I should send it to him. I thought they were crazy. I put months of work into it to develop my skill on something I enjoyed looking at and I wasn’t willing to part with it just to have Kevin say, “Oh that’s nice,” and throw it away. I wanted to add it to my portfolio for getting into the art institute. All I cared about in those days was getting the hell out of Georgia and making something of myself.
At some point that year, I went to visit my uncle in Atlanta because my portraits were in an exhibition in the city and I was expected to be there. He was living with an actress at that time. I think her name was Michelle or Melanie or Melissa Winters. I can’t remember now. At any rate, I was talking to her about how I was going to see the Backstreet Boys in concert that November and she told us that she had the same agent as Leighanne Wallace and she knew her. Leighanne was Brian Littrell’s girlfriend at that time. M had seen my portrait of Kevin (it was part of my art exhibition) and she and my uncle began conspiring together about getting Kevin to see it. To a girl in high school, that was a huge deal. I agreed to it under the terms that Kevin was not allowed to keep it and I needed it back for my portfolio to get into the art institute. I laugh at myself now, thinking it took balls for a seventeen-year-old girl to make demands on her work like she was already somebody. Somebody I was not but I was thinking beyond Kevin toward my future.
Months passed by and when the Backstreet Boys’ tour buses rolled into Atlanta, my uncle took the portrait to their hotel with a manila envelope filled with information about me and my photograph. He used to work in the high-end hotel industry so he knew everyone and it was no big deal for him to get on their floor. I think they were at the Four Seasons, which is ironic, because I was just there a week ago for a Halloween charity function. I found out that day (the day of the show) that Leighanne had flown into Atlanta. My uncle and M said she flew in for me to make sure I got to meet the guys but I’m not sure if that was true. It was the day before Thanksgiving and Leighanne is from Atlanta, so it was just as likely that she came home for the holiday.
When I got to Phillips Arena, it took no time at all for Leighanne to find me. I was up on the first tier and I saw her come out from backstage on the floor. She spoke to an usher who pointed up at me and I watched her climb a zillion stairs all the way up to my seat. We talked a little bit and a crowd was gathering behind us because everybody knew who she was and Brian’s security was with her. She gave me a backstage pass and that was my first taste of crazy fans. As I went around the arena to get drinks or merchandise, some called me a slut, others glared at me, and one tried to rip the pass off my body. I had to be escorted down to the bottom to get backstage because I had been seen with Leighanne and, I suppose, people assumed I was “with” them. I didn’t understand fan mentality back then. I was young and naive.
As soon as I got backstage, I saw AJ walk by in his stage costume. There weren’t other fans around, so I tried not to stare. I remember how skinny he looked and I wondered if he was sick. I was wandering around backstage for a long time before I saw any of them again. At one point, I had to get out of the way because AJ was laughing and piggyback riding his security guard down a narrow hallway. When I finally got to a room where I could see all of them together, they filed in wearing their stage costumes. Howie came first with his cup of tea and he grasped my hand and talked to me for a minute. Brian was a little standoffish but I think that was just his way. Kevin strolled in with my portrait in his hands and he monopolized me from that point. Nick tried to get in and say hello but I wasn’t really paying attention to him because I was all about my rebound guy. AJ sneaked in next to me and leaned against the wall in silence for a long time. Finally, he said quietly, “I really like your glasses,” and in turning to him, I was struck by how melancholic and lonely he looked. I felt something was wrong with him but I didn’t know what.
Kevin was wonderful and everything I imagined. Sometimes I heard that he was “the bitchy Backstreet Boy” but my experience with him was nothing but positive. We talked about art and his feelings about fans and he asked me some questions about my portrait work. I remember talking about charcoal vs color at some point and he smiled, grasped my shoulders and kissed my cheek with a “mmmmmm” hum in his voice. As young as I was, all I could do was blush like a fool. In those days, I was very religious and I was a strict no sex before marriage girl, so I wasn’t accustomed to the opposite sex being close to me, on friendly terms or not.
I know. It’s hard to imagine me as being ultra-conservative, religious and committed to virginity until marriage. Don’t hurt your heads trying to picture that oddity. Those days are long over for me.
Perhaps it was my ultra-conservative view on life at that time that made me really offended by Nick Carter. He didn’t seem to be very happy about being ignored by a fan and finally ended up standing directly behind me waiting for the pictures to be taken while Kevin talked to me. There was a break in the conversation and Kevin began talking to my mother. At that point, I felt like I was being watched. I looked up and behind me and discovered that Nick was blatantly peering down my blouse, which was a V-neck, so I suppose boys were going to look. He looked away immediately and I looked away from him. I was only seventeen and my experiences with the opposite sex at that point were very limited, so finding Nick looking down my blouse made me extremely uncomfortable. Of course, now that I’m an adult with several relationships and rotten experiences with men under my belt, it’s not that big of a deal, but at the time, I hated Nick for it and I thought he was a pervert.
In going home from the concert that night, I thought that was the end of it. Kevin graciously returned the portrait and I intended to continue looking for new inspiration for my artistic development. I lived in Calhoun, Georgia, however, which was a small town and everybody knew that I “hung out with the Backstreet Boys” by the time I got home. I worked for the high school newspaper and created an entertainment section before that concert and my journalism teacher wanted me to do a piece about my experiences. Another girl in the class volunteered to work with me on it. I didn’t know her but I thought she looked nice enough. That week, I called Backstreet Boys management to seek permission to print their photograph in the paper and when they returned my call, I suppose something clicked in that girl’s mind that I was on personal terms with the group.
Things got scary and weird really fast.
The girl started following me around school all day long. I thought it was annoying but I was nice about it. In a few days, she apparently figured out where I lived. One afternoon, I was at home by myself watching television in the bedroom when I heard somebody come into the house. I thought it was my ex-stepfather coming home early from work. Suddenly there was stalker girl in my bedroom doorway and I freaked out inside but something in my head told me to act casual. She took my Backstreet Boys pictures with me. She took my autographed items. She took everything and left my house. A few days after that, her father called my mother and demanded to know why I was making long distance calls to Los Angeles from his phone. I explained that I had never been to his house, nor had I ever made any long distance calls to Los Angeles. He said that his daughter said I did it and that Backstreet Boys management had called his house and asked for me. We eventually figured out that night that the girl had been making phone calls to Backstreet Boys management and posed as me.
Seventeen-years-old and I already had a bat shit crazy stalker. Long story short, because this girl invented it in her mind that I had some sort of relationship with the Backstreet Boys, I had to drop the journalism class I shared with her and I had to stop going inside to eat at Chick-fil-a where she worked. I spent the rest of my time in Calhoun locking my doors and windows and avoiding her as much as I could until I moved away.
After Kevin left the group, they faded away from my life. My rebound guy gave me an interesting adventure when I was in high school and I continued doing portraits on commission for many years until my vision got too bad. I had corrective eye surgery a few years ago and the first portrait I did to get back on the horse, so to speak, was my first love, Jonathan Knight.
Unlike Kevin, Jon got to keep his portrait. I’m not the artist I thought I was back then and life took a few turns that pulled me away from the art institute. My portfolio is buried in my closet and filled with half-finished projects. Portrait artists haven’t had careers since portraits were in fashion a hundred years ago or more. Jon was, after all, my first love, so it was only right that he kept it instead of me putting it in a portfolio that is just collecting dust in my closet. My perspective on life has changed since I was seventeen just like my artistic perspective has changed since my eye surgery. It’ll be interesting to see what new experiences come with New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys joining together for next year’s tour. I still have Kevin’s portrait. My uncle hung it in the stairwell with my other pieces of art many years ago. It’s too bad I won’t get to see Kevin again since he left the group a long time ago. I look at it sometimes though and remember how innocent and naive I was back then.