Wednesday, December 26, 2018
By Tim O'Shei
There was a time nearly 20 years ago when you couldn’t buy an index card in Buffalo. You could try to hit up an office store, grocery, pharmacy or convenience shop, but in the spring of 1999, nearly all of them were wiped clean of 3x5 cards.
Thousands of teenagers had bought them out, trying to win a radio station contest to have the boy band 98 Degrees perform in their school.
Following the rules of the contest, which was run by the pop station Kiss 98.5, the teens inscribed the cards with their name, age, school and phone number. The school that submitted the most cards would win. Back then, when phones weren’t smart and media wasn’t social, teens still saw the appeal in winning a private audience with a top pop group.
Today, that type of show would be Instagram content and Snapchat fodder. Then, it was simply an experience — one that area teens wanted badly.
They bought index cards, and they scribbled away. They did it during study halls and after school. Probably in class, too. They held pizza parties and sleepovers and who-knows-what-else. Across Western New York, they filled out so many index cards that if you were to line them up end to end, they would stretch from Buffalo to Orlando.
Then they delivered boxes of those cards to the offices of WKSE-FM — 14.9 million index cards in all.
When the members of 98 Degrees heard about the towering success of the contest, they were astounded. “Wow, they must really want us to come here!” Drew Lachey said. Speaking by phone from 98 Degrees’ current holiday tour, Lachey was trying to recapture the group’s reaction to this promotion from so long ago.
But that’s likely still still true.
Those teens are now in their 30s, and some of them will likely be in the audience this week, when 98 Degrees plays a Dec. 14 holiday show at the Seneca Niagara Casino Events Center in Niagara Falls. The four-member group is comprised of Ohio natives Jeff Timmons, Justin Jeffre and brothers Nick and Drew Lachey. That’s the same lineup as the mid-’90s to early 2000s, when 98 Degrees rose to fame with hits such as “Invisible Man,” “The Hardest Thing,” “Because of You,” “I Do” and “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche).”
By most measurements, 98 Degrees was the third-biggest boy band of its era, with the Backstreet Boys (who are also still performing) and the now-defunct ‘N Sync (which delivered Justin Timberlake to pop culture) filling the top two slots.
Though the guys of 98 Degrees possessed many of the requisite characteristics of a boy band (muscled biceps, boyish grins, the occasional set of frosted tips), their roots are different than most.
Unlike Backstreet, ‘N Sync and others, they weren’t created by a producer, but rather by Timmons. During his senior year of college in Ohio, Timmons gathered a different lineup of guys together at a party to sing to girls. That inspired him to quit school, move to Los Angeles, and start a serious vocal group styled after the harmonizes of Boyz II Men. The new lineup included Jeffre and Nick Lachey, who then talked his younger brother Drew, who was an EMT in New York, to essentially say, “Hey, we need another guy. Are you interested?”
He was. Nick went to New York to help his brother pack a car and drive across the country. The 98 Degrees lineup was complete. They scraped by at first, sharing a small Hollywood apartment, the brothers sleeping on a mattress pulled from the sidewalk, making pizzas and delivering Chinese food to get by. But their vocal abilities caught the attention of music executives and 98 Degrees ultimately signed a recording deal with Motown and, later, Universal Records.
Their first two albums landed the group on the charts and on the radio, creating the craze that crashed the index-card market in Buffalo. The runner-up, Lewiston-Porter High School, won a visit from the group after submitting 1.4 million cards. The winner, Kenmore West High School, won a concert for 1,400 students after sending a stunning 1.9 million cards to the radio station.
“We were just talking about that show the other day,” Drew Lachey said. “It was one of the moments where you’re starting to have success, you’re starting to rise, and you’re kind of caught up in this whirlwind.”
The reception at Lew-Port and concert at Kenmore West reinforced that 98 Degrees was carving its own spot in a teen pop industry that, at the time, was dominated by Backstreet and ‘N Sync, as well as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Destiny’s Child.
“I have snapshot pictures of us pulling out of that performance, people running up against the fence and waving,” Lachey said. “That was one of our first wake-up calls to (realize), ‘Wow, this is really happening. People are starting to follow up and we’re starting to build up our own fan base.’ ”
Those fans followed 98 Degrees through two more albums – a Christmas record in 1999, and a studio album in 2000 – and apparently didn’t leave when the band took a hiatus in 2003. Though that break lasted a full decade, and each of the four members began working on his own projects, 98 Degrees fans were ready when the group launched a comeback in 2013. That year, they joined New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men on an arena tour and released a new album. That was followed by another tour in 2016, a Christmas album in 2017, and more shows since.
The show in Niagara Falls comes at the tail end of a tour that began Nov. 1. The group set an ambitious calendar, often playing four or five shows on consecutive nights, then taking a few days off to go home and see their families. It’s a grueling schedule, but far more controlled than the one 98 Degrees kept back in the day of index-card mania.
“It was a whirlwind back then — I mean, it was like a frenzy,” said Jeff Timmons in a recent phone interview. Back in the ‘90s and early 2000s, he said, the group’s schedule was dominated by interviews, radio and television spots, in-store appearances, and loads of travel. (Example: On the May 1999 morning of the show at Kenmore West, the guys woke up in Minneapolis and flew through a rainstorm to make it to Buffalo on time.)
“The least amount of time you get to spend is onstage,” said Timmons, adding that while the guys knew they were lucky back then, the realize the “joy” of it more now. When people meet them today, the 98 Degrees members hear stories of how those fans associate specific songs or moments from the band’s career with pivotal points in their own lives.
“As you get older, and you experience a lot more life, you realize what a joy and luxury it is to get up on stage and see people who have followed your music for 20-plus years taking every note – every word – in,” Timmons said. “And the effect it has on them is a lot more profound than you think it is when you’re doing it the first time around.”
The 98 Degrees lineupJeff Timmons
Outside claim to fame: Timmons is a well-known host and producer in Las Vegas, where he served as an emcee for Chippendales and created his own revue, Men of the Strip. As a music producer and mentor, he is currently working with a 16-year-old singer from New England named Nicole Michelle. He also created a boy band tribute group, Overnight.
Outside claim to fame: During 98 Degrees’ hiatus, Jeffre became involved in politics in Cincinnati, even running – unsuccessfully – for mayor in 2005. He has worked as an editor, and occasionally engaged in community movements, including Occupy Cincinnati in 2011.
Outside claim to fame: Lachey’s then-marriage to singer Jessica Simpson seized plenty of attention, especially when the couple launched a reality show, “Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica.” Lachey is well-known as a television personality and occasional actor.
Outside claim to fame: Drew Lachey has appeared on Broadway, won “Dancing with the Stars” with pro dance partner Cheryl Burke, and runs a summer performing arts camp in Cincinnati with his wife, Lea. They are also promoting their show and film called “label•less,” which promotes acceptance.
98 Degrees’ Justin Jeffre on changes in music industry, holiday tour, and how they’re having more fun than ever
The music industry in the ’90s was a much different animal than it is now, and it had a little bit of everything. From the actual music side of things, the ’90s allowed just about every genre to have its own moment of glory: nu-metal, grunge, hip-hop, alternative-rock, and even post-grunge got to shine towards the end of the decade. Of course, the genre that never truly fades got its turn: pop.
The biggest thing with pop music in the ’90s was inarguably the arrival of boy bands and how inescapable they were. That’s where this story begins, as it was at the peak of boy band mania that Jeff Timmons sang at a college party, got a positive reaction, and decided to fly out to Los Angeles. Nick Lachey followed, having been introduced to Timmons through a friend from school. Justin Jeffre joined, as well, from the recommendation of Lachey who ultimately brought along his younger brother, Drew.
98 Degrees was always different amongst the other crowd of boy bands, where instead of focusing on big poppy choruses, the group elected to highlight their R&B and soul influences. This is something evident from the very beginning, their first single being the slow-burning “Invisible Man” through “I Do (Cherish You)” to their Mariah Carey-duet “Thank God I Found You” and their late career hit “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)’
Following an almost decade long hiatus from 2003-2012, 98 Degrees reunited for what was originally expected to be a one-off performance at the Summer Mixtape Festival in 2012. “I think we’ve always been fortunate that we’ve gotten along really well and everyone has really good work ethic: we work hard at it, we’re passionate, and we respect each other,” Jeffre tells Substream in November in relation to why they stayed together more than originally planned.
It was a performance that took some time to pull off, as everyone in the group has gotten a little older, but once they got on stage, Jeffre highlights how natural the whole thing felt at Summer Mixtape that year. “It was such an intense thing,” he mentions, before pivoting to explain what made it hard getting back together, “We lived on the road for years and I think everyone needed to rest and people were starting to get married and have kids. The next thing a decade has flown by and we’re like man where has the time gone? And that made it a little more complicated to get everyone’s schedule together to try something.”
The decade flying by has its positives. Certainly each member was able to get out and live life in the way that they wanted. Getting the group back together after a decade, though, provides a different atmosphere at their show: one that rings of nostalgia for them and most everyone in attendance. “You know, we were in our early to mid 20s and singing to teenagers [in the beginning] and now they’re able to have some drinks and it’s a party for them going down memory lane. It seems like everyone is having more fun, we’re all kind of reminiscing together,” Jeffre shares.
He highlights the idea of their shows being more fun for everyone involved, and when asked about what exactly makes them more fun for them as performers, Jeffre notes “The biggest difference between then and now is I think we’re having more fun now because we feel less pressure [and] we’re more experienced performers and singers. We also know each other so well and appreciate and respect each other more than we used to. So, I think that’s what makes this formula really work well for us. We’re really having a blast doing what we do.”
The music industry has been an ever-evolving monster for many years to come: from physical copies of music evolving to more portable and easier to carry on, to physical copies almost being non-existent for the average music listener due to digital access, and ultimately purchasing individual releases through the rise of streaming services. For most – especially consumers – this has been the biggest thing to notice that has changed. However, to Jeffre, it’s something different – one that they’re still working through. “I think probably what I’d say the biggest change is the model for making music,” he begins. “Record companies aren’t really relevant in the way they used to be and that’s really changing the way people are doing it. Instead of recording it, and maybe it’s an EP with a couple of songs or a single or releasing it digitally for free, there’s a lot of different models and we’re still navigating those and seeing what works for us. We were happy to [2013’s 2.0], but as far as moving forward we’re open to trying new models and different things.’
This change in how music is made, while it may be something they are still working through collectively. 98 Degrees released an all-original album in 2013, and followed that with their second holiday album in 2017, Let It Snow. When speaking on recording Let It Snow, Jeffre talks about how they worked with a new producer, the Grammy-nominated Adam Anders (Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus, Backstreet Boys). While Anders was new for 98 Degrees – he did previously work with Lachey as a solo artist – the band has always worked with different producers. However, Jeffre again shares how different things have been recording these albums, due to technology evolving so much. “When we first started recording, we were using a tape and then we worked with a producer who got into doing things digitally,” he shares
“We were able to do the recording process a lot faster because they had already sort of mapped out the arrangements and they have a singer that they sort of work with do largely the background parts and the harmonies, they were already worked out,” Jeffre begins explaining how exactly technology has made things faster, while also adding that demos essentially have become so close to the final product that it makes it a seamless, easy process to polish them off. “We of course added some things and change some things, and it sort of grew, but it was nice to come in with sort of a road map and knock out song after song,” he finishes.
At the time of our conversation with Jeffre, 98 Degrees were five shows into their winter holiday tour, in which they play their own songs, but focus more on classic holiday songs. This is the second rendition of this tour, and it was an easy decision following the success of their 2017 run. There were some changes in the show from previous year, including new holiday songs, more theatrical sides to the show, all in order to keep things exciting and new for fans returning from the previous year.
While the tour runs through December 21st, 98 Degrees don’t have anything announced following or for 2019 – tour wise or plans for new music. When we spoke, Jeffre talks about how they have received more offers in relation to holiday tours, and the possibility of doing something in the summertime. Additionally, the group did a club show in Miami recently, and even performed some shows at Disney that they are considering. While Jeffre thinks it’ll wind up being a combination of all three, he highlights that there are personal things understandably taken into consideration. “I think it’s just a question of, you know, families and kids, what makes the most sense. Maybe a summer time thing is good because the kids are not in school, we’re trying to find that right mix and we’re still looking at it. Of course a lot of things have to do with people that ask you to come here and do this or that,” he explains.
With more than two decades separating today and their self-titled debut, the distinctions drawn between smooth-singing R&B groups and bubblegum pop stars have in some sense melted away. When 98 Degrees reconvened in 2013, it was for the Package Tour with Boyz II Men and New Kids on the Block — one group that inspired them, another that set the mold in the '80s for what would come a decade later.
By Anna Rumer
With the holiday season coming to a close, Vanessa Lachey and her husband Nick are feeling blessed—and maybe in need of a bit of a lie in.
Vanessa opened up to PopCulture.com about Christmas at the Lachey household in a recent interview, revealing that it's all about their kiddos around this time of year—Camden, 6, Brooklyn, 3, and Pheonix, 2.
"Nick and I feel especially grateful this time of year, and at this point, it’s about the kids!" she told PopCulture. "Our dream 'gift' would be a mommy and daddy day where could sleep in and catch up around the house—that sounds perfect!"
For the model, the holidays are "all about traditions," she continued. "It’s important to continue them or create a new one with your friends and family each year!"
The couple's longest-standing Christmas tradition is making Vanessa's famous breakfast casserole on the big day, a mainstay of their holidays since her and Nick's first Christmas together 12 years ago.
"The recipe has evolved over time, but I love switching out the baking dish I make it in," she said, adding, "This year, I found a beautiful white ceramic casserole dish at HomeGoods that says 'Deck the Halls' on it."
It's not just family members that benefit from Vanessa's Christmas shopping spree.
0comments"At my house, the party starts as soon as you step in the door!" she said of entertaining over the holidays. "I love to wow my guests with a show-stopping entryway because it sets the tone for the entire space. I found a life-size Santa Claus at HomeGoods – perfect for party photo opps - that was such a great price, I didn’t have to limit my holiday fun. I also got a giant sleigh to match that I plan fill with party favors for guests to grab on their way out. I also love to set up a food and bar stations to make it easy for guests and me as the host, so I
By Brittany Loggins
Vanessa Lachey shared photos of her home's Christmas decorations, as well as her family's favorite ways to spend the holidays.