Read an Excerpt
By Anna Louise Golden
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Anna Louise Golden
All rights reserved.
You see them together on the videos and on stage, you hear them all together on record. But it's pretty obvious that the guys in 'N Sync are all very different (all you have to do is really watch the video for "I Want You Back" to get the idea). They're five separate individuals, five pieces of a puzzle that, together, form a whole picture.
Any top band might be more than the sum of its parts, but without just the right parts, the chemistry wouldn't be there. 'N Sync were lucky to find just the right combination, the perfect magic to make it all work; as anyone who's ever sung or played with others in a group, a band, or a chorus knows, it's not easy. You've got to be willing to compromise, and you can't let your own ego run away with you.
The boys of 'N Sync might be on top of the world, in a position to ask for, and receive, almost anything they want, but one thing they've never done is let their egos get too big. They've stayed grounded, connected to their families, to each other. They believe in God, and when a fan sent them each bracelets with the letters "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do?), they all began to wear them, and still do. It's a constant reminder that there's something bigger out there.
While they're all different, they do share a belief in 'N Sync, and the kind of drive required to make themselves the best in the world. It takes energy to go on long tours, to spend your days traveling, going from plane to coach to stage to hotel in a kind of unreal life, day after day after day, and then, once that's done, and you're exhausted, to go into a recording studio. It's grueling, but it's a life that Chris, Justin, JC, Joey, and Lance wouldn't swap for any other. It's the culmination of a dream, of all the hours spent rehearsing after they'd finished their day jobs.
None of them expected success on this scale, although they might have hoped for it in their hearts. The fact that it hasn't changed them is a testament to the kind of upbringing each of them had. Without those sets of relatives, old friends, influences, and education, there wouldn't be an 'N Sync. And it certainly doesn't hurt that each of them is cute, either. ...
"Chris is the clown," said Joey.
"Chris is psycho," Justin agreed.
"Chris is wild," Lance admitted.
Everyone in the band is pretty much in agreement about Chris's personality. He's the joker in the pack, the one who likes to laugh, and make everyone else laugh — which he seems to do quite successfully. But without Chris, there might never have been an 'N Sync at all.
He was the one who first had the idea for the band, and who began putting everyone together; he was the initial driving force, and as the oldest, some of that kind of responsibility still falls on his shoulders.
He's the major extrovert in a crew who are all pretty outgoing. He likes things to keep changing, to keep moving. The one thing he really can't stand is for things to be static.
"I'm the most hyper member of the group," he admitted. "I need lots of calming down." Press him, and he will say that "I have a really short attention span, so things tend to bore me easily."
And that's the main reason he changes his appearance so often. Over the course of just over twelve months he went from short hair to wearing a pageboy, to long and dyed black, to the cornrow-type dreadlocks he currently wears. And his hair can change color on a whim, too. Well, why not?
Christopher Alan Kirkpatrick was born in Clarion, Pennsylvania, on October 17, 1971. Clarion, not far from Pittsburgh at the western end of the state, was a small town, a comfortable place for a young boy. He was the first child for Beverly and her husband, a man who'd tragically die when Chris was still young.
There were two things in Chris's blood — Pennsylvania and music. Beverly's family was from the area, and most of her relatives had been involved with music in one way or another. Her grandparents had been in bands, her mother had trained as an opera singer, her sister still sings professionally, and both Chris's uncles were singers, one in a rock band, the other in Nashville, trying his hand at country. Even Chris's cousin sang. Beverly herself played piano and gave — still gives, in fact — voice lessons as a vocal coach.
So it was perhaps inevitable that Chris would inherit the family talent for music, as well as the love of Pennsylvania. He's still a football fan, having come from an area where the gridiron is king, and supports the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Penn State Nittany Lions. But when he was a baby, he said, Bev never gave him a pacifier. Instead he had a small football to suck on. He played the game for a few years, in junior high and high school, even though he was small for his age, but he was never good enough to think of pursuing it seriously.
Besides, his real gift was music. It was all around the house from the time he was born.
"I know that when I was born I pretty much was singing," he remembered. "My mom said I could sing before I could talk. I just know that I've always loved music and loved listening to music and performing."
In fact, he literally was singing before he could talk. Beverly used to sing to him at night to help him sleep, and usually it was "Coventry Carol," an old hymn, that sent him to sleep. She was astonished one day, when, before he could even make words, he was singing the tune back to her.
It wasn't just tunes; Chris had been born with a great sense of rhythm. As a toddler, whenever music came on the television, he'd tap his foot in time with the beat. There was no doubt about it; music was a huge part of him.
Just how huge was apparent even before he was three. His mother had gone to see the musical Man of La Mancha, and had taken Chris along with her as a treat. She'd expected he'd enjoy it. What she hadn't expected was that Chris would memorize two of the songs from just hearing them one time.
Even back then, Chris was a real ham. He loved to perform, even demanded to perform once at a family reunion. After everyone else, the grown-ups and the older children, had done their party pieces, he jumped onto a table, said, "Hey, what about me!" and began to sing for everybody.
After the death of her husband, Beverly remarried and would eventually give birth to three more children, giving Chris four younger half-sisters, Molly, Kate, Emily, and Taylor. The new family moved to Dayton, Ohio, which was where Chris attended school.
Dayton, some forty miles north of Cincinnati, was probably most famous for being the home of Wright Air Force base. It still had something of a small-town feel about it, so, while it was quite a bit bigger than Clarion, Chris didn't feel uncomfortable there. He settled into the routine of school. When Michael Jackson hit really big in the early 1980s with Thriller and a great series of singles, he became Chris's musical idol — reasonable, because not only was Jackson having massive success, he was doing something new.
As he grew, not only did Chris get into sports, but he continued his interest in music. He began studying guitar and piano. The piano lessons didn't last too long, however. Chris was simply too hyper to comfortably sit still on a piano stool, and finally his teacher had to let him go from class.
His singing voice came quite naturally, and he nurtured it in school stage productions like Oliver! and South Pacific. His moment of revelation, figuring out just how much he really enjoyed entertaining people, came after he won the lead in the school production of Oliver! It gave him the chance to really express himself in song and dance, and also to hear the applause, the feedback of an audience. He also began to get a reputation as the class clown, which, his mother suspected, was something of a defense mechanism, because he was so small: If he could entertain the other kids, they wouldn't beat him up.
It was probably necessary. Not only was Chris small, he was also a gifted student, outstanding not only in music (big surprise, right?) but also languages, and very strong academically in all his other subjects. He worked hard at school, and enjoyed it, both the work he had to do and the extracurricular activities.
One thing he needed, even then, was to have all the moments of his day filled, and Chris found that it was the time after school and on the weekends that seemed to drag. So he remedied that situation by finding himself a job, bagging groceries in a local market. He was, his mother said, "hardworking," and that was an ethic that would stand him in good stead in the time to come.
At school, Chris was active in the choir, and also in various theater productions. They gave him a chance to step into the spotlight, to channel all his energy into something constructive. He could be the clown, the star, whatever, and it was okay; in fact, it was an area where people applauded him for doing that. Given the chance, he would always show his goofy side. In one high school production of South Pacific, his character died. When Chris came out at the end, to take his bow — this for a performance that had had people crying because of its sensitivity — he was dressed in a grass skirt and coconut shell bra. Nothing was sacred to him.
Perhaps not nothing. He was very serious about music. It seemed to hold a fascination for him over and above everything else, the family genes asserting themselves. Beverly made sure he had voice lessons so he could use his talent properly. Those gave him a grounding in all kinds of music, from opera to the Beatles, and helped him expand his range into the falsetto he can still use on stage and on record with 'N Sync.
Being bright, it was inevitable that Chris would go on to college to complete his education, but he didn't choose the obvious route of university. Instead, he went to Valencia College, in Dayton, where he picked his Associate of Arts degree, "and then I transferred to Rollins College," in Florida.
At Valencia, Chris had begun by majoring in theater, but he quickly realized that wasn't what he wanted to do with his life. He loved being in front of an audience, but it was the musical side of things that really affected him, more than learning lines and being part of a play.
Another of his interests was psychology, getting inside the human mind, and understanding what makes people tick, trying to help those with problems. Chris changed his major from theater to music and psychology, and for a brief while even considered combining the two, to become a music therapist, using his love to help those with problems.
College did give him more time to indulge his love of music. He joined the college choir, and performed, solo — remember, he could play guitar and piano — and with groups in coffeehouses around Dayton to earn a little extra cash.
His two years at Valencia went smoothly, and Chris walked away with his degree. The question was what would he do now. More college seemed like the best answer. But, at twenty years old, he was ready to spread his wings a little, to move out of his mother's home and see the world a little. The obvious answer seemed to be Florida, where his ex-stepfather was living. That would give him freedom, but still enough of a safety net, if anything should ever go wrong. Florida was also a good place to be to pursue the acting side of his interests. Universal Studios was there. So was Disney, and Nickelodeon. In fact, there was a whole industry down there. To be an actor you didn't need to go to New York or Los Angeles anymore.
One thing Chris would need to help him through the two years of academic work he still had to get his B.A. was money. Acting didn't seem like a safe answer; there was never any guarantee of steady work, unless you happened to be very lucky. The coffeehouse work in Dayton had shown him that he could earn with his music, but he needed more than just tips to survive now that he was living on his own, with rent and bills to pay.
The answer came from Universal Studios. The studio tour was an immensely popular attraction, and there was entertainment all over the site. They were constantly looking for good performers, and Chris knew that with his ability and extroverted personality, he could fit in there. But it didn't happen straight away. His first Christmas in Florida, Chris sang with a group called the Caroling Company, which proved to be very good money for what amounted to a couple of days' work. Others in the group were working at Universal and helped Chris get an audition — which he naturally passed with flying colors.
"I used to sing with a Fifties doo-wop group called the Hollywood High Tones," he recalled. "We used to sing outside the Fifties diner at Universal. That was me — it was three guys and one girl and we'd sing Fifties a capella music. My name was Spike, but my hair was a little different then."
Quite a lot different, really, greased back in a pompadour, shiny and stiff, and "Spike" was dressed in period clothes — short-sleeve shirts and cuffed jeans. Maybe it wasn't the music Chris had in his heart, but it was a living.
Chris wasn't taking a full courseload at Rollins; that was impossible when he was also working full-time at Universal. But it was fine. Slowly, gradually, he was working toward his degree. However, deep inside, he was beginning to realize that it was music he loved above everything else, and that was where he should be putting his energies. And for him, vocal music was the inspiration. The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Michael Jackson, and Boyz II Men were the ones who moved him. He had his own vision of a group where the vocals were the most important things, some guys with great voices all blending together.
But it wasn't until a co-worker introduced him to Joey Fatone, who was also performing at Universal, that Chris seriously began thinking about making his dream a reality. They sang together, and it sounded better than they could have imagined. But it was only when Chris called Justin, whom he'd met at auditions, and Justin brought in JC that things began to happen. Actually, Joey didn't even know there was a band until he ran into Chris and JC in a club one night. They asked him to join, and before they knew it, they were a real band.
Between work, rehearsals, and studies, Chris was stretched to the limit. Something would have to give, and for Chris, it had to be college.
"They kicked me out of class to do the group," was his joke. "No, they didn't really kick me out. I had to drop out of Rollins to do the group. I didn't have time to do college and the group." Chris, it seemed, had found his vocation in life.
For the first time, Chris was really taking music seriously. With the other guys — especially after Lance arrived to anchor the bass end — he sensed the possibilities. When he called Beverly to tell her his reason for dropping out of school, she wasn't upset, or even too surprised. She'd always known, even more than he did, that Chris had the music in him. All she wanted, for any of her children, was for them to be happy, and if this would bring Chris some joy, she encouraged him to go for it. If it all worked out and made him rich, that would be wonderful. But it was more important that it left him fulfilled. And it quickly became apparent that the newly- named 'N Sync was going to do that. She couldn't have anticipated what was going to happen ... no one could.
* * *
Of course, from putting the band together to international stardom took a lot of work and dedication, but the end result has been more than worth all the time and effort. And, for Chris, it's a dream come true. The original idea might have been Chris's, but, as he said, "I know how hard [the others] work and their reasons for doing it, I just think they're incredible." So incredible, in fact, that they've become his biggest musical influence now. When he was asked the secret of his success in an online interview, he gave the short, truthful answer: "Justin, JC, Lance, Joey."
But he certainly doesn't forget the role that 'N Sync's fans have played in their rise; he knows they're at the heart of it all, and that they make it all worthwhile.
Chris's life might have changed beyond all recognition from the young man who was singing doo-wop and going to school in Florida, but he hasn't changed at all. According to his mother, who remains the biggest role model in his life (along with Jesus), Chris is exactly the same person he's always been — which means wild, crazy, and often hyper.
So it's no surprise that when he has the time, he engages in a lot of physical activities. He plays basketball, shooting hoops for hours, often with other guys from the band, and in-line skates. And then there's the sun and sand of Florida.
"I like beaches and I live near one," he said, and he takes advantage of the water, too, going surfing, whatever the weather — including one time in heavy wind and rain that was almost a hurricane!
Being so energetic makes life on the road, with its interminable traveling and waiting, difficult for Chris, but he's gradually learned to cope with it. "We've got crazy hours," he admitted, "but I've learned to sleep on airplanes a lot and in vans."
Excerpted from 'N Sync by Anna Louise Golden. Copyright © 1999 Anna Louise Golden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.