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Hangin' Tough

The Kids may be older, but they've still got the right stuff.

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I was in the fifth grade when New Kids on the Block performed in Memphis for the first time. It was 1989, and I was living in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a quick hour's drive away from the Bluff City.

Several of my friends had tickets to the show at the Mid-South Coliseum, and I wanted to go so bad. I was the world's biggest New Kids fan. I had a closet filled with day-glow oversized New Kids T-shirts, walls covered with Jordan and Jon Knight pinups, stacks of New Kids comic books, a New Kids sleeping bag, and a neon-orange New Kids lunch box. I even named my goldfish Jordan, Joe, Donnie, Danny, Jon, and Maurice Starr (after their producer).

I would have sworn off my favorite pair of pink spandex pants for tickets to that show. I would have canceled my subscription to Bop magazine. I would have burned my beloved Tiffany cassette. I would have done anything for New Kids tickets.

But my mom was unable to get them before the show sold out, so all my girlfriends came to school the day after the show wearing souvenir T's and baseball caps, while I slowly died inside.

Fast forward 20 years: On Thursday, July 2nd, I will be one of the twenty- and thirtysomething women piled into the Mud Island Amphitheatre, screaming my undying love to Joe McIntyre and Donnie Wahlberg. My fifth-grade dream is finally coming true.

When I (and so many other tweens) discovered New Kids on the Block in 1988, the boy band had just released their second album, Hangin' Tough. Their singles "You Got It (the Right Stuff)," "Please Don't Go Girl," "Cover Girl," and the title track "Hangin' Tough" scored big on the Billboard charts. By the end of 1989, the album had gone platinum eight times.

But the band's career wasn't all bubblegum pop palaces and crazy 8-year-old fans from the start. The original boy band had a bit of a rough road reaching stardom. Maurice Starr held auditions in the early 1980s for a white pop equivalent of New Edition.

He found Wahlberg, who signed up brother Mark, Danny Wood, and brothers Jordan and Jon Knight. Mark quickly dropped out and was eventually replaced by Joe McIntyre. The group's eponymous debut album tanked, but they finally caught a break with Hangin' Tough when the first single, "Please Don't Go Girl," hit number 10.

By 1990, the New Kids were international superstars, touring the States, Europe, and Asia. In 1991, Forbes named them the highest paid entertainers in show biz, beating out Madonna, Prince, Bill Cosby, and Michael Jackson (may he rest in peace).

Back then, I watched their concerts on VHS and listened to "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" over and over while making plans to wed McIntyre. His babyface mug graced my walls, and I'm pretty sure I even attempted to make out with his two-dimensional image in Tiger Beat magazine.

But as the New Kids' popularity began to wane in 1992, the kids in my school turned their backs on my beloved Fab Five. Boys started referring to the group by the offensive-on-so-many-levels name New Fags on the Rag. But I held my head high and continued to carry my New Kids lunch box well into the seventh grade.

The group disbanded after the failure of the 1994 release Face the Music (when shy guy Jon Knight started having anxiety issues), but ever the loyal fan, my junior-high self displayed my New Kids cassettes proudly alongside my Nirvana and Pearl Jam CDs.

Bad-boy Donnie Wahlberg has led the most successful post-New Kids career with acting roles in The Sixth Sense, the Saw movies, Annapolis, and Righteous Kill. Heartthrob Jordan Knight went on to release three solo albums, and he appeared on VH1's The Surreal Life in 2004.

Danny Wood kept a low profile after leaving the group, but he managed to launch a record label and release a few albums, including his most recent, Coming Home, in 2007. Jon Knight took on a real estate career. Joe McIntyre released some solo albums, performed in Broadway's Wicked, starred on the now-defunct Fox show Boston Public, and even competed on Dancing with the Stars.

The group reunited in 2008 and soon after released their catchy pop single "Summertime," which I proudly downloaded onto my iPod. Now they're touring the U.S., providing me and a million other women a chance to fulfill childhood fantasies.

I'm still holding out for McIntyre. Sure, he's married with a toddler now, but things can change. If you hear a crazy lady screaming "Marry me, Joey!" at the Mud Island show, that's probably me.

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