Editor's note: This article appeared in the September 9, 1999 issue of the Boston Phoenix.
"The first time I saw the New Kids on the Block was in 1988, back when they were opening for Tiffany," Julianna Mardo says. "Six Flags in Atlanta -- small stage. Nobody knew who they were. I went with my sister, and we saw these five guys singing 'The Right Stuff,' and I was like, 'Yeahhhh!' "
Eleven years, five albums, two boyfriends, three proms, one college diploma, and an estimated $4000 worth of merchandise later, Julianna is still a diehard New Kids on the Block fan. Except now she isn't a 12-year-old from New Jersey with big hair and a mega crush on lead singer Jordan Knight. She's a well-coifed 23-year-old portfolio administrator for a small investment firm in downtown Boston.
With a mega crush on Jordan Knight.
"I never stopped liking them," Julianna says matter-of-factly. "It wasn't cool, I got made fun of, whatever. But the older you get, the more respect you get if you stand up for what you believe."
Cut the snickering. After enduring years of abuse, Julianna and other NKOTB fanatics are entitled to feel a little better about themselves. The New Kids are back -- kind of. Two ex-Kids, Jordan Knight and Joey McIntyre, are in the midst of Travolta-like career resurrections; both have new solo albums that have sold more than 500,000 copies apiece. Knight just wrapped up a sellout tour with neo-Kids 'N Sync and got nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. This Sunday and Monday, September 5 and 6, McIntyre is playing to packed big tops at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, in Hyannis, and the South Shore Music Circus, in Cohasset.
The musical success of Jordan and Joey has spawned a new generation of New Kids worshippers and stirred the nostalgia of old fans. Warming to this unforeseen trend, Columbia Records recently released New Kids on the Block's Greatest Hits. Reinvigorated New Kids fan clubs are making their presence known at concerts and on radio stations, the Internet, and MTV. There's even a national New Kids convention -- NKOTB 2000 -- planned for next June in Framingham. ("Let's get together and celebrate the KIDS they were, and the MEN they've become," cheers the convention organizers' Web site.)
No doubt the New Kids' second coming is fueled in part by a teen-pop sunburst that's yielded the likes of 'N Sync, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys. But a lot of it is the work of aging superfans like Julianna Mardo -- the shrieking teens and pre-teens of the late 1980s and early '90s who are now professionals and parents in their 20s. They are the Blockheads: the true believers who never stopped spreading the gospel according to Jordan, Joey, Donnie, Jon, and Danny.
And there are more of them than you think.
It always starts with a favorite kid, says Nicki Cross.
"Donnie [Wahlberg's] fans are like these wild crazies," she says. "You see the tough girls and you think, 'They must be Donnie fans.' The young ones are always Joey fans, always. And the older fans are into Jon [Knight] -- my sister, who is three years older than me, was a Jon fan. If you have taste, you're into Jordan. Jordan was also the romantic one. And Danny? Danny was the fittest one. If you like fitness, you're into Danny . . . he was also an excellent dancer."
Nicki and Julianna and I are eating a light dinner at the Back Bay Bertucci's. Nicki, who lives in Worcester and works as a communications coordinator at the Staples corporate center in Framingham, is the chairman of the NKOTB 2000 convention committee. Julianna (whom Nicki calls "Jules") is the treasurer and location coordinator. Between bites of bruschetta, the two talk excitedly about the New Kids' rebirth -- and, of course, about the good old days.
"We used to do some extreme stuff," says Nicki, who is 23 and grew up in suburban Connecticut. "Every year, when the new phone books came out, we used to get our hands on a Boston phone book. We knew all their siblings' names, and we'd call the phone numbers that were in their names. Like, if it said D. Knight -- like David -- we knew that David Knight was Jon and Jordan's brother. We'd call the number just to see if it was connected."
"The first time I saw a picture of Donnie with a cigarette in his hand I went home and cried for hours," says Julianna.
"I once got up at 6 a.m. to do my hair and makeup for a New Kids concert," says Nicki. "And we weren't even leaving until 11."
"I wrote letters to Oprah begging her to have the New Kids on with me," says Julianna. "I was like, 'I'm in love. I really am. I love Jordan.' I was, like, 14. I wrote to Oprah at least 40 times."
Julianna presents a typewritten sheet of paper that is probably best described as her New Kids résumé. Among its disclosures: