Stepping into teen idol territory as an artist, you're already setting yourself up for a fair amount of potential ridicule from the critics. But let's just suppose that you fall into the "boy band" category — now you're pretty much critically marked for death, which was exactly the scenario that 98 Degrees found themselves in when they made their debut in the late '90s. Singer Jeff Timmons (a native of Canton who also put the group together) recalls the group finally got a second chance with critics earlier this year when it reunited and hit the road with New Kids on the Block and Boyz II Men.
Riding the positive waves generated by the band's recent activity, which includes a new album, 2.0, that was released prior to the tour, Timmons is back out on the road as the ringleader of Men of the Strip — a sexy touring preview of a forthcoming Vegas production which he promises takes the well-worn format of the traditional male revue shows and gives it a much-needed reboot. He'll sing 98 Degrees songs and original songs while a group of male dancers strut their stuff.
When you're playing shows with 98 Degrees, you're in a situation where the women are already a little bit riled up. It seems like a show like this one would really pour gasoline on the fire.
And that's sort of what I see in the whole thing. We have a similar audience and a similar fanbase. I was asked years ago to host a similar type of thing, I mean, we like to think that it's a little bit different and that [with this show] we've kind of revamped the idea of what a male revue is. [We've done that] by adding younger, cooler, more sophisticated production [elements] and better guys. But yeah, ultimately when I hosted that in Las Vegas, it was a big success. We were sold out the majority of the time I was there. It's not like everybody thinks [with this show] — it's a real production and the guys have talent. They dance, they sing and it's not over-the-top raunchy like people expect.
Creatively, what do you enjoy about putting together a show like this?
Well, it's different. You know, traditionally 98 Degrees is known as the boys next door, but at the end of the day, once the label saw [us with] our shirts off — we were all athletes — and we did one photo shoot with our shirts off and then that was our marketing tool the whole entire time according to our publicists and our labels. So this is a little bit different. I like being creative with it. I mean, we've created everything new, from the clothes these guys wear to the choreography being a little bit more sophisticated and current to implementing great lighting and sound and then coupling that with songs that people have known for many, many years, you know, the 98 Degrees songs and all of that stuff. So I feel that it's just a formula for a good time. We're not trying to go out there and drive people over the top, we're not trying to do anything raunchy and we're not trying to be too irreverent — we're just trying to give them enough sexuality to the show that gets them super excited. So then after they see the show they can talk about what fun they had on their girls' night out. You know, things that females are entitled to that are just a little more taboo, no matter what time it is in our era. Girls don't usually have these opportunities, so we want to give them those opportunities to go out and enjoy a night with their friends and have a good time.
I'm sure you get pitched quite a few interesting projects. What's the most bizarre thing that's ever come your way?
Well, I mean, everything. I've been offered to do porn and to actually really, really be a stripper. [There's been] all kinds of really bizarre [things]. I've been in the business for a very long time fortunately, and I'm still alive and kicking after 17 years of being in it. But I've seen everything from that kind of stuff to being on a soap opera to doing my own radio show. I've had a lot of opportunities but some of them have been quite bizarre. Frankly, we've built the brand up throughout the years and even though some are intriguing, you can't go that far left or you won't have any more opportunities presented to you in this business. So I have been offered those, but I thought, "Gee, if I have a porn career, that will really ruin the porn business, I think." [Laughs] So I decided against that one for more than one reason.
The band played its first shows in more than a decade this past summer and also released new music. Will there be further activity from the group?
Yeah, you know we put out an album and it was met with moderate success. We went with an independent label, but ultimately we did it so fast. People want to do things to capitalize on hype. But it was just moderately successful. So I think that the group may go back and revisit it and play with it a little bit more and spend a little bit more time. I'm not disappointed in the run we had. But again, I'm an artist and always striving for the next big thing and wanting to be better than the things I did the last time. So maybe there's something else out there if we work really hard and the chips fall the right way.