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O-Town gets used to making the band

The new boy band has come a long way at top speed. The guys are learning that sudden success takes some adjustments.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001

O-Town has few secrets. Almost 24 hours a day, a camera crew follows the band from hotel room to bus to stage.

If they fight or flub, fans will witness it when ABC airs the second season of Making the Band this year.

"You will see a lot of performing and how we put the show together," said O-Town member Jacob Underwood. "You'll see the inside of a group once it gets started, like the first time we heard our song on the radio."

On the phone from their rehearsal studio in Orlando, O-Town members Jacob, Trevor Penick and Dan Miller talked to the St. Petersburg Times about their first tour and how their lives have been affected by the sudden fame the television show has brought them.

Their first lesson? Be careful what you wish for.

"Our lives have done a complete 180," said Trevor, 21. "I was going to school and had plenty of time to do fun stuff. We're doing what we love now, but it's completely different. I look back on my old life almost every single day. I miss the simple things. I miss walking to class. I miss going to work at the golf course, just little things like that."

Jacob, 20, feels the same way.

"I definitely miss home. I miss going to the beach, having free time and playing music in my garage and seeing my family," he said. "But at the same time, I wouldn't trade this for the world."

All three of the guys say their sacrifices are worth the career they have now.

The five O-Town guys, including 19-year-old Ashley Angel and 21-year-old Erik-Michael Estrada, were plucked from more than 1,800 performers who auditioned to be in the group, developed by 'N Sync/Backstreet Boys creator Lou Pearlman. The "O" in O-Town stands for Orlando, where the group was formed and is based.

The guys all went into the project knowing cameras would follow them, but still it was difficult getting used to the lack of privacy.

"For the first two weeks you're always looking over your shoulder, kind of worrying about what you say," said Dan, 20. "After that, to be honest, it seems like they've gone away."

The awareness brought on by the TV show definitely worked in the guys' favor. Unlike most groups who are just starting out and have to pay their dues in dingy clubs and even dingier radio studios, O-Town skipped all that and is now headlining its own tour of medium-size venues.

This month, thousands of fans came out to see the band at an autograph signing in Brandon.

"The TV show gives them quite a bit of exposure, and obviously they've become quite popular," said Domino Theodore, program director for WFLZ-FM 93.3, which hosted O-Town's visit. "When 3,000 people show up to an event like that, which by all regards is a minor event, that says a lot."

"Nobody's ever been this close to a group starting out," Jacob said. "The fans knew us before we even knew each other. They have a connection with us. They know more about us than they would find out in a pop magazine."

Cynical critics don't like them enough, and frenzied fans like them too much. It's a problem O-Town has been dealing with since Making the Band premiered. The group's self-titled CD hit stores last month, and though it's selling well, the group is constantly criticized for being nothing but manufactured puppets.

Fans, on the other hand, can't get enough of the five singers.

"One of the major things we like about the television show is the fact that our fans do get to know us on a personal level, more than they would know any other group or band," Trevor said. "You can read about someone's favorite color in a magazine, but our fans feel they really know us and have been through everything with us."

"Most of the time when a group comes out, all you see is the polished glitz and glamor. But with us, because of the TV show, you get to see us when we're not that good," Dan said. "It shows we are human, and we are just like everybody else. We mess up. We do stupid things. We're good sometimes and bad other times, and I think that plays in our favor."

All that voyeurism was too much for one of the O-Town candidates, who jumped shipped midway through the process.

Paul Martin, 22, is in the first half of the Making the Band episodes and lived in the Orlando house with the other O-Town finalists for about a month. When he left the show, he continued to stay in the music business under the guidance of Pearlman. Paul is now a member of the country group Marshall Dyllon, which Pearlman and veteran country artist Kenny Rogers put together.

"When I was on the show, I was kind of unhappy with the way it was going," Paul said. "It wasn't about the music. There was a lot of drama. And there was no privacy. That was probably one of the biggest problems for us. As unprivate as I thought I was, I really wasn't.

Though O-Town won't be competing directly with Marshall Dyllon because it's a country group, O-Town does have to worry about all the other guy groups in the limelight. Trevor said it's O-Town's music that separates the band from everyone else.

"We're coming out with a different sound than any other five-part harmony group has come out with before," he said. "It's a pop album, but it has more urban and rock sounds. We all came from five different walks of life, and each of our personalities is reflected in a song."

Another O-Town finalist who left the show is now in a group called LMNT (pronounced "element"). Ikaika Kahoano, 22, left Making the Band after being chosen for the show. His new group includes Mike Miller and Bryan Chan, who didn't make O-Town's final cut.

"All we knew was that when he was with us, he wasn't happy or where he wanted to be," Jacob said about Ikaika.

There's still some mystery surrounding the singer's exit.

"When we were watching the show, we were learning things about the story," Jacob said. "A lot of things happened without us even knowing."

O-Town members live in a different house now, but they still all live together and have relocated permanently to Orlando. A recording studio is being built in their house, and the guys are writing music in their spare time.

Go see them!

O-Town performs at St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $20 at the theater box office and Ticketmaster locations.

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