The first photo shoot I ever assigned and oversaw was in fall of 1998. I hadn't launched the teen-entertainment mag Popstar! yet, but was in the planning stages, and—not knowing shit about teen mags other than loving the luxe, all-color British ones—I decided the first issue would be themed: The hottest men in music.
Teen girls don't really like men, they like boys. That was my first mistake.
However, gay male magazine editors do like men, so I was frantically searching for someone who would be cover-worthy, and yet would agree to pose for a non-existent magazine.
Lucky for me, the boy band craze was in full swing. It didn't take much persuading to get 98°—a new act, but a cute one that actually straddled the boy/man line pretty well—to agree to a shoot, so we met at a seedy bar on Houston Street and in my photographer-of-choice's considerably less boozy studio to take a series of pretty spectacular images that would've been as much at home in a men's fashion magazine as in a teenybopper mag.
The guys were supernice, if somewhat...nervous? See, Chiun-Kai Shih, already making a name for himself as a fashiony shooter, was documenting the entire shoot, complete with candids of them changing, and the guys were somewhat reluctant to go shirtless. (Many boy bands would start shirtless and quickly cover up once they decided it felt "gay" or "cheesy.) The 98° member with the hottest body, baby-faced Jeff Timmons, was, along with Nick Lachey, the one most often asked to disrobe, so he was pretty reluctant. We got a precious few full-on shirtless shots and some fun peekaboos. The cover looked sensational, and I would wind up working with them steadily for years.
Over the past decade and a half (!) since then, Jeff has become a good buddy of mine...and his inhibitions have loosened up considerably! He looks about the same pushing 40 as he did in his twenties and still has the voice of a man-angel, but he's now (slightly) more willing to give up the goods. Still, I was surprised when he accepted an offer to be the singing host of Chippendales for a spell, and shocked as shit when he announced he'd be headlining a roving male review called Men of the Strip, complete with moves by top choreographer Glenn Douglas Packard. (On second though, was I more surprised by the strip element or by the dance element? Watching 98° dance back in the day was almost as entertaining as listening to them sing, but in a different way!)
I arrived for the opening of the doors at the Gramercy Theatre on W. 23rd, only to discover the real time was an hour later. Good-bye, toes—frostbite is real. I was mingling with ladies who were all longtime 98° fanatics, and who had pretty great stories about "the good old days" of 1998. (I probably still have some underwear from that era that I wear.) One informed me that her good friend routinely shelled out thousands to go on an NKOTB cruise and was recognized, in a favorable way, as their preferred stalker. The meet-and-greet at Men of the Strip, which is also going to be a reality show, was considerably more affordable—for a mere $70, they'd all be getting hugs from Timmons later on.
When the doors actually opened, the staff couldn't find my name on the list (this is not a surprise—it happens probably 25% of the time at events) so asked me to step aside and contact Jeff. No worries! I did so, then was asked to move again. No worries! Then, the stereotypical douchebag head of security gruffly demanded I leave the building if I wasn't going in. Explaining I had already done the line and was waiting for my contact to reply led to more aggressive suggestions that I leave. I swear, hold a camera at an event and you're treated like a potential rapist.
Finally, he basically chased me out and into the bodega next door. I told him to fuck off, he promised to make my night a living hell. Great start! When I saw Glenn and got my all-access pass, the security thug decided to make me wait outside anyway, just for spite. The numbskull woman who was running the door for Gramercy was no help; she of course took her guy's side, saying I should've left, telling me the fact that I wasn't wearing the pass meant I couldn't go in, etc. She said I wasn't the only person there, which was funny—it wasn't a case of "don't you know who I am?" but I was not only press, I had been the second idiot in line.
Anyway, she waved me in, the guard gave me his final promise to be a pain, and I went in, heading to some seats off to the side. Even though I was fine there, the security dude found me and asked me to move...just because. I went along with it because at this point, if I were to get no pictures, the entire night would have been a waste. Luckily, it was loudly announced that they encouraged videography and photography. Otherwise, I have no doubt I would have been tackled by this guy...but he thankfully left me alone.
The Gramercy is kind of a shithole to begin with, but having that experience has put me off of it permanently. The thing is, if you make it your business to treat people in a shitty way, you're destined to have that same shitty job a long, long time. I hope they both do. End of revenge text.
The crowd was about 75% female (I'd had fun chatting with a "black gay guy from Kansas...I was born in the wrong state!"), and I'm not sure if the floor was damp from the melted snow being tracked in or from their, uh, excitement? These ladies were no ladies! They were frothing at the mouth before the first dude hit the stage. I was a little scared, but that meant good things for the show.
The show began with some remarkably off-color banter from Garo, the troupe of six's "Boston Bad Boy." This guy is superhot and, like all of his comrades, superbuilt. He also looked like he was smuggling a small suitcase in the front of his jeans. He was born to do this.
The men—who are officially "calendar boys" now—came out and did some fancy footwork before making short work of their tight clothes. I think the first all-but-bare "man butt" (as they were called from the stage) appeared within 60 seconds.
No complaints on the looks. All the guys had unassailable bods and handsome faces, plus they all had over-the-top personalities; you don't always get all three at lower-level revues. I was surprised that after some dancing they hopped into the crowd to collect cash and grind on the by-now apoplectic, sweating, slack-jawed women. God love them, they were getting theirs, $1 at a time. I was actually scared shitless by now that someone would crush my "good" camera or my "good" testicles, but I actually survived the night far better than I would if I were to go to one of Lady Gaga's Roseland shows, to which you could not drag me for that very reason.
Next, Jeff himself came out, looking fit and sounding tight. He treated the crowd to all of 98°'s best-remembered hits: "The Hardest Thing," "Because of You," "I Do (Cherish You)" and "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche). He also sang some of his new stuff. I was really into "Satellite," which was an uptempo contrast to all the balladeering from the 98° playbook.
Jeff was funny and playful onstage, mocking his dancing skills and teasing us by only going down to a wifebeater. He was generous with physical contact, hugging the closest fans before hopping down and making his way through the crowd to make some dreams come true. At one point, he was throwing out free GoTies from one of the tour's sponsors and I could tell he was trying to get one to me. I wasn't about to fight with a hardcore 98° fangirl so was kinda cringing into myself, forcing him to come off the stage and hand one directly to me.
That wasn't the end of Jeff's acknowledgment of my past support, when I had a magazine, and of my current support via this blog. Most people aren't all that grateful of support, so it was shocking when, on top of the tie, he gave me a shout-out from the stage (remembering the blog's title correctly), thanked me profusely afterward and then called me at 1 a.m. when I was editing photos to again thank me. This hasn't happened with most of the other young artists I supported during my mag days, though quite a few have remained friendly acquaintances.
There was more stripping—much more—but the guys also got together to perform a boy band tribute song to Jeff. (They sounded good.) Jeff joined in, tearing his shirt off at the end, his one concession to the crowd's thirst for his flesh. (He's still a tease after all these years.)
When it was all over, the guys (minus Jeff) posed on the stage with every fan who wanted a picture, and Jeff greeted VIP guests downstairs. That's where I was able to connect with him for some quick portraits, and it's where he cracked a joke about how 15 years later, "We're still doing the same thing!" It was true...he was posing, I was getting pictures and hoping for shirtlessness. I guess male revues aren't so dissimilar from teen magazines. There's just more testosterone.