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THEY STILL GOT IT (THE RIGHT STUFF)

My heart was racing. Minutes before the interview, I didn't know which New Kid on the Block would call. *I did Zen breathing exercises, picturing my childhood Jordan Knight doll. And my trading card. And the dance instruction video that, uh, my cousin, "Bethanie Dayes," may have sort of purchased off television a long time ago. *Eighties babies understand. We grew up on a diet of Tang and Hypercolor. We worshipped these five Boston misfits. When they were on top, we slept on their pillowcases. When they became a joke, we hid our cassettes in the sock drawer. But we didn't throw them away. *On news of their 2008 reunion, we collectively shrieked and fainted. To save face, we blamed poor circulation or pregnancy. When the New Kids perform Sunday in Tampa, we will turn out - slightly embarrassed, but totally awestruck. *My manifest Jordan yoga technique failed. Danny Wood, who once sported a rat tail and did not have my Tiger Beat heart, was on the phone. The wedding was off. *Still, Danny, who was super nice and has since trimmed the tail, was happy to preview the concert and discuss the group's new album, The Block. Bad boy Donnie Wahlberg even popped in with some Tampa Bay Rays trash talk.*Oh, and I almost asked Danny to give Jordan my number. Then I remembered he had a rat tail, too. *Here are some excerpts from the interview. - Stephanie Hayes, shayes@tampabay.com

This is really surreal to me. I'm an '80s baby and a huge fan, and I used to sit on my front porch with my little boom box and my shoelace hair clip and blare Hangin' Tough through the neighborhood. I'm going to try not scream.

It's part of the reason this is all working, because the fans have come back so strong supporting us. It's very special.

You guys have been getting great reviews on the tour. How much anxiety was there, and is it a weight off your shoulders to know people are out there having fun?

We didn't do this to get good reviews. We did this to do a good album and to put together a great show, so the reviews are a plus, you know what I mean? It's nice, but we weren't expecting it - and I don't read them, good or bad, so I wouldn't really care either way. It's just what the fans think, and that's the opinion that's most important to us.

I've heard things about bras flying onstage. Is it different this time around, playing to grown-up women instead of kids and teens and tweens?

It's a little different. They're a bit more, uh, a bit more ... active. They drink during the show, so that's different. It's like a girls' night out.

What songs do the fans go craziest for?

Probably the very beginning of the show, when we come out to the new song Single. Then, when we do a lot of the hits, The Right Stuff, and even some of the new songs like Summertime. The show is set up like a basketball game, in quarters, so I think they get the most loud when it comes to the fourth quarter.

Did it feel like riding a bike, doing the New Kids Dance? Was it easy to remember these moves again?

We use some of the old moves, but most of the choreography is new. We wanted people to have the flavor of the old stuff, but we wanted this to be new and fresh with what's happening today.

You guys were known for your memorabilia. What's the weirdest thing you've ever seen yourself on?

We had these creepy stuffed-animal dolls that weren't out very long 'cause we had them taken off the market. They were pretty bad. They were not cute. They were kind of demon-like.

When you saw different male singing groups like Backstreet Boys or 'N Sync, was there ever any thought in your mind to get back up there and do that?

I was focused on raising my kids, mostly. I didn't really think much about it. We never looked at ourselves as being the first group like us. We always looked up to New Edition, so when them other groups came it was fine with me, unless they talked bad about us.

Did you ever get any of that?

The Backstreet Boys definitely talked bad about us, and we don't really have to say anything now.

Are you all bunking together on a bus?

There's three buses. Me and Donnie share a bus. It's the Baby Daddy bus. We're the single guys, so we're on this bus. Then you have the Dark Knight bus with the Knight brothers. Then you have the Baby Baby bus, which is Joe's bus because he has his son with him and wife and the nanny and the whole deal.

Who has the strangest tour habits? Does anyone do anything odd?

Not really.

(All of a sudden, loud cursing breaks out in the background. Danny laughs).

I'm sorry. That's Donnie.

Donnie Wahlberg: WHO DAT? WHO DAT TALKING?

Hey, Donnie.

Danny: She says hello, from the St. Pete Times.

Donnie: HELLO!!! ST. PETE! I'm still mad about the Devil Rays whopping the Red Sox!

Danny: He's mad about the Devil Rays ... You know. It's their turn this year.

(Donnie pipes down).

Do you think you are better performers with age?

Absolutely, no doubt about it. Maturity, life experience, learning from mistakes we made in the past. Coming together to do this again, none of us were going to settle for nothing but the best. If we were going to sacrifice now time away from our immediate family like my kids, I wasn't just going to come out here and so some reunion tour with a couple new songs. It had to be worth the time being away from my kids, so it better be good.

Do your kids grasp the whole New Kids frenzy?

Oh yeah, they do now. They were up in Boston when we did two sold-out shows at the Garden. So there wasn't a better place on the tour they could have experienced it. It was great.

shayes@tampabay.com

New Kids on the Block

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the St. Pete Times Forum, 401 Channelside Dr., Tampa. $35-75. (813) 301-2500; stpetetimesforum.com.

On the Web

Listen to Stephanie Hayes' entire Danny Wood interview at entertainment.tampabay.com.

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