New Kids on the Block took to the stage at Clear Channel Media + Entertainment's iHeartRadio Theater presented by P.C. Richard & Son in New York City last night (April 4). The Boston boy band played songs from their new album "10," released on Tuesday, as well as favorites from their catalog of late '80s/early '90s favorites for a mostly-female crowd of frenzied fans, aka, Blockheads.
The night's lone surprise? Member Jonathan Knight walked off the stage halfway through the hour-long set and did not return, despite pleas from adoring fans.
Considering his well-publicized bouts with anxiety, including a 2001 sitdown with Oprah Winfrey on the topic, Knight's emotions may have gotten the best of him.
The quintet – Donnie Walhberg, Joey McIntyre, Danny Wood, Jordan Knight and brother Jonathan – was in seemingly good spirits before the show (broadcast on Clear Channel's iHeartRadio platform) in a video interview with Billboard, discussing its hit-packed past and declaring hopes to remain together indefinitely. The group, which has now released two studio albums since 2008 following its 1994 hiatus, has been making promotional rounds in New York this week, and to good effect: "10" is expected to debut in the top 10 of next week's Billboard 200 albums chart, while lead single "Remix (I Like The)" enters the Adult Top 40 airplay chart this week at No. 39.
When the iHeartRadio set began, however, Jonathan Knight was visibly out of synch with the rest of the group, notably not joining in for the act's trademark arm-waving on its 1989 Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 "Hangin' Tough." He also repeatedly kept to the back of the stage while Walhberg and McIntyre, especially, bounced around energetically. He also appeared to receive a call on his cell phone during the set, appearing distracted by it (although smiling as he looked over to his bandmates at one point).
The group did its best to make Knight more at ease, repeatedly wrapping its arms around him, but when Jordan announced that his brother would sing on the next song, the touching ballad "Survive You," from "10," Jonathan laughed, attempted to sing and then stopped. He made his way off the stage, while the band continued the song, announcing after that Jonathan would return. Fans also chanted his name in encouragement.
Knight Departs at 27:00
But, songs passed –- including a spirited medley of "Step By Step," a three-week Hot 100 No. 1 in 1990, "Hangin' Tough" and "You Got It (The Right Stuff)" (No. 3, 1989); "Tonight" (No. 7, 1990), during which Walhberg, McIntyre, Wood and Jordan Knight ventured into the grateful crowd; and, two show-closing versions of "Remix." And Jonathan Knight failed to return. The remaining foursome joked about the exit with a running gag that nature had called and he was stuck in the restroom, but also ribbed that the events would "make TMZ" today. McIntyre also attempted to diffuse the drama of Knight walking off the stage ahead of the group's tour with fellow vocal groups 98 Degrees and Boyz II Men, which kicks off May 28 in Uncasville, Conn.
Ultimately, McIntyre attempted to comfort the crowd by noting that "We love Jonathan and he loves us" and that their fellow Kid would be fine.
After the show, Jonathan Knight made a simple post on his Twitter account: "I'm sorry ……"
— Jonathan Knight (@JonathanRKnight) April 5, 2013
Perhaps his discomfort was previewed in a Tweet posted before the show: "#ifeelnaked"
Representatives from Clear Channel and the Kobalt label, which has released "10," offered no further concrete explanation for Knight's exit following the show.
The group's busy week has also included appearances on "Today," "The View" and Bravo.
Could Knight's previously-revealed battles with anxiety be behind last night's unexpected events? Despite the group's past success, including nine consecutive Hot 100 top 10s and a pair of Billboard 200 No. 1s in 1988-90, Knight has shared that anxiety and panic attacks have long plagued him.
"The whole New Kids thing was crazy. The more it grew, the more I just felt like I was trapped. I just always had this feeling inside me of always being nervous and afraid of situations. The hardest thing for me was doing interviews, doing talk shows, photo sessions, being in the studio … just because you're with so many different people.
"You're shaky, your heart just starts pounding, and you have a dry mouth. The easiest thing for me was to just avoid situations.
"From 1994 to 1997, I did nothing," Knight has said. "I slept and slept and slept. If I was awake, I had to deal with things, I had to do things. In order to avoid that, I would just stay in bed. You go through the whole thing, too, 'I'm weird or I'm strange,' and it just makes your whole self shrink down even more."
Following last night's show and Knight's Twitter apology, New Kids fans seemed aware of Knight's past troubles and offered words of reassurance. They're a bunch so loyal that it bought an ad in last week's Billboard magazine welcoming the group back and celebrating its 25 years of hit-making (a fan-army-fueled move that Billboard's advertising department could not recall having happened at any other time in recent memory).
"Don't EVER be sorry. We love you," wrote @MacPack410.
"never apologize Jon! Do what you need to do:)," posted @meldiv75.
"Sweet, sweet man..no apologies," @MissMandyHale added. "You are already an inspiration for even being up there at all."
Wahlberg offered the group's only reaction on Twitter following the show: "#AllSystemsNormal."
His light-hearted take on the night: "To recap- Joe was especially dazzling! Jordan was especially amazing! Danny was especially solid & Jon was especially shy!"
He also re-Tweeted the sentiments of @JEEPGRL732: "Give Jon a giant hug & tell him we luv him."