The New Kids on the Block sang on "The Arsenio Hall Show" Wednesday.
Sang is the operative word. Those were their voices going out to millions of viewers--not someone else's, or even prerecorded tracks of their own.
Harmonies were off and notes were missed on several occasions, leaving little doubt that it really was the New Kids performing their two musical numbers on the show, taped Wednesday afternoon at Paramount Studios in Hollywood.
The pop group appeared in order to answer charges from several quarters that many of the vocals on its albums were done by producer Maurice Starr and that the group uses recorded vocal tracks to either augment or replace its singing in concert.
The New Kids appeared weary after having flown 16 hours from Australia, where they are in the middle of a tour. The group was scheduled to fly back to Australia on Wednesday night, arriving just in time for a concert in Brisbane.
The latest accusation came in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by Michael Seigel, a consumer in Chicago. The suit asks for $75 million in reparations to fans who bought albums that Seigel alleges contain little actual singing by the quintet.
This comes just a week after Gregory McPherson, a former music director for the group, charged that Starr and his brother, Michael Johnson, are the real voices behind the New Kids.
After the taping, the New Kids said they were angry about having to answer their accusers but hope the appearance will clear the air.
"As far as we're concerned, it's over," said Donnie Wahlberg. "We're not saying we sing great, but we sing."
Asked what the appearance accomplished, group member Joe McIntyre said: "If no one's opening their eyes, then maybe nothing. But if people are listening, then maybe we can change some minds."
With a loudly supportive studio audience full of squealing young female fans, the group used the first of its two musical performances to directly attack McPherson's allegations. In the middle of the number, Wahlberg broke into rap with such lines as "I hear a little sucker say we don't sing on our records." He said he wrote the lyrics on the plane from Australia.
In an interview with Hall, the five dismissed McPherson's charges as an attempt by a disgruntled former employee to get money. They admitted that they had used recordings of their voices to augment their dance-heavy concert performances, but said that they stopped doing that five years ago.
They also acknowledged the use of an Emulator--a complex synthesizer--to duplicate some backing tracks on an appearance on Hall's show in February, 1989.
To many of their fans, the New Kids did not need to prove that they were singing. Missy O'Daniel and Julie Bray, both 20, drove from Sacramento on Tuesday night to try to get into the show. Sitting outside the studio before the taping, not even sure that they would get in, the pair said they were not concerned about the allegations against their heroes.
"Even if they do lip-sync in concert," Bray said, "it's understandable because of the energy they put out (dancing)."
O'Daniel said, "I would rather hear it sound professional than out of breath."
After the show, Laura Delgado and three friends who had driven from San Jose to see the group were treated to meeting Wahlberg, who strolled to the studio gate on Gower Street, where they were waiting for a glimpse of the New Kids leaving.
Genevieve Martinez, 18, said what she saw was a triumph for her heroes.
"Today was living proof that they can all sing," she said.
The New Kids on the Block have sold more than 18 million albums in the United States since 1986. Last fall, Forbes magazine listed them as the nation's highest-paid entertainers, with estimated earnings of $115 million in 1990 and 1991.