In 2000 O-Town was not a singing group but merely an idea of Lou Pearlman, former mentor to the Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync. After a series of ads calling for new talent, more than 1,000 hopefuls showed up to test for ABC’s part reality television show, part soap opera called Making the Band. The weekly series recorded the construction of a boy band to be called O-Town, chronicling the auditions, coaching, practice, and final selection of the quintet. The five that emerged from the seeming chaos were Ashley Parker Angel, Erik-Michael Estrada, Dan Miller (who replaced the originally selected Ikaika Kahoano), Trevor Penick, and Jacob Underwood. They became instant household names to the young teenage-girl set, and more surprisingly perhaps, the “thrown-together” group has proved to have some staying power. Their initial album, O-Town, sold a respectable 150,000 copies in its first week, pushing it into the top ten; it eventually earned double-platinum sales. In January of 2001, the album reached number five on the Billboard charts. The group’s debut single, “Liquid Dreams,” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. O-Town was voted Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the Teen Choice Awards in 2001. O-Town returned for a second season of Making the Band in 2001, which chronicled the life of
Members include Ashley Parker Angel (born on August 4, 1981, in Redding, CA), vocals, songwriting; Erik-Michael Estrada (born on September 23, 1979, in Bronxville, NY), vocals; Dan Miller (born Daniel Mark Miller on September 4, 1980, in Laconia, NH), vocals; Trevor Penick (born Trevor Lee Scott Penick on November 16, 1979, in Rancho Cucamonga, CA), vocals; Jacob Underwood (born Jacob Christopher Underwood on April 25, 1980, in San Diego, CA), vocals, guitar.
Group formed as part of television reality show Making the Band, 2000; released debut album, O-Town, on J Records, 2001; released O2, 2002.
Awards: Teen Choice Award, Breakthrough Artist of the Year, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—J Records, 745 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10051, website: http://www.j-records.com. Website—O-Town Official Website: http://www.o-town.com.
the now-famous group as they visited the set of MTV’s Total Request Live, performed their hit “Liquid Dreams” on the Miss America pageant, and learned to deal with their new-found fame.
Manufacturing and packaging teenage idols is not a new concept in the entertainment business. Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, even the Beatles, to name a few, were all manufactured to some degree by press agents eager to sell the artists to the public. The making of O-Town differs, however, in that the public had not previously been privy to how these marketing miracles came about behind the scenes. With O-Town, everything was up front for public viewing. The reality show was the work of Mary Ellis-Bunim and Jonathan Murray, who were responsible for many of MTV’s productions. The hopeful young men auditioned for Pearlman in various casting calls that were held across the country. More than 1,000 entrants were eventually narrowed to 25. They all flew to Orlando, Florida (hence the name of the band), for more auditions. The number dropped to eight and then to five, making every step of the way—flattering or not—visible to the television audience on the weekly series.
The five finalists who survived and came together as O-Town all have musical backgrounds to some degree. Ashley Parker Angel, hailing from Redding, California, possesses teen-idol looks. Born in 1981, he learned to play the piano from his mother at age four. His stepfather later taught him to play the drums and guitar. Angel cites Michael Jackson as his favorite artist. In addition to singing, he is also interested in composing, and before he joined the band, a local radio station expressed interest in one of his CD recordings. Angel also contributed his music to O-Town’s second album with “Suddenly” and “From the Damage,” songs that grew out of his experience in the Making the Band television show.
Dan Miller, born in Laconia, New Hampshire, in 1980, grew up in Twinsburg, Ohio, and says he has been singing and dancing since he can remember. The eldest of four children, he is the only one in the family to be gifted musically. His parents—a plant manager and home maker—say they have no idea where his musical talents come from, but they are very supportive of his career choice. Miller was attending the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music when he signed on as a Making the Sand hopeful. A fan of R&B, he co-wrote “American Game” with Underwood for the group’s second album.
Erik-Michael Estrada was born in Bronxville, New York, in 1979 and grew up in the Bronx. Although he was raised by his Italian mother and his stepfather, he says that Puerto Rican culture runs through his soul. Estrada studied voice for four years before being tapped for the new band, and he loves to write songs. Almost as strong as his love for music is his interest in the fashion world; he had his own line of shirts in high school.
Jacob Underwood is another band member from California, born in San Diego in 1980. He is a singer and songwriter, and also plays the guitar. With these talents, he brings a unique focus to the band. Underwood says he is the only cousin out of 38 in his family not to attend college because he persuaded his parents to let him pursue a musical career. His friends say he resembles pop superstar Justin Timberlake, but he admitted to Teen People writer Kristen Baldwin that the “Justin” look came at the request of the label. “They wanted me to be the Justin,” he told Baldwin. “Once I made the band, I was looking back and realized how much I had changed.” His post-show hair style of choice, dreadlocks, was a far cry from Timberlake’s golden locks that he had emulated before.
Trevor Penick is also from California, from Rancho Cucamonga. He studied theater at California State Fullerton before making the band. His favorite band is the Backstreet Boys and he admits to often being teased by his fraternity brothers about his devotion to pop music. Also a hip-hop fan, Penick has added dimension to the group’s live tours with his talented dancing. Penick is determined to succeed in the music world to thank his parents for the sacrifices they made to send him to college.
After releasing a successful debut album, the five young men moved to Santa Monica, California, in the fall of 2001 and settled down together in a house to figure out their next musical move. Then came long months of touring during which they planned their second album.
The group’s second full-length recording, O2, was released by J Records in November of 2002. It contains such winning singles as “All or Nothing” and “We Fit Together.” In an article at hiponline.com, Angel explains the album in this way: “O2 was a lot more hands on for us. Since each of us came from such diverse influences, we all have strengths that lie in different areas and because of that we can pull off a lot of different music.” As a result, the album swings between soulful ballads and songs with more of a rock ‘n’ roll approach. Miller feels the new album is evidence that the group is creating its own image, emerging from the stamped-out label of the reality television show. In addition to the original tunes, the album contains contributions from some of the best pop music songwriters, such as Damon Sharpe, writer for Jennifer Lopez, and Steve Kipner, who has contributed songs to albums by Janet Jackson and Christina Aguilera.
As the group works on future albums, the young men of O-Town are aware that their audience may still regard them as a television-made entertainment package instead of appreciating them for their own style and kind of music. In an interview at hiponline.com, the feelings of the five were summed up by Angel in this way: “I think the critics especially will always focus on the fact that we came together on television . We embrace [our origins] because we were five guys who were trying to break into the music business and who wouldn’t? Every group would love to have their own television show. We’re trying to change people’s minds in a sense that there are a lot of stereotypes about us that aren’t true. Come see us live and see what it all boils down to, which is the music and the talent.”
O-Town, J Records, 2001.
Live From New York, J Records, 2001.
O2, J Records, 2002.
Billboard, November 30, 2002, p. 12.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, April 12, 2001.
Teen People, March 1, 2001, p. 122.
WWD, May 30, 2002, p. 1.
“Biography,” hiponline.com, http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/o/o-town/index.html (June 29, 2003).
“Interview,” hiponline.com, http://www.hiponline.com/artist/music/o/o-townAmterview/100311.html (June 29, 2003).
O-Town Official Website, http://www.o-town.com (September 10, 2003).
“The Survival of the Hittest: Behind the Scenes of Making the Band” Premium Music, http://premiummusic.org/feat4.html (June 29, 2003).
—Corinne J. Naden