Breaking up is hard to do

"Oh my God, my eyes are going to water!" squeams the Boys and Girls Club girl over my shoulder.

Oh my God, mine too. 'N Sync has gathered us for a typically sterile press conference to announce its latest sports-themed philanthropy: "Challenge for the Children," a celebrity basketbally game to benefit Boys and Girls Clubs. Unfortunately, I can barely open my eyes.

It's Sunday morning, you see, and I'm at the Portofino Hotel ... single and dry. The standard bearers of teen events in this particular leisure town are all in attendance (your national and Sentinel scribes, and me), and the sense is that yet another something-next-to-nothing is about to happen. Fortunately, there are kids everywhere to remind us that maybe we ought to be more excited. I'm trying to muster a fidget.

"Please keep your questions related to Challenge for the Children," guides the ever-present Kid Cruise of WXXL-FM (106.7), who's still apparently drinking boyband youth serum. "For those of you concerned, please don't ask about past relationships, rumored solo careers, space travel and things of that nature."

Nature may not be the best word for such matters. Surely the pop-up world of 'N Sync has acquired more than its share of side-story accoutrements. That's what makes them interesting. Take those away, and the notebook falls to the floor in a hollow spin of "What's next?" questioning set to a new-jack beat. Ugh.

Fortunately, the fearsome fivesome is still as event-friendly as a barrel of Monkees, goofing off harmlessly while we watch and yawn.

"A lot of people are wondering," spins the AP guy to my right, starting things off with requisite doom. "Is this your last performance together?"

"Noooooooooo," glooms Justin into the microphone.

"It's funny, man," saves J.C. "We've been hitting the road really hard for the past seven years, and we've gotten to a place in our lives where we're very comfortable -- to the point where we feel like we deserve a short break. It's not even like a long break."

And that's the long and the short of it, we presume. 'N Sync is crossing its difficult creative bridge. But how high is that bridge? Um, just wondering.

"After this last album, we feel like we need to step it up again," steps J.C., again. "To try and reinvent ourselves again. We want to take some time to really experiment a bit. We're all doing quite a bit of writing in our down time to come up with new sounds."

"Hey, uh, Billy Manes, Orlando Weekly," I microphone out from my humility.

"How's it goin'?" acknowledges Chris, who used to share a hairdresser with me. 'N Sync knows me, you see. I peed next to Joey. I basically fell on Lance. And surely I've spilt a drink or two on J.C. at an event in the recent past. None of which, mind you, makes me feel like anything. I feel nothing. So, uh, I'll ask nothing. Or at least something resembling nothing.

"So, considering your position now ..." I belch.

"You mean right here on the table," rudes Chris.

"Yes, your position right in front of me," I snap. "How much consideration is given, creatively, to your fans and their parents. Is there pressure to be kid friendly?"

Justin stares silently. He hates me. Oh my God, my eyes are going to water.

"Musical endeavors still entail the group," chimes Chris, not answering the question, and struggling with the word "entail."

"The only difference that's being made with this big break is that after this tour we're actually not going to do a lot of things except for work on this album. People kind of miss that and say that we're breaking up, or that we're spending a lot of time doing nothing, but we want to focus on the album and where we are musically ...," etc.

"As far as the censoring factor," matter-of-facts J.C., actually addressing the query, "when we put out an album, we don't specifically target anything. We just aim to put out the best product that we can. We're glad parents enjoy our music as well, and hopefully they'll continue to, but at the end of the day the creative process is going to remain the same."

Oh well. Creative processes aside, the boys are really here to promote their basketball event, set to dunk in Orlando July 26 through 28. One clever journalist decides to ask a question regarding the event itself -- which nobody else seems to want to do.

Only he's got an otherworldly agenda. "So what's going to be different about the event this year?" he quizzes, to which J.C. responds with a diatribe regarding the family nature of Orlando vs. the smut nature of Las Vegas, where last year's Challenge challenged. "But will Lance be back in time?" the scribe slams.

"Yes," Major Toms our spaceboy, Lance. "I'm coming home ..."


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