Big Talent, Bigger Heart
by Toni Daylor
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In the height of the hype surrounding boy bands during the mid- to late-1990s, ’N Sync proved its popularity by performing to sold-out venues and achieving record-breaking sales exceeding 56 million records worldwide. Some may think the wildly successful band was the brainchild of the currently imprisoned former music mogul Lou Pearlman, but in fact, the catalyst was co-founding member Chris Kirkpatrick of Vizcaya, who helped gather musical talents Justin Timberlake, Joey Fatone, Lance Bass and JC Chasez to form the music phenomenon.
Kirkpatrick, who was born in Pennsylvania and later moved to rural Ohio, came from a family of modest means. He was attracted to music at an early age. Securing the lead role in a high school production of Oliver Twist while still in middle school, Kirkpatrick got his first taste of performing and knew the stage was where he belonged.
“I loved to listen to songs on the radio and pull apart the different harmonies,” Kirkpatrick said.
“I was the only kid in my town listening to hip-hop,” he said, reflecting on how he was different from his country-loving classmates.
“I felt left out on Tractor Day, when everyone drove their tractors to school, and I didn’t have one,” he said, laughing.
After graduating from high school in 1990, he left the small town in search of bigger and better things. Arriving in Orlando, Kirkpatrick enrolled at Valencia Community College.
“One day I saw a flier posted, announcing auditions for the chorus, so I gave it a try.”
The director was so impressed by Kirkpatrick’s obvious talent, he offered him a scholarship.
“I didn’t know colleges had choirs, let alone chorus scholarships,” Kirkpatrick said.
Working part-time jobs while pursuing his associate degree, the scholarship eased the burden.
His attraction to arranging music, from vocals to instrumentals, would not be denied, as Kirkpatrick continually brought his friends together to perform at local venues. To earn some extra cash, he sang at Universal Studios. Sometimes sidetracked as members left his aspiring vocal group, Kirkpatrick never gave up his dream. Howie Dorough, a member of the Backstreet Boys, introduced Kirkpatrick to Pearlman, who was actively seeking members for a new group.
Working three jobs, fitting in rehearsals and taking classes at Rollins College, all while putting together a group to showcase to Pearlman, almost proved too much for Kirkpatrick.
“I was sleeping in my car at one point,” he said.
Despite frequent setbacks, he kept moving forward, fueled by the encouragement of a growing local fan base. Suddenly, everything began to fall into place.
“Justin’s [TV] agent heard about what we were doing and approached me,” he said.
Timberlake brought in fellow Mickey Mouse Club member Chasez.
Kirkpatrick was working with Fatone at Universal at the time the vocal group was forming and asked him to join. Bass, who was recommended by a vocal coach Timberlake knew, was the last piece of the puzzle.
The group caught Pearlman’s eye, and the rest, as they say, is history.
As their fame grew, none of singers lost sight of how fortunate they were and the importance of giving back.
“All of the members of ‘N Sync were committed to donating their time and resources to various causes,” said Melinda Bell, senior vice president of Wright Entertainment Group, which managed ‘N Sync.
They participated in benefit concerts, golf tournaments and other events when their busy touring schedule allowed. Prior to each of their shows, meet-and-greets were scheduled for children with disabilities or special needs.
“Often, Chris would spend extra time with kids, showing them around the stage and dressing rooms,” Bell said. “He really seemed to connect with them.”
On April 20, 1999, the country stopped and watched the Columbine High School tragedy unfold, as several students and teachers were senselessly gunned down. The members of ‘N Sync were quick to act and boarded a private plane to Littleton, Colo., to visit the wounded and their families at the hospital.
Affected by this experience and driven by their desire to help others, especially children, the band members formed ‘N Sync’s Challenge For The Children Foundation. According to Bell, from 1999 to 2005, the foundation raised and distributed more than $5 million to various children’s programs and charities throughout the country, including Orlando’s Arnold Palmer Hospital For Children.
The recent and sudden passing of Michael Jackson affected many people, including those in the entertainment industry. ‘N Sync had the opportunity to perform with Jackson on several occasions.
“Michael was in his quiet stage when we were doing a lot of our tours,” Kirkpatrick said.
But the group impressed Jackson so much that he approached them to participate in the Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years event held at Madison Square Garden. Then, after Sept. 11, 2001, Jackson asked the group, along with other renowned musicians, to record a charity song he wrote to help raise money for victims of the attacks. At the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards, ‘N Sync members surprised everyone when the King of Pop joined them onstage during a performance of their single, Pop. The ultimate compliment came when Jackson tapped ‘N Sync to present him for induction as a solo artist into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Michael was the voice that inspired my dreams in my youth, guided me in my career as an adult, and will forever challenge me to reach higher in everything I do,” Kirkpatrick said. “In a time when the world needs its great voices to ring out with hope, one of the greatest has fallen silent.”
After ‘N Sync went on hiatus, Kirkpatrick returned to his home in Orlando. Recalling his childhood, he was determined to continue his charitable work, focusing on enhancing the lives of underprivileged children. On that premise, he launched the Chris Kirkpatrick Foundation in 2003, which supports children’s health care and educational and developmental programs.
“Though my mom worked multiple jobs to support me and my sisters, we were still really poor,” Kirkpatrick said. “So helping kids in the same situation was important to me. I could relate to them and hopefully inspire them to go for their dreams and goals. I want children everywhere to believe in themselves and go after every dream they have.”
While waiting for the nonprofit status of the foundation to become official, Kirkpatrick used his personal funds to support local charities.
CKF depends largely on the generosity of donors for funding. Corporate sponsorships and community support account for a large percentage of the money the foundation is able to disburse. Though CKF officials always are willing to accept spontaneous donations, they find attaching an event to fundraising efforts usually brings the best results.
“I was looking for a unique fundraiser,” Kirkpatrick said. “Typical events are golf tournaments, dinners or galas. We wanted to think outside the box.”
Kirkpatrick decided to throw a classic party for Halloween, one of his favorite holidays.
“Most adults like to dress up in costumes, so we decided to give them that opportunity and tie it to raising funds for the foundation.”
On Oct. 30, CKF will throw its over-the-top adult party, known as the Chris Kirkpatrick Foundation Mask Care AID Bash. It is a Halloween party where costumes are optional, but masks are required. Though this is the main vehicle to bring in donations, Kirkpatrick did not want to leave children out of the fun, so he added another party.
On Halloween, underprivileged children are invited to CKF’s Halloween SPOOKtacular, where they receive costumes and are given the opportunity to explore a haunted house, trick-or-trick and participate in other Halloween activities.
“I remember going to school the day after Halloween, when the other kids brought their stash of Halloween candy, and I didn’t have any,” Kirkpatrick said. “That’s why I think it’s important to let these children get the same opportunity as any other kid at Halloween. Last year, we were able to invite 200 kids to the party.”
Bell added that many of the youngsters came from the Children’s Home Society of Florida and The Russell Home for Atypical Children.
“We want this event to grow, so we can reach more children,” Kirkpatrick said. “But to do that, we need more sponsors to step forward.”
It takes a lot of effort and manpower to pull off an event of this magnitude. CKF relies on volunteers, community businesses and organizations to help out with the details.
“We issue a fraternity [and] sorority challenge to local college students,” Bell said. “They are encouraged to conceive of and decorate theme rooms in the haunted house. The students have a lot of fun.”
As an added incentive, CKF picks a winner for the most creative room and writes a grant to the children’s cause of their choice.
CKF welcomes anyone who is looking for volunteer opportunities to help them with events throughout the year.
In addition to directly affecting the children who enjoyed last year’s Halloween SPOOKtacular, CKF was able to disburse funds to The Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families, which is part of the Arnold Palmer Hospital For Children. This year, CKF hopes to add more beneficiaries and continue its mission to help make a difference in the lives of children, one dream at a time. Kirkpatrick is a firm believer that every child should be encouraged to go after their dreams and not let anything hold them back.
In addition to running CKF, Kirkpatrick continues to travel the country to support charities outside Central Florida, but time management is key, as he still is actively involved in the music industry.
His newest venture is Nigels 11, a band whose sound can be classified as pop rock.
“We just finished an album and are looking either for a record label or considering distributing it ourselves,” Kirkpatrick said.
The band members, led by Kirkpatrick, wrote, mixed and produced all of the songs. Fans can hear a preview of their sound by visiting www.nigels11.com or following wearenigels11 on Twitter.
Based on his experience with ‘N Sync, Kirkpatrick understands the many components and costs involved in producing albums. He created Working Class Industry, a one-stop production company for independent and major-label artists. The independent company offers graphic design, writers, producers, a full recording studio, merchandising, promotional and marketing resources, Web site design and many other services at below industry-standard rates.
“I’m glad we are an option for bands with a lot of potential but not necessarily a lot of money to spend,” Kirkpatrick said.
More information about the company’s services can be found at www.workingclassindustry.com on the Web.
If all of this is not enough to keep Kirkpatrick busy, fans can listen to him every Friday from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. on XL106.7-FM’s Johnny & Jayde in the Morning radio show.
While his accomplishments in the music industry are certainly impressive, Kirkpatrick is quick to say that he gets the most reward and satisfaction sharing his good fortune with those in need.
“I try to use what I have to help out wherever I can,” Kirkpatrick said.
For more information about volunteer or sponsorship opportunities with the Chris Kirkpatrick Foundation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.chriskirkpatrickfoundation.com on the Web.
10 Fun Facts About Chris Kirkpatrick
• Fears: flying, heights and ghosts
• Favorite cars: Cadillac Escalade and Shelby Cobra Mustang
• Favorite candy: Nerds Rope
• Favorite movie quote: “Are you serious, Clark?” (from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation)
• Loves all cartoons, especially the classics
• Favorite album: Queen — Greatest Hits
• Addiction: infomercials
• Favorite TV celebrity: the late Billy Mays
• Favorite nonalcoholic drink: orange juice
• Voice of the heartthrob pop star Chip Skylark on Nickelodeon’s The Fairly OddParents.
-- Front Southwest Orlando Bulletin