Backstreet Boys Kickoff Draws Young And Young At Heart

Despite shift toward grown-up image, BSB still big among the mouse-ears set.

ORLANDO, Florida — The home of Walt Disney World is, to say the least, a kid-friendly town.

Despite the Backstreet Boys' recent shift toward a more grown-up image and more adult contemporary-leaning balladry, the crowd that turned out for their tour-opening concert Friday night included more than its share of very, very young fans.

"I like the songs and stuff," said John James, a 6-year-old from Charleston, West Virginia.

James was one of the many children — some still wearing mouse ears — whose families had worked a little BSB into a Disney World vacation.

But not every fan among the thousands who flocked to the downtown TD Waterhouse Centre — many with Backstreet-themed face paint, T-shirts and signs — was too young to remember a Backstreet-free world.

John's 30-something mother, Lyn, said she's loved BSB since 1994, when she saw them here in the group's hometown during another Disney World trip.

Christie Arkenau, a 30-year-old from Sarasota, Florida, wore a laminate around her neck advertising her membership in the Backstreet Boys' Mature Fan Club, which only accepts members over 25.

"The boys know all about us — they support us," Arkenau said. "I think they're pioneers in their music. It's a shame this town doesn't support them."

Fellow Orlando-spawned groups 'NSYNC and O-Town have robbed BSB of hometown support, she argued.

But don't tell 21-year-old Hannah Bright that 'NSYNC might be just a little more popular than BSB these days. "They are not," she said firmly.

Bright and two of her friends, all 21, split up the letters B, S and B on their respective T-shirts. One of Bright's friends, Cheryl Gallista, who like Bright is from Gainesville, said she hoped the group would notice their attire. "We're expecting them to see us, and they're gonna say, 'These girls are over 13, we gotta get together.'"

As fans waited in the arena, with the Backstreet Boys set to start, the room glowed blue from glow sticks sold to match the Boys' current favorite color scheme.

(For a full report on the concert, see "Backstreet Boys Show Fan Love At Tour Opener.")