One-on-One with Joey Fatone, Orlando’s Hometown Guy
The NSYNC star and his childhood friend talk about their love of the City Beautiful, building a hot dog dynasty and the makings of the famous boy band
Years before the famous boy band NSYNC made him a household name, talented singer/actor Joey Fatone was smitten with music and entertainment. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Fatone grew up with a musical father who performed in a doo-wop group called the Orions.
In 1990, Fatone, then 13, moved with his family to Orlando where he attended Dr. Phillips High School, auditioned for plays and created the Big Guys, a four-man a cappella group. In 1995, the baritone met Chris Kirkpatrick, his future NSYNC bandmate, while performing in Universal Studios Florida’s “Beetlejuice’s Rock and Roll Graveyard Revue” as the werewolf “Wolfie.” Later that year, NSYNC was formed in Orlando and launched in Germany by BMG Ariola Munich. Together with Kirkpatrick, JC Chasez, Justin Timberlake and Lance Bass, the band became one of the hottest musical groups in the world, selling more than 70 million records and completing multiple tours.
In 1995 I became friends with Chris Kirkpatrick, who was also working at Universal. I knew Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez from the Mickey Mouse Club, and these guys were getting a group together. I became the fourth member, and then Lance Bass the fifth. We sounded like shit at first.
Since NSYNC completed its final tour in 2002, Fatone has kept busy with enviable gigs, many of which became milestones in his stellar entertainment career. He appeared in the 2002 hit film My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the following year in The Cooler. He made his Broadway debut in Rent, and later was a lead performer in a revival of the popular musical comedy, Little Shop of Horrors. In 2007, he wowed TV audiences by coming in second for his performance on ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. The singer hosted a karaoke game show for NBC called Singing Bee and joined TV Guide’s red carpet team with Lisa Rinna. (His outgoing personality has always endeared him to celebrities and audiences.)
These days Fatone, 45, is often in Orlando working on a variety of projects with his childhood friend and manager Joe Mulvihill, owner of Livewire Entertainment. When he isn’t performing onstage, hosting game shows or cutting up with the Impractical Jokers, Fatone is busy being a father to his two daughters: Briahna, 21, and Kloey, 12.
Fatone and Mulvihill recently sat down with Flamingo to discuss their work and their unabashed love for Orlando.
What do you guys like the most about Orlando?
Fatone: I am always on when traveling and performing, especially in Los Angeles. When I’m home, I’m home. Orlando allows me to relax, reflect, be with my family and unwind without hustle and bustle. It makes me normal.
Mulvihill: I like the ease of Orlando. Life is hard. Orlando has good schools, and it’s a nice place to raise children. The weather is great, there are beautiful lakes, and the location is perfect because there are plenty of easy drives to get away when needed.
Does an international star like Joey Fatone miss out on anything by not living in Los Angeles or New York?
Fatone: We know what it’s like to be in Australia, Japan, Alaska, and of course Los Angeles and New York. I go when I have work, and I know it’s better all-around to live in Orlando. Being here all these years has been great for my career.
Mulvihill: Joey is right. I sold three TV shows on the phone and flew to Los Angeles to finalize them. I was told that as a manager in the entertainment industry I had to move to Los Angeles, but it is not true. When I am there, I see who I have to see and then leave—it’s a time thing. I come home to Orlando, the city I love. My office is close to my house, and we get most everything done here.
Joey, you moved to Orlando because your mom was keen on warmer weather. What was it like at first as a young teen starting over in a new city?
Fatone: I sat in our house at first because I didn’t know anyone in Orlando. I missed my friends from New York. But eventually things changed, and I was happy in Orlando after I made new friends and got involved with entertainment. All turned out to be good.
You and Joe seem joined at the hip. How did you two meet?
Fatone: Joe was a classmate of my sister’s at Dr. Phillips High School. We met at Universal Studios when I was doing Beetlejuice. Joe was interested in entertainment, and we got to know each other then.
Mulvihill: I thought Joey was a young and energetic kid. He was complaining about having to go to summer school to graduate from high school because he was so busy with entertainment activity. Everyone liked Joey because of his personality. He was an outgoing, experimental kid—a really good kid.
Was it tempting to spend more time with acting than academics?
Fatone: Yes! As my high school years went on, I did a lot more show business activity than school assignments. I worked at Disney briefly, then did a lot for Universal. I was singing and performing. As a junior and senior in high school, I was living in an adult world. I wasn’t even 21 and couldn’t go to many places. Everyone around me was older.
What did you like about entertainment in general?
Fatone: I loved everything about it, especially the creative side. My dad sang, so it was in my makeup. I write songs, screenplays, enjoy it all.
Mulvihill: Joey is a sponge. He did four or five shows a day of Beetlejuice for two years!
How did you get involved with NSYNC, the band for the ages?
Fatone: In the summer of 1995, I became friends with Chris Kirkpatrick, who was also working at Universal. I knew Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez from the Mickey Mouse Club, and these guys were getting a group together. I became the fourth member, and then Lance Bass the fifth. But we sounded like shit at first.
Mulvihill: The guys wanted to create a boy band, so they came and watched Joey perform. Once together, they got a call to go to Germany, and in 48 hours flew over. They rehearsed the same five songs until they were polished and good enough to get a record contract.
Then what happened with the group’s debut studio album “’N Sync”?
Fatone: Our debut album was first released to European countries in 1997, and later debuted in the U.S. market with our single “I Want You Back.” For context, while we were in Europe, Grunge, alternative rock, etc. was in the States. Bands like Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls, and singer Britney Spears actually opened the door for us. But in 1996, we came to America, sang at an Orlando Predators game, and got booed.
Then how did you rise to U.S. stardom after that?
Fatone: We rehearsed for a year and got really prepared. We also had acquired a fan base in Germany. It took three or four years for us to get established in America. Then we really took off.
Where did you live when you came back to the U.S. as part of NSYNC?
Fatone: I lived with my parents and out of a car in Orlando until I was 20 years old. The next year I bought a house at Lake Gloria Preserve in Orlando. Our family never had a house. I also started buying cars for all of my family members. I now have a smaller house in the Orlando area near restaurants and theme parks. It’s a place I am so happy to come home to after traveling for work.
NSYNC was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018. Do you still perform with any of the NSYNC guys?
Fatone: Yes! In 2013, we joined Justin [Timberlake] when he received the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award at the MTV Video Awards. He surprised everyone by gathering the gang to perform our hits “Girlfriend” and “Bye Bye Bye.” Then, earlier this year, Lance, Chris and I helped World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star Alexis Bliss say “Bye Bye Bye” to the single life when she married singer Ryan Cabrera in California. We actually performed our song with her at the wedding. So we still get together for private engagements, etc. We have a great time.
With your work in music, appearances on TV programs like Impractical Jokers (truTV) and movie roles, plus performing in a variety of large and small events, how did you find time to develop the concept of Fat One’s, your retail food business in Orlando?
Fatone: I am so happy to have survived the pandemic with my favorite hot dogs. Fat One’s is our food truck that offers customers a variety of jumbo beef hot dogs, authentic Italian ice and specialty lemonade. I like this side business a lot, and we want to open a Fat One’s brick-and-mortar store in Orlando sometime soon. I look forward to that, and from there we’ree looking for other expansion opportunities.
What other projects are you involved with in Orlando?
Fatone: I do private gigs for resorts around here. I like to entertain with my friends at various places, including Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival (this year from July 14–Nov. 19). I am also an ambassador for Hilton
Grand Vacations. All year long, we do events at Universal, gigs at Disney and concerts at Sea World.
Mulvihill: I am always looking for ways to bring our work to Orlando. I love for Joey to have a lot of performing and business interests right here at home when possible. Orlando is a unique place, always growing and perfect for our business.
I hear you are a theme park junkie when you are in Orlando.
Fatone: It’s true. I enjoy the hospitality and the industry in general. I really love everything about the parks.
Mulvihill: No matter how busy Joey is with work he finds time to visit Disney once a month!
What do you do in your spare time other than hit the theme parks?
Fatone: I love to do things with my daughters here in Orlando or attend fun events with them out of town. Joe and I took our daughters to the Kentucky Derby in May. It was such a blast.
Mulvihill: We sit in the same seats every year. It is one of the best events ever—very enjoyable for us, especially this year with our daughters.
What new performing gigs do you have this summer?
Fatone: I am going to start shooting Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 in July. I was in the first two films—Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002 and the sequel” in 2016—and now gearing up for sequel 3. We’ll be filming in Greece.
Do you have any regrets, life lessons you learned after being such a big star, especially starting out as a teen?
Fatone: When I was younger, I did a lot of stupid things, made bad decisions, etc. But I always learn from my mistakes. Now, I am happy to still love my life in Orlando. I feel so comfortable here. Joe and I make an effort to continuously bring as much of our work to Orlando as possible.
Your advice to others?
Fatone: During the last two years, I think we have all learned that we need to enjoy our lives every day because we never know what could land on our plates for the future.
Mulvihill: We want people to share our joy and love of life in Orlando. We are not here that long, so we need to slow down and enjoy what we do. Joey and I want to lead good quality lives in the city that we love.