When I was a kid I had my own Chippendales fantasy. The legendary ladies-only strippers would shimmy down to their G-Strings, shake their, um, assets, and show off their treasured chests and private booty with such glee I’d feel like Chrissy Columbus. Just when I thought I’d be exposed as a degenerate, I’d realize the men were dancing for me, telling me it’s acceptable for a male to go gaga for go-go boys.
I love it when dreams come true. In another example of modern times, civil rights, and very smart, um, packaging, the Chippendales dancers are now in Vegas, at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino, gay men are encouraged to attend, and, like the icing on that wishful cake, former 98 Degrees hunk Jeff Timmons fronts the show.
Timmons doesn’t strip down to his G-String like the other men (“I had a hard time undressing in front of my wife”), and he’s upfront about that decision. “After you see those guys you’ll know why I don’t do it,” he says, sounding like a kid who’s just been drafted into the big leagues. “They’re huge, over six feet; I don’t even hang with those guys.”
What Timmons does, besides take his shirt off and expose a mucho ripped torso, is sing a medley of 98 Degrees tunes along with his own material. He’s the frontman for the act, which has its own theater and lasts 75 minutes. Yep, the boy from the band is now the man in middle. Chippendales has gone gay-friendly, and, judging by Timmons’ almost unstoppable enthusiasm, he’s thrilled to be part of America’s new frontier.
“It’s the male version of the Pussy Cat Dolls or Playboy,” says Timmons. “Girls love ’em, guys love ’em. Every guy I know, gay or straight, says ‘I’m not gonna see that shit,’ until they go. It’s not in your face; it’s flirty, not dirty.” Gay men come alone or in groups, and, if there’s a birthday or, say, a wedding, Timmons will put the spotlight on the dudes and offer congratulations.
While homo-acceptance might seem new to Chippendales, it’s always been a part of Timmons’ background. 98 Degrees, as most people know, was made up of four extremely pretty men who could also sing. Girls weren’t the only ones dreaming about Nick, Drew, Justin, and Jeff, and the band members couldn’t have been more pleased.
“We were all raised un-prejudiced,” Timmons says of the Ohio-background band (right). “We were excited about any fans, straight, gay, black white, whatever.” Timmons says the label never shied away from the gay appeal and promoted them overseas that way. “In Germany, they thought they could break us in by having us do things for our gay fan base.”
What Motown Records did initially shy away from, ironically, were the guys’ faces. “They were trying to hide the fact that we were white,” says Timmons. “They wanted us to be really urban, and the president of Motown wanted to move us to Harlem; he thought it would rub off on our music… We were four white guys from the Midwest.” Timmons still laughs at the experience, which he says he loved even when it was frustrating. “They moved us to Brooklyn instead. They didn’t change the music, but they changed the marketing.”
When I told Jeff that I thought the last thing you’d do with attractive faces is to hide them, he spoke in hyper-speed, again. “That would be the logical idea, but record companies don’t think that way.”
98 Degrees differed from most boy bands in that they weren’t formed by a manager; Timmons founded the group and recruited the members. Their last performance together was on September 10, 2001, at the Michael Jackson Madison Square Garden concert. They never even broke up; like the world at the time, they just rethought their priorities and went their separate ways.
“I had a kid and another one on the way,” says Timmons. “Nick and Jessica had their show, we just did other stuff.” He adds that a reunion isn’t out of the question. “They were all in Vegas and we talked about performing together, but it’s still on the backburner.”
Timmons is scheduled to stay with Chippendales until September 4, and he’s not twiddling his thumbs waiting for the end. “They get in everywhere,” he says of his new crew. “They’re all celebrities here; there’s a mystique.” In that sense, it does sound like Playboy for guys, right down to the physical demands. Should a guy let calories get the best of him, says Timmons, “they’ll put him on probation and take him off promotions,” adding that age isn’t so important, but discipline is. “There’s a guy who’s over forty. As long as you look good, get to work, stay in shape, and know the routines, you’ll be fine.”
Timmons wasn’t describing his former gig, but the work ethic is pretty much the same. “It’s not a hard job,” he says, as if stating the obvious. “It’s fun. You perform for three hundred screaming girls and guys. As long as I’m having fun with it I’ll do it till I’m fifty.”
Chippendales, with its new kid on the block, isn’t about gay or straight, and it never really was. It’s about the thrill of sexuality, to whatever degree that takes you.