Backstreet Boys Launch Black & Blue Tour

Thousands of teenage girls swarmed Times Square today trying to sniff out the exact whereabouts of the Backstreet Boys, who had just returned to the United States after completing a 100-hour tour over six continents and were hosting a press conference at an undisclosed location in the heart of the Big Apple.

Word had leaked about their media event somewhere in the teeming heart of midtown Manhattan, and fans were everywhere: camped outside the Virgin Megastore, waiting underneath MTV studios, even lurking anxiously about the Disney-ABC building, where the rolling ticker announced the arrival of the Boys' new album, Black & Blue. The Boys had landed, but on which back street?

Only about 500 fans — mostly winners of online and radio promotions — actually possessed the secret. Good reason to scream, which is what they did inside the venue, the Hudson Theater. As they waited, the new Backstreet single, "The Shape of My Heart," played repeatedly at deafening volume but was still drowned out by fans singing along and screaming "Black & Blue!" and "'N Sync sucks!"

The cries reached fever pitch when Howie, A.J., Nick, Kevin, and Brian made their entrance, dressed in blue shirts with black leather jackets. But clothing was the only apparent thing that was Black & Blue about the globetrotting quintet, only slightly bleary-eyed as they smiled through the conclusion of their whirlwind 100-hour promotional journey.

While the purpose of the conference was to unveil plans for their world tour, the Boys first treated the fans to a crooning a cappella rendition of "Shape of My Heart" before sitting down to entertain questions.

The audience, a mix of media crews and starry-eyed teens, posed mostly harmless questions to the Boys, though a couple of international journalists presented challenges. One asked if the quintet would record Black & Blue in Spanish for their enormous Latin fan base. The Boys responded by singing an impromptu Spanish rendition of "Shape of My Heart."

A young Venezuelan reporter, almost overcome with emotion, demanded to know why they had passed over Venezuela for Brazil's Rio de Janeiro as the South American stop on their four-day round-the-world tour. Howie D. offered heartfelt condolences and a promise to be in Caracas when the tour returns to South America.

A.J. backed away from his claim in an earlier interview that Black & Blue would break the combined first week sales records of the Backstreet Boys' Millennium and 'N Sync's No Strings Attached. "As long as our fans enjoy our new record, we're happy," he demurred. "It's not about quantity, it's about quality."

Getting down to business, the group announced that its Black & Blue world tour will kick off Jan. 22 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and continue across the U.S. through the spring. The group will then perform in Mexico, South America, and Europe, returning to do a second tour of the States in the summer. Though they announced a list of 23 cities — such as Oakland, Calif.; Grand Forks, N.D.; and Uniondale, N.Y. — dates and venues will not be released until Monday.

Asked if they knew how the new album was selling, Brian shouted, "Why don't we go find out now?" The Boys then jumped up and dashed out of the theater, down the street toward the Virgin Megastore — to make their next planned appearance. As they raced down the block, every girl in Times Square within earshot of the screams surged after them.

No mistake about it, the Boys are back in town.

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