By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Not long ago, Cincinnati's Nick Lachey was headed for the "Where are they now?" file: Name the lead singer for 98°, a boy band that sold a few million records in the late '90s?
That was before he pulled off 2003's biggest comeback as part of TV's hottest couple - Nick & Jessica.
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In October 2002, Lachey (pronounced La-shay), who turned 30 on Sunday, married teen-pop diva Jessica Simpson. The event was filmed by MTV and became the August premiere of Newlyweds. In this younger, sexier summer replacement for The Osbournes, MTVs cameras followed the young couple through their first year of marriage.
It was an instant phenomenon. Newlyweds was October's top-rated original series on cable. Such household matters as Jessica's confusion over Chicken of the Sea tuna ("Is this chicken?") or how much she overpays for underwear have become must-see TV (Newlyweds airs today at 1, 1:30 and 2 p.m.).
Newlyweds is now documenting their second year (six episodes will air in 2004). Today, Nick, who's still friends with his 98° pals (brother Drew and Justin Jeffre have been on the show) releases his solo debut, SoulO. It includes the Newlyweds theme, "This I Swear."
It seemed your career might be over after 98°. Now you're a household name. Surprised?
That's the funny thing about life, you never know which direction it's gonna take you. We had no idea the show was going to turn into the phenomenon it has.
Growing up in Cincinnati, did you ever dream that one day your wife would be on the cover of "Rolling Stone" in her underpants?
I can't say that dream ever went through my head. It's flattering. It's great for her. People ask me, 'Does it make you uncomfortable that your wife's a sex symbol?' No, I'm flattered. She's mine and she comes home with me and I'm honored to be married to such a woman.
How much did those underpants cost?
I did not purchase those. I have no clue.
How does it feel to be TV's hottest couple, the Lucy and Desi of the 21st century?
I don't think either one of us saw it coming. We thought we might have a nice little run. But to have the No. 1 show on all cable. That just blows my mind.
Is it hurtful, what people are saying about Jessica, her intelligence or lack thereof?
You don't like to hear anybody talk about your wife in a derogatory way. But when you do something like this you open yourself up to that kind of criticism, and the thing that I think makes it easier for me is she has such a great sense of humor about it. Make no mistake, Jessica is not stupid. You have to keep in mind that the show is about entertainment and it's edited in a way that makes it entertaining.
One thing that really makes the show work is that she's a bit spoiled and you're a regular Cincinnati guy.
I've been called cheap and all kinds of things and my defense to that is I live in a 6,400-square foot house and drive a nice car. I'm definitely not cheap, but what I do believe in is there's no point in needlessly wasting money. And I think that she's definitely more loose with her spending than I am. It's one of those compromises in marriage a lot of couples have to make.
In one episode Jessica's filming a very steamy video with you for "Sweetest Sin." What was that like?
If she's gonna do that kind of video, you better believe that I'm gonna be in it. I'm not gonna let another guy step in and do it. So I had to go hit the gym and get on a little diet and make sure I was gonna not embarrass myself. That was a lot of fun for us, and I think it's a side of her personality that she's a little more free to explore and reveal now that she's married.
Who's the most surprising "Newlyweds" fan you've met?
Shaquille O'Neal has got to be right at the top of the list. And I hear Britney's a huge fan of the show, and Justin Timberlake told us he watches the show every week.
Cincinnati has been featured on "Newlyweds." Are there plans to film here again?
Well, yeah. It's coming up on the holidays, obviously, so I'm sure they'll be following us there for the Christmas holiday. Anytime I'm home they're typically there with me. We definitely love to get the hometown whenever we can.
When you come back this year, what are your plans?
Christmas time, you gotta get the eggnog shake at UDF, peppermint ice cream from Graeter's. Chalk up a week as putting on 10 pounds, at least. But that's what the holidays are about, anyway.
What can we expect for the second season?
There's just no telling. We're just gonna live our life and they'll tape it. It's not reality, that things are perfect all the time and here's Nick and Jessica all lovey-dovey. We fight and we have our problems and issues like anyone else does. What we do as a career is extraordinary, but I think who we are as people is very normal.
Any plans to take Nick & Jessica on the road in 2004?
We're looking at trying to put together a tour for the early part of next year. She's got an album, I have an album and with the popularity of the show, there's a pretty good opportunity to go out and tour together, which would be great.
Nick to now
Nov. 9, 1973 - Nick Lachey is born in Harlan, Ky. He grows up in Cincinnati.
1992 - Graduates from the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. He performs around Cincinnati, including a stint in the Avenues, with boyhood pal Justin Jeffre.
1994 - Attends Miami University, studying sports medicine.
1995 - Drops out, moves to Los Angeles with Jeffre to form vocal group JustUs with Cincinnati's Jonathan Lippmann and Jeff Timmons of Massillon, Ohio.
1996 - Renamed 98°, the group signs with Motown. Lippmann leaves to act; Nick's brother Drew joins.
1998 - ...and Rising, the second 98° album, is released, sells 4 million.
1999 - The group has its biggest hit, "I Do (Cherish You)" and releases This Christmas.
2000 - Revelation is released; 98° shoots a Disney special at Covington's Waterfront. Nick sings on girlfriend Jessica Simpson's "Where You Are." It goes Top 10.
2001 - 98° is nominated for a Grammy for "Thank God I Found You."
2002 - The group announces a hiatus and releases 98 Degrees: the Collection. In October, Nick marries Jessica.
October 2003 - Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica tops ratings for original cable series.
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