On a summer day in 2008, Kim Huskinson and her cousin arrived at Mall of America before sunrise, resolute in their mission: to meet New Kids on the Block. It’s the boy band that defined Huskinson’s childhood. Their posters covered her bedroom walls; the first line of their hit, “Tonight,”—you know the one, “Remember when we said, girl, please don’t go…”—made her swoon. Huskinson was 31 at the time the NKOTB reunion tour came to the Mall, but when she stepped into the line of super fans at 6 a.m., it was as if she was 13 again, seeing them in concert for the first time at Met Center—on the very same grounds the Mall now occupies. “My two key moments with them were at the same place,” she recalled, wistfully. Full circle.
NKOTB is back in the Twin Cities this week for a concert at Xcel Energy Center. Huskinson won’t be there, because she said she could never top her 2008 NKOTB encounter at the Mall.
After waiting 14 hours for the three-song mini concert, it was finally time for a meet and greet with the first 500 fans, including Huskinson and her cousin. The rules were strict: band members would sign each fan’s lanyard. No photos. No handshakes. Keep moving. First was Jordan Knight, who seemed a bit aloof. Then Joey McIntyre, who laughed at Huskinson’s best attempt at a cheeky comment. Next was Jonathan Knight, her cousin’s favorite. Huskinson went for it: “Jon,” she said, pulling her cousin in front of him, “you pointed to her in 1990. We were in the 150th row. Remember?” He played along! “Of course I remember,” he told the two. “How could I forget?’”
Huskinson got so caught up in the exchange that she didn’t even notice Donnie Wahlberg sitting there, waiting. She blurted out, “Hi Donnie. How are you?” And then it happened. The moment every obsessed school girl dreams of: “I’d be a lot better if you gave me a hug,” Wahlberg said to her. He stood up. They embraced. They crowd erupted in applause.
The immediate aftermath is a blur for Huskinson. “I think we had a meltdown. I’m sure people walking by us could not figure out why these two 30ish women were screaming in front of Barnes & Noble.”
Dreams fulfilled at the Mall
Throughout its 25 years, Mall of America has hosted just about every boy band that ever made a girl cry: Boyz II Men, Hanson, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, ‘N Sync, Jonas Brothers, Big Time Rush, Five Seconds of Summer, One Direction.
If playing New York’s Madison Square Garden means a band has arrived, appearing at Mall of America has long signaled the big breakthrough—a rite of passage for bands on the brink of superstardom, and the place they return to, again and again, to reconnect with fans. What better place to find them? The Mall offers something you can’t get on Snapchat: an opportunity for boy band devotees to get up close and personal with their favorite performers, or at least buy a life-size cardboard likeness of Harry Styles, as fans did in 2013 when the 1D World shop popped up at the Mall.
“This is a mall every artist has heard of,” said Falen Bonsett, co-host of The Dave Ryan Show on iHeart Radio’s KDWB. “It’s a great platform for getting music in front of all these people, it’s a great experience for fans. A free show! Nothing is free anymore.”
Bonsett, who grew up devoted to Hanson, said she’s lost count of the women who’ve shared with her their stories of skipping school to see ‘N Sync at the Mall in 1999 (unfortunately their autograph signing session was cut short when a water balloon dropped from the balcony).
Water balloons aside, Bonsett said, “Every artist knows when they get to Mall of America, they’re moving up.”
And making dreams come true for fans of all ages. Just ask Kim Huskinson.