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Atlanta's Ronnie DeVoe discusses BET New Edition miniseries starting Jan. 24

This was posted on Friday, January 20, 2017 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Between the Jackson 5 and New Kids on the Block, there was New Edition, the biggest boy band of the 1980s.

For more than a decade, members of the group have been trying to get their stories turned into a biopic. But they had to have everyone clear their life stories. Former Atlantan and the group's most notable bad boy Bobby Brown resisted for a long time.

Once Brown cleared the way, BET quickly picked "The New Edition Story" up and turned it into an ambitious three-day, six-hour miniseries covering their hardscrabble Boston upbringing through their 2005 BET 25th Anniversary appearance.

Ronnie DeVoe of New Edition  has been an Atlanta resident since 2001.

"We didn't come up in the age of social media," said DeVoe, looking far younger than his 49 years during breakfast at the Loews Atlanta Hotel earlier this month. "People are still intrigued about what the inner workings  of the group were. They see the facade, what we do on stage. Why wasn't Bobby around? Why did Johnny Gill show up? You've seen Bobby's history more than anybody else but here, you get to learn more about me and Ricky [Bell] and Michael [Bivins] and the other guys.

Keith Powers, who plays DeVoe in the miniseries, said going in, he knew none of the back story but was familiar with the hits, from the bubblegum pop of "Candy Girl" and "Cool it Now" to the solo and spin-off hits such as "My Prerogative," "Rub You the Right Way" and "Poison."

"My dad was a super Bobby fan," said Powers. "My mom was into Ralph Tresvant and Ronnie. It was cool to get this history lesson."

The series features the actors performing all the big hits in period gear. They didn't lip sync. With help from producers Babyface and Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, they did meticulous re-creations of the original hits.

"I walked in one of of their performances and heard them sing 'Candy Girl,' " DeVoe said. "I honestly thought it was us!"

The core New Edition members were discovered by Brooke Payne as preteens in the late 1970s. (He remains their manager today.) In 1982, they scored their first hits under Maurice Starr, who later founded New Kids on the Block. After their first tour, they were flabbergasted to receive checks for $1.87 each.

The excuses management gave them were along the lines of, "You gotta pay your dues," DeVoe said. "You have to get ripped the hell off before you get to start reaping the benefits of your work."

They soon split from Starr and sued, switching to MCA Records.

DeVoe credits Bivins for being the most reasonable voice in the group over the years, the one who had the best handle of the business side. "Mike wasn't in the lead position as far as talent or stage presence, but he took the lead a lot internally," DeVoe said. "When we began to unravel, Mike was pivotal in at least uncovering some of the stuff that was going on."

Surprisingly, the series treats Starr relatively gently. "I don't think Maurice was the ultimate bad guy," DeVoe said. "He was the name. It wasn't him alone."

By 1985, the band began to splinter internally. Brown wanted to be top dog and ego battles led to the other group members booting him out in late 1985. In 1987, Johnny Gill took Brown's place.

The group eventually broke up in 1990 and Bell, Blivins and DeVoe created side group Bell Biv DeVoe. Gill and Brown also had successful solo careers. Over the years, some members struggled with tax issues and bankruptcies.

"We were never taught as young black men about 401Ks or IRAs," DeVoe said. "We thought the money coming in would never stop. We had that invincibility mentality until one day, we woke up and wondered, 'Where did all the money go?' "

When DeVoe moved to Atlanta, he became a realtor as a way to supplement his income.

Fortunately, New Edition's popularity as a concert draw has only grown in recent years. He said in the early 2000s, they were willing to take $40,000 a concert. Now they can easily command $100,000 or more.

"New Edition was always the mother ship," DeVoe said. "Even when I was part of Bell Biv DeVoe, our intent was to keep New Edition moving. Any time we had the opportunity to get back together, my vote was yes."

The timing is right. Their core fans are now in their 40s. "They're CEOs," he said. "They're general managers. They have disposable income to relive the things they loved while growing up."

The series covers more than 20 years of history, complicating casting. They had to cast five lookalikes as preteens, then five more who could play them from mid teens into their 30s.

In the second hour, while the younger versions are singing "Is This the End," they morph into their older selves midsong. This was the somewhat awkward way to segue them into adulthood as the group was breaking big.

They technically could have cast five more actors to play 12 to 15 year olds, but just finding the actors they did was difficult enough, said Jesse Collins, an executive producer.

"We got lucky" with the younger cast members, Collins said. "We wanted to take them as far as we could, then bring in the adults."


"The New Edition Story," 9 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, two hours each night, BET

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.