Idol Maker

Johnny Wright Manages The Pop World's Top Acts

Three teen idols - Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC - dominate today's pop music scene. Together, they sell millions of records, make millions of dollars and have millions of fans.

The also have something else in common: manager Johnny Wright.

"I know what a star is to me," Wright tells Troy Roberts. "Now it's my job to go out and convince the world of that."

Spears calls him "a great friend, a talent, a cool guy." NSYNC's Justin Timberlake and Chris Kirkpatrick call him a master of the music business. "He goes beyond what a manager should do," says Timberlake. "You can tell he always takes pride in making sure the acts he's involved with have a great show."

Wright, 41, started small in Cape Cod., Mass., as a music-loving teen-ager with dreams.

"My mother plays keyboards," he says. "She was an organist for the church. So she had a musical background and I used to hear her all the time, playing music and she was a big record fan – Al Green, Marvin Gaye."

When she wasn't around, Wright would sneak into her collection and start playing different records.

Wright says that success is often being in the right place at the right time. Maybe that's because he was a small-town disc jockey in the 1980s when he got a call that would change his life.

"All of a sudden I get a call, he says 'I got these five guys I'm gonna put them on the road, can't afford a big bus. I know you have a friend who has a little van. Can you drive 'em around for 3 weeks?'"

Three weeks became four and a half years and the group he was driving around was New Kids on the Block.

With the band's success, Wright's career was launched; he rose from driver to roadie to manager, becoming among the first African-Americans with such a position in pop music.

"I think this is an industry where the only color that's important is green," Wright says, adding that anyone with a hit can do well.

Over the next 10 years, Wright found himself in the right place at the right time over and over again. That remarkable timing has yielded substantial rewards: the Backstreet Boys have grossed more than $150 million dollars in record sales, NSYNC, $250 million. In four years, Britney Spears has earned more than $200 million.

Wright says taking on 16-year-old Spears back in 1998 was something of a risk because anytime you put a female act with like an act like NSYNC or Backstreet Boys, you risk alienating the female fans in the audience.

He helped her develop her flashy performances and got her on the right tours.

A millionaire many times over, Wright has his music headquarters and recording studio, not in Los Angeles or New York, but in a resort-like setting in a homey subdivision of Orlando, Fla.

It has a pool, bowling alley, volleyball court, putting green, and jacuzzis, all designed to stimulate his clients' creativity.

"We decided to make it comfortable," Wright says, "so if people were in the studio and they were having a creative problem, they could run out and jump in the pool, go play volleyball get on jet skis, play basketball, play golf to bring back those creative juices."

Always looking for the next big thing, Wright is now grooming Triple Image, a sister act with Brianna, Bridget and Britney, with an eye on the Tween audience – 12 and younger. Triple Image's first album makes its debut Aug. 13, and then the group will go on tour with Aaron Carter in August and September.

Wright claims there is no winning formula. "If you don't have a hit record," he says, "it doesn't matter how good-looking the guys are, or how well they can dance or how well they sing."

In the end, Wright claims he was blessed. "There's a higher plan here than what I have on paper," he says.
  • Mary-Jayne McKay

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