Eric Elfstrom Joey McIntyre performs at Carnegie Hall on January 14, 2023.
In the summer of 1985, 12-year-old Joey McIntyre climbed up the creaky stairs of an old three-story brick building in Roxbury, Massachusetts, stood in the middle of a bright orange shag rug and, without hesitation, sang "L.O.V.E." by Frank Sinatra — a classic he had been singing around his house for as long as he could remember.
Almost 38 years later, McIntyre, now 50, walked onstage in front of a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall in New York City and led the audience on a joyful and emotional journey through his musical career — which included performing Sinatra's "L.O.V.E." again like he had that day when he first auditioned in front of producer Maurice Starr to become the fifth and final member of the boyband phenomenon New Kids on the Block.
"To say I've come a long way feels like a crazy understatement," says McIntyre, who spoke with PEOPLE the day after his debut performance at Carnegie Hall on Jan. 14th. "I remember being a kid in Maurice's living room, singing that Sinatra song in front of them, not really knowing what it meant and where life would take us from there. And now to be on stage at Carnegie all these years later, singing it to a room filled with the love of friends, family and fans. I'm just truly grateful for it all."
Eric Elfstrom Joey McIntyre and his sister Carol Gallagher
On this night, however, McIntyre really understood what it meant to be there in that moment. His setlist, a rollicking walk-down-memory-lane of solo hits, NKOTB favorites, standards, show tunes and cover songs, showcased his range as an entertainer, musical virtuoso and keen collaborator.
"I didn't want the entire night to be a whole 'this is my life' thing but it's hard to not do that when there are so many important moments and people who have allowed me to get here," he says.
"I felt very present the entire night. For something that was so monumental to me, I think the only thing I could have asked for was to just be present and not feel like the moment was too big," says McIntyre.
Eric Elfstrom Joey McIntyre and Debbie Gibson
The star peppered his nearly three-hour show with several surprise guest stars, like fellow '90s teen idol Debbie Gibson (the pair reimagined her 1989 hit "Lost in Your Eyes" as a duet), co-stars from his time in Broadway and off-Broadway productions of Wicked, Waitress and Tick, Tick … Boom!, and members of his own family including his sister Carol Gallagher and 15-year-old son Griffin, who played piano as the duo sang McIntyre's solo hit "Stay the Same."
Eric Elfstrom Joey McIntyre performs with his son Griffin.
"It was a really proud Dad moment for me," says McIntyre, who shares sons Griffin and Rhys, 13, and daughter Kira, 11, with his wife Barrett. "You know how they say the only way to get to Carnegie Hall is to practice, practice, practice? Well, that kid practiced, practiced, practiced and it showed."
One of the biggest surprise reveals of the night came when McIntyre brought his NKOTB bandmate Donnie Wahlberg on stage to sing another Sinatra classic for the Blockhead-filled audience.
Eric Elfstrom NKOTB members Jonathan Knight, Joey McIntyre, Jordan Knight, Danny Wood and Donnie Wahlberg
"It was incredibly special. I had the idea for Donnie to sing 'One for My Baby' because I knew it was something that was special and different and important to me. To step up and sing a song like that, that isn't necessarily in his repertoire, at Carnegie Hall was amazing and just part of the spirit of that night," says McIntyre.
Following Wahlberg's performance, McIntyre brought all the members of NKOTB — Wahlberg, Danny Wood and brothers Jordan and Jonathan Knight — on stage to perform their hits "You Got It (The Right Stuff)", "Please Don't Go Girl" and a personal "Happy Birthday" serenade to celebrate McIntyre's 50th birthday in December.
"I tried to tread lightly about asking them to be there because we're busy, five guys, and getting us on tour is a big deal. For a one-off, it's not always easy. So I started with Donnie and then asked everyone else, and they all said yes," says McIntyre, who performed with NKOTB last summer on the band's Mixtape 2022 tour. "I think the roof might have come off the hinges when they came up. The place went nuts."
"I couldn't have imagined doing a night like this without them there," he says.
Eric Elfstrom New Kids on the Block at Carnegie Hall
Throughout the performance, McIntyre says he made it a point to allow himself to "indulge in the feelings of the night" — even if that meant shedding a few "happy tears" on stage.
"It was hard not to get emotional up there. There were a couple of times that I couldn't help it, and I was squeezing the words out," he says. "I was kind of expecting it because it's just how I am, but I wanted to give myself space to feel it. When you're open and vulnerable, when you're around so much love and in that safe place, you have to give yourself permission to just let stuff come up and share it with those around you."
Eric Elfstrom Shoshana Bean and Joey McIntyre
As for what's next, McIntyre says his Carnegie performance felt "like a kickoff" for his plans to make his 50th year extra special.
"I've been saying to friends that I want to do 50 shows this year, so 50 for 50," says the star, although he admits that plans have not been finalized. "I'm just doing what I love to do, and taking it one day at a time but I think it'll all come together soon."
"It's good to have goals, and to work towards something that's important to you," says McIntyre, who will next star in Lifetime's latest V.C. Andrews tale Dawn. "It sounds cliché but it's about the journey. That's the gift, to be able to create and work on something with people that you love. I think that's what we're all looking for in life. I try to remember that it's not about, 'hey, you did it.' It's really about, 'hey, you're doing it!'"
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