By Kaitlin MacRae
Was it hot in the BLC Tuesday night or was it just Drew Lachey?
The former 98 Degrees singer and Dancing with the Stars champion heated up the Bart Luedeke Center Theater on Tuesday night, where he discussed his career and inspired the star-struck listeners to follow their dreams in his lecture, 98 Degrees and Rising.
“I am the younger, better-looking Lachey brother,” he joked early on. “[And] yes, I look taller on TV.”
Lachey, a native of Cincinnati, attended the School for the Creative and Performing Arts, now featured on the MTV show, Taking the Stage. There he became a vocal and instrumental music and drama major.
“Growing up, performing is what I did,” he said. “At this school, you were cool if you got the lead in the musical. It was like a nerd’s paradise.”
However, his childhood dream was not to perform; rather, it was to serve his community.
“I knew exactly what I wanted to do,” he said. “I was going to do emergency search and rescue.”
That dream eventually led him to the Army, an experience that helped him to mature. While in the Army, he became a combat medic.
“For me, it was the first time that I really felt empowered,” Lachey said. “Going through school, I was a little bit of a screw up. When I joined the Army I was a good soldier.”
After the Army, he continued to pursue a career in emergency search and rescue. He attended medic school in Texas and became a nationally registered EMT, but he gave up a job opportunity to move to New York with his future wife. While living there, he became an EMT at a young age.
However, his first call ended in tragedy rather than triumph.
“The lady died on my stretcher,” Lachey said. “Humbling. I was 18 years old, I thought I was invincible and [this woman] died in my hands.”
Although he stuck with the career after that, Lachey soon received a phone call that would ultimately change his life. His brother, Nick, who had moved to L.A. to pursue a singing career, asked Drew if he’d be interested in joining his band.
Torn about which path to take, Lachey sought advice from his father, who advised him to take the chance while he had it. He then moved to L.A., where he became a member of 98 Degrees, along with his brother, Justin Jeffre and Jeff Timmons.
After signing to Motown Records in 1996, the group’s first single, “Invisible Man,” dropped at No. 10 on the music charts, a hit for a boy band, he said. Soon after, though, 98 Degrees experienced several blows to its flourishing career.
“We didn’t know if our career was going to move forward,” Lachey said.
But it did, big time. 98 Degrees returned with the single, “The Hardest Thing,” a recording the band initially hated and put on its CD, 98 Degrees and Rising, as a last resort. Little did they know it would become a sensation.
As popular music began to change, 98 Degrees “embarked on [its] last tour” in September 2001. On Sept. 11, the world stopped, and so did 98 Degrees.
After watching the World Trade Center collapse from Newark Airport that day, Lachey contemplated re-enlisting in the Army. Instead, he decided to move back to L.A. to become an actor. He didn’t work for over two years.
“People don’t want Drew Lachey from 98 Degrees,” he said. “They want somebody with no name, no baggage. I didn’t know what direction my life was going to take.”
During that time, Lachey and his former road manager formed a management company that included Nick Lachey as a client. While managing his brother, Lachey received a phone call from producer Deena Katz. Then came Dancing with the Stars.
“[Dancing with the Stars] allowed me the opportunity to show the world what I was made of,” he said. “It allowed me to do corporate events [and] to do hosting. It opened this whole world for me where I get to be myself. I’m not trying to be anybody other than who I am.”
Part of Lachey’s new world included roles in Broadway’s Rent and Spamalot.
While he would love to continue acting on Broadway, his current undertakings involve producing three shows and being a father to his daughter, who he says is his greatest accomplishment.
Lachey’s overall message? Have an open mind. Live life with no regrets.
“Now is your time to take advantage of the opportunities and possibilities that life has,” he urged the audience. “You never know which one is going to be your 98 Degrees, your ‘Hardest Thing,’ your Dancing With the Stars. Those are the decisions that are going to change the course of your life. You never want to look back and say ‘what if?’”