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The Top 15 Former Boy-Bander Solo Debuts

Variety logo Variety 5/12/2017 Jeremy Blacklow
© Provided by Variety

As One Direction’s Harry Styles gets ready to release his self-titled debut solo album this week, he joins a long canon of former boy band members who have made the leap to a solo career.

Only time will tell where Styles will ultimately land in the ex-Boy Bander canon. However, following a promising “Saturday Night Live,” debut (in which he also acted in several sketches), and an upcoming week-long residency on James Corden’s “Late Late Show,” he seems to be headed on a trajectory that’s more along the lines of Nick Jonas than Nick Carter.

Looking back over the decades, former Boy Banders have reached varying degrees of success. Ranging from careers consisting of single solo hits — to becoming some of the biggest pop stars of all time — their careers truly run the gamut. We decided to look back at 15 of our favorites.

15) Jordan Knight

Our list kicks off with a solo career from one of the most popular boy bands of all time — New Kids on the Block. Resident heartthrob Jordan Knight attempted to strike out on his own in 1999 with “Give It To You,” which was written by a young Robin Thicke. However, after failing to gain much traction, he later returned to touring with his bandmates (quite successfully, we may add!).

14) Ashley Parker Angel

Remember O-Town? The band resulted from the first season of MTV’s “Making the Band” in 2000. Ashley Parker Angel was the blonde baby-faced breakout star who later took things solo in 2006. His debut single, “Let U Go,” was a hit that year and Angel toured with Ashlee Simpson. Although he never quite replicated his initial success in pop music. Although he turned down an offer to reunite with O-Town in 2011, Angel has gone on to have a successful Broadway career in shows including “Hairspray” and “Wicked.”

13) Nick Lachey

2006 was a big year for former Boy Banders who decided to try the solo thing for the first time. In addition to Ashley Parker Angel’s debut, former 98 Degrees leading man Nick Lachey also released his biggest solo hit, “What’s Left Of Me,” which quickly stormed its way up the charts. Of course, Nick’s post 98 Degrees fame was based more upon his reality TV show (MTV’s “Newlyweds”) and competition show hosting career (NBC’s “The Sing-Off”), as well his marriages to both Jessica Simpson and Vanessa (Minnillo) Lachey (who co-starred in the “What’s Left Of Me” music video). However, Nick’s always had a strong set of pipes on him, so no doubt the door of goodwill likely remains open for him should he ever choose to make music again someday.

12) Nick Carter

Out of the Backstreet Boys, Nick is the only one to chart on our list, due mostly to his short 2002 solo career anchored by singles “Help Me” and “I Got You.” Like the New Kids, the Backstreet Boys are indeed back (alright!) thanks to their hugely popular current residency in Vegas.

11) Nathan Sykes

Brit boy band The Wanted burned brightly from 2010 to 2014, but Nathan, the group’s youngest, has since established himself as a pop force to be reckoned with. He released his first two hits — ”Kiss Me Quick” and “Over and Over Again” (feat. Ariana Grande) in 2015. (the former of which hit #1 on the Dance/Club charts). His debut solo album debuted in the fall of 2016. Sykes’ full solo potential may still yet to be reached. He’s definitely one to watch!

10) Donny Osmond

You may know him more from his duets with sister Marie, but Donny Osmond began his career as part of Mormon boy band the Osmond Brothers, before going on to become a ‘70s teen idol. These days, he’s still performing with Marie at the Flamingo hotel in Vegas.

9) Zayn Malik

Harry’s former bandmate was the first One Direction-er to go solo, leaving the band in 2015 to pursue a solo career. Lead 2016 single “PIllowtalk” was a worldwide hit and Zayn (he goes by his first name only these days) achieved more recent success dueting with Taylor Swift on “I Don’t Want To Live Forever.” (for the “Fifty Shades Darker” soundtrack) There’s no doubt that his career will be the one Styles’ is most compared to.

8) Omarion

From the “Bump Bump Bump”-in debut of B2K in the early-2000s emerged a solo star who’s still cranking out the hits. Omarion’s solo album debut, “O,” debuted at the top of the charts in 2005 and even earned him a Grammy nomination. Three more successful albums have followed and he’s reportedly working on his latest release for later this year.

7) Robbie Williams

While former Take That (1990 – 95 & 2009 – 2012) bad boy Robbie Williams never quite achieved the success on U.S. shores as he did in his native U.K., his solo career has been an impactful one indeed. His 1997 hit single “Angels” was voted the “Best Single of the Past Twenty-Five Years” at the 2005 BRIT Awards and he had a minor hit in 1998 in the U.S. with “Millenium.” 11 albums later and two decades of filling arenas around the world, his career is hardly anything to scoff at.

6) Bobby Brown

Say what you want about Bobby Brown and his personal life — the original bad boy of boy bands — but his solo music was the soundtrack to the late ‘80s. Brown got his start alongside his Boston childhood friends in New Edition, but his 1988 solo trifecta of “Don’t Be Cruel, “Every Little Step,” and “My Prerogative,” put him on the map as a singer who could deliver huge chart hits. New Edition also spawned solo careers for Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, and the breakout trio of Bell Biv DeVoe, but Brown was always the true star.

5) Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli’s career has been well documented in hit the Broadway musical (and subsequent film) “Jersey Boys.” After years of success as the falsetto voice behind The Four Seasons, Valli went solo and had several chart-topping successes, including his most famous, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

4) Ricky Martin

Puerto Rican boy band Menudo underwent several lineups and various incarnations over 4 decades, but perhaps nothing is remembered more from their legacy than the spawning of the solo career of Ricky Martin. Although Ricky left the band in 1989, it took a full decade for him to emerge (seemingly overnight) as a full-fledged solo star. In 1999, he blazed out of the gates with his trademark hit single, “Livin’ la Vida Loca.” His debut English language album was certified platinum 7x over on the back of “Loca,” and he’s remained in the limelight since then.

3) Nick Jonas

The Jonas Brothers were manufactured Disney stars, known for their wholesome image and promise rings. While brothers Kevin and Joe both first made attempts at solo careers, it was Nick’s 2014 self-titled second album release that catapulted him to superstardom. (and ensuing full-on adult heartthrob status!) He followed it up in the fall of 2016 with his third solo album, “Last Year Was Complicated,” which he’s currently supporting and touring for. And the trajectory of his solo career has often been compared to the next person on our list. While Kevin had a reality show and Joe’s broken out this past year with his band DNCE, Nick proved to be the Jonas Brother who could carry a career on his own.

2) Justin Timberlake

Timberlake is truly the modern case study for “how to make it solo” after a boy band career. Following his departure from NSYNC (did they ever really officially breakup?), JT went solo for the first time in 2002 with his album “Justified” and singles “Like I Love You” and “Cry Me A River” (the video for which mocked his breakup with Britney Spears) and a string of chart-topping hits followed from there. Emulating his idol, Michael Jackson, Timberlake’s achievements over the past 15 years are too numerous to list here. He’s gone to have one of the most successful solo music careers of all time, along with establishing himself as both an actor and (more recently) a film scorer. Is there anything Timberlake can’t do?

1) Michael Jackson

Will there ever be a more successful former Boy Bander than the King of Pop? From the ashes of the Jackson 5 rose one of the world’s greatest performers of all time. From his debut in 1969, through his passing in 2013, MJ entertained the world over the course of 6 decades, delivering the best-selling album of all time (“Thriller,” 1982) along the way. Michael Jackson will always be remembered as a true visionary and there very well may never be another to come along quite like him.

Former Boy Bander Honorable Mentions: Niall Horan, Joey McIntyre, JC Chasez, Brian Littrell, Joe Jonas, Johnny Gill, Ralph Tresvant, Joe Jonas

(note: There’s a strong argument to be made about including the solo careers of The Beatles in our list. In this case, we subjectively decided not to include them in this list)

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