Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to Raise Rock Stars

Denise Jonas, mom of the Jonas Brothers, opens up about how she keeps them grounded. Plus, download a free poster, watch behind-the-scenes video, and enter to win an autographed magazine and CD.

From food stamps to fame, it’s been a wild ride for Denise Jonas, mom of America’s biggest pop stars, the Jonas Brothers. Here, she opens up about how she keeps them grounded and makes her marriage work — plus the one parenting rule she will never, ever break

About a year ago, Denise Jonas took her family to a Bob’s Big Boy near Burbank, CA. As everyone began deciding between the fried chicken and cheeseburgers, in walked Kristy McNichol, the actress who starred in the late-1970s TV series Family and the 1980 film Little Darlings.

“She was just sitting there. My teenage idol!” Denise practically squeals, even now. At the restaurant, she turned her head all the way around just to watch McNichol sit down in a booth and open a menu. “I’d just loved her so much,” Denise says. “I did the whole thing — gasped, sucked the air out of the room.”

“Mom!” Denise’s kids said. “What’s wrong?!”

Her boys stared at Denise as if she might be ill. Finally one guessed, “Starstruck?”

The family burst out laughing. Denise’s family is the Jonas family, and her three oldest sons — Kevin, 21; Joseph, 19; and Nicholas, 16 — are the Jonas Brothers, arguably the world’s most popular band. The first weeks of their 2009 seven-month, sold-out international tour will take them from Lima to London. And at every concert, tween and teenage girls (as well as many of their moms) quiver, sob, scream, and sometimes faint. No wonder they are the youngest band ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. With their fourth studio album, Lines, Vines and Trying Times, just out and their booming TV and movie careers, the boys have the pop-culture landscape well covered.

If it has all been a wild ride since the brothers guest-starred on a 2007 Hannah Montana episode, nearly instant fame continues to be a surreal experience for the woman who gave birth to them all. People are starting to rubberneck at her.

“The other day I was in Walmart buying, you know, private things,” Denise says, her brown eyes sparkling. “And people were coming right over to my cart!”

Denise Jonas is caught in a Disney-magic-wand moment between the working class world she has always known and the fairy-princess fishbowl of fame where she will most likely live from now on. Little in her background prepared her for trips to the White House (seven so far), chats with Barbara Walters, and travel by private plane. When she was growing up in Newburgh, NY, her dad was employed by an exterminating company and later by the postal service, and her mom worked in public school education. Her family moved to Phoenix when she was a child. They were, Denise says, typical Italians — big on food (Grandma’s cooking comes up in interviews with the Jonas Brothers) and sacrifice for children. When Denise was young, the family converted from Catholicism to nondenominational Christianity, and after high school, Denise felt called to missionary work. “I had a heart to give my life to service. [But] I didn’t really know all I could do in that area,” Denise says. “After meeting my husband, we were able to work through music.”

Young Love

Denise and Kevin Jonas Sr. met on their very first day at Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas. The sweet-faced man with an intense demeanor (”He talked like he was going to conquer the world,” Denise recalls) had grown up dirt-poor in rural North Carolina with his single mother, and was considered a musical prodigy, singing professionally at age 7. Both Kevin and Denise say they fell for each other at first sight, right in the registration line. “He was talking about working at a summer camp with these young kids, and all his passion and heart for them. And I thought, ‘He could be a wonderful father someday.’”

Within six months of their meeting, Kevin proposed on bended knee; they were married on August 15, 1985. Both were just 18 years old. After graduation, Kevin Sr. became a worship director at an Assembly of God church in Wyckoff, NJ, but his heart lay with music. He soon left his job, and the family, which now included baby Kevin Jr., moved in with Denise’s parents in Arizona. “Kevin worked very diligently to learn the music industry from a songwriting perspective,” Denise remembers. “He’d fly to Nashville — just walking the street, walking into different places.”

For income, Kevin tried to help Denise’s parents, who had bought a carpet-installation business in Arizona. The venture didn’t go well at all. “We had to live on food stamps,” Denise recalls. “It was very hard on my husband. He was trying to do something good for the family, but the business wasn’t paying. It was a humbling time. Now we look back on it as a turning point — something necessary for us to go through so we could properly appreciate where we would be later.”
It’s a Family Affair

Though Kevin Sr. abandoned his dream of becoming a performer, he took a job that combined his Christian faith and love of music: directing a music program at his and Denise’s old institute. This required the family, which by the early 1990s included Kevin Jr. and baby Joe, to spend months at a time on the road in a 15-passenger van, meeting with students.

“We wanted [everyone] to feel joy in the presence of our children,” Denise says. “To me, there’s nothing more frustrating than being around a child who’s annoying. We taught our kids proper manners.” Denise’s methods: consistency, boundaries, and constantly “reinforcing good conduct until it was behavior. Because they’re going to be adults a lot longer than they’re children.”

Even now that her boys are rock stars, Denise holds a hard line on manners; it’s a key way she keeps them grounded while they’re surrounded by a world of glitz.

“It’s not like we’re the von Trapps, and she has a whistle,” says Kevin Jr.

“Yeah, but sometimes we’re running around like madmen,” says Nick. “And she makes us be careful in the hotel room — put back the towels, [straighten] the bed.”

A few years after Nick was born in 1992, Kevin Sr. received another job offer: to be senior pastor at their old church in Wyckoff. Thinking it would be a good place to raise their children — they couldn’t stay on the road forever (”Ha!” Denise now laughs) — they accepted.

Like virtually all mothers, Denise knows that each of her four children (there’s also 8-year-old Franklin, known as Frankie; see page 188) has his talents, but right away, she and Kevin Sr. could tell that Nick was different. He did not like the usual childhood pastimes — he didn’t want to play with LEGOs or watch TV (which Denise only let the boys watch on weekends). “The only thing Nick would watch was a DVD of Mary Martin in Peter Pan.”

Then he started singing — beautifully. One day when he was crooning at the salon where Denise got her hair done, another customer said, “He needs a manager.”

Find out how Nick, Joe and Kevin Jr. started their acting careers, plus how Denise and Kevin keep their marriage strong. Pick up a copy of the July issue of Good Housekeeping on your nearest newsstand.

Source: Good Housekeeping