As he gears up for hosting nationwide radio takeover “Free Britney Radio”, 98 Degrees musician Jeff Timmons is opening up about rising to fame alongside the superstar and the lessons of that time which are coming into play as his own daughter pursues the spotlight.
Together with production company Benztown, Timmons is behind a radio takeover which will see stations rebrand as “Free Britney Radio” on Wednesday, which is when the 39-year-old singer’s conservatorship hearings continue in Los Angeles.
Hosted by Timmons and featuring Spears’ chart-topping hits, live crosses to the courthouse, covers and interviews, the pop-up station aims to show support for the singer from the radio industry, which has been playing her music daily since she broke out with “Baby One More Time” in 1998.
It was during that time that Spears’ ex-manager Larry Rudolph – who was 98 Degrees’ attorney at the time – invited Timmons and bandmates Justin Jeffre, Nick Lachey and Drew Lachey, to collaborate with her.
“He popped in the VHS tape of ‘Baby One More Time’ and said, ‘Look, she’s wanting to work with one of the boy bands. Everybody’s passed.’ We saw that video and were enamoured by it. We were like, ‘We’d love to work with her!’”
Timmons, 48, says the boy band planned to collaborate with Spears on her next song, but with their label, Motown Records, pushing them more towards R&B than pop, the collaboration never eventuated. However, they did end up touring with Spears and crossing paths throughout following years, with Timmons witnessing the songstress experience the same pitfalls of showbiz success as he did with 98 Degrees, who just released their new summer single, “Where Do You Wanna Go.”
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While he notes Spears’ experience of fame was on a whole other level, he recalls being overwhelmed when endless locals in his Ohio hometown wanted in on his success after 98 Degrees broke out with hits like “Invisible Man” and “Because of You”.
“I’m from a small town and at one point I was the laughing stock for quitting college to go pursue a singing career,” he says. “It was interesting to see how overnight, the same people who were cascading me out of the town, were wanting things. Distant cousins did exposes and people I wasn’t even friends with were wanting tickets or coming around to say they needed investment for different things.”
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“And, we were a very popular group, but by no means the astronomical status of Britney,” he adds. “But, I saw how in one snap of the finger, things change. One second, I was the laughing stock of town, the next they were giving me the key to the city.”
Everybody wanting a piece of the pie as he became successful is something Timmons believes also occurred with Spears and may have contributed to her struggles to regain her independence. She was placed into conservatorship amid mental health concerns in 2008 and her father, Jamie Spears, has since controlled her finances.
Such drama is one reason why Timmons, a father-of-five, treads carefully when it comes to his own kids following his footsteps into the entertainment industry.
Timmons has two children from his first marriage (including daughter Alyssa, who has dabbled in modelling) and two step-children through his wife of 10 years, Amanda. The couple also have a nine-year-old daughter, Ariahuna, who collaborated with Timmons on Christmas song “Where Are You Christmas” last December, is preparing for another stint on the catwalk (having made her runway debut at the age of five) and has a Christmas movie coming up.
“It’s a very up-and-down, harsh business and you’re put under a microscope, so I’ve never encouraged or pushed my kids into it, but Ariahuna loves it,” he says. “For me, I always just loved the music, so that’s why I did it, but she wants to do movies and be in the limelight. She enjoys the attention and she’s good at it, so I’m there to support her as a cheerleader and a dad.”
“If I can help her survive some pitfalls – it’s impossible to escape all of them – I’m here for that,” he continues. “I’ll help and protect her as much as I can.”
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Timmons credits Amanda for helping ensure Ariahuna’s best interests remain at the forefront, in order to avoid messy family situations like what’s occurred between Spears and her father. Although 26 years in showbiz has taught him to be wary, he trusts Amanda “implicitly.”
“When I met Amanda, I was down-and-out. I had been struggling for years with custody battles and trying to be a dad,” he says about challenges he faced fighting for full custody of his two eldest children in the same California court system Spears is now up against. “Amanda came into my life and completely turned it around. I trust her and who she would bring onto a team [for Ariahuna] to handle checks and balances.”
“I have blind faith in her decision-making – which is something you shouldn’t easily say in this business – but I know she’ll always make sure Ariahuna’s wellbeing is first and foremost.”
As for Spears’ wellbeing, Timmons hopes Wednesday’s proceedings will help her regain her freedom and claim back her life. And, while he acknowledges “Free Britney Radio” may have no impact on legal proceedings, he hopes the show raises awareness of flaws in the California courts system and highlights how much the music industry’s rooting for Spears. The show will air on 75+ U.S. stations (to be listed at https://benztown.com), some of which can be accessed online, such as NK Airplay Radio.
“I hope she can get the opportunity to live her life the way she wants to and the way she deserves to,” says Timmons, who stars in upcoming Pure Flix film Baking Up Love. “Most importantly, Britney, we want to see your talents again – we want you back out there performing and creating new music!”