08/11/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
GROWING UP IN A WORKING-CLASS neighborhood of New York City, Nick Scotti learned from his big sister that two's company, three's a crowd. Vivian Fusco, now 37, recalls that when she was a teenager dating the man she would one day marry, her shy, chubby kid brother invariably wanted to tag along. "I'd say, 'Nicky, it's okay if you sit with us on the stoop, but you can't come with us everywhere.' "
These days little "Nicky," having gone from husky to hunky, has women tagging along after him. The singer, actor and Newsweek "Biology of Beauty" cover boy has been breaking hearts as Tony on The Young and the Restless since November, but he has been turning heads for a lot longer. "He's got a face that could launch a thousand ships," coos Madonna
, who helped Scotti get a record contract in 1991 and with whom he has been linked romantically.
In his first film, Kiss Me, Guido, which opened July 18 in three cities and will play in 25 cities by the end of August, Scotti, 31, plays a homophobic Noo Yawk Italian-American (complete with the accent he spent years learning to lose) who unknowingly moves in with a gay roommate (GWM in the classifieds, his character learns, does not mean "Guy With Money"). The film has drawn generally upbeat reviews: "Scotti is flat-out terrific," said the Los Angeles Times.
His early years were flat-out inauspicious. Scotti dropped out of school at age 16 in 1982 to spend his nights in trendy Manhattan discos. He says his parents, Aniello, 60, a retired general contractor, and Christina, 57, a duty-free manager at JFK airport, "were too worn out"—by the teen turmoil of his older siblings Joseph, now 38, a truck driver, Vivian, and Gina, now 33, a manager at a New York City hotel—"to give me a hard time." At times the family struggled; one November his father drove a cab for three nights to earn enough for a lavish Thanksgiving dinner. Finding himself light in the wallet also, Nick—short for Dominick—found work as a busboy at Cafe Pacifico, a Manhattan celebrity haunt. More than one diner decided Scotti looked better than anything on the menu, and he collected a stack of cards from modeling agencies, one of which sent him to work in Tokyo in 1984. He was treated like royalty there until he and his Western pals wore out their welcome with ugly manners. "People would throw drinks at each other or put their cigarettes out on things," he says. Moving on to Paris at age 20, he found modeling work scarce, and when he was reduced to jumping subway turnstiles and living on a daily bowl of pasta, he decided to head home.
Scotti scraped together enough money to cut an R&B demo tape and found himself telling Madonna
about it at a Malibu party thrown by celeb photographer Herb Ritts in 1990 (his manager scored the invitation for him). Madonna
brought him to Warner Brothers Records, which released his hit 1993 single "Wake Up Everybody," and she gave him "Get Over," a song she cowrote and sang backup on. (Scotti sings one of the numbers on the Guido soundtrack.) The Material Girl isn't saying whether, in addition to doing him a favor, she gave him her favors, and Scotti chooses to be coy.
"When I think of Madonna
," he says, "I don't think of oinky-boinky. I would just call it a close relationship. Everybody always wants to make me into being Madonna
's boy toy or something."
At the moment, he's nobody's boy toy. "I don't have a girlfriend right now, and I'm not looking for one," he says. "I'm just totally self-absorbed." But that's not to say he doesn't get slobbered over—his Boston terriers Augie and Uma (named for a yogi, not the actress) stick close to him in his two-bedroom Spanish-style house in West Hollywood. "Nick doesn't want to party and lose himself," says Vivian, who works for an import-export company in New York City.
But if he frequents fewer parties these days, old friend Lisa Bastone, a freelance fashion designer, says the actor has "gotten less shy in the last couple years. He even talks to people in elevators." And to dogs, just about anywhere. Says Guido director Tony Vitale: "We used to have to stop shooting if a dog walked on the set. He would stop production to go see the dog. Ladies, if you want to work your way into Nick Scotti's heart, get a dog and walk in front of him." But if Scotti asks if you'd like to go out, just make sure he's not talking to the pooch.
ANNA DAVID and JULIE JORDAN in Los Angeles