Teen Idols of the '90s
updated 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 11/16/1998 AT 01:00 AM EST
Sure, he gets accosted in restaurants and mobbed at the mall, but you won't hear this Polo model complaining. "Being a teen idol is fun," says Tyson, 27, whose lush lips and impeccable pecs first hit magazines in 1993. "You do have to wonder what they see in you, though."
When Beverly Hills, 90210 premiered in 1990 with not one but two poster-perfect specimens—Luke Perry (right) and azure-eyed Priestley—fan response was fast and furious. "It was just exhilarating and at the same time absolutely terrifying," says Priestley, 29, who left the show last month, after eight seasons, to pursue other roles. "Luke and I never talked about it," he adds with a laugh. "We're both men. We don't talk about our feelings."
JONATHAN TAYLOR THOMAS
Home Improvement's hottest purveyor of cute has a heads-up for his fans: Despite all those teen zine covers, no one calls him JTT. "If they do, I know they don't know me at all," says the 17-year-old high school junior, who quit the sitcom this season to concentrate on prepping for college. "That was something they made up, because they got tired of writing my name in print."
As 90210's smoldering Dylan McKay, Perry, 32, was the tempting teen demon girls couldn't resist: More than 3,000 of them wrote him each week. Even onetime costar Rebecca Gayheart was impressed. Perry, she told PEOPLE last year, "is charming as hell."
SEAN "PUFFY" COMBS
Even before he had a chance to move into his new home on Manhattan's Upper West Side last spring, his devoted followers were camping out on his doorstep. And he had to hire interns just to handle his mail (1,000 letters a week plus assorted gifts). But that's not even the hardest part of teen idoldom for the 29-year-old rapper and record producer. Says Combs: "The main pressure I deal with is making sure I'm setting the right example at all times. I want to be a positive role model."
ANTONIO SABATO JR.
He conquered daytime as sexy Jagger Cates on General Hospital in 1992. Then prime-time fans fell for his 1995 turn as Amanda's ex on Melrose Place. But it was when that 90-foot billboard of Sabato, 26, in nothing but his Calvin Klein skivvies, was unveiled in 1996 in Times Square that a star was truly born. Since then, fans around the world have packed his in-store appearances for an up-close glimpse of his chiseled face and rippling abs. "And those dimples," says Simonne Sabato, who heads her brother's fan club. "They definitely like those dimples."
How the mighty have grown. When editors at YM put the fetching young Windsor, 16, on the front of their February issue, he became their top-selling cover boy ever. "His shy smile makes him even more handsome," says executive editor Susan Kane, "because he seems so unaware of his appeal."
Some guys need bodyguards. Wolf, 30, might need an entire defensive line. "I was standing in line for a soda at a movie theater in New Jersey when this woman tackled me to the counter," the Party of Five star told The Seattle Times in 1996. She "kept screaming, 'You're Bailey! You're Bailey!' "
Whether he's playing a doomed lover (Romeo & Juliet, Titanic) or a tortured king (ITALIC "The Man in the Iron Mask"]), DiCaprio's soulful sensitivity makes little girls weep and cash registers ka-ching. Fans have flooded the Web with some 500 sites and put four Leo books on paperback bestseller lists. But for all the swooning, DiCaprio, 24, is not just a pretty face. The actor, who was nominated for an Oscar at age 19 for 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape, "has a special quality about him," says Titanic producer Jon Landau. "His personality is so effusive it comes across in person and onscreen."
Let his Dawson's Creek costar James Van Der Beek have the wholesome market. Jackson, 20, likes his bad-boy image as teacher-bedding Pacey. "I'm the guy you hide from your parents," he says.
"I'm controlling things so I don't become a teen idol," Leto told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997. Suffice it to say he failed. Ever since his co-starring role in the short-lived 1994 TV series My So-Called Life, Leto, 26, has proven a Preternatural draw. Says Life executive producer Ed Zwick: "He has something very appealing in his manner."
With every "MMMBop" from their mouths, the Tulsa-born trio (from left: Taylor, 15; Zac, 13; and Isaac, 17) inspire their fans to superhuman efforts. Like writing 25,000 letters each week, creating 150,000 Hanson Web sites and shelling out millions for Hanson T-shirts, posters and books. Though the boys themselves can't enjoy shopping sprees ("If we went to a mall, it'd turn into a running spree," Zac told Music Central Online last spring), they don't mind the price of fame. Says manager Christopher Sabec: "They take it in stride."
Their romantic harmonizing has played games with the hearts of legions of girls and sold 7 million CDs. But while the Boys (clockwise from top left: Nick Carter, 18; Howie Dorough, 24; Kevin Richardson, 26; Brian Littrell, 23; and A.J. McLean, 20) love the adulation, says McLean's mom, Denise, "they reach a point where they say, 'Okay, we're ready to go be regular guys.' "
For the cleft-chinned lead singer of the neo-grunge band Bush, the moment of teen idol truth came at a 1995 New York City concert. As Rossdale, now 31, took the stage, "he was assaulted full force by screaming at 120 decibels," recalls manager Dave Dorrell. "That was the point when he realized if something else was going on."
The rapper-model-actor formerly known as Marky Mark shrugs off his heartthrob status. "You have to realize that girls grow up, and somebody new comes along," Wahlberg, 27, told Gannett News Service in April. "You're cool one day, and the next day they're ripping you down and putting Marilyn Manson up."