It’s the biggest production in BET history, according to the network’s President of Programming, Stephen Hill. It was 10 years in the making, and now it’s finally here. The highly anticipated miniseries, The New Edition Story, will hit the small screen on BET beginning January 24 for three straight nights giving N.E. Lifers, those life-long, die hard fans of one of the most popular boy-bands since The Jackson 5, all the tea on Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky, Mike, Ralph and Johnny too. This hot tea is coming straight from the horse’s mouth, though, as all six of the beloved members have signed on to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
It’s a story that fans have been dying to hear, one that at some point had been rumored to unfold on the big screen but as the series’ director, Chris Robinson (ATL, Real Husbands of Hollywood) reveals, fans wouldn’t have gotten the entire story that way. Instead, The New Edition Story takes fans from the groups humble beginnings in the Orchard Park housing projects in Roxbury, Boston, to their meteoric rise to fame—the shady record contracts, the infighting, betrayal, the breakups and the make ups, and everything that makes them the beloved group they are today.
EBONY recently attended a screening with the cast at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, and got the scoop on the miniseries from stars Elijah Kelley (Ricky Bell), Bryshere Gray (Michael Bivins), Keith Powers (Ronnie DeVoe), Algee Smith (Ralph Tresvant), Luke James (Johnny Gill), Woody McClain (Bobby Brown), executive producer Jesse Collins, director Chris Robinson and moderator and Yvette Nicole Brown, who appears in the film as Bivins’ mother.
But before you break out your old N.E. Heartbreak concert tee and memorabilia, and brush off all your classic New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe choreography, check out these five things you need to know about The New Edition Story.
The casting process was brutal
There are two sets of group members in The New Edition Story, the N.E. kids a la “Pop Corn Love” and “Candy Girl” days, and the older versions a la “N.E. Heartbreak” and “Can You Stand the Rain.” Why? Director Chris Robinson wanted to give diehard fans the most authentic portrayals possible. According producer Jesse Collins, this is how the casting process went down.
“Chris Robinson’s callbacks are brutal because he would put the guy wanting to be Ralph and the guy wanting to be Ralph in a scene together with no one else. It would just be me, Chris and Ralph and Ralph, back and forth. He did it with the kids too. Chris was a football player and he was like, ‘It’s football, they gotta earn it, they gotta work through this.’
We made all the kids sing for Babyface, these guys had to sing for Jam and Lewis. It was as much pressure as we could put on them.”
They got the music right
Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis (who produced New Editions fifth studio album Heartbreak) and Babyface produced all the music for the mini-series. In fact, all the actors who stared as members of New Edition re-recorded all the N.E. music, so when you hear them singing classic New Edition joints, that’s the real actors’ voices.
For some of the actors, who have a musical background like Elijah Kelley and Luke James, the task wasn’t as daunting, but for actor Keith Powers (Ronnie DeVoe), it was the ultimate challenge.
“I’m not a singer so being in the studio with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – I got so much respect for singers because they had to basically coach me through the songs,” Powers explained.
The performances were New Edition approved
Byrshere Gray spent some time in Boston getting to know Michael Bivins, his friends and family, and also hired a voice coach to sound just like the N.E. superstar.
According to Yvette Nicole Brown, “New Edition were executive producers on this project, which means they were on set almost every single day, one or all six.”
During the opening scene of the series, Woody McClain who plays Bobby Brown, is performing “My Prerogative” – and he acted that scene out with the real Bobby Brown standing at the back of the room making sure he got it right.
“I love pressure and I felt that pressure from him back there. When I heard Bobby scream, ‘Yes that’s Bobby!’ I was like yes,” McClain said shouting and punching his fist into the air. “Me and Bobby were in the studio for a week just dancing and working on his mannerisms as well.”
Similarly, Luke James said he found common ground with Johnny Gill.
“I spent some time with Johnny. I asked him about everything – the moment when he was asked to be in the group. Myself being a singer right now I can relate to his struggle of having a more mature voice and being young and a label not understanding what audience. We bonded on that level,” James said. “I wanted to be sure that I portrayed his passion and his struggle and the things that he went through in order to be in this group, the sacrifices.”
Elijah Kelly admitted he received some cold hard truths about how best to portray Ricky Bell.
“Once we were learning choreography it was a blessing and pressure at the same time to have every member of New Edition standing beside you watching your every movement,” Kelly said. “One day I was like, ‘Yo Rick how are we doing?’ he was like ‘Yo E everything you’re doing is right, just like a little less corny though.’”
The New Edition Story vows to reveal things fans never knew about the group’s members
Case in point Ricky Bell. According to Kelley, “I think one of the more surprising things in the movie is that Ricky has a downfall – I’m not going to tell you what type of downfall, but he has a very serious downfall that most of the N.E. Lifers don’t even know about,” he said. “He goes down in a very, very big way and I think once you see that happen and then you see him now you will know there’s an undeniable force and power of God.”
Bobby Brown has given The New Edition Story his blessing
Bobby Brown was in attendance when BET premiered the first two hours of the miniseries at the Paley Center. For him, the experience seemed to be amusing and cathartic, as he shouted at the screen at one point saying, “Yep! That’s just how it happened,” and at another jumping up and hitting the walls with laughter. After watching, he spoke about the film.
“These young guys did such a great job at being us as young kids… I couldn’t have played the way that Woody played me,” Brown said.
“Chris brought everything out of all of these actors that really makes it special. I don’t know if ya’ll know me, but I got a little cry in me so for me just watching it and being alive to be able to see it – to be able to see what my life was and what my life has become… is special,” he admitted. “I really want everybody to tune into this because these kids have put their heart and souls into this just like we put our heart and souls into our life and trust me – you’re going to love it.”
Part 1 of The New Edition Story airs tonight at 9 p.m. on BET, watch the trailer here.