When he was a toddler, Nick Jonas didn’t have access to a microphone or a stage, so he made do with what he had. “Nicholas, please get down from there,” his grandmother “Mama Fran” Miller scolded the 3-year-old when she found him belting out show tunes into a turkey baster while standing on top of a coffee table. “No, Mama,” little Nicholas replied, “I need to practice. I’m gonna be on Broadway.”
Turns out the youngest member of the Jonas Brothers band was born not only with perfect pitch but also with a knack for predicting the future. Cast in his first Broadway show—A Christmas Carol: The Musical—at the age of 8, he appeared in three more musicals over the next two years: Annie Get Your Gun, Beauty and the Beast and Les Misérables. “Kevin and Joe were between 7 and 8 years old when they started forming their future,” says the boys’ dad, Kevin Sr. “Nick did it at 3.”
Mom Denise wasn’t all that surprised by Nick’s single-mindedness. “I found it funny because he didn’t entertain himself with toys,” she says of his early childhood. “He’d be singing or creating music.”
In fact, making music has been the family obsession for quite some time. In 1990 Kevin Sr., now 43, was working at a Bible college called Christ for the Nations Institute in Dallas, where he taught songwriting while also writing and recording Christian music. Denise, now 41, was also a singer who worked in the school’s registrar’s office. “We would take Christian singing groups on the road, so when I traveled, the boys would travel with me and Denise,” says Kevin Sr. “Their crib was in the back of a van, we would set up a little play area in the back when Kevin was little, and Joseph’s first car seat was literally the strongbox where we kept the finances.”
In 1996, Kevin Sr. was offered a minister position at Wyckoff Assembly of God church, and the family headed off to the New York City suburb of Wyckoff, N.J. That’s when Nick’s showbiz mania—thanks in part to his new proximity to Broadway—really clicked in. Like many kids, Nick was big on putting on plays in the basement. But unlike most kids, “I’d make my own tickets out of construction paper and sell them for $5,” says Nick. Then, he’d enlist his brothers and friends to join him onstage. Often the performances included singing and dancing to the music of boy bands such as ‘N Sync and Backstreet Boys. “It had to be perfect, and you couldn’t leave until he was finished,” notes his dad.
Being a perfectionist paid off. One day, Denise brought Nick with her to the hairdresser, and the 6-year-old started singing while he waited. An impressed customer approached Denise, told her she too had an entertainer in the family, and suggested Denise meet with the woman who had managed her son’s acting career. Denise took her up on the offer and brought along Joe, then 9, and Kevin, then 11. (Frankie hadn’t been born yet.) The manager signed all three, and Kevin and Joe were quickly cast in commercials—Burger King, Clorox, Office Depot—while Nick landed roles on Broadway. At that point, Kevin and Joe “weren’t doing anything musically,” says Denise, aside from singing in the church choir. In fact, she notes, “Joe wanted nothing to do with music, especially opera.” Then, a few years later, Joe ended up making his Broadway debut in—what else?—an opera, Baz Luhrmann’s production of La Bohéme. That’s when, Joe says, “I learned how to work a stage.” Kevin, meanwhile, had started teaching himself how to play guitar one day when he was home sick from school. “I’ve been obsessed with the guitar ever since,” he says. By the time he was 16, Kevin “was navigating New York City by myself,” riding the train into town to audition for commercials, while trying to join a band.
In the meantime, Nick was looking to parlay his Broadway credits into a solo recording career. And by the age of 11, he succeeded, signing with Columbia Records. Later, Joe and Kevin were signed too. In 2005 the label president—the same guy responsible for the mega success of Hanson—championed the trio, and the band known as the Jonas Brothers was born. After weathering a few near-catastrophic career setbacks—including dismal sales for their first album—the boys have roared back with the help of Hollywood Records. Now, a platinum record later, their mom thinks back on the days when it was just her three eldest kids hanging out around the family piano making up songs. “It wasn’t about seeing them perform,” says Denise. “It was about experiencing their songwriting ability as brothers. I knew they would succeed. I thought, ‘They have just tasted something that they will never want to give up.’ It was so satisfying.”