The boyband takes the stage in Orlando, but one member is missing, zayn malik, zayn malik misses one direction album debut, zayn malik substance abuse, zayn malik illness, zayn malik one direction

By Steve Helling
Updated November 17, 2014 03:00 PM
Stuart C. Wilson/Getty

Monday was a very important day for One Direction.

At the crack of dawn, the band arrived at Universal CityWalk in Orlando to perform several of their biggest hits. The concert, broadcast by Today, would be their first gig to promote their latest album, Four. As PEOPLE watched from backstage, the band cruised up to the waterside stage in a motorboat. The crowd of more than 15,000 people reacted with deafening screams.

But when the boyband took the stage, one of them was missing. Zayn Malik hadn’t made the trek from London on Sunday night.

Sources close to the band offered differing explanations for Malik’s absence. One NBC source told PEOPLE that he missed his flight, while another of the band’s handlers said that he had the flu.

Today host Matt Lauer addressed the question directly during the show. “I’m counting chairs here and I see four,” he said. “Normally, we’re used to seeing five. Where’s Zayn?”

He’s got a tummy bug so he’s not very well at the moment, so he couldn’t make it over,” answered bandmate Liam Payne. “We only found out this morning, so we’re very sad and he is, as well, that he can’t be here for our album release day. It’s still going to be a really great day.”

But things took a strange turn during Lauer’s follow-up question. “There’s been a lot of action on social media about him,” he said. “Is it something more serious than just a minor illness? There have been rumors of substance abuse. What’s going on?” At the question, the crowd began to boo Lauer loudly. Niall Horan began to make loud fart noises with his mouth.

“No, he’s just got a stomach bug,” answered a visibly uncomfortable Payne. “He’s okay. He’s just at home; he needs to rest. He’s okay.” Throughout the line of questioning, Niall Horan continued to make noises while Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles sat silently. As for when Malik, 21, will join the band, “we’re not sure yet,” said Payne. “We’re just waiting for a phone call from him.”

During breaks, the band addressed the crowd about Malik. “We really miss him,” said Horan. “We can’t wait for him to get better. We really want to have him here.”

“Their new album is called Four, weatherman Al Roker quipped to PEOPLE backstage. “Maybe they knew that Zayn would be missing all along. No, seriously, we hope he gets better soon.”

“I took an obligatory selfie with the band to show my kids,” Lauer told PEOPLE. “I don’t think they’ll be too fazed by the fact that there were only four of them today. They still put on a fantastic show.”

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