*NSYNC’s Chris Kirkpatrick gets back to the music with a stint on Gone Country 2, which premieres tonight at 8/7 C on CMT.

It’s been ten years since I met Chris and JC Chasez backstage at the Odeon in Cleveland when I interviewed them for MTV just as *NSYNC’s second single, Tearin’ Up My Heart, was climbing the charts.

Today, the 36-year-old music man is driving through Cincinnati, Ohio, en route to Toronto, where he’s recording an album as the lead singer of alternative-pop band Nigels 11.

Wait, what happened to country?

“I just wanted to learn what it was like, how it’s written, because it’s a completely different style of music than what I’m used to with the rock, pop and R&B,” he tells me. “Everything about the writing style and the music is different in this genre.”

The show also features judge/host John Rich, and competitors Lorenzo Lamas, Irene Cara, Jackson 5’s Jermaine Jackson, Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach, American Idol’s Mikalah Gordon and actress Sean Young living and working together. They follow in the footsteps of those on the original Gone Country, such as Maureen McCormick and American Idol’s Diana DeGarmo.  
The winner will record and release a single on country radio.

Lorenzo and I had to room together, so he was giving me vitamins everyday and telling me workout stuff,” Chris says.

Who is this dating bachelor’s country crush?
Gretchen Wilson,” he tells me. “She’s cool, she’s ballsy, she says what’s on her mind and she doesn’t beat around the bush. She says ‘this is the way I am, I’m a country girl, and either like me or don’t.’ I like the honesty.”  

What was his wildest memory from the *NSYNC days?

“We took our motorcycles on tour one year and went riding in every city. That’s what was cool about riding through Cincinnati just now. I was looking around and remembering places where I’d ridden my bike. I got to ride all across the country.”

tells me his prized possession from their heyday is the mechanical bull from the tour that he now keeps in his garage. “I don’t want to ride it because if you fall off once, you’ll break something.”

I once interviewed Britney Spears backstage when she was opening for *NSYNC. What is his fondest memory of her?

“After shows when she was dating Justin [Timberlake], she’d come on the bus, hang out and talk. She was a really cool chick. She was a real down-to-earth girl. It was cool to get her take as well as our take about everything that was happening at the time — like the huge explosion and how big we’d get. We were all a part of it. She’s a smart girl.”

These days, Chris has no plans to move to Nashville, but he’s been back twice since taping Gone Country 2 – and his uncle lives there.

What’s his favorite thing to do in Nashville?

“I like the Wildhorse Saloon, the place we performed,” he says. “It’s a cool atmosphere, it has a cool vibe. There’s people line-dancing, there’s plenty to eat and drink, you just sit around and listen to music and watch people dance. People are dancing to hip-hop music, line-dancing. That’s cool.”       

Chris hopes to work behind-the-scenes writing and producing country songs. He’s already gotten a headstart with his production company, Working Class Industries, and he’s hosted Kenny Chesney and Dave Matthews in his home studio. “I haven’t worked with the Dixie Chicks, but I’m not opposed to it.”

He nixes any more reality shows like Dancing With The Stars with the firm “definitely not.”

“This is it for me,” he says. “I’m a musician first; I love music. I did this show because I wanted to learn about a genre of music I didn’t know about. I love being around music no matter whether I’m behind the console or in front of the crowd.”

Catch Chris on Gone Country 2, which airs tonight at
8/7 C on CMT.

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