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FRANTIC FANS GO NUTS FOR NEW KIDS

FRANTIC FANS GO NUTS FOR NEW KIDS

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Don't laugh at Jennifer Mapp. She may look silly, cradling a basket of candy and wearing a baseball cap pulled down to her eyebrows and on sideways. But her earnestness is impressive.

``If the New Kids on the Block ever break up, I'm going to become a nun,' announced the 12-year-old Catholic school girl from Norfolk, Va. ``I'm serious!'Jennifer's 11-year-old sister, Emily, sans baseball cap but cradling her own basket of candy, offered: ``I think she's nuts. But I believe her. You should see her room! It's wallpapered with New Kids pictures.'

The Mapp sisters, whose baskets of Reese's peanut butter cups, Blow Pops and Sweet Tarts were intended for their favorite New Kids - Donnie Wahlberg for Jennifer, Jordan Knight for Emily - were among the dozens of girls who swarmed about the Hyatt Winston-Salem Wednesday in hopes of catching a glimpse, or more, of this year's hottest pop group.

We're talking devotion here. We're talking heart-pounding, palm-sweating anxiety.

The vigil began at the downtown hotel before dawn. The news was out that the Fab 5 from Boston would be sleeping there after their Wednesday night gig at Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem. Many of the girls were from out of town, even out of state. Maryland. Virginia. South Carolina.

Some had their parents, those ever-ready chauffeurs, rent rooms at the Hyatt. Some sent gifts to the front desk: balloons, flowers, even a homemade birthday cake for Wahlberg, who turns 21 Friday.

And it seemed each of the girls - their hair carefully teased and sprayed, their colorful outfits strategically selected - was armed with an instant camera and autograph book. Most have seen the group four or five times this summer. Several had snapshots of the Kids' homes in Boston.

``I send flowers to Donnie's mother every month,' said Melinda Peters, 13, from Lexington Park, Md. ``She's nice. She sent me a thank you card once.'

``Can I have the address?' asked an obviously impressed Heather Cheek, 11, of High Point.

``Sorry, I can't do that,' Peters said, smiling smugly.

About 2:30 p.m., a rumor swept through the crowd that the Kids had arrived. Shrieks and screams filled the hotel lobby, after which came a frenzied dash to surround the dark-windowed limousine.

Empty. Bummer.

There was no guarantee the Kids would show. But for the faithful, it hardly mattered.

``You see, I love Joe McIntyre,' proclaimed a swooning Tiffany Zaleski, 18, who drove in from Norfolk with the Mapp sisters. ``And not just because he's a New Kid. I mean, I really love him!'

Amy McMahan and Stacy Davis, both 16 and from Asheville, got to Winston-Salem about noon. They had seen a New Kids concert Tuesday night in Greenville, S.C. Both were still dizzy from the experience.

``We were in the front row,' McMahan said breathlessly. ``They reach down and touch you! It's so exciting! They're so gorgeous! It's nothing like on TV.'

Stephanie Boyer, 15, of Damascus, Md., wearing designer sunglasses and a bathing suit top, tried to sum up the mass appeal of the clean-cut New Kids.

``Everyone thinks they're perfect and cute, like little angels or something,' she explained. ``That's what the media wants you to believe. But they're not. They're just regular guys. They make mistakes. They're more like me than I thought. That's why I like them.'

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