It's late May and I'm waiting for Rob "Zigga" Zignowski, a singer in one of the hottest up-and-coming boy bands to emerge from the Midwest, 2wice Shy. After an hour, he enters Arby's with a slight posse of four."The Zigga" (as he demands to be called) is back in Cincinnati visiting friends and family. You see, just two short years ago, Zigga was on a plane for Los Angeles, carrying luggage and being "peeps" for two members of 98 Degrees, a like-minded boy band with some members also originally from the Queen City. Inspired by the 98 boys' impending success, Zigga went on numerous auditions, landing a commercial (for Blue Star Ointment) and a bit part in an "adult" feature. Finally, Zigga was "discovered" after answering an advertisement in a local paper.
Zigga walks to the table where I'm waiting, and he greets me with a warm handshake that turns into some kind of elaborate thumb-and-wrist dance that leaves me disoriented. We discuss his first audition, and he is immediately defensive when I suggest that 2wice Shy is a group put together by a Svengali.
"Yo, it's not like that, yo," Zigga insists, brushing the braids from his eyes. He admits that the advertisement he answered said that a producer was looking for five attractive young men who could dance (singing optional), and that it specifically said they were looking for "a quiet one with dark hair, a crazy guy with braids, a blond guy with boy-next-door sex appeal, and couple of nondescript ones to get us up to five," but he insists that he and his other bandmates (three of whom he's yet to meet) would have ended up together anyway. They're that tight.
"Yo, Johnny and Rick and that other guy, we're like brothers," he says, adding, as he does often, "You know what I'm sayin'?"
Last spring, 2wice Shy recorded their debut album, Chill Factor, scheduled for a September release on some label. While never actually in the studio with each other, producer Sven Golli insists that these guys have a chemistry that sets them apart, among other things.
"The Backstreet Boys have that 'Millennium' thing going, which consumers just find frightening," Golli says from his cell phone. "And 'N Sync's braided, crazy guy doesn't put a blue streak in his hair and wear purple jeans like Zigga. And Johnny is much more quiet than the quiet guy in 98 Degrees."
"Yo, we're just keepin' it real," says Zigga, repeatedly.
On the horizon, Zigga says he and his crew will hit the road on the Sprite/Tommy Hilfiger Summer of Clear Soda and Nice Jackets Tour. The group has been practicing their dance moves on their own and are getting ready for rehearsals which start next week. Calls to Sprite and Hilfiger to confirm the tour and 2wice Shy's appearance went unmade.
Asked what to expect from the band's live show, Zigga, showing off his etiquette-in-media training (a requirement for any real boy band), says, "Yo, we're just tryin' to get a wicked mix of Hip Hop and street moves. But you'll have to wait 'n see, you know what I'm sayin'?"
The Amberley Village native has a harder time trying to describe the new record, at first offering that it sounds "like a cross between Wu-Tang and DMX." Finally he confesses, "It's like the Backstreet Boys meets 98 Degrees, but it's dope."
Speaking of dope, talk turns to 2wice Shy's mentor and head roadie, Danny Wood, a former New Kids on the Block member who has seen the pitfalls and offered to show the group what to avoid. According to Wood, life in the New Kids was a nightmare of drugs, booze, women and video games. Wood, who says he's now a "drug counselor," saw 2wice Shy headed down that same road and offered his help.
"They're good kids," Wood says in a haggard, grizzled voice that makes Tom Waits sound like Mickey Mouse. "They just need a guiding hand. Can I borrow six dollars?"
Zigga isn't worried about the group's future. He's been taking business classes at Laguna Community College (he already has a certificate in microwave repair) and, if the music biz doesn't work out, he says, "I'll probably try out for the NBA, keepin' it real, kickin' it."
"You know what I'm sayin'?" he once again asks.
Yes, you crazy, braided freak.
Yes, we all do.