Dave Holmes is on a quest to track down the '90s boy band you never even knew existed
"Motownphilly" back again — this time with a little podcast swing.
Back in the summer of 1991, Dave Holmes noticed something in the music video for Boyz II Men's first single that he hasn't been able to stop thinking about in the 30 years since: a blink-and-you-miss-it shot introducing a brand new boy band called Sudden Impact, who were never heard from again. Now, the former MTV VJ is on a quest to solve the mystery of what happened to the would-be NKOTB rivals on a nostalgia-filled journey to the '90s in his new podcast, Waiting for Impact.
In the 10-episode limited series (out Oct. 12), Holmes, now a pop culture writer and podcast host, seeks to "immerse listeners in 1991," he tells EW. He'll be joined by famous friends and surprise guests along the way to tell their own then-and-now stories while trying to discover what happened to the group of five tie-clad guys who appear for 3.2 seconds in the "Motownphilly" video, confidently pointing and staring into the camera alongside New Edition singer (and Boyz II Men's manager) Michael Bivins in the breakout video for what would become one of the most popular R&B acts.
Holmes remembers first seeing the video at 20 when he was "glued to MTV and VH1 at all times," explaining he used popular culture as an anesthetic during a dark time in his early life, and found instant excitement at the glimpse of a new group getting such a prominent introduction. "Anything back then that was like a teaser, anything that promised something new and exciting immediately made me take notice."
But this was before YouTube or Google, so after seeing the group pop up in the video, there was nothing to do but wait for their next move. But it never came. And Holmes never forgot.
"It was interesting because of the promise of something new and then it became interesting because it was not, at least in a way that we could ever see, fulfilled," he explains of his three-decade obsession wondering about Sudden Impact. "Nothing that we could see ever happened, and that's just always fascinated me. I've always felt like there's a story there."
Holmes has had theories about the guys over the years. "You wonder all sorts of things, are they big record moguls themselves now, was there such Fleetwood Mac–level strife among the five of them that they just fell apart, what was it?
"Because all of this stuff happened like five minutes before the internet, they didn't leave a trace. It's hard to imagine now, but it really wasn't that long ago, when you could be sort of moderately famous and then your moment ends and that's sort of that, when you went away you didn't leave anything behind, you didn't leave a trail of breadcrumbs the way that you do now. There was no social media; there was no quick and easy way for fans to connect and mobilize online."
Waiting for Impact comes from Exactly Right Media, the studio behind the hit true-crime podcast, My Favorite Murder, but Holmes does reveal his investigation into the band won't get that grim.
"While this is not a true-crime story — spoiler alert: nobody kills anybody — there are elements of investigation to it because it was a big thing that was set up to succeed in a big way that didn't, and there are a lot of reasons for it, a lot of personal reasons, a lot of cultural reasons, a lot of business reasons, and putting that story together, like trying to solve a mystery, was compelling, and it makes it a perfect fit for that network."
The idea to explore the mysterious disappearance of Sudden Impact first came up when Holmes discovered his pal, The Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple, shared his obscure fixation with the group. "He is also somebody who remembers that moment really well, and when we first became friends and started talking about the weird obsessions that we share, a big show on the air was Bands Reunited on VH1," Holmes recalls. "And we were like, we should get [Sudden Impact] back together and have them do the point. That was our little in-joke for a week, and it remained in the back of my mind and as my writing career took off, I was like, 'Is this a book or is it a long-form magazine piece?,' but I never quite fit it into the right template."
Gimple will make a few appearances on Holmes' new podcast, including the premiere, which finds the pair making a shocking discovery while searching for clues in another video: They have a close connection to someone involved, an Emmy nominee with a secret past linking them to the East Coast Family that Sudden Impact was part of. "That's when I was like 'Okay, we're onto something here; this is real," Holmes says. "This person is a big Walking Dead fan and [Gimple] didn't know that there was a musical part of their career story, and I certainly didn't. ... Scott and I were both like 'Wait a minute, hold on, is that…?' Sure enough, it is someone who we have a personal connection to who really was in the East Coast Family who gets the ball rolling."
Holmes sees the show as not just an attempt to track down the members of Sudden Impact, but a chance to reframe the way we talk about success and failure in the public eye, something familiar to the man who first entered pop-culture consciousness with a run on MTV's infamous Wanna Be a VJ contest in 1998. Despite going on to have a successful stint on the music network, not winning the show — and future internet trolls' constant reminder of it — led to Holmes evaluating how we treat those whose fame seems fleeting.
"There's this weird almost shame that we put on people when they have this big city, big artistic dream that doesn't go the way that they had planned. There's the idea of a person going home with their tail between their legs, " Holmes muses. "We're inherently cruel to people who didn't make it or didn't stay on top. And that's a little dehumanizing. If I write something and it makes somebody angry in the comments, the quick thing is to make a Jesse Camp joke or call me an also-ran, and it's like I'm definitely not hosting a big network TV show but I like my life."
He'd like to discover the members of Sudden Impact feel the same.
"The idea that we have in our minds is that famous people who don't stay famous or people who grab for the brass ring and don't get it are always just frustrated and always trying to grab at it and that's not necessarily the truth," he says. "Sometimes you just change course and you find something that's better for you and you don't end up rich and famous, but you end up happy. And that's what I was hoping is true for the guys, and it is definitely true for me."
Waiting for Impact debuts on podcast platforms on Oct. 12.