Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

When Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg made their first red carpet appearance together at a charity event in the summer of 2013, they had no idea that night would set the scene — and the soundtrack — for their intimate wedding the following year.

The couple, who had been privately dating for about a month at the time, were attending a celebrity Dancing with the Stars event at the historic Hotel Baker in St. Charles, Illinois near McCarthy’s hometown. As part of the evening, the organizers asked the pair to choose a song for their first spotlight dance together.

It was a “pretty immediate decision,” she says, because they both picked one with deep sentimental meaning to them: “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music.

“It was the most romantic thing because as we were dancing, people in the balcony started singing along to ‘Edelweiss’ just like they did in The Sound of Music,” the Masked Singer judge, 50, exclusively tells PEOPLE in the new issue, on stands on Friday. “It felt dreamlike, like we were in a movie.”

The love song, originally performed by Julie Andrews and the late Christopher Plummer in the classic 1965 film, was a musical thread that naturally wove through the first year of their relationship.

“Early on when Jenny and I started dating, I don’t know how it came up but I told her I had never seen The Sound of Music. She couldn’t believe it and was, like, ‘So you don’t know the song ‘Edelweiss?’ She played it for me that night,” says the New Kids on the Block singer, 53. “We were really falling in love. We just had the most romantic evening, talking and getting to know each other, and we were listening to that song.”

“It was an important moment to us, and it had such a special place in our relationship,” he says. “We never had the conversation but it just became our song.”

Favorite Wedding Memory rollout
Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg at a “Dancing with the Stars” event at the Hotel Baker in St. Charles, Illinois in August 2013.

In a “full circle moment,” according to McCarthy, the couple would also choose “Edelweiss” for their first dance at their own wedding reception almost exactly a year later at the Hotel Baker — the very spot where they first danced as a couple.

“We didn’t realize it until recently, but we bookended our relationship up to that point with that song, in that same place,” says the Blue Bloods actor, who now lives with McCarthy in St. Charles, about an hour outside Chicago. “The first time we danced to that song in the ballroom at the Hotel Baker, it felt like home and it became home officially at our wedding.”

While the couple has “dozens and dozens” of special memories from their August 2014 nuptials — including NKOTB bandmate Joey McIntyre performing “All of Me” by John Legend and Regina Belle singing “If I Could” to Wahlberg’s late mother Alma (“It’s the song my mom danced to with each of her children at their weddings. I surprised her at ours by having Regina Belle sing it in person.”) — they say their first dance is one they’ll always cherish as their favorite moment.

“It was ethereal. I saw no one and heard no one because I was locked in his eyes,” says McCarthy. “It was like a confirmation that we were exactly where we were supposed to be. It was confirmation that, ‘This is the love of my life. This is the one.'”

Wahlberg felt that powerful connection on the dance floor, too. “It was like we were in this movie, when everyone in the background is blurred out and only the people in the center of the frame are in focus. That’s what it was like,” he says. “I see Jenny clear as day, but everyone around me was just a blur. I didn’t see anyone else but her.”

The pair, who have renewed their vows every year since their wedding, feels like they’ve “been surrounded by love,” according to McCarthy, ever since they took their relationship public.

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“When we danced together for the first time at that charity event, it felt like the room was rooting for us,” says Wahlberg. “It didn’t feel like there was anything but hope, support and love around us.”

“And when we got married, it was the same thing. People were lining the streets. They were rooting us on, the town was rooting us on, our families were rooting us on,” he adds. “It just felt like we had this whole community behind us that really wanted to see this relationship work, and wanted us to know that they’re there for us and are going to be cheering us on the whole way. It’s a really profound feeling.”