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April 21st, 2018

By Leena Tailor‍ for ETOnline.com

Brian Littrell was sitting in a high school history class in Kentucky when he got pulled out to take a life-changing call from his cousin, Kevin Richardson. Late music mogul Lou Pearlman was forming a boy band in Orlando, Florida, and a spot had just opened up. The following day — April 20, 1993 — 18-year-old Littrell set off on an adventure of a lifetime. “I’ll never forget that day I met Brian,” says Denise Solis, AJ McLean’s mother. “He had never stepped out of Kentucky, and he got picked up by a limo and dropped to the airport, then flew to meet us. I still remember his wide-eyed, puppy dog look. He was like a deer in the headlights when he got out of the limo, just so enthralled with everything. But probably also thinking, What have I got myself into?”

After sweating it out for endless hours in an Orlando warehouse, Littrell, along with Richardson, McLean, Howie Dorough and Nick Carter, headed to Europe, where they become a musical phenomenon. But it wasn’t until a Montreal radio programmer gave “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” a whirl that the group’s popularity started spilling into North America. Before long, the guys were on the path to becoming the best-selling boy band of all time, selling more than 130 million records worldwide, covering Rolling Stone, delivering the dance anthem “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” and topping the charts with their diamond-certified 1999 record, Millennium, and its GRAMMY-nominated hit “I Want It That Way.” While other boy bands came and went, the pop powerhouse rode out everything from lawsuits and loss to alcoholism and health scares.

However, in 2013, as they received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the accomplishment marked the beginning of a resurgence. The group released In a World Like This shortly afterward, and the record — which marked Richardson’s return to the group after he left in 2006 — reached the top 5 of the Billboard Top 100 and spawned a tour, which was extended multiple times due to overwhelming demand. The five then pulled off an MTV Movie Award-winning cameo in Seth Rogen’s This Is the End, performed for former president Barack Obama, released their 2015 documentary, Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of, and topped the country charts with their Florida Georgia Line collaborative track, “God, Your Mama, and Me.” And to the delight of the “Backstreet Army,” they’re now preparing to drop the first single from their 10th studio album and continuing their nostalgia-fueled Larger Than Life residency at Planet Hollywood’s Zappos Theater, where they broke the record for fastest-selling residency in Las Vegas and hosted the biggest audience in the history of Sin City’s headlining residencies.

As they mark their milestone 25th anniversary on April 20, ET looks back at the Backstreet Boys’ career through the eyes of some of their greatest friends, collaborators, songwriters, fans and others who have played a part in Richardson, Dorough, Littrell, McLean and Carter’s journey.

First Encounters
–Jonathan Knight (New Kids on the Block singer)

When New Kids ended, Lou Pearlman asked if I’d come to Florida and help him with this new music group. I remember meeting the Backstreet Boys for the first time and they were these bright-eyed kids, so full of wonder. I was the only person they’d met who had been through the madness they were about to experience, so it was awesome for them to have somebody who could mentor them on what to expect. Lou did everything so differently to New Kids. He had them in media training classes and all this stuff, and I was like, “Let them figure it out themselves. You’ve got to learn to express yourself the way you want to — don’t let anyone tell you what you should say and how you should dress or act.” It was a different world back then, though. In our downtime, Lou had this huge boat we’d all hang on. I mentored them for three months, then ended up staying in Florida, so for that year we’d hang and go to clubs and dinner together. One day, I was pulling into my garage and heard a bunch of kids screaming, “Jon! Jon! Jon!” I was like, “Oh sh**, a bunch of fans are about to bombard me,” so I ran inside, shut the door and heard all these people knocking. The Backstreet Boys later called and were like, “Jon, you know that was us at your garage door?” When I first heard their song on the radio, I was so proud, and to this day, I’ll be in the grocery store and I never pick out anything else that’s playing, but I always know when it’s a Backstreet Boys song! It was really awesome to have them do the NKOTBSB tour with us, because even through they’re a different band, we all went through the same thing, so hanging out backstage, it was like we were just one big group who had been through everything together.

Building Character
–Johnny Wright (Former manager)

In the very early days, when radio started playing their first record in the United States, we did these radio show events. There was one in Miami with the Y100 radio station — they asked the Backstreet Boys to come and perform at their foam party. We were thinking, Foam party. There’s going to be lots of girls in bikinis, and it’s going to be great! It came time for the Backstreet Boys to hit the stage, and they came running out and started with an a cappella love song and we looked into the audience and there were 2,000 guys! What we didn’t realize was that the event was for these girls to come and compete to win, but the audience was all guys coming to see a bikini show. So, then we have 2,000 guys in the audience and five young guys on stage singing about how much they love you. After the first song, Kevin came over to me on the side of the stage, going, “We have to get off this stage!” I was like, “No, the show must go on.” They ended up finishing and a lot of the crowd were booing at them, but they got it through it. Those are the performances that build character, but it was pretty crazy!

Boys Will Be Boys
–Denise Solis (McLean’s mother)

We went to Amsterdam a few times when the guys were older, and there was a gentlemen’s club called Banana Bar, which became the place we took everybody if they were new to the crew or band. Like a rite of passage! The bottom level was a regular bar, then you could pay to go upstairs, where the girls were topless. It was all in good fun and not distasteful or seedy, so the tour manager, Nina, and I often went and sat around chatting with everyone. It didn’t bother us that the girls were half-naked — we were just having girl talk. One time, after a photo shoot, we heard Howie and Alex [McLean] had gone there, so we decided to prank them by just showing up. I’m sure the last person Alex would expect to walk in was his mom! We turned up, and of course everyone knew us, so all the girls stopped what they were doing and were like, “Hey, it’s Nina and Denise! How you guys doing?” Alex and Howie’s jaws literally dropped to the floor. They were like, “How the heck do you know all these people? And how do they know you?”Everyone was cracking up because they thought I was going to scold him, but they were two young, of-age guys — what are you going to do?

Lessons From the King of Pop
–Fatima Robinson (Choreographer)

I got a VHS in the mail with this random group of five white boys dancing and asking if I could choreograph them for “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).” There was something so special about them. I was just getting off a Mary J. Blige tour, so I went to Orlando and as we spent hours going over everything, I fell in love with each one of their personalities, their singing and what they stood for. I had previously choreographed Michael Jackson’s video for “Remember the Time,” and the moves for “Backstreet’s Back” came from my love for Michael, and particularly his “Thriller” video. It was like my version of “Thriller.” I would never have believed those little steps would become so popular. I would just make them up in my hotel room before rehearsal sometimes! The goal was to create a historical moment in pop culture, and that’s what they did. The video resonated with people and still makes them feel good and reminisce about growing up. I’ve had so many people tell me how they learned the routine in their living room, and even guys who were teenage boys at the time say, “We were doing the ‘Backstreet’s Back’ routine with all of our friends.” Now I’m working with Kendrick Lamar and Pharrell and this new self-proclaimed boy band called Brockhampton, and I haven’t worked with a guy group like this since the Backstreet Boys, but these guys are so fly. They’ve been reminding me a lot of my time with the Backstreet Boys.

Calm Before the Storm
–Andrew Fromm (Songwriter)

I first met BSB because they wanted Nick to sing my song “I Need You Tonight”as his solo for their shows overseas. It was at Battery Studios in New York City, and he was about 16 years old and playing pool in between vocal takes on “I’ll Never Break Your Heart.” We hit it off because we both loved Journey and Chicago … the big ballads. I distinctly remember Nick and the others complaining about how famous they were overseas, but no one knew them in the U.S., so their friends and family barely believed them. They were on teen magazine covers everywhere else and treated like The Beatles, with their buses literally rocked by legions of fans. They said how it’s crazy that they go overseas and there’s thousands of fans to greet them at airports, yet when they come home it’s crickets. They had no idea what was ahead! I remember their Millennium show at Pepsi Arena in Albany, New York, where we stayed around the corner from the venue. There were literally 1,000+ fans in the lounge area and 1,000 more outside. We were going to the movies, to see Girl Interrupted, and they had rented the entire theater for crew and friends. When the guys started coming down to head to the bus, the fans went nuts, and I vividly remember Nick walking past one fan and saying, “Hello,” and she literally hit the floor and passed out!

Climbing the Walls
–Tom LeBrun (Head of security, 1998-2000)

I got hired in 1998, but the guys were taking a small break and most of the security guys took off to *NSYNC. Everybody needed a job and they weren’t sure what was going to happen, but I stayed with the boys because I thought they were better! They were on top of the world, the Backstreet Boys, and it was a crazy time, right as they were making a big name for themselves. One time in Argentina, we had them on the golf course and I noticed fans climbing the walls of the course. It looked like a bunch of ants running at us! I called our driver and he had to come out on the fairway and we took off.

We also attended the Ryder Cup in Boston in 1999. It was me, Brian and the tour manager, and he let us walk with the golfers as long as we stayed out of trouble. We had a lot of fun on the course. Then there was a party at golfer David Duval’s house afterward, and that’s where the photo with Tiger Woods and Prince Andrew was taken. It was quite the mixture of professionals — three Backstreet Boys, Prince Andrew and Tiger Woods. What a combination! We just hung out and enjoyed ourselves. I worked primarily with Brian, and he always treated me with respect. I take my hat off to those guys — good guys, hard workers, very talented and have done a great job.

The Power of Celebrity
–Adam Selkowitz (Lupus LA chairman)

Howie performed at our first Lupus LA event in 2000, and at the time he also had the Dorough Lupus Foundation, so I started hosting their annual cruise. It was around the time Black & Blue came out, and I don’t think I truly had an idea of the impact these guys had until we were on a cruise and pulled into Cozumel, Mexico, at 8 a.m., walked off the ship and had fans waiting. They had been there for hours and even had these purple bears the Dorough Lupus Foundation used to sell. It was the first time I realized how valuable the gift of being a celebrity was, and what you could do with that power to bring attention to a disease. It’s one of the reasons we started our Lupus LA ambassador program, which now includes people like Sharon Stone and Michael B. Jordan. Howie’s fans didn’t just turn up — they learned about lupus, understood it and told us their own lupus stories, and to this day are so supportive. At the time, I don’t think Howie even understood how much of a lasting impact he could have, especially because it was always like, “Are you coming with all of the Backstreet Boys or just Howie?” I think he thought, Who’s going to want to see just me?, then we would go on cruises and get hundreds of fans coming to spend time with him and some would donate $4,000 in the auction just to do an excursion with him.

All of the Backstreet Boy are genuinely good guys who like to have fun. I remember after Wango Tango one year, we all went to a club and they brought out a birthday cake for Nick and it turned into a cake fight between Nick, Howie and some others. Howie had a 6 a.m. flight the next day and called me right before take-off, saying, “Dude, I’m pulling green icing out of the back of my ear. It’s everywhere!”

Ain’t No Party Like a Backstreet Party
–Shaggy (Singer, “Black & Blue Tour” opening act)

Black & Blue was a cool tour. I remember they did a softball game on a day off and I’m Jamaican, so I was like, “What the f**k is softball? We know cricket!” They had their families and girlfriends there and were running around playing this softball thing and I was like, “I can’t hit that ball with that bat. I’m gonna sit this one out.” Also, we would often take out a whole floor of the same hotel, so after the show there’d be a big party on that floor — we’d all hang out and drink and there’d be a BBQ and stuff like that. That was always fun in the old days! We didn’t get to finish the tour as AJ had to deal with alcohol issues, so they canceled the last show in Boston. It came a little out of nowhere, because we were in Boston, went to soundcheck then found out there was no show. My kids had flown up to see the concert and were getting ready for it; then there were all these fans who were devastated — a lot of them were crying — so it was really tough. But I still have great memories. I saw them recently at a Jones Beach gig. We hung out backstage, took a picture and went over old memories. As I was walking out, AJ was like, “Hey, we still gotta finish that tour!” That was a fun moment. I’m happy for them and their success and that they’re still out there doing their thing!

Tragedy and Romance
–Marty Hom (Tour manager, “Black & Blue Tour”)

We were pulling into one of the South American gigs and each guy was in a minivan, and as we drove down the road, to our right was a drainage canal about 12 feet wide and 5 feet deep. As we pulled up, suddenly the van in front of mine, which had Brian and his security guard, tipped into the canal. It was almost like it was in slow motion — the driver veered too far right and the van slowly tipped over and ended up on its side in a canal. The guys had to open the door and climb out from the top. Thank God nobody was hurt, but Brian was pretty shaken. It could have been very ugly.

But one of the saddest moments on that tour was when our carpenter, Daniel Lee, died in the 9/11 attacks. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and what happened was one of the most tragic things I’ve ever had to deal with on tour, and for sure the hardest. Danny had gone back to the hotel after the Boston show and was flying to Los Angeles to be at the birth of his daughter. He ended up on Flight 11. We probably had 130 people on that tour, so to bring everyone together was a challenge. It was hard on all of us, but for the guys especially. They were very strong and dealt with it very bravely. Then, Danny’s wife, Kellie, was in Los Angeles and she’d just had her daughter, Allison, and all the airlines were closed down. Stevie Nicks called me and said, “Marty, whatever I need to do to help her, please let me know.” I ended up getting a tour bus for Kellie so that she could pack up and move across the country to Pennsylvania and get back to her parents. Stevie paid for that bus.

I still see AJ around and keep in touch with Howie and Leigh — they met on that tour, and it was awesome to see their relationship blossom and watch them fall in love and eventually get married and have kids. That was one of the greatest stories that came out of that tour!

Never Forget
–Allison Lee (Daughter of Daniel Lee)

I was 8 when I started asking questions about my dad, and my mom would tell me all the bands he toured with, and of course the Backstreet Boys were one of them. That’s how I first heard about them. She was telling me stories about him, which she always does. I haven’t had a chance to listen to much of their music, but I know who they are and there are lots of photos we have of him. We also have a plaque with one of their platinum records, which they gave him for touring with them. Any time I hear the Backstreet Boys or someone brings them up, I think of him because I know that he worked with them and I just think it’s so cool. I don’t like to be sad about it because we really should celebrate his life. It’s really awesome that my dad got to do that, and it makes me happy because I know it was a great accomplishment for him.

Fasten Your Seatbelts
–JoJo Wright (KIIS FM radio host)

I did a pilot for a show called Sleeping With Celebrities, where I went to AJ’s house and slept in a bed with him and his then-fiancée, Rochelle. We played strip poker and ordered pizza, which arrived in the middle of the game. So, there’s me and AJ, not quite naked but pretty much in our underwear, answering the door when the pizza guys arrives. The door shuts and AJ’s like, “He totally thinks we’re shooting porn.” Sharing a bed with AJ was … let’s just say, he’s a hot mess.

The guys also invited me on the Black & Blue promotional tour, where they hit six continents in 100 hours. It was back in the wild days where AJ was challenging me to drinking games, putting his hand behind his back and asking how many fingers he was holding up and if I didn’t guess correctly, I had to take a sip from the Jack Daniel’s bottle. A little later, we’re sitting on the plane and it dips. Everyone’s like, “What the heck?” The plane took a noticeable, un-captainlike drop … we knew it was a novice at the helm. Turns out, the captain let AJ fly the plane and that was bad idea!

I’ve seen AJ during some of his crazy spells, but he was always a great guy throughout and now he’s turned into this super dad and super husband. All of the Backstreet Boys are great guys. I started at KIIS FM in Los Angeles in 1998 and met them shortly after, right as they were starting to hit the big time, so we’ve done our run together.

Let’s Have a Party … at Sea
–Hal Roseman (Rose Tours president)

I knew that working with the Backstreet Boys was going to be amazing after their very first cruise in 2010. On the last night, each person on their team — from BSB themselves to their awesome manager, Jenn — made a point to come and thank myself and everyone at Rose Tours. They shook our hands and took a group photo with us. When we got back to the office, they had sent us a margarita machine and mix as a thank-you gift. So, of course we fired it up and toasted that our 2010 BSB cruise would be the first of many! Here we are today getting ready for our sixth sold-out cruise on May 3, 2018. They are truly great guys, and it is a pleasure working with them!

Boy Banders Unite!
–Erik-Michael Estrada (O-Town singer)

When l moved to Hollywood in 2005, Nick and I had the same agent, so we ended up going out to reads together — for the same film, but different parts, since we obviously don’t typecast the same way! We both screen-tested for Coach Carter, the basketball film starring Samuel L. Jackson. We went in the same day and freaked out, going, “Oh, my God, are we really this close to getting this together? How cool would that be?” We didn’t get the roles, but it probably helped trigger us doing Dead 7 together. Fast-forward 10 years, and they were casting Komodo, and Sisqo from Dru Hill originally had the role but couldn’t make it at the 11th hour. Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees asked Nick if he had thought of the O-Town boys, and he immediately went, “Erik — he’s perfect!” because we had created such a rapport all those years earlier. It was an incredible experience. Myself, Howie and Joey from *NSYNC took three days off and went up to this cabin owned by Howie’s friend and did all this outdoorsy stuff together. There are very few people who can relate to our lives — although there have been lots of boy bands from different eras, we were part of a unique time and it’s probably less than 20 people who experienced all the similar things we did. So, being in a cabin exchanging stories was really cool. There is no O-Town without the Backstreet Boys. They were like the firstborn who did all the legwork and went through trial and error, then we were the younger brother who learned from the mistakes of the elder. We navigated our way through the business by watching them and essentially using them as a blueprint.

Don’t Want You Back (in the Photo)
–Leigh Dorough (Dorough’s wife)

Back in 2008, four of our closest friends from California flew out to join us in Milan for my birthday. We all went crazy partying for a couple of nights, then took the bus to Rome and stayed at Hotel de Russie. When I worked at Warner Bros., we shot Ocean’s Twelve in Italy and the cast stayed there because it’s just so beautiful. We had a few more days of hanging out, having a good time and not a ton of sleep, and on the last night we grabbed some bottles of red wine and walked over to the Spanish Steps to sit and have a few drinks. We were laughing and having fun when this couple came up to Howie and said, “We don’t mean to bother you, but would you mind taking a photo?” Our security guard, Josh, was like, “No, no, no,” but Howie said, “It’s fine!” So, the couple’s standing there and Howie just jumps into the middle. Josh took the picture, then the two were looking at Howie strangely and went, “Um, OK, but could we get a picture by ourselves because we’re on our honeymoon.” The look on their faces was like they were in some practical joke. They had no idea who he was and were wondering why some random dude got in their photo. My friends and I were literally rolling down the Spanish Steps laughing so hard! They asked why everyone was in hysterics and when we told them they were like, “Oh, my God! We’re so sorry we didn’t recognize you. This has totally made our honeymoon!” They were actually fans and so elated to have a picture with Howie. Howie was so embarrassed, but the couple were absolutely stoked.

The Boy Band Cure
–Michelle Yudt (Longtime fan)

I truly believe the guys helped me into remission from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I never thought I’d be diagnosed with cancer at 27 years old, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as I was booked onto a Backstreet Boys fan cruise to the Bahamas six weeks later. I had been counting down, so was bummed when my first chemo treatment resulted in my hair falling out right before setting sail. My mum joked that I should get the Backstreet Boys to shave my head, so when I saw Howie on the first night, I figured there was no harm in asking. He said, “If the others won’t do it, I definitely will.” Two days later, I sat there as Howie chopped off my ponytail. I couldn’t stop the tears, but AJ and Brian jumped in, joking around and stopping me crying. Then all the guys took turns shaving, which was awesome because they each played a part. That moment marked a defining moment in my illness — they made me feel special and beautiful when I felt my ugliest. They took something extremely difficult and turned it into a moment I’ll never forget. Little did I realize that it would set me on a surprising path to recovery … speedier than even my doctors predicted. I was already determined to fight cancer, but I walked off that ship with a new attitude. The boys had shown me I could turn losing my hair into a great experience, so from then on, I looked at the positives in everything. Even when chemo made me feel like I’d been hit by a truck, I focused on how I’d get to rock short haircuts that I’d never had the balls for before. Amazingly, just a few weeks after the cruise, my scans were clear. Even doctors weren’t expecting it to be gone completely after just four treatments! In the six years since, I’ve been fortunate enough to see the boys many times and they always ask how I’m feeling. It’s exciting to keep them updated on my progress — and show them my hair growing back!

Marriage…
–Tyler Shields (Photographer)

When we were shooting the In a World Like This album cover at the Salton Sea, we were out on the highway and it was noisy and hectic with trains going by. At one point, Kevin turned and was about to walk into the street and I grabbed him by his back right as a semitruck drove by. It would’ve completely taken him out. He was like, “Holy sh**, I could have just been killed.” AJ was like, “Wow, this could have been a very different day.”

I first met AJ after a mutual friend was working on a project with him and said he really wanted to do a shoot with me. I said, “I’m not doing a shoot with a Backstreet Boy. No way.” I met him and he was the nicest, super sweet guy and we became friends. When he got engaged, I said, “I’m an ordained minister and I’ve done most things on a bucket list, but I haven’t married someone and objected at a wedding. So, I would like to marry you guys if I can carry a machine gun on my back while I do it.” They agreed, then I enlisted Connor Paolo to object. He was like, “I object to this union!” then I ran down the aisle and chased him out. I came back and AJ was like, “Did the guy from Revenge just object?” and Rochelle was like, “No, that’s the guy from Gossip Girl!” I was like, “Anyone else want to f**kin’ object at my wedding? You keep your mouth shut, Kathy Griffin!” She came up to me after and said, “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve objected too, and we could have had a whole gag going.” That’s where I first met Kathy … so AJ is directly responsible for that photo [of Griffin holding a replica of Donald Trump’s decapitated head].After the wedding, she slid into my DMs and I shot her naked in her pool, then we were like, “Let’s shoot again.” So we shot again, and the rest is history…

… and Babies
–Robert Clyde (Director, If I Could Tell You)

Kevin and I decided to do a film about infertility together when we were both going through that stressful process with our wives trying to get pregnant with kid No. 2. Initially, Kevin was playing Avery’s husband in the film, and as we were writing, he saw a 20/20 special about online sperm donors who were giving women their sperm for free to help them. We knew right away that should be the angle. Once we had this new concept, I called Kevin and said, “Hey man, now we have a sketchy sperm donor character … you have to be him!” He agreed, and we rewrote the script. I remember when we settled on shoot dates, I was tasked with asking Kevin if he would be willing to shave his goatee for the film. He said, “Of course,” but when he came over, he also had a fauxhawk from the Backstreet Boys tour. I didn’t have it in me to ask him to cut that sucker off after already asking him to shave his chin!

Boy Band Summer Camp
–Danny Roew (Director, Dead 7)

Making Dead 7 was like the most fun I ever had at summer camp. The biggest reason Nick wanted to make a movie was so that he could share the experience with his friends. That’s the kind of altruistic badass he is. It was AJ’s idea to give me a brief cameo in the movie as one of the townspeople getting shot in the face — by AJ. He wanted a record of that because it was his revenge on me for beating him at Nipple Golf twice. Nipple Golf is a turn-based game that consists of looking deep into each other’s eyes and without looking down, navigating your pointer fingers to the other person’s (clothed) nipples. He probably didn’t take my advantage into account, that so many pictures of him over the years have been with his shirt off! I remember an action scene early on where AJ was so amped up that we couldn’t slow down his pacing enough. It was like he watched all the Jason Bourne movies at double speed that morning.

I also recall Howie being slightly nervous before his first scene because he’d never had that big of a role before, but less than 48 hours later, him and Joey Fatone’s chemistry constantly had the crew rolling on the floor laughing.

An advantage we discovered casting boy banders in a movie is that they hit their marks better than most actors. I’d have to assume that comes with their dance experience!

What Rivalry?
–Carrie Keagan (Actress, Dead 7)

One evening while shooting Dead 7 in Butte, Montana, I was sitting in Joey Fatone’s hotel room, aka “The Party Room,” with AJ McLean of BSB and Erik Estrada of O-Town. The conversation went from them comparing notes on sleazy managers to similar fan frenzy moments. At some point, Joey grabbed his phone to pull up a video of *NSYNC singing a BSB cover. AJ got very excited and pulled up a YouTube video of BSB singing an *NSYNC song. Erik then grabbed his phone and pulled up a video of O-Town singing a BSB cover. They were all arguing about whose cover was better because they did something special with it or the moves were better or the mimicking was perfect. Then they started doing each other’s dance moves in a warped dance-off! Then, on our last night of shooting, I got a call from Nick Carter saying I could fly back to L.A. with him and his wife on their private plane. Upon our arrival at the airport, we were escorted to the VIP lounge, where what was supposed to be a short wait turned into an hour. The captain explained there were too many bags causing the plane to become overweight, so they had to bring in an engineer to physically remove seats to accommodate the additional luggage. Nick look really confused. There were four of us and each of us had one suitcase. We walked onto the runway to see a dozen additional bags and were all looking at each other going, “What the f**k?” — except AJ, who had a wall-to-wall grin. Turns out he had gone shopping at Toys ’R’ Us and cleaned them out of 50 collectors’ Star Wars toys and action figures. Nick was like, “Dude, what the … ?” and AJ said, “What? The Force Awakens! I’m a fan!” So, there we were sitting in this beautiful private jet, on our way to Los Angeles, completely swamped by walls of Star Wars toys. There wasn’t a single empty space in sight. Clearly, the force was with us on that trip.

Hey Mr. DJ
–Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees singer)

When we were filming Dead 7 in Butte, Montana, one night we went to a local bar and brought down the house singing karaoke and covering each other’s songs. AJ, Howie, myself and Joey Fatone had the place going crazy. Here were all the local folks in Butte, not only shocked that we were in a dive bar in their hometown, but we were singing each other’s hits. It was surreal for all of us. Another night, we all went to a club after we wrapped shooting for the day and AJ did an impromptu DJ set and crushed it. We had a few beverages and he actually saved me from getting my face smashed in by a local who wasn’t a fan of boy band guys. It was your typical tough-guy talk, about how non-masculine boy band members are. AJ stepped in front of me and walked me away from a potentially dangerous situation.

Let the Music Heal Your Soul
–Lori Meono (Longtime fan)

When I think of the darkest, most troublesome times in my life, there has always been one constant — the Backstreet Boys. I found solace in their music and was lucky enough to meet them for the first time when I was 11. Over the years, their lyrics, smiles and hugs replaced each dark spot with a ray of hope, and thanks to their music, I found peace, love and happiness. Little did I know this would inspire me to become a psychologist, so I could pass those same gifts along to others who need them most.

A few years ago, I met a young woman whose brother had passed away in a tragic accident 15 years earlier. She was a child at the time, and she still hadn’t dealt with his death. Her denial became a mask she wore daily, and she feared letting go of that mask would mean she’d eventually forget who her brother was. After a few sessions, I asked her to write a letter to her brother. What she read to me the following week was one of the most moving things I’ve ever heard. She described her pain and all the things she wished they could have done together. For the first time in 15 years, she allowed herself to feel and mourn. As she cried, I played “Never Gone” by the Backstreet Boys, a song written about the loss of Kevin Richardson’s father. To say the lyrics resonated with her would be an understatement. We talked about the meaning of the song and how it impacted her. She was finally able to see that there were ways to honor her brother’s memory. She created a keepsake box with some of his mementos and would turn to it whenever she wanted to feel his presence in her life. More importantly, she understood that letting go of her mask was not the same as letting go of her brother. She realized that no matter where life took her, her brother would be “never gone, never far.”

The Perfect Fan
— Yvette Hernandez (Longtime fan)

Last May, I surprised my sister Jessie [who has Down Syndrome] by asking her to slowly read the words “You are going to see the Backstreet Boys” one by one off cue cards. I had no idea she would react how she did, and I shared a video of her reaction on YouTube because it really touched me — it still brings tears to my eyes when I watch it! Our mom died from lung cancer two years ago, and Jessie has been living with me since. She has loved the Backstreet Boys forever, and I was hoping Ellen DeGeneres might see the video and help us meet the guys backstage. Turns out we didn’t need Ellen, as the perfect fans that call themselves the Backstreet Army got to work posting the clip all over social media, and before long, AJ was tweeting, “This made my day, Jessie! Making sure that you get to come backstage as my guest.” Kevin then retweeted it, adding, “It’s done! We WILL see & meet you at Jones Beach!” Watching that dream encounter go down is a moment I will never forget. Howie even gave me a big thumbs up and said, “That was a great video!” She was so excited to meet them — it’s all she talked about for days. Dreams really do come true.

This Is Howie Do It
–Tor Hyams (Composer, How We Do)

When Lisa [Rothauser] and I told people we were working with Howie D., they’d often say, “What group is he again?” Then, if they knew he was a Backstreet Boy, they’d say, “Which one is he?” What’s interesting about being in a boy band is identity — how do you stand out when you function as a unit? So, when we got into talking about what his musical could be about, it turns out identity has been an issue with Howie since he was kid, because he had a Puerto Rican mother and Irish father, so he would constantly be wondering, “Who am I? I look Spanish, but I don’t speak Spanish!” He’s always been part of a group, so to see Howie come out and shine like he has has been pretty darn cool. He’s also a really funny guy who’s constantly making jokes and lighting up the room. We had him over for dinner, and afterward he started cleaning up and I thought, This would be great if whenever you eat dinner and it’s time to clean up, some pop star showed up and did your dishes for you. So, we did an impromptu video, and what’s great about Howie is that he just goes with the flow. He was actually a really good dishwasher. He understood how to wipe the dish off before you put it in the dishwasher, whereas a lot of people don’t get that part and it’s a crucial step in the process, because if you don’t, you can end up with crusty stuff on your plate even after it goes through the wash!

Larger Than Life
–Leena Tailor (Longtime fan and BSB reporter)

When I was 17, my friends and I ran a nationwide petition to get the Backstreet Boys to bring their Into the Millennium Tour to New Zealand. We spent endless hours printing hundreds of pages and getting them onto the counter of every record store, in every corner of the country, then promoting the online version like our lives depended on it. The finished product was larger than life — the thickness of all three Lord of the Rings books combined (original hardcover editions!), weighing a ton and no doubt costing a fortune for the local record company to send across the world. Ten years later, I had to pinch myself as the guys arrived at Auckland Airport for their This Is Us Tour and I heard Howie telling his tour manager that they had never been to New Zealand, but had fans doing petitions to get them there back in the day. “That was us!” I couldn’t help chiming in. I had always wondered if that mountain of pages ever made it from New Zealand to New York. I moved to Los Angeles a month later, and little did I realize the impact the guys would have on my new life. I made my first friend in L.A. waiting in line to see the band perform on Lopez Tonight. I won my first writing award for a story on their fan cruise. I explored the Bahamas and Napa Valley while traipsing around to shows. And, in the grueling and often brutal world of freelance writing, I broke into some of my dream outlets and continued to persevere, largely thanks to interviews, introductions or connections that came both directly or indirectly from the boys. I also did my first major feature for ET thanks to Nick and his wife, Lauren, kindly giving me their pregnancy story and photos. The band has given me the best friends, best work and best times of my life. Happy 25th, BSB!



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