PROLOGUE: Meet the Boys!
The fans have been waiting outside the hall for hours, maybe even since
the night before. They are with their best friends, and perhaps with a
parent or older sibling who has come along to make sure everything goes
okay. They have been anticipating this night for weeks. Maybe they already
stood in line outside this very hall for tickets weeks before. Maybe they
dialed the telephone number for the ticket agency over and over again
until they finally got through. Maybe they won the tickets in a local
radio station contest. No matter how they got the tickets, the fact is
that they _have_ these precious pieces of paper in their hands,
and they are not letting them go until they must hand them to the
ticket-taker, who will finally allow them into the hall.
At last the gates open and the girls--thousands of them--are allowed
in. The crowd surges forward once the buzz moves back to the farther
reaches of the line that the time has come for these dedicated fans to be
let in at last. After all, haven't they been waiting forever? It seems
Their tickets are ripped in half, and the fans race into the hall,
cardboard signs, teddy bears, roses, and chaperones in tow. The wide-open
space that was empty and silent just moments before now fills with
thousands of people within minutes. The fans settle themselves in the best
spot they can find, which with some luck has a decent view of the stage.
The stage is set fairly high up, so even though thousands of people will
be standing at the same level, they should be able to see well enough. But
even though they have now staked out their positions, they must wait some
more. It seems like an eternity.
The noise in the hall increases as the thousands of people pour in.
Soon chanting begins: "Back-street Boys. Back-street Boys." It starts
softly, swells, reaches an ear-shattering, floor-stomping pitch, and then
subsides again. It starts again a few minutes later, washing over the
crowd in waves. Some people are singing snippets of songs. Others are
climbing up on their friends' shoulders to get a better view of the stage
and find out what is going on, but the only thing they see is roadies
walking back and forth across the stage, moving equipment around,
seemingly meaninglessly. When will they leave the stage so the show can
Finally the lights go down and the screaming starts. The fans don't
even realize how loud they are; because they are so happy and excited, the
screams and yells of delight just come out of their mouths spontaneously.
The chanting begins again, only much louder than before. It continues
nonstop for several minutes, people stamping their feet to keep the beat.
They wave their signs high in the air and hold up sparklers and lighters,
trying to will the Boys onto the stage. Spotlights start to pan over the
crowd, momentarily lighting up the thousands of hands waving in the air,
alternating between bathing them in bright white light and plunging them
The spotlights go out and a momentary hush falls over the crowd as the
tiniest bit of music is heard. Ten, maybe twenty seconds of the song
"Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," and then silence. A pause. More screaming.
At last a man's deep voice is heard over the loudspeaker--a thunderous
noise, even louder than the chanting. "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!
Welcome to [whatever hall, stadium, forum, or center]! We have a very
special show for you tonight!" Suddenly two huge screens above the stage
light up, flashing larger-than-life baby and childhood pictures of the
Boys as the announcer says the following: "And now we present A.J. ...
Kevin ... B-Rok ... Howie D. ... and Nick! Ladies and gentlemen ...the
Screams of joy fill the hall. It's deafening. It rocks the house. It
feels as if the concrete is moving beneath their feet. Darkness again.
Then the voice returns with a countdown: "Ten, nine, eight, seven,
six, five, four, three, two ... one!" The stage lights up and suddenly
there they are--the Backstreet Boys--striking poses, wearing various red,
white, and blue nylon racing outfits. They move around the stage, waving
hello to their joyous fans, the smiles on the Boys' faces matching those
of their audience. They sing a snippet of the childhood favorite "If
You're Happy And You Know It," and the fans scream back in response. Then
the Boys start doing a short introductory rap. The audience goes wild.
The band starts almost out of nowhere, and the Boys launch into their
first song, appropriately "Let's Have A Party," with Nick singing lead.
This show--and the hundreds of others that the Backstreet Boys have
performed in their more than three-year career--is nothing less than a
fabulous party. They are onstage for more than an hour, singing,
harmonizing, dancing, smiling, waving, serenading,_ connecting_--and
the fans couldn't love them more for it.
No matter what country they are in, no matter how many consecutive
days they have been on the road and away from their homes and families, no
matter how many times they have sung "Boys Will Be Boys" or "As Long As
You Love Me" over and over again, no matter how many times they have heard
the delighted screams of their adoring fans, the Boys always give it their
all. And never, ever anything less.
It's no mystery, really, that the Backstreet Boys are a huge national and
international megagroup, adored equally by fans in Singapore and San
Francisco, in New Zealand and New York. The Backstreet Boys have a great
sound; beautiful, sweet, smooth-as-silk harmonies; slamming dance moves;
catchy songs, both slow and fast; handsome faces; positive outlooks; and,
not the least of it, a genuine appreciation for their fans. It's a
lovefest between fans all over the world and these regular, down-to-earth
guys home-grown in Florida and Kentucky. Who can resist this charming
fivesome when they answer that they will stay together and sing for their
fans "As Long As You Love Me"?
For many American fans, it seems as if the Backstreet Boys came out of
nowhere when they started burning up the charts in the summer of 1997. But
the Boys first came together in 1993 and became a major international
sensation in as many as thirty-five countries starting in 1995 before
returning to the United States to conquer their home turf. Theirs is a
Cinderella story of sorts, especially since the Boys first got their start
not far from (and maybe partially because of?) the Magic Kingdom itself.
Ironically, the Boys have a self-admitted reputation as being the
world's most popular group no one has ever heard of. But mention the song
"Quit Playing Games (With My Heart)" and people of all ages will start
singing this smash single--"na, na, na, na, na's" and all.
In this book you will get up close and personal with each of these
five funky guys: A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Brian "B-Rok" Littrell, Kevin
"Kev" Richardson, and Howie "Howie D." Dorough. You will get the inside
scoop on everything from their loves to their dislikes, their individual
talents, their childhoods, their secrets, their dreams, and their hopes
for the future. You will find out how the Boys first came together and
why, where their interest in music came from, how they followed their
dreams without looking back, and how they made it to the top of the
national and international music scene (beautiful voices, talent, and
smokin' good looks never hurt!). We'll follow the Boys' rise to
international stardom (it took a lot of hard work and many nights sleeping
on cold tour buses) and tell how and why the group conquered foreign lands
before they returned to the good ol' U.S. of A.
Follow the Boys on their adventures all over the world. Meet some of
the most dedicated BSB fans (a few of whom have written personal accounts
in this book just for you). Find out to what lengths some daring fans will
go to get a face-to-face with their favorite Boys. Get an exclusive look
at what it is like backstage before the show. Check out the chapter about
the Boys' original sense of style, both as a group and individually. Get
the scoop on each of the guys' love life sitches: whether or not they are
currently involved, what they would do on a dream date, who is the most
romantic of the five, and who has had a touch of not-so-great luck in love
(you might be surprised).
While I didn't actually meet the Boys or inter-view them for this
book, I did do lots of research on the Boys from several U.S. and
international sources--including fan magazines, Web sites, and
newspapers--to give you, the dedicated BSB fan, the best all-out scoop I
could. It's all about helping you keep the Backstreet pride alive.
Now, on with the show!
CHAPTER 1: Coming Together
Flashback to early 1993. The place is Orlando, Florida. No one knows who
the Backstreet Boys are (can you imagine such a time?), because they
haven't all met one another and the group does not yet exist. At this
point, the five future members--A.J. McLean, Howie Dorough, Nick Carter,
Kevin Richardson, and Brian Littrell--are only cosmically connected in one
way or another. Though they are aware of their own personal dreams, hopes,
and desires, they don't yet know that soon they will be members of what
will become, in just a couple of years, one of the hottest music groups in
In a way, you could think of Disney World and its environs as the
birthplace of the Backstreet Boys. The Magic Kingdom certainly worked its
own brand of magic on the lives of five boys, all of whom shared the dream
of singing, dancing, and performing for others--thousands of others.
Disney World was like a magnet, drawing the boys together in one place and
changing their lives forever.
So how'd they all get there?
A.J., Howie, and Nick were the first to meet one another. The three of
them all lived in the Orlando, Florida, area at the time. A.J. and Howie
coincidentally (or fatefully, depending on how you look at it) shared the
same vocal coach. The voice coach introduced them, probably because these
two boys were about the same age, had similar sounds, and liked the same
kind of music.
The three guys were also individually making the rounds of local
auditions at places such as Universal and MGM Studios, so they would often
run into one another there. They started to talk and pass the time
together while waiting their turn to be called. It was then that these
three realized that they had a lot in common--namely, music. They shared
similar tastes in the artists and style of music they liked to listen to
So one day while they were hanging out, they decided to try singing
something together. They harmonized to a song by the Temptations. They
really liked the way their voices sounded together and thought, "Hey, why
not form an a cappella singing group?" (_A cappella_ means
"without instrumental accompaniment.")
Kevin Richardson had recently made his way south to work in Disney World.
In 1991 he was living at home in Lexington, Kentucky, dreaming about
getting into big-time entertainment. Growing up, he had loved all kinds of
music and had sung in church choirs. After graduating from high school, he
had moved on to doing some singing with a local Top 40 cover band, but
that wasn't satisfying him, so he started making plans for something
bigger and better. Luckily, Kevin didn't have to stray too far from home
to check out showbiz. Because a lot of television and movie work was
starting to become available in Orlando, Florida, at that time, Kevin
didn't have to relocate to New York City or Los Angeles to try making a go
of his dream.
He packed up his bags and headed to Orlando to see what kind of work
he could find there. The first gig he got was as a tour guide at Disney
World. It was a beginning, that's for sure. What also made him happy was
that the job allowed him some time to practice his singing and do some
songwriting. He then landed parts at Disney as a Teenage Mutant Ninja
Turtle and Alad-din (a character who had a lot of magic on his side).
Not too long after Kevin got settled, a friend of his heard him
singing and thought he had a great voice. The friend asked Kevin if he
wanted to try singing with some other guys he knew who had formed an a
cappella group. Guess which group that was? Yup--A.J., Howie, and Nick's
group. The trio met Kevin and dug the way his voice blended with their
sound, so they asked him to join up.
Then came a big opportunity. The guys saw an advertisement in the
local newspaper looking for those who were interested in forming a boy
band. The ad was placed by Louis J. Pearlman, who was not only the cousin
of Art Garfunkel (one half of Simon and Garfunkel, a famous singing duo
from the '60s and '70s) but also was starting a record company.
Before deciding to get into the music biz, Lou Pearlman had been the
owner of a very profitable company in Orlando called Airship International
Ltd., which provided the blimps that flew ads for big corporations like
Budweiser and McDonald's high over sports stadiums and other outdoor
events. But in the 1970s Louis had been a musician in his own right: He
played guitar in a band in New York that actually was the opener for
well-known artists of the time, such as Barry White and Gloria Gaynor. So
by the early 1990s he was ready to return to the music world, but this
time to help other young artists get their start.
Louis Pearlman hired two talent agents in Florida, Scott Hoekstra and
Jeanne Tanzy, to hold auditions for performers interested in forming a
"boy band." The talent agents put an ad in the local papers and set up
auditions for fifty hopeful candidates, four of which were none other than
A.J. McLean, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, and Kevin Richardson.
The four guys nailed the audition, but all thought they needed a fifth
to round out their sound. Kevin had the good idea of calling his cousin
Brian Littrell back home in Kentucky and convincing him to come down to
audition as well. Kevin and Brian had grown up together and were very
close, especially because they shared a musical bond. When they were
younger, both sang in choirs at local churches. They also had grown up
entertaining their large extended family by singing doo-wop, barbershop
quartet music, and their favorite contemporary songs. As Brian got older,
he especially started to like the smooth sounds of R&B, counting Luther
Vandross as one of his influences.
The story goes that Brian was in history class when he heard his name
being announced on the school loudspeaker. At first he was worried that it
was bad news, but when he left class, got on the phone, and heard his
cousin Kevin's excited voice telling him to come down to Florida
immediately, Brian knew fate was at work somehow. Fully aware of the
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity his cousin described to him, Brian got his
act together very quickly and hightailed it to Orlando by plane the very
next day to audition in the hopes of becoming the fifth member. The combo
of their five voices worked like--you guessed it--magic. A group was born.
Once the five guys joined up, they needed a name--something catchy,
yet something that told where they came from. In Orlando there was a flea
market called the Backstreet Market, which was the center of a lot of
activity. When the market was not set up, the space was a big, empty
parking lot, so the kids in the area appropriated it as their local
hangout. They would drive up in their cars, socialize, and listen to
music. So the group adopted the name "Backstreet." They added on "Boys"
because, as Kevin once explained in a radio interview overseas, "No matter
how old we get, we'll always be Boys. And back in the U.S., when you say
we're 'Boys,' that means that you are friends." So the name "Backstreet
Boys" was created! Unfortunately, the actual market no longer exists,
because a new building has been built on the lot. But its memory will live
on in the name the Boys chose for themselves.
Getting Down to Work
The newly formed Backstreet Boys were enthusiastic from the start. They
were thrilled to be working together and knew they had a good thing going,
so they dedicated themselves to making big things happen for the five of
them. They knew this was their chance, so they pulled together as a team,
and soon began feeling like a family. They learned to rely on their
instincts, their experience in entertainment, and their talents. But first
they needed to get used to working with one another and get their act down.
They began by rehearsing at Louis Pearlman's warehouse in Kissimmee,
singing covers of hits by contemporary artists, such as Boyz II Men's
"It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday" and Shai's "If I Ever Fall In
Love" (which BSB still sings live to this day), as well as tunes by
veteran artists such as Smokey Robinson. To practice, get more comfortable
performing live, and start making new fans, the Boys spent a lot of time
doing gigs at high schools, theme parks like Sea World, and talent shows
in the Orlando, Florida, area.
They also auditioned wherever they needed to--restaurants, boardrooms,
office lobbies--in front of everyone from the press to high-flying record
execs at major music labels looking to sign the next hot thing. Those
people who saw them in the early days were ready to compare the Boys to
one of their successful predecessors, New Kids on the Block. However, it
was clear that these Boys had a special quality to them and a natural
talent that could possibly make them even bigger stars than NKOTB, which
was popular in the 1980s.
As the Boys got used to each other and learned their individual strong
points, they started to add in their unique brand of funk and original BSB
flavor. They knew they did amazing harmonies together but wanted to add
their own personalities and style to the mix. And since all five Boys knew
how to move to the groove, they added some slick dance routines to their
act, and BSB was on their way.
Soon the Boys were ready to record their very first single. It was a
track called "Tell Me That I'm Dreaming," which was a song that Lou
Pearlman himself had composed. BSB recorded this single for Pearlman's
independent record label, called Trans Continental. Pearlman then made
hundreds of copies of the song on cassette so they could hand them out not
only to fans at the Boys' early appearances and shows but also to
record-business people to get the word out about the new Boys.
It was clear that Lou really believed in the Boys from the very
beginning and had only the highest of hopes for them. In a 1993 article
about him in the Orlando Sentinel, Lou said he was already thinking about
the day when BSB would come back home to be the headlining performers at
the Orlando Arena. In the liner notes of the Boys' U.S.-released
self-titled CD that came out four years after they first got together,
A.J. thanks Lou, a.k.a. "Big Poppa," and calls him "our brother, father,
friend, and the list goes on."
In July 1993 Pearlman asked the music management team of Donna and
Johnny Wright, of Wright Stuff Management, to come on board to work with
the Boys. Pearlman approached Donna and her husband, Johnny, because they
had been the management team behind the whopping success of New Kids on
the Block (Johnny was their tour manager).
While Pearlman was high on the Wrights, at first the husband-wife team
wasn't sure if they wanted to take on another boy band--even though they
had done so well with NKOTB and clearly knew the market for this genre of
music. The Wrights were finally convinced to work with BSB by first seeing
a videotape of the Boys performing at Grad Nite at Sea World in May '93
and then hearing them sing a cappella live at a local restaurant. After
hearing their harmonies, Donna Wright saw that these five guys had some
major talent and that the group would have wide appeal outside of their
hometown. It also helped that most of the Boys already had some experience
working professionally in the entertainment business. She told the Los
Angeles Times, "When I first heard the Backstreet Boys, I got the chills
so strong that the hairs stood up straight on the back of my neck."
Right out of the gate, the Wrights started working their connections
to get BSB some major attention and performing experience. The Wrights
arranged for the Backstreet Boys to open for After 7 and Young MC at a
concert in Portland, Oregon, at the Civic Arena. In the fall of 1993 BSB
then did a national tour of high schools, ending with stops at schools in
central Florida in October. BSB also began forming a solid fan base by
performing at junior high and high schools and other small venues, like
theme parks and summer festivals, where the audiences were mostly kids.
Doing these smaller gigs also gave the Boys time to polish and perfect
their act by getting live feedback from their audiences.
Because the Boys promoted clean living, no drugs, and other positive
messages and came from fairly religious upbringings, other kids
immediately related to the Boys and their music. What also helped win over
new fans was that from the start, BSB always made it a priority to meet
and be accessible to as many people in their audience as they could, which
is something they continue to do to this day, even after becoming a huge
success. In the early days, getting up close and personal with the people
who cheered them on and supported them helped BSB lay a solid groundwork
for the future.
While all of this was totally exciting for the BSB crew, by no means
was this time in their lives all fun and games. Performing as a new group
for audiences who had never heard them was a nerve-wracking experience for
the fivesome. They were passionate about proving that they were not just
another group of handsome faces with one kind of sound--or worse, a fake
sound. Since they could naturally sing and harmonize beautifully together,
they wanted to set themselves apart from the music acts that came before
them, including the New Kids on the Block. They were determined to get out
from under that shadow and create their own sound and look--and they
worked to make that happen.
Once the Boys got more experience under their belts, the Wrights then
started setting up bigger gigs for the group: opening for major, solid
acts that drew audiences of all ages, such as Richard Marx, Kenny G, REO
Speedwagon, and the Village People. BSB also started performing at music
festivals in different parts of the United States to expand the group's
exposure. The plan worked like a charm. Soon the Boys were opening for
major acts who were performing locally, such as Brandy, Jon Secada, and En
The Big Break
Since they were doing an awesome job at their live performances, the Boys,
Lou Pearlman, and the Wrights thought that BSB was ready to go after a
recording deal with a major label. Luckily, Donna had some strong
connections in the music biz from her days of working with NKOTB. For a
while she had been urging her friend David McPherson, who was then a
talent scout at Mercury Records in New York, to listen to the new group
she was working with. So one day while the Boys were up onstage performing
in a concert in Cleveland, she called McPherson on her cellular phone,
held it up high, and let the Boys' sweet voices--and the fans'
enthusiastic cheers and screams--speak for themselves. As it turns out,
McPherson wasn't home, but his answering machine recorded the wild
reaction of the crowd. When he heard the message, he was so intrigued that
he decided to meet the Boys at their next stop. After seeing what all the
hype was about firsthand, McPherson immediately saw that the Backstreet
Boys had what it took to be a big sensation. So the Boys signed a
recording contract with Mercury Records in 1993.
Soon after, McPherson left Mercury to become an A&R director at Jive
Records, an R&B label. Probably since the time for BSB's unique brand of
pop music wasn't yet right (see Chapter 3 for some background info),
Mercury dropped BSB without ever doing anything with them. So McPherson,
knowing what kind of potential the five guys from Florida had goin' on,
signed the band to Jive Records. The Boys were pumped about going with
Jive, since R. Kelly, who is one of the Boys' idols, was also signed to
Jive. And it didn't take long for the Backstreet Boys and Jive Records to
become a winning combo.
From the very beginning, Dave jumped in to work with the Boys. His
first order of business: help them refine their act, sign up some of the
best music producers in the industry to work with them, and get them into
the studio to start recording ASAP.
While each of the Boys had natural talent and basic performing skills,
McPherson saw that they still needed to polish up their singing and
dancing abilities so that they would be in top form to record and tour.
The Boys were more than ready for the challenge, and they were able to
take advantage of all kinds of valuable resources that were now available
to them through working with a major record label. So the Boys started
collaborating with professional vocal coaches, stylists, choreographers,
producers, and musi-cians who could help bring them to the next level.
The sound BSB was going for was an original mix of R&B, hip-hop,
blues, gospel, and pop. Vocal harmony needed to be a big part of whatever
they did. To get inspiration, they looked to a wide variety of artists.
First they studied the music they had listened to while they were growing
up, such as Manhattan Transfer, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and the
Stylistics. The more contemporary sounds they really loved and wanted to
draw from were Boyz II Men, Jodeci, Shai, New Edition, Jon Secada, Bobby
Brown, Steve Perry from Journey, and Color Me Badd.
At last, in 1995, they were ready to roll--into the studio to record
their first single for Jive. The Boys got on a plane to go to Stockholm,
Sweden, to work with Denniz PoP of Ace of Base fame. Denniz produced the
group's first single, "We've Got It Goin' On," which the Backstreet Boys
recorded in his studio, called Cheiron Studios.
With the release of this single, the Backstreet Boys would soon learn
that they really did have it goin' on.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Givin' It Their All by Sherri Rifkin. Copyright © 1998 by Sherri Rifkin. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.