Baylee Littrell was just 10 when he opened up for his dad Brian Littrell and his group, the Backstreet Boys, on their In a World Like This Tour. Singing Michael Jackson and Mariah Carey covers, the youngster had fans gushing over “Brian’s cute little mini-me.”
Six years later, those fans were singing along to the teen’s original songs, holding up adoring signs and screaming so loud it brought him to tears during his opening stint for the boy band during their DNA World Tour over the summer.
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“There were two shows where fans were so loud, I was just in awe,” Baylee tells Variety, ahead of the release of his debut album “770-Country,” which saw him working with both his parents, recording tracks by Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and overcoming heartache by writing a song himself. “I’ve never heard a crowd cheer like that, other than for the boys. I cried when I got off stage,”
Having grown up in the industry, the 16-year-old is no stranger to those ear-piercing, boy band-induced shrieks, but chances are he never imagined they would one day be for him when he sat down at the age of 7 and penned his first song.
By 10, he was on tour with the group and at 13, he was the youngest cast member in Broadway musical “Disaster!” After catching the country bug and dropping his debut single “Don’t Knock It” a year ago, he’s now proudly preparing to release “770-Country” via his family’s label BriLeigh Records.
The 13-track album, which has just gone up for pre-order, has a “song for everyone,” Baylee says, from the upbeat, vacation vibe-emitting “We Run This Beach” to the heavy ballad “Let Her Go,” with the teen’s raw heartache emotionally exuded through his vocals on the track.
“I had my heart broken right before tour when my girlfriend broke up with me, and it sucked,” he explains. “I was shattered, then I thought, ‘I’m sitting around moping when I could be doing something.’” Expressing his pain through his guitar, the song became a family affair, with Brian helping him complete the track and his mom and manager, Leighanne, co-producing the song.
For Brian, striving for longevity was key when it came to helping Baylee select and write songs for the record. “I’m just a dad, but I’m also a fan of my son and want him to be successful,” he says. “This business is about having a career, not just one or two hits. It’s about longevity and the quality of the music, so that’s what I tried to bring to the table.”
The 44-year-old boy bander also recorded a duet with Baylee, “Come Kiss Me,” which was produced by Grammy-winning musician and long-time Backstreet Boys collaborator Gary Baker. Gary originally presented the song (written by Stephen Eric Kirk) to the quintet for their “DNA” record and it instantly resonated with Brian, who kept it in mind for Baylee.
The ballad is set to give the Backstreet Boys some competition in the wedding world. While their love songs and party-starting anthems have provided the soundtrack for many fans’ big days over the last two decades, it was “Come Kiss Me” that helped set the scene when one Backstreet Boys fan, Kimberly Jones-Walton, walked down the aisle in October.
“Kimberly’s been an amazing fan for many years, so Leighanne surprised her by sending her the song to use,” Brian explains. “The first time it ever gets played is somebody’s wedding: it’s the perfect love song story,” Baylee adds.
For Baker, it was surreal seeing Brian in the studio with his “lookalike” son. “It’s amazing how much Baylee already understands about the business, recording and touring,” says the former country singer, who worked with the Backstreet Boys on “Millennium” ballads like “Back to Your Heart,” and, more recently, the group’s upcoming album of reimagined hits. “He’s ahead of the game because he grew up in it and had two good teachers; Leighanne’s a great teacher, too. And the whole country thing is very real for him. He’s a Southern boy from Georgia; he sings country well and has a great tone for it.”
The album also features country music players including Canadian Steven Lee Olsen, who Baylee describes as “the most gifted writer I know,” and Corey Crowder from Tree Vibez, a publishing company founded by Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley. Tyler also co-wrote two songs on the record, including “Some Guys.”
“I think every guy needs a girl and that’s basically what this song’s about,” Baylee said, introducing the track while opening for Chris Lane in Georgia on Saturday.
It was Florida Georgia Line’s 2017 collaboration with the Backstreet Boys on “God, Your Mama and Me” which inspired Baylee’s foray into the genre. The song also birthed a close friendship between Brian and the duo, so when Brian mentioned Baylee’s project to Hubbard, he jumped at the chance to contribute.
Baylee admits fanboying when he unexpectedly came face-to-face with his idol in Nashville. “I was recording and Corey stopped the track and said, ‘Come in. Tyler’s here.’ I was like, ‘What!?’ I opened the studio door and Tyler goes, ‘Hey man. I just want you to know that me and BK support you and we’re excited for your record.’ It was one of the best memories from recording.”
Having key support in the country world and a dad who’s been in the business for nearly 27 years means some might assume Baylee’s had an easy ride into showbiz, but he notes such advantages can also prove challenging. “It’s amazing to have doors cracked open for you a little more than others might, and I’ve had amazing opportunities touring with the Backstreet Boys and getting exposure not many first-time artists get,” Baylee says. “But there’s also a lot of backlash and hateful comments like, ‘You can’t actually sing.’”
“I’m confident in my abilities and I’m doing this for the love of it, not because my dad did it or I want to be famous or buy a gigantic mansion,” he continues. “I love music, wherever it takes me, even if it’s playing on the street. I’ve been blessed with opportunities, but I’ve also put in the blood, sweat and tears.”
Brian’s the first to vouch for Baylee’s dedication and commitment, describing the youngster as “16 going on 25.” He doesn’t deny the impact his own success has had on Baylee, but agrees it’s a “double-edged sword.”
“Sometimes because of the success I’ve had with Backstreet Boys, people assume he’ll have everything at his fingertips, but that’s not always the case,” he says. “Baylee has to back it up with raw talent and if he can’t, he doesn’t belong in this business. He has it. I don’t say that just because he’s my son — I see it. And in the world today, if you’re not being real, people see through the facade.”
While the teen may have the talent and dedication to back his superstar support, there’s no denying the impact the Backstreet Boys and their “Backstreet Army” have had on his success, as shown during the DNA World Tour shows, which brought the teen to tears.
“The Backstreet Army are so supportive and have helped us get to where we are,” Baylee says. “So, for them to hop on my journey, especially when some of them aren’t into country music, means the world to me.”
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