Backstreet Boys at 30: Debbie Gibson, Joey Fatone, Friends, Family, Fans, Execs and More Share Their Memories

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I hope I can do the same one day,” Joey Fatone thought while watching the Backstreet Boys play one of their first major gigs in the early ‘90s. The Florida-based boy band were finding their feet in the music industry, while Fatone was yet to discover his own boy band path with NSYNC.

“I remember seeing them perform at SeaWorld Orlando, way back before Brian [Littrell] joined the group, and I thought, ‘Wow, they’re going to fulfill their dream. I hope I can do the same,’” recalls Fatone, who would develop lifelong friendships with the band and has just launched a tour with BSB’s AJ McLean, despite the groups being touted as rivals throughout the years. McLean was also in the audience at NSYNC’s recent L.A. reunion during Justin Timberlake’s show at the Wiltern. “I love that we have this friendship now and wish we had it when we first met because we could’ve done a lot more together. They’re great guys and great entertainers.”

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Being great entertainers not only helped McLean, Littrell, Kevin Richardson, Howie Dorough and Nick Carter reach dizzying heights of success by the late ‘90s — and the quintet has weathered the post-pandemonium decades as well, racking up Grammy nominations, sellout tours a major Las Vegas residency and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Now, as they prepare to wrap up their 30th anniversary celebrations with April’s ‘Backstreet’s Back at the Beach’ fan vacation at Moon Palace Resort in Cancun, Mexico, we chatted to friends, family members, musicians, colleagues and even former flames to uncover behind-the-scenes stories from the group’s 30-year run.

Angel Conrad, Carter’s sister
“My brother joined BSB when I was four and I remember going to the studio one time, and Kevin took me to lunch. I was around eight and remember driving in his car, listening to music. The bass was so loud and I thought it was the coolest thing ever! We went to lunch with his mom and it was such a memorable day. He took care of me like a brother would.

“As a little girl, my first concert was BSB and a few years ago, my husband Corey and I took our daughter to her first concert — at six months old — and it was also BSB! It’s full circle for us and makes me realize how long BSB has been a part of the family.”

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 18: (L-R) Nick Carter and Angel Conrad attend Songs For Tomorrow: A Benefit Concert in support of On Our Sleeves, The Movement for Children's Mental Health at Heart Weho on January 18, 2023 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for On Our Sleeves)
Nick Carter and Angel Conrad attend Songs For Tomorrow: A Benefit Concert in support of On Our Sleeves, The Movement for Children’s Mental Health, January 18, 2023 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for On Our Sleeves)

Rob Thomas, Matchbox Twenty frontman and solo artist
“It was my first and only time at the Kentucky Derby and it was such a mix of people. I was with the Backstreet Boys and everybody seemed to get the same memo because we all dressed like we were at a polo match – except Kid Rock, who was wearing Kid Rock attire. There were country stars, reality stars and me and the guys in BSB — we were surprised we didn’t know each other since we’re all from Orlando.

“When we finally met, there was a sense of already knowing each other. They’re just nice, normal guys. And now, I get Christmas card from Howie and his beautiful family every year.”

Andreas Carlsson, Songwriter, “I Want It That Way”
“My first encounter with the Backstreet Boys was opening for them on their first Sweden show at Solnahallen arena in 1996. That night, you couldn’t fit another screaming teenager in with a shoehorn. I was unaware of their popularity even though I was working at [the Swedish hit factory] Cheiron Studios, but that night it became evident that my future should lie in songwriting rather than being an artist. I think I was eventually booed off the stage!”

“We had so many fun moments together, especially at the Sheraton Hotel in Stockholm, where the band occupied a whole floor. Around midnight, that floor turned into a wild frat party. Everyone wanted an invite – even the Princess of Sweden.  I also remember going to a costume party at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles with Howie and AJ, where Howie dressed as AJ and vice versa. Great times!”

Debbie Gibson, musician
“I met the guys when we shared a trailer for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1997 and we instantly hit it off. They were just breaking with their first single and I was starring in “Beauty and the Beast” on Broadway. Over the years, I became great friends with Howie, attending his wedding and writing a great song called ‘The Last Word’ on his tour bus. The guys are proof that talent and hard work can sustain a career. There’s no smoke and mirrors … just willingness to work hard and re-invent to stay current in pop music.

“Fun fact: Howie and I had a brief dating foray! I’ll always have a soft spot for him and he’s forever my favorite Backstreet Boy.”

Johnny Wright, AJ McLean’s manager and former Backstreet Boys manager, Wright Entertainment Group
“The first time I met the Backstreet Boys was at an Italian restaurant in Orlando. The room had a table set for 12 people, but there was only one person at the table – Lou Pearlman. It looked like a scene from ‘The Godfather.’ He told me to sit down, we chatted, then I started hearing voices singing a familiar song. I turned and five young guys walked in singing Shai’s ‘If I Ever Fall in Love.’ I was so impressed. The next day I was part of their management.”

Jeff Timmons, 98 Degrees musician
“Right before we got signed, we met our future manager after sneaking backstage at a Boyz II Men concert. He said he’d give us a shot at singing the National Anthem at the Puyallup Fair in Washington, where his client Montell Jordan was performing. We made the 17-hour drive from Los Angeles, got there and sang, but noticed another group with 30 screaming girls following them everywhere. They got on stage and did their thing and I remember going, ‘Man, I hope we have those kinds of fans one day!’ It was the Backstreet Boys.”

Jamie Hartman, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ co-writer/ producer
“I was a massive fan and ‘As Long As You Love Me’ was one of my favorite songs, so getting to work with them was great fun. Stu [Crichton], Wrabel and I wrote the song and Stu instantly said, ‘It’s right for the Backstreet Boys.’ They came into Westlake Studios and everyone was super-cool — it was good old-fashioned hard work from humble guys who threw their parts down brilliantly.

“They all brought their individual flavor, which reinforced why they work so well together. The blend was so great. We wrote that track with big group harmony parts in mind and took the time to choose who did which parts. Kevin created the vocoder on the bridge. We call it the Kevcoder!”

Delta Goodrem, musician
“I grew up absolutely loving BSB so I was particularly excited to open for them on the DNA World Tour, sharing the stage with a band that’s been a huge part of the soundtrack to my life. One of my favorite moments was when Brian jumped onstage during my set and started singing with me. The crowd went nuts! And Howie wearing my merch on-stage was spectacular – a full-circle, pinch-me moment. I was in the audience feeling like a teenage girl!”

Gary Baker, producer/songwriter
“I first met them at the Fox Theater in Atlanta after a song I wrote for them, ‘Anywhere for You,’ became a hit overseas. It was around the time All 4 One’s ‘I Swear,’ which I wrote, was massive so they introduced me to the stage and sang a little of ‘I Swear.’ I remember being in New York’s Battery Studios when they were huge in Germany but had nothing in America and Brian was like, ‘Help us get a hit. We’ve got to break here!’ I didn’t have anything do with that hit, but was grateful to have a song on [the 1999 album] ‘Millennium.’

“They quickly blew up and one time Howie and I were at lunch and had to call the police to escort us out because 400 girls were outside. But no matter how big they became, they remained down-to-earth. They’d attend my son’s little league games, read to them, and Kevin was at both my children’s weddings. He and Brian also inducted me into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. It’s been amazing working with them from the very beginning.”

Jesse McCartney, musician
“I had the great pleasure of touring with them twice over their 30-year career and never have I seen a group of people in an audience sing songs louder or more passionately than at a Backstreet Boys concert.”

Ryan Cabrera, musician
“I met Nick in the early 2000s when we were all out on the town, back when Hollywood nightclubs were at their best, and I’d run into the other cats in Grammy rooms or radio shows. I love that they all have such different personalities. AJ has become one of my golf buddies and I remember playing with him for the first time — he’s way better than me, yet somehow, I was whoopin’ him and he quit halfway through because I was giving him so much shit. I’m yet to beat him since!”

Joe Riccitelli, record executive, Goldn Retriever Ent.
“I met the guys at their Boston Garden show, early on the ‘Millennium’ tour. My first impression was their live show and the fans’ reaction. Before joining Jive Records in 1999, I had worked with U2 and thought those fans were absolutely bonkers – I really wasn’t prepared for the Backstreet Boys fans! What strikes me most is the boys’ resiliency. They’ve always amazed me with their ability to stay driven, hungry and passionate to their fans and their craft.”

Courtesy Andrew Fromm
Courtesy Andrew Fromm

Andrew Fromm, Songwriter on “Millennium”
“I remember meeting the guys at Battery Studios when they were recording ‘I’ll Never Break Your Heart.’ Nick was playing pool and we talked about music that inspired him, like Chicago, Richard Marx and Journey. I told him I loved the same artists and ‘I Need You Tonight’ came from that inspiration.

“Back then, the guys complained their friends didn’t believe how famous they were overseas. When they landed overseas, they were bombarded with thousands of fans at the airport, but when they came home it was crickets. That soon changed! One time, I was with Howie at the ‘Today’ show and thousands of fans broke through the barriers. I got pinned against the bus, then suddenly these big arms grabbed my collar and I got hoisted over the fans and saved by his bodyguard.”

David Broer-LeRoux, Art Director, “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” video

“I was decorating a house in Culver City when I got a page from the production office working on the Backstreet Boys’ new video. The art department was falling apart due to lack of sleep and they needed help. I met the boys the next day.

“The funniest moment came just before the final banquet scene with the rats — I doubled as rat wrangler on that shoot. The boys were okay-ish with rats, but not the ladies. They were freaking out, so I joked the rats were SAG [union members] while the extras weren’t, which made everyone laugh and averted the revolt. The rats ran along trails of watermelon juice I’d laid down — the rat peering into the goblet [in the video] was going after a piece I put inside. Rats will do anything for watermelon!”

Courtesy Eddie Meehan
Courtesy Eddie Meehan

Eddie Meehan, CEO of fan engagement company Please & Thank You
“I met Howie when he had a management company and was working with the Clique Girls, who Interscope hired me to work with, then Backstreet brought me on after Kevin left. From the moment I met them, I forgot they were famous — you meet Rod Stewart and it’s like, ‘Holy moly, it’s Rod Stewart,’ but with these guys it was just like, ‘What’s up?’

“The sheer scale of their popularity is breathtaking. There’s been three different times when fans in non-English speaking countries told me how they grew up extremely poor but learned how to speak English through Backstreet Boys albums, went on to become translators or teachers.”

Jonathan Knight, New Kids on the Block musician
“I met them after New Kids ended and Lou Pearlman asked me to come to Florida and help them. At first, I was a little jealous because I thought, ‘Who are these kids? Are they trying to take over our spot?’ But we had already broken up and they were the sweetest kids. They were so excited and curious and had so many questions for me. I connected with Howie right away — he loves everybody! — and AJ was dating my friend’s daughter, so I got to know him well.

“But the coolest thing that came out of these friendships was our NKOTBSB tour — it was one of the pinnacles of my career. I remember us all walking down the catwalk and it just felt so cool, like we were this big boy band posse.”

Courtesy Sonia Benezra
Courtesy Sonia Benezra

Sonia Benezra, media personality
“I was hosting a popular talk show and convinced the network I should do a special on this up-and-coming band, the Backstreet Boys. I met them at Quebec airport and they were shy, excited, respectful kids. I’ll never forget walking into AJ’s room and seeing cans of nutrition supplements and weightlifting stuff and he was like, ‘I want to build muscle, so I can be strong on-stage!’ Kevin was the big brother – quiet, pensive and reflective with a calming aura the boys gravitated to for advice and protection. Brian was another brother-type. Nick was the little heartthrob, who wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into, but excited nonetheless. Howie and I had a special bond. I liked his soul and he never tried to steal the spotlight.

“I knew there was something magical about these boys. When most kids start out, they just want fame, but they wanted to make good music and do good things. Somehow Lou Pearlman, as bad as he was, picked the right boys to bring together. They shared values and leaned on each other. When AJ had trouble with [substance abuse], Kevin helped pull him back into reality. And I sometimes wonder how Nick would’ve turned out had he not had these boys to lean on.

“Two years ago, there was a 34-year-old Quebec woman, Caroline Gauthier, on television because she’d chosen doctor-assisted suicide since her cancer had returned. She talked about how she listened to Backstreet Boys daily. I reached out to Howie and management and next thing Caroline emailed me showing me messages they’d taped for her. She said it changed everything for her and she was leaving at peace and with great joy. That’s the Backstreet Boys in a nutshell.”


Eddie Volkman, Program Director/Content Manager, Star 96.7, WSSR-FM
“I had met them in 1996 when my station, B96 in Chicago, was one of the first to jump on their music. Two years later, my then-girlfriend Amber and I did a meet-and-greet and afterwards, AJ McLean said, ‘Wait up.’ The guys formed a semi-circle around Amber, dropped to one knee and sang ‘A Toast to Our Love,’ then AJ said, ‘Amber, will you marry Eddie?’ She stood giggling until AJ went, ‘Yes or no? Because we have to go on-stage.’ She said ‘Yes’ and everyone cheered.

“My wife never liked surprises and after they left, she cracked me over the head with her $40 souvenir program and said, ‘I’m gonna kill you.’ But once the shock wore off, she spent half the concert on her phone telling friends what had happened.”

Devon Daniels, fan in “I Want It That Way” video

“For a 17-year-old, boy band-crazed junior, this was my 15 minutes of fame – I couldn’t possibly know they would last 25 years! The filming was something every millennial’s dreams were made of. We interacted with the guys and I was starstruck watching legendary director Wayne Isham. I never dreamed my close-up would be shown twice. While the now-iconic imagery of girls screaming in an airplane hangar has become emblematic of early 2000s pop music, we never realized we were playing a role in music history. This was our generation’s version of girls fainting over the Beatles.

“In 2021, I posted a video about the filming on TikTok and received thousands of comments from people delighted to learn more about ‘that screaming blonde girl’ in the video. Some said they’d wondered where I was now (I’m an author and wrote a Backstreet Boys joke into my first book). I even received comments from the Backstreet Boys. If you’d told 17-year-old me that one day Nick Carter would be thanking her for being in their video, I wouldn’t have believed you. ‘I Want It That Way’ reminds us of a more innocent, simpler, safe and hopeful time.”

Courtesy Charlotte Weinckoski
Courtesy Charlotte Weinckoski

Charlotte Weinckoski, Dorough and wife Leigh’s business partner in handbag line ESLLA

My husband met Leigh and invited her and Howie to come for dinner. I was going through chemo, had lost my hair and wasn’t feeling my best, so felt unbelievably nervous and wasn’t sure what how I’d relate to Howie, Leigh and their celebrity lifestyle. I was immediately struck by how kind, grounded and humble they were. Howie could see I was nervous and went out of his way to make me feel comfortable … in my own home! Within minutes we were talking and laughing and it felt like we’d known them for years.”

Cara Wodnicki, AJ McLean’s publicist, CSW Publicity
“I was working in PR in New York and my boss told me I’d be joining a business meeting, but that she’d surprise me with who it was. When I walked in, I did everything in my power to hold it together. I must’ve handled my surprise well because 13 years later, we’re still working together. I may never live those fangirl days down, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

“My passion for music and the reason I work in this industry can be credited to these five guys, who pulled at every little string of my 13-year-old heart. As a born-and-bred Montrealer, I got to know the Backstreet Boys before they broke Stateside and there are incredible memories from performances at MusiquePlus and sold-out nights at the Molson Centre during an epic ice storm. Here’s to the next 30 years!”

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