Backstreet Boys talk AJ McLean winning 'RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race' and why his family 'thought he was moonlighting as a stripper'

Backstreet Boys star AJ McLean as Poppy Love, winner of 'RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag race.' (Photo: World of Wonder)
Backstreet Boys star AJ McLean as Poppy Love, winner of 'RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag race.' (Photo: World of Wonder)

The Backstreet Boys star in two holiday specials this season — their JCP Live Holiday Spectacular, which is available to watch on demand on JCPenney’s Facebook page, and A Very Backstreet Holiday, coming to ABC and Disney+ on Dec. 14 — coinciding with the release of their first holiday album, A Very Backstreet Christmas. But they have another reason to celebrate, thanks to a very different TV program: RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race. Condragulations are in order for BSB’s own AJ McLean, who surprisingly won the show as his glamorous alter ego, drag queen Poppy Love.

A sort of drag twist on The Masked Singer’s concept, Season 2 of Secret Celebrity Drag Race featured famous people like Tatyana Ali, Taylor Dayne, Loretta Devine, and Glee’s Jenna Ushkowitz and Kevin McHale in drag disguise. But the winnah, baby, was “Queen Supreme” McLean. Almost no one guessed Poppy Love’s true identity: Fans were shocked by the boy band star’s big Ru-veal, and even his own family didn’t know he was competing. But McLean says when he was approached to be on the show, he jumped at the chance — and it turns out the RuPaul/Backstreet connection goes way back, making this a full-circle moment for the now 44-year-old singer.

“When we were first breaking in the United States, RuPaul had his talk show back then, and he was one of the first people that had us perform on television in the U.S.,” the group’s Kevin Richardson tells Yahoo Entertainment, as he sits with McLean and bandmates Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, and Brian Littrell on the set of the JCP Live Holiday Spectacular. “So, we’ve never forgotten him for that.”

McLean, now a father of two, is amused that — with all that BSB have going on right now — his daughters are most “excited about the fact that at some point I'm actually getting my crown and scepter sent to my house, so they want to play with that. But they don't realize that the scepter weighs about 10 pounds!” He also chuckles recalling how he had to keep his Secret Celebrity Drag Race stint truly secret from his family.

“What's funny is my wife and my daughters hate when I shave; they think I look really weird without my beard. And I do look weird!” he says. “So, when I was shaving [for Drag Race], they didn't know what I was doing — and why I kept shaving. And I kept making up excuses that Daddy's face needed to breathe, needed to get some sun. And then finally I came home after rehearsal one night with a pair of six-inch heels, and they were like, ‘OK, what is going on here?’”

“They thought he was moonlighting as a stripper,” Richardson quips.

Since the Drag Race franchise typically shoots multiple finale endings to avoid leaks and spoilers, McLean didn’t know he’d actually won Secret Celebrity Drag Race until the finale aired. He’d predicted that Ali, aka Chakra 7, was going to win, and he was “blown away” when he watched the results with his kids while on tour with BSB.

“I'm honored to have taken the crown,” says the singer, who won a $100,000 cash prize for his charity of choice, Trans Lifeline, a grassroots non-profit that offers emotional and financial support to trans people in crisis. “I am a huge advocate for the LGBTQ+ community — I have been for over 30 years, and I will stay strong in that community — and I was honored to be asked to do it. … It was an honor to be in such great company playing for a great charity, and I would do it again. Poppy Love is here to stay.”

Watch Yahoo Entertainment’s full-extended interview with the Backstreet Boys about their holiday album and two holiday specials, the rumor that John Mellencamp protested being on the same record label as BSB, and Nick Carter’s sweet memory of Christmas with his late brother, Aaron:

Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:

Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon