Backstreet Boys: Then and Now: Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson Uncovered

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Bubbling up first from Lou Pearlman’s Orlando-based pop factory was the Backstreet Boys, comprised of founding members Nick Carter, AJ McLean and Howie Dorough. After two members – Sam Licata and Charles Edwards - dropped out in early 1993, Kevin Richardson and cousin Brian Littrell stepped in, and the vocal group as we know it was born on April 20 that year. Nick was 13; AJ was 15; Howie was 19; Brian was 18; Kevin was 21.

“My cousin Kevin called me and said, ‘Hey Brian, I want you to come down and audition for this band, and we’ll see where it goes,’” Littrell told Bustle in 2023. “He picked me up in a limousine from the Orlando International Airport, took me to Mr. [Lou] Pearlman’s house, the guy funding the band at the time and putting everybody together. I sang some songs. Lou looked at me and he’s like, ‘You’re in.’ It literally happened overnight, because I was in Mrs. Rickwall’s US history class the night before.”

Named after the city’s popular teen hotspot Backstreet Market, the Backstreet Boys put together their debut album in Sweden in 1995 with the help of songwriter and producer Max Martin, who was the mastermind behind future Britney Spears 1998  hit “…Baby One More Time.” They saw success in Europe with their first single “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” in 1996, and gave it a shot stateside when their self-titled debut was released in August 1997.

According to a 2000 Rolling Stone cover story, Pearlman spent $3 million to make Backstreet Boys a success. It worked: They have sold over 130 million albums, and became the best-selling boy band in history.

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(Backstreet Boys) Intro
From left to right: Brian Littrell, Nick Carter, AJ McLean (front), Kevin Richardson, and Howie Dorough (1997)
Larry Busacca/WireImage/Getty

Their prize closets are loaded: While they’ve never won a Grammy, they have MTV Video Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, CMT Music Awards, American Music Awards, MTV Europe Music Awards, People’s Choice Awards, MuchMusic Awards and more.

What a ride it has been

And while Backstreet Boys dominated a music scene that included MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL), radio airwaves and Billboard/SoundScan charts in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s with pop gems including “We’ve Got It Goin’ On,” “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart),” “I Want It That Way,” “Show Me The Meaning of Being Lonely,” “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back),” “All I Have To Give,” “Shape Of My Heart” and “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” their singles never reached #1.

Overall, they have released ten albums (three of which reached #1), Including their 1997 self-titled debut, 1999’s Millennium, 2000’s Black and Blue, 2001’s Greatest Hits: Chapter One, 2005’s Never Gone, 2007’s Unbreakable, 2009’s This Is Us, 20013’s In A World Like This, 2019’s DNA and 2022’s A Very Backstreet Christmas.

They have embarked on twelve tours

From 2017-2018, their “Backstreet Boys: Larger Than Life” residency at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas boasted the biggest audience in the history of the city’s headlining residencies. By 2018, the group had sold out six cruises, and in 2024, they will host Backstreet’s Back at the Beach in Cancun, Mexico.

(Backstreet Boys) End
Howie Dorough, AJ McLean, Kevin Richardson, Nick Carter, and Brian Littrell of Backstreet Boys attend iHeartRadio 93.3 FLZ’s Jingle Ball 2022
John Parra / Contributor/Getty

They’ve also released solo projects and staged solo tours. While there have been many exciting times, each “Boy” has endured gripping trials and tribulations throughout the band’s 30+ year history. For Carter, it has been substance abuse, run-ins with the law and the tragic deaths of three of his four siblings: Aaron Carter, who died at age 34 in 2022, Bobbie Jean Carter, who died at age 41 in 2023, and Leslie Carter, who died at age 25 in 2012. For Dorough, it has been anxiety. For McLean, it has been substance abuse and mental health issues. For Littrell, it has been heart issues. For Richardson, it has been secondary infertility.

Richardson dropped out of the group in 2006 to focus on other interests and didn’t return until 2012.  In addition, the man who created the group was found out to be a fraud. Not only did he put together Backstreet Boys, but also their competition: *NSYNC, O-Town, LFO, Take 5 and girl group Innosense, which originally included Spears.

Backstreet realized something was wrong when they sued him in 1998 claiming they had only made $300,000 since 1993, and Pearlman himself had taken home $10 million of their money. They called themselves “indentured servants” in the lawsuit.

“We’re on to bigger and better things,” Littrell told Rolling Stone in 2000. “And we’re better men for it.”

Pearlman died of cardiac arrest at the Federal Correctional Institution in Miami, Florida, in 2016 after being found guilty in 2008 of conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding. Investigators found he bilked investors out of $300 million over 20 years.

And then there was their biggest competition: *NSYNC. Not only were they also financed by Pearlman, but they secured a record deal with the same company, Jive, and worked with the same songwriter and producer in Martin.

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(Backstreet Boys) Middle
From left to right: Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson, AJ McLean, and Brian Littrel (1998)
L. Busacca / Contributor/Getty

In a 2000 Rolling Stone cover story, Richardson opened up about his disgust with Pearlman taking part in the ABC/MTV reality show Making The Band, which spawned O-Town and Danity Kane.

When I saw that, I about puked,” Richardson told the outlet. “ I mean, the average person sitting there watching that show is probably like, ‘So this is how the Backstreet Boys came to be.’ No, it’s not. All he did was give us money to go into the studio and work on our craft, which we are thankful for. But he’s making himself to be the guy twisting the knobs, and it’s just not so.”

He was also incensed about *NSYNC. “It’s not *NSYNC itself but where *NSYNC comes from that digs me, digs me, digs me – and gets me, still and to this day,” Kevin told Rolling Stone. “Mr. Pearlman was always speaking loyalty and preaching loyalty, saying, ‘I love you guys; you’re like my sons.’ And I’d lost my father to cancer. So I looked at Lou like a father figure. But I was naive, and he’s a liar. We’ll always remember him for helping us get started. But we’ll also remember him for screwing us blind and building another group behind our backs.”

Today, however, animosity has been put aside long enough for McLean and *NSYNC’s Joey Fatone to team up for their 2024 tour, dubbed “A Legendary Night,” during which the guys perform songs from their respective groups and throw in behind-the-scenes banter.

While *NSYNC stopped recording together after the successful launch of Justin Timberlake’s solo career only to reunite for hype such as awards-show appearances and soundtracks, Backstreet Boys never stopped and continue to please their fans.

They make an effort to change with the times

In the wake of the changing times of the 2017 #MeToo movement, McLean has expressed regret at the catchy party-girl prep anthem from their U.S. debut album “If You Want It to Be Good Girl (Get Yourself a Bad Boy).”

That’s our least favorite song we’ve ever recorded,” McLean told Billboard in 2021. “We have never sang it live, we will never do it live. Now we know that it’s toxic for 5-year-olds. I have an almost 5-year-old, I don’t want that for her.”

Backstreet Boys then and now

Take a look at what became of all the Backstreet Boys:

Nick Carter

Nick Carter (Backstreet Boys)
L. Busacca / Contributor/Getty; Ethan Miller / Staff/Getty

As the youngest, Carter was deemed the heartthrob of the group.

He has released three solo albums, including 2002’s Now or Never, 2011’s I’m Taking Off and 2015’s All American, in addition to the project Nick & Knight, which was a 2014 collaboration with New Kids On The Block singer Jordan Knight.

Carter and his siblings were featured on the E! reality show House of Carters, which aired for one season in 2006, but aside from sister Angel, they are all deceased now.

Carter lost three siblings: Brother Aaron, who had a successful teen pop career following in his footsteps, died of drowning while under the influence of drugs in 2022; sister Bobbie Jean, who died of an accidental drug overdose at age 41 in 2023; and sister Leslie, who died of at drug overdose at age 25 in 2012. Bobbie Jean suffered from schizophrenia, People reported, as was listed under her medical history by next of kin mother Jane in the case summary.

He has also been in trouble with the law.

He has faced multiple rape allegations including a coverup alleged by former Dream pop star Melissa Schuman, who claimed he raped her in 2003. The “He Loves U Not” singer appeared in court in 2024 to fight for justice.

In March 2005, he was arrested and charged with DUI. He completed a three-month stint in rehab. He was also busted in 2016 when he was charged with misdemeanor battery, but charges were dropped in exchange for community service.

In 2019, he was granted a temporary restraining order against Aaron for threatening to kill his pregnant wife, Lauren Kitt, whom he wed in 2014. The couple had starred on VH1’s I Heart Nick Carter, which traced their wedding.

Carter and Kitt are parents to son Odin, plus daughters Saoirse and Pearl.

He got into the reality competition game, appearing on Dancing With The Stars in 2015.

Howie Dorough

Howie Dorough (Backstreet Boys)
L. Busacca / Contributor/Getty; Gerardo Mora / Contributor/Getty

Dorough wed wife Leigh Anne in 2007, and together they share sons James and Holden.

He released a family-style solo album called Which One Am I? in 2019 that addressed with his bout with childhood anxiety.

I was definitely very shy —even just reading in front of my class,” he told in 2019. “I would stutter. Or I wouldn’t stutter, but I'd get so nervous and my anxiety would take over so much that I’d read words that weren’t even there. I'd be standing there shaking in front of the class.”

He still faces intense worry even though he has played stadiums around the world.

“Even to this day I still get nervous every time before I go onstage,” Dorough confessed. “Every time we're about to do something for television or at an awards show—if they took my blood pressure, it would probably be sky-high. A lot of people don’t realize, but part of me is still shy.”

He also released solo album Back To Me in 2012.

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Brian Littrell in the Backstreet Boys

Brian Littrell
L. Busacca / Contributor/Getty; Greg Doherty / Stringer/Getty

Littrell married wife Leighanne in 2000, and they are parents to son Baylee, who is also in the music business.

Health issues have plagued them: In 2008, Baylee was diagnosed with atypical Kawasaki Syndrome, which can lead to heart complications including aneurysms, abnormal heart rhythms and heart attacks. Brian fought coronary disease, and underwent open-heart surgery in 1998.

He formed the Brian Littrell Healthy Heart Club for Kids to make a difference. His faith has helped him through his tough times, and has been a born-again Christian since he was 8.

In 2006, he released the Christian contemporary album Welcome Home.

In 2015, Brian was baptized in Israel’s Jordan River when Backstreet Boys were on tour in the Middle East. "Leighanne and I were baptized in the Jordan river yesterday. ... Another amazing experience,” he posted on Instagram.

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AJ McLean in the Backstreet Boys

AJ McLean  
Brian Rasic / Contributor/Getty; Noam Galai / Contributor/Getty

McLean announced his divorce from wife Rochelle in 2024. They wed in 2011, and are parents to daughters Ava, who now goes by Elliott, and Lyric.

In 2023, he decided to reunite with his father after 42 years following treatment for trauma, PTSD, depression and anxiety, the New York Post reported. He hadn’t seen him since he was 3.

He told Page Six he uses the name AJ for showbiz only.

AJ is a persona,” he told the outlet. “It’s a job. It’s not who I really am. It doesn’t define me.” He said he prefers to be called Alex when he’s  “not in Backstreet mode.”

McLean has struggled with drug addiction since the Backstreet Boys’ heyday, and has been sober since 2021.

He competed on Dancing With The Stars in 2020.

He released solo album Have It All in 2010.

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Kevin Richardson in the Backstreet Boys

Kevin Richardson
Brian Rasic / Contributor/Getty; John Parra / Contributor/Getty

Richardson married wife Kristin in 2000. The couple met while working at Walt Disney World, where he played Aladdin and she played Beauty and The Beast’s Belle.

They are parents to sons Mason and Maxwell. Their second son almost didn’t happen after the couple experienced secondary infertility.

“Me and Kristin had our firstborn, Mason, with no issues at all,” Richardson, told Entertainment Tonight in 2020 “Then when we tried for our second, it just wasn’t happening.”

They turned to IVF.

“We couldn’t believe it. It was like, ‘Wow. Okay, so this is isn’t going to be easy. Maybe it’s not in the cards for us to have another child,’” he continues. “That was a realization that smacked us in the face.”

Ultimately acupuncture was the answer. “Taking all the pressure off and getting the unnatural things out [helped],” Richardson says. “I’m not saying Western medicine doesn’t have its place because it’s about whatever you need, but it was Eastern medicine, acupuncture, that did it for us.”

He dropped out of the group in 2006 to focus on other interests and didn’t return until 2012.

"The five of us, we didn't get here by chance, we didn't get here by luck,” he told E! in 2022. “We worked really hard.  We care about what we do and we put a lot of time, thought, effort, heart and soul into what we do."

Of their longevity, he said, "We put a lot of love into that music. We had quite a few radio hits that have become a time capsule for people. It reminds them of a less stressful time in their life, the good times and it reminds them of loves past."

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