The Backstreet Boys were one of the most famous boy bands of the second half of the 1990s. They no longer fill the stadiums like they did decades ago, but with the separation of Take That and the Spice Girls, they are the only pop band from the time that is still together with the same five founding members. In fact, last May the group finished a tour that took them around the world. But less than a week after the DNA World tour ended, AJ McLean, 45, decided it was time to stop, got in his van and drove to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he spent 10 weeks undergoing intensive therapy.
“[I] spent 10 weeks doing an intensive, outpatient program for past trauma, PTSD, depression and anxiety,” the singer told Page Six. He adds that the experience had nothing to do with his sobriety, since he hasn’t drunk alcohol in two years. “[It was] not so much for my sobriety, ‘cause that’s pretty solid. I go to my meetings regularly, and I’m doing my 12-step program. I got my sponsor. I know that I take it very seriously. But I needed to go to the root of it.”
He preferred not to share too many details about the experience, but one thing did become clear from it: McLean wanted to meet his father, whom he hadn’t seen since he was 3 years old. The two had been in touch sporadically through text messages, but therapy was “a catalyst” that led AJ to contact his father: “Hey, why don’t we have a little sit-down? I would love to pick your brain. I was told one thing from my mom and my uncle and my other family about how you were.” He wanted to know his father’s side of the story so he could decide for himself. Thus, father and son finally saw each other again after 42 years.
The reunion happened a few months ago, and he wanted to share it with his 1.3 million Instagram followers. “42 years ago, my parents got a divorce. Over the last 35 years, I have blamed myself. I never knew my father in any way, except what I was told from the rest of my family. My dad would show up at one show or another but I never [wanted] to see him or speak to him. Tonight was the first time in 42 years that my father and I sat down as two grown men and had a conversation about life, my life, his life and life in general.… For what it’s worth I actually had a good time, I learned when my father’s birthday is, something I never knew. I learned that my father was a musician. Something I never knew. I learned where my name came from, something I never knew. But I know today that whatever happened between my mom and my dad truly had nothing to do with me, but for the past 35 years, I have blamed myself, lost my self-esteem and created a horrible path for myself surrounding myself with toxic people, toxic relationships, and the most toxic one was my relationship with myself. After three months of intense therapy, I have learned one thing among many… I have self-worth and I am valuable. I have a big heart. I am a good person. I am the father… my father never was, and I love with all that I have, and now I get to direct that love inward for the first time in my life. Today is the beginning of a new chapter in my life with my father again…1 foot in front of the other. Thank your dad for taking the time to sit down with your son and see me for who I am.”
“I knew I had a time slot, so I said, ‘You know what, I need to do some inner work. The sobriety thing is good. I need to go back and do some digging.’ Ten weeks for the rest of my life, I’m so grateful for it. It was completely worth it,” he told People last September about therapy, although he didn’t say more about it at the time.
In the interview, McLean acknowledges that a lot has changed in his life, such as finally realizing that he can separate his artist self from himself as a person. ”AJ is a persona. It’s a job. It’s not who I really am. It doesn’t define me,” he says. Today, the artist prefers to be called Alex when he’s “not in Backstreet mode.” Of his decision to stop drinking two years ago and the transformative journey that followed, McLean told People magazine that “probably the most important thing I’ve learned is authenticity, being my true, authentic self.”
In addition to the major change brought about by reuniting with his father, an even bigger one occurred: last March the singer announced his separation from Rochelle McLean, his wife of 11 years with whom he shares two daughters (Ava, 10, and Lyric, 6). “Marriage is hard, but it’s worth it. We have mutually decided to separate temporarily to work on ourselves and our marriage in hopes of building a stronger future,” they announced in a joint statement. “Working on themselves” probably led McLean to undergo 10 weeks of therapy that March. “We talk every day; we spend more and more time together. We just have to rebuild something that was never there from the beginning,” AJ McLean told the Sex, Lies, and Spray Tans podcast last week about where their relationship stands today. “I came with baggage, she came with baggage, she had trauma, I had trauma. I wasn’t sober or ready to be sober. She was dealing with her own shit. It was just a constant tug-of-war: she would sweep her feelings under the rug, or I would drown myself in a bottle.”
Today, whenever he’s asked, AJ is proud to be able to answer that he’s put 25 years of drug and alcohol problems behind him. His bid for sobriety started with a very specific episode, which he shared with People in October 2022. ”So literally 10 months ago, I went to go see my girl Shania Twain in Vegas,” says McLean. “Before I even got on the plane, I had already mapped out the whole night. I knew where I was going to go get my drugs. I knew where I was going to go get drunk. I knew all of it and I figured, ‘Okay, it’s one night. As long as I don’t go past a certain time and I don’t smell like it, I can go have a nice last hurrah and then come back home. My wife won’t know; everything’s going to be great.’… It never, ever works out that way… I never slept. I missed my first two flights back home and reeked of alcohol when I got home. My wife and I had always had this agreement, which was, if I smelled like alcohol, I wasn’t allowed to play with my kids — I couldn’t be around my kids. But what really hit me was the moment, my youngest daughter Lyric said to me that night, ‘You don’t smell like my daddy.’ And when she said that to me, that was it. Enough said. I felt disgusting.”
His life has also changed professionally. In addition to continuing to tour with the Backstreet Boys he is preparing a solo album (probably under the name Alexander James) that he hopes will be ready, at least partially, in January 2024. And he is no longer focusing exclusively on music. Next year, he plans to launch a clothing company and expand Ava Dean, his vegan beauty brand inspired by his daughters.
“There is a healthy [form of being] selfish, and I’m making my own choices in life now and making my own decisions,” he tells Page Six. “And hopefully, if I make mistakes, learning from them. I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be perfect. Nobody is.”
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