Backstreet Boys: Sweet or Sour?

Grueling rehearsals, overwhelming tour schedules and tedious recording sessions can sour even the sweetest of songsters. So has the grind changed these Florida-based fellas?

Rewind to 1993, when five musically gifted guys have just teamed up to form a brand-new pop group. They call themselves the Backstreet Boys. Although few people outside of their families have ever heard of the group, Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, AJ McLean and Kevin Richardson fantasize that someday their combined talents will send them zooming to superstardom.

Now fast-forward to 1999, when the guys have turned that fantasy into reality. With their megahit single "I Want It That Way" and their best-selling new album, Millennium, the Backstreet Boys are hotter than a Houston sidewalks this month. (And that's hot!) The funny thing is, these guys don't act like red-hot superstars. Instead, Nick, Howie, Brian, AJ, and Kevin keep their cool with a low-key grounded attitude.

That hasn't always been easy. Everywhere they go, the Backstreet Boys run into hordes of adoring fans who can't stop raving about how incredibly gorgeous, lovable and, oh yes, gifted they are. All that gushing could easily go to a guy's head. Luckily, these humble honeys have their friends and families to keep them from geting too puffed up from praise. "They keep us in check and keep us very grounded," reveals 27-year-old Kevin. "People I haven't seen in a while can step back and see if I've changed."

If the Kentucky-born cutie and his Backstreet Boys buds have changed for the worse, they definitely want their loved ones to say so. "They make sure I make the right decisions and do the right thing," says Howie, who celebrates birthday number 26 on August 22. Sweet D's friends and family make sure that he doesn't get so caught up in the superficial pleasure that come with fame- such as buying cutting-edge designer clothes- that he forgets about the more precious and important things in life, like being kind to your buds.

No doubt about it, the Backtreet Boys take these reminders to heart. "There are some thing that money just can't buy, you know?" says Brian. And friendship, he adds, is one of those things. That's why 24-year-old B-Rok and his musical compadres sitll keep in close contact with pals from their pre-fame days. In fact, Howie curring sircle of friends includes a couple of high school buds. "No matter what, no matter where I am, I always know that we're still friends," beams the brown-eyed babe.

Family and friends are also on hand to remind the Backstreet Boys that althought they're superb singers, they're not flawless fellas. After all, no person on this entire planet is perfect, right? Right, says Nick. "We're normal human beings, and we make mistakes," the 19-year-old songster reasons. "I don't do everythign right." And Nick isn't offended when friends point this out. "To me, a good friend is someone who will tell you if you're doing the wrong thing," he shares.

According to that definition, the dreamy dude's groupmates definitely rate as great friends. "Oh, we complement each other very well when it comes to keeping each other's feet on the ground," grins AJ. "We're always making fun of each other." The 21-year-old, tattooed talent confides to BOP that if someone in the troupe gets too big for his britches, the others are always prepared to take him down a notch. For instance, if Kevin ever decided that because he's a star, he didn't have to pick up any of the crumpled-up candy wrappers he leaves on the tour bus, his groupmates would immediately give him a serious talking to. His cousin, Brian, would tell him the same thing he tells us: "Everybody's normal- everybody bleeds the same blood. You have to keep that in perspective."

With this modest attitude, it's no wonder that Backstreet Boys feel uncomfortable when fans call them completely perfect. "I wish people would take focus off the idolizing us and wanting to be like us," blushes Brian. "What we've done- it's nothing, really."

Fans probably won't concur with that ultra-modest assessment of the Backstreet Boys' success. (It's nothing? As if!) However, they will definitely agree that the guys have done a sensaysh job of keeping their flashy, "Larger Than Life" onstage personalities seperate from the sweet, modest side that shows in their private lives. How do they do it? According to AJ, they just think of themselves as two sides of the same nickel. "When I walk out the hotel door, it's like, 'All right, backstreet Boys mode,'" he explains. "But when I walk back in, I'm Alex, just being myself. You're the same person, but you lead a dual life." Adds Nick, "We've met people who are superstars, and when you see them away from it all, they're just as laid-back, chillin' guys. They're just normal people." Just like the Backstreet Boys!

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