EXCLUSIVE: AJ McLean on Lou Pearlman's Death: 'I'll Always Be Grateful for the Opportunity He Gave Me'
By Leena Tailor
Backstreet Boy AJ McLean has spoken out about the death of controversial boy band impresario and former manager Lou Pearlman.
The disgraced BSB, *NSYNC and O-Town creator died on Friday at the Federal Correctional Institute in Miami, Florida, where he was serving 25 years for engineering one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in American history. He was 62.
"I had very mixed emotions," McLean tells ET of his reaction to the news of Pearlman's death. "I think he was in the place he deserved to be -- prison -- but am still sad at the way he died, and that he was alone."
"I'll always remember Lou as 'Big Poppa' and be grateful for the opportunity he gave me," continues McLean, who is gearing up to release a solo record, Naked.
The "Live Together"singer added that he had "already made my own personal peace" with Pearlman, whose deceit and shady financial practices meant the Backstreet Boys were cheated of earnings during the height of their stardom.
Florida native McLean was just 14 when he met the Orlando entrepreneur, who eventually helped turn McLean and fellow musicians Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell into the best-selling boy band on the planet.
"He was probably the wealthiest man in Orlando at the time -- an entrepreneur and all-around wealthy man," McLean recalls in the Backstreet Boys' 2015 documentary, Show 'Em What You're Made Of. "Lou had seen the success of Boyz II Men, Jodeci, New Kids on the Block and once that got in the back of his head, he was like, 'I can do this. I can put together a group. Five pretty faces that can sing and dance.’ And that's exactly what he did."
In the band's early days, Pearlman paid the singers $75 a week. However, he later legally named himself a sixth member of the group, allowing him to pocket a larger portion of their earnings. Pearlman was also believed to have used some of the quintet’s money to help launch rival boy band *NSYNC.
After parting ways with Pearlman, the Backstreet Boys sued him in a long-running legal case which led to a $99,000 cash settlement -- in contrast to the $3.45 million they were claiming -- and the release of old audio recordings in 2014.
The GRAMMY-nominated pop stars attempted to confront Pearlman in jail while filming Show 'Em What You're Made Of. However, a prison warden prevented filming from commencing with more than one group member, so they canceled the visit.
"Obviously, the Lou Pearlman stuff is still to this day a bit of a sensitive subject for some of us," McLean says in the documentary. "Some of us have made our peace with it; others may not have yet. You can always forgive; you just can't really forget."
Asked what he would have said to Pearlman had the jail visit gone ahead, McLean tells ET: "One simple question… 'Why?'"