Backstreet Boys' AJ McLean discusses 'Dancing with the Stars,' coronavirus, more
Backstreet Boys member and Florida native AJ McLean, who is competing for the Mirrorball Trophy during Season 29 of ABC's "Dancing with the Stars," said nothing can prepare you for that show.
But his time in Orlando and South Florida — he was born in West Palm Beach but moved to Kissimmee at a young age to pursue an acting and singing career — helped him understand the entertainment industry.
"That's where everything really started for me as far as acting, theater, dancing and singing," he said, noting his 30-plus years of dance experience includes ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary and, once he joined the Backstreet Boys in 1993, urban.
McLean surmises being a part of the group gives him an edge, but it also has its downsides.
"I think it's like 60-40: 60 advantage, 40 disadvantage because ... I've done a certain style for my entire life, so I have to reprogram my brain to a style of dance that I've never ever done," the 42-year-old said. "The one upside that I am bringing to the table is I can retain things quickly."
Another benefit: He's been able to reach out to his friend, fellow BSB member and former DWTS contestant Nick Carter for advice. Carter initially "terrified" McLean, but then reassured him that if anybody could win, it was McLean. He also offered this tip: Go in with no expectations.
"That's the key, I think, to going the distance in this competition is to literally have zero expectations," McLean said. "If you go in with a cockiness or you go in with too much confidence, I think that's going to hinder you because then you think you've got it in the bag and that's not how this works... From what (Carter) told me, this is a journey. It's a marathon, it's not a sprint, so pace yourself."
While learning has been easy, it's the foundation and specifics of ballroom dancing that have proven a challenge for McLean.
"Every little thing matters ... from the way your hand is positioned to your shoulders being back to pointing your toes to how far apart your legs are," he said. "It's crazy."
McLean has also struggled with learning to lead his partner, Cheryl Burke. While he worked with female dancers in the past, especially during the Backstreet Boys' Las Vegas residency, he never had to lead.
"I'm not comfortable yet (leading)," he said. "Right now, it's just let's just put the steps on me, then we'll start being really meticulous with all the details, and hopefully by then, when I'm comfortable, is when I can finally take my partner and actually lead her.
Celebs competing this year include "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin, Disney Channel alum Skai Jackson, rapper Nelly, "Bachelorette" star Kaitlyn Bristowe, actor Jesse Metcalf, Super Bowl champ Vernon Davis, "Cheer" coach Monica Aldama, actress Anne Heche, "One Day at a Time" actress Justina Machado, "The Real" co-host Jeannie Mai, NBA great Charles Oakley, "Catfish" host Nev Schulman, "Selling Sunset" real estate agent/actress Chrishell Stause and ice skater Johnny Weir.
McLean said he and Burke are working well together.
"If you have a disconnect, you're never going to make it far," he said. "You really have to become one with your partner and have that synergy. So far, my partner and I are just really, really hitting it off."
His friends and family — especially his wife, Rochelle, and dancer daughters 7-year-old Ava and 3-year-old Lyric — were excited to hear McLean would compete in the upcoming season.
"I'm doing this for my kids, and I'm doing this for my family. And I'm doing this for myself," McLean said. "I just want to set a good example ... and I just want to show them that this is something that Daddy's never done before, but I'm just gonna leave it all on the dance floor. I'm gonna give 150% every single Monday night and leave it up to the fans to vote."
McLean knew months ago that he would be on "DWTS," so he took that time to prepare. He's been working with his trainer Bobby Strom for the past six months to avoid gaining the "quarantine 15." His diet is currently grain-free, gluten-free and sugar-free, though he indulges in the occasional Taco Bell or McDonald's. And he's been sober for the past nine months.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape I've ever been in, and I can only imagine what kind of shape I'll be in if I do make it to the finale," McLean said. "It's a lot of using parts of my body that I've never used before, but I think it's more of a mental state of mind that you have to get yourself into. The one thing that my partner and I have talked about is I just need to let go of anything I know, of anything I've learned, and just listen."
McLean had been approached a few times to join the show and couldn't participate because of scheduling conflicts. But as the world slowed down amid the coronavirus pandemic, the stars aligned.
"Because of the state of the world, there's not a lot going on, but people want to see positive TV, see inspirational things, things that bring you joy when you're stuck at home, and shows like 'Dancing with the Stars' do that," he said, noting he's been a fan of the show for years.
Stories that may interest you
Broadway is back! Well, sort of. Organizers of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade have revealed that the Broadway ensembles of "Hamilton," "Jagged Little Pill," "Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations" and "Mean Girls" will perform during this year's event as theaters...
Directed by Alice Gu, the movie details how one man, Bun Tek "Ted" Ngoy, built a sugary, deep-fried dynasty, revealing both the promise and the pitfalls of the American dream.
Mystic natives Peter and Jason Filardi are showrunners for a TV series based on Stephen King short story
They are turning “Jerusalem’s Lot” into a 10-episode series for the Epix network. Filming is taking place in Nova Scotia with star Adrien Brody, who won an Oscar for his performance in “The Pianist.”