The chartbusting BACKSTREET BOYS speak out about the most important girls in their lives—you!

Backstreet Boys arrive at the downtown studio and pile out of their black utility vans, complete with tinted windows. Nick heads straight over to the catered spread and immediately starts chucking meatballs out the window to see if he can hit the roof below. Howie strolls by and gives me a hello hug as he chats on his cell phone. AJ and Kevin are cracking jokes, while Brian, suffering from a cold, heads straight for a seat on the couch.

We sit down to chat and the guys seem like your average 20-somethings—talking about whether they’ll be hitting the town tonight (sounds like a yes), how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Nick’s fave NFL team) are scoring this season, and who’s running late (today’s culprit is Kevin).

But most guys their age don’t have hundreds of screaming girls camped outside their hotel begging for photos, autographs, and hugs. Instead of running from the spotlight, BSB clings to it. That’s why, in the midst of all the hype surrounding their third U.S. album, Black & Blue (named for the punches they’ve taken from the press about emerging from Orlando, FL’s boy-band factory), the fab five perk up when they hear we want to discuss their favorite top—the fans. Here are 11 reasons why they couldn’t have made it without you.

YOU’VE CHEERED THEM ON FROM DAY ONE

When Backstreet Boys formed almost eight years ago, their school and amusement-park tours established the very first of their loyal fans. “People followed our careers and joined the fan clubs five or six years before we even released an album in America!” Nick says. “They were buying our European imports just to hear our music. These same fans are still with us, I see them at the shows.” Recalls Brian, “I remember the first show I played as a Backstreet Boy—May 8, 1993. We performed a 15-minute set at Sea World in Orlando for 5,000 eighth graders, and the crowd went crazy. I felt like a big shot with girls chanting my name and asking me for autographs.” AJ’s most memorable fan moment happened on the other side of the globe: “We were in Germany, and we had just premiered our first video,” he explains. “Later that same day, I was walking through a clothes store and this girl freaked out. Al she could say was, ‘Backstreet Boy! Backstreet Boy!’ She came up to me crying and gave me a big hug. She must have called her friends, because the next thing I knew there were 30 girls at our hotel!”

YOU’VE BELIEVED IN THEM WHEN NO ONE ELSE HAS

Management struggles. Record-label wars. Potshots from the press. What gets the guys through all this? Constant notes, gifts, and applause. “Sometimes the political stuff of this business can get the best of you,” says Brian. “But being onstage in front of our fans and looking into their faces, they light you up.” Kevin agrees: “Their support is like them saying, ‘We believe in you.’”

Even though some critics call their songs mere ear candy, they sold 30 million copies of Millennium worldwide and have collaborated with music bigwigs like Elton John, Sting, and Babyface. “We’re still struggling to get recognized in the industry as true artists,” says Howie. But the fans have always appreciated their talent, which is why BSB made sure to include a special song for them on each of their last albums—“Larger Than Life” on Millennium and “Everyone” on Black & Blue.

“’Everyone’ is basically a chant song for the fans about things they’ve helped us get through,” says Brian. “We wouldn’t be performing without their support. They make our albums and videos number one. Our fans have really made us who we are.”

YOU LOVE THEM ALL EQUALLY (WELL, AT LEAST NOW)

“At first it was like we were Nick Carter and the Backstreet Boys,” says Brian, recalling BSB’s early days. “Everyone really liked Nick, because he was the youngest, so we’d pinch his cheeks and say, ‘Aww! You’re the cutest Backstreet Boy.’” Years later, Nick swears it’s not like that anymore. Actually, each of the guys notice that they attract their own distinct followers now.

“A lot of the Latin fans love Howie, and most of the ‘sistas’ really like me,” explains AJ in his Johnny No Name British accent. “It’s fun looking out into the audience and seeing fans dressed like me in studded jeans, Playboy-bunny shirts, and cowboy hats. The two all-American blonds, Nick and Brian, get attention from all the girls. And Kevin has the girls’ moms winking at him.”

IN RAIN OR SNOW, YOU’RE ALWAYS THERE

Seventeen months after the release of Millennium, the megastars were actually nervous that their fans might have forgotten about them. “Out of sight, out of mind, you know,” says Howie. AJ interrupts, “’NSYNC and 98° stepped into our limelight, and we doubted whether we still had it. There’s that insecurity you’re not going to have the same popularity you did a few years ago.”

The group’s fears were fueled when they stopped by morning radio shows at Z100 and KTU in New York City last October and only 15 girls showed up! “I was like, ‘Uh-oh, this is a bad sign,’” says Howie. “But they had only made the announcements for our appearances late the night before we showed up, so we tried not to worry too much.” Brian adds, “Then we went to TRL to debut ‘Shape of My Heart,’ and we were blown away!” As they should have been: New York City had to declare a state of emergency when more than 6,000 fans shut down Times Square. “That was the most fascinating thing I’d ever seen,” says AJ. “I stared our the studio windows, because it was unreal.” Brian says, “It was just as overwhelming as the first time a crowd gathered for us. It turned out to be the wildest even in Times Square besides New Year’s Eve.”

YOU GO TO CRAZY MEASURES TO MEET THEM

Aside from their names, there are two words the boys are overly familiar with: fan frenzy. “Once, two fans climbed over a barbed-wire fence and shimmied up two stories on a drainage pole to meet us,” explains Brian. “We walked into our dressing room and there they were, sitting on the couch with their pants all ripped. It’s really strange how far people will go to meet us.”

The group once even found stowaways on their tour bus three hours after they had hit the road. “Says Brian, “our manager reached to grab something out of his bag, and he felt a leg. Two girls had been hiding in the back of the bus the whole time!” Others leave their home—even their countries—to find the boys’ homes. “I’ve had people just walk up and knock on my door,” says Kevin. But that’s where Brian draws the line. “My home really needs to be a private place.”

All the attention can be hard to handle when they’re trying to have some privacy. “When I’m having dinner with my family at a restaurant, people ask for so many autographs that my food gets cold and I don’t have a chance to speak to any of my relatives,” says Howie. “Sometimes my family will step in and say, ‘Please let him finish his meal, and then he’ll sign autographs.’”

But ultimately, the guys understand. In fact, they admire stars themselves. “I used to go to University of Kentucky football games and ask the players for autographed sweatbands and chin straps,” confesses Kevin. And Nick would go to any measure to meet his musical hero: Steve Perry from Journey. “I’ve listened to their music for so long. I’d love to write songs with them,” says Nick. Howie adds, “But I think it’s a little different being a male fan. It’s too much to go to a hotel for someone’s autograph—well, I might have done it for someone like Madonna or Mariah.”

YOU KEEP THEM GROUNDED

Knowing that their fans connect emotionally with their music has made all of the ups and downs worth it. “Meeting with kinds from the Make-A-Wish Foundation has meant a lot to me, because my father died of cancer,” reveals Kevin. “I was angry for a long time that he died at such a young age, but I realize now that at least he had 49 good years. Not everyone gets that chance.” Adds Nick, “It’s amazing feeling to see fans in the hospital who say our music is helping them recover. You realize you’re really touching someone’s life. That’s the whole reason I’m in this business.”

Kevin adds, “We also receive loads of letter from fans whose parents are going through divorces or who had close friends who have died. They say they listen to our music and it helps them escape their pain for a while.”

YOU’VE PULLED THEM UP FROM THEIR PERSONAL LOW POINTS

A few hours after Howie’s sister Caroline’s funeral, he had to fly to Argentina to perform. “I told the crowd about Caroline’s death and that I was performing because our fans mean so much to me,” says Howie. “They all had tears in their eyes. It was so moving. They really helped me get through my loss.”

Brian was also overwhelmed by the support he received when he had heart surgery in May 1998. “I got so many cards and flowers. People donated to my heart foundation [the Brian Littrell Endowment Fund for Pediatric Cardiology] to raise money for children who need heart transplants and health insurance,” marvels Brian. “That was so important to me, because growing up, my parents couldn’t get health coverage for me because of my heart defect. If anything tragic had happened, they wouldn’t have been able to pay for my funeral. That’s why I created the foundation.”

Eight weeks after the operation, BSB played a show in Charlotte, NC. “I am never going to forget the feeling of hearing those cheers again,” recalls Brian. “I get chills thinking about it, because that show proved that fans would never leave my side.”

YOU KNOW EVERYTHING ABOUT ‘EM

“Our fans know as much about us as our moms, which is pretty scary,” says AJ. “They have taken so much time out of their lives to learn about a person they may not ever meet.” Fans even know the guys’ schedules better than they do! “I can ask fans where we’re going to be in a few days, and they always know,” says Howie.

Fans can quickly regurgitate their hometowns, birthdays, and pets’ names. But they also know their true personalities. “When we’re onstage, we’re entertainers, and we put on a show,” says Howie. “But during our downtime, we don’t try to be something we’re not. What you see is what you get.”

YOU ALWAYS SHOW YOU CARE

“Every day is like Christmas,” Howie says. “We get stuffed animals, jewelry, video games, and cool figurines. I’ve decorated my house with a lot of fans’ gifts.” Admirers also send the boys their favorite foods. “In Buenos Aires, Argentina, boxes of macaroni and cheese were thrown onstage because they knew I love it. One hit me right in the rib cage—those boxes are heavier than they look!” jokes Brian. But he’s not the only one whose taste buds are being tickled. AJ loves hamburgers, so he’s constantly pelted with patties, and Howie has received more than his fill of gummy bears. “I made the mistake of saying I liked them once,” confides Howie, “and soon I had fans flying to America to give me gummy-bear cakes on my birthday. I can barely look at the candy now.” But the more personal packages are what Brian and Nick look forward to opening. “My favorite gifts are BSB scrapbooks,” says Brian. “The girls spend so much time putting them together to make them look perfect. It’s fun to go through them, because our schedules are so hectic that we lose sight of what we’ve done.” Adds Nick, “They also give us things, like crosses, that have been in their families for generations. We don’t want to accept them, but the girls don’t take no for an answer. It’s cool that they think of us as their family.”

YOU RESPECT THEIR RELATIONSHIPS

Two of the guys are now married, but that hasn’t seemed to affect the number of girls with BSB’s faces plastered all over their bedroom walls. “When Brian and Kevin announced they were getting married, I was a little worried,” admits Howie. “I figured fans would either take it well and be happy for them or be hurt. But I think it’s important to let fans know we’re not hiding anything from them. We have lives. We are human beings. I’m not dating anyone now, but when I was, I didn’t want to talk too much about my relationship because I didn’t know how long it was going to last. I won’t discuss a romance unless it gets really serious.”

That’s exactly how Brian and Kevin handled their relationships. Says Kevin, “When Brian and I made our engagements public, we saw signs in the audience that said, ‘We’re so happy for you. Congratulations, Kevin and Brain.’ Occasionally, we’d see a sign that said, ‘Marry me instead.’ But I think our fans really want us to be happy.” So far, they’ve been very supportive of Kevin’s wife, Kristin. “She’s really shy, so I’ve tried to shelter her from the spotlight as much as possible,” he says. “I came into the hotel the other day and fans outside told me they met my wife and she was so nice and sweet. “I said, ‘That’s my girl!’ I like to think they’re buying our records because they like the music, not because they hope they can marry us!”

Brian and his wife, Leighanne, also received tons of congratulatory notes and gifts on their wedding. BSB’s Mature Fan Club members sent them an arrangement of silk flowers. Says Brian, “At the end of each petal there were pieces of candy. That was very sweet.”

AJ may not be ready to tie the knot just yet, but he definitely has someone special in his life. “The fans have devoted about 90 websites to my girlfriend, Amanda,” says AJ. “Someday down the road when we get married, I think our fans will be very happy for us. I want to invite about 4,000 of them to the wedding to let them experience a really close, personal thing in my life.”

Howie’s not ruling out the possibility of finding the girl of his dreams among BSB’s fans. “My mom has some of my favorite recipes up on my website (howied.com), so I hope my future wife will check it out and be able to cook as well as my mom can!” As for Nick, he says he’s too young to think about marriage. Though rumors persist that he and his ex, Mandy, might be getting back together, for now he’s just having fun.

YOU DIG THEIR SOLO GIGS

BSB fans can stop freaking about the guys calling it quits any time soon. They plan on writing and recording more songs together while they’re on the Black & Blue tour and then concentrating on solo ventures.

Nick manages an alternative-pop band from Tampa, FL, called Born Into Kaos. “They’re 18 to 21 and sound like Stone Temple Pilots meets Creed,” says Nick. “My best friend is actually the guitar player.” Soon AJ will morph back into his alter ego, Johnny No Name, to record an album. His solo tour earned $100,000 for VH1’s Save the Music Foundation. Hollywood’s calling Howie, who will pursue more acting gigs and start gathering clients for HowieDoIt Productions. His first artist is his big sister, Pollyanna. Together, they’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for lupus in honor of their sister, Caroline, who died from the disease. And Brian and Kevin will be putting their energy into BSB’s new record label while getting used to being newlyweds. “But our side gigs will never take away from the group,” assures Brian. “Because Backstreet Boys will always come first for all of us.” Adds Howie, “We’re just getting started. We definitely don’t feel like we’re at the height of our careers yet.”

The last host is snapped and the six-hour shoot is wrapped jus as the sun is starting to set. America’s five most wanted guys change out of their pricey designer duds and slip back into their comfy jeans and T-shirts. Climbing into their vans, they head back to the hotel (and the fans) to rest up so they can hit the New York City party scene later that night.


BSB’S FOUR BIGGEST TURN-ONS

1. personalities

HOWIE: When a woman has a good head on her shoulders and a career, that’s a real turn-on.
NICK: I like a girl who can share quiet times with me.
AJ: Someone who’s blunt is very sexy. I think it’s really cool if she can tell me, “Hey, I think you’re hot.”
BRIAN: I find goal-oriented girls attractive, because they put their heart and soul into what they do.
KEVIN: Intelligence and sophistication are very sexy.

2. clothes

HOWIE: I love seeing girls in shirts that show their stomachs. A nice, fit stomach is so sexy.
NICK: Sometimes girls dress up, and you can tell it’s not really them. To me, jeans and a nice top are really hot.
KEVIN: I like a girl who dresses sexy, not trashy.
BRIAN: It’s not so much what she’s wearing, but how she wears it. If she’s comfortable, she’ll be attractive.
AJ: I like jeans and a tank top on girls. I’d rather use my imagination than see a girl’s cleavage.

3. dates

NICK: Swimming in crystal-clear water.
KEVIN: An Italian dinner and a gondola ride in Venice, Italy.
BRIAN: Dinner on a pontoon in the middle of the ocean.
AJ: A sunset picnic on a rooftop with two lawn chairs and a bottle of champagne.
HOWIE: Dinner on a sailboat while listening to music.

4. body parts

BRIAN: I love the neck, because that’s the area I like to kiss the most.
HOWIE: Brian stole my answer! I love a woman’s neck.
KEVIN: A nice smile.
AJ: A girl with long fingernails drives me crazy, because they feel so nice when she’s rubbing your back. I also like lips, because I’m really into kissing. Kissing’s a lot nicer and more romantic that sex—and it lasts a whole lot longer.
NICK: Lips, eyes, hands, legs—all beautiful. I love women! I think they’re the prettiest things on the planet.

Aren't they sweet? I know they are! LOL