Did you know this Boynton Beach music celebrity is 40 years old today?

Updated Jan 09, 2018
  • By Post Features Staff
The Backstreet Boys perform at the Cruzan Amphitheatre on August 25, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Happy birthday to A.J. McLean, the Backstreet Boys pop star who was born in West Palm Beach and spent his early years growing up in Boynton Beach. He’s 40 years old today.

Didn’t know we have a Backstreet connection?

Here’s what former Post staff writer Charles Passy wrote about McLean in 1998, when the Backstreeters were at the height of their teen pop fame and appeared at the Coral Sky Amphitheater:

Before he was A.J., he was Alex.

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That’s how the locals recall Alex McLean, the child actor and singer who wanted to be a star. Now, the 20-year-old has fulfilled his dream as the sunglasses-sporting member of the Backstreet Boys otherwise known as A.J.

“I remember when he played Dopey in Snow White at the Little Palm Theatre,” says Margie Richards, who runs an acting studio in Delray Beach.

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“I remember how much he loved theater … he put forth 150 percent,” says local actor Murray Rivette, who appeared with the young performer in a Lake Worth Playhouse production of Fiddler on the Roof. McLean was, literally, the fiddler on the roof.

Dopey. Fiddler. That’s hardly the sexy past a teen heartthrob would want to admit to.

Fortunately, McLean has got a good sense of humor. “I just gave myself a strong background, built myself up a really nice resume and just kept shopping around, doing the audition thing,” he recalls of his childhood years in Palm Beach County.

A.J. McLean performs at the Cruzan Amphitheatre on August 25, 2013. (Richard Graulich/The Palm Beach Post)

Born at Good Samaritan Hospital and raised in Boynton Beach, McLean got his start when his mother, Denise, a computer programmer, decided to go back into acting, her high school love. When she went for an audition at a local community theater, she took her then six-year-old son along. “He kept coming up to me and asking if he could read for a part,” she recalls.

So, mom let him. And that soon led to years of private lessons with Richards, whom McLean refers to as his “second mom.” The teacher is hardly surprised at his success.

“He’s such a quick study,” she says. “Alex is one of those people that if you show him something one time, he picks it up.”

McLean picked it up so much that in a few short years, he was making his professional debut at the now defunct Burt Reynolds Theatre in Jupiter, where he appeared in a production of The King and I. By the time he was 12 - and a sixth grade student at Delray Beach’s Unity School - the family decided his burgeoning career merited a move to Orlando, where McLean promptly landed a role on a Nickelodeon sitcom. Then, the Backstreet Boys came along.

Now, McLean is looking forward to returning to his true home of Palm Beach County. “I can show all my friends what I’ve been talking about for the last five years,” he says. “It’s going to be one night to remember.”

Since then, McLean has had some downs — with substance abuse — but is back performing with the group, is married and has two children. And the band returned to its old stomping grounds in 2013 for another concert at Coral Sky.