“Ew, AJ!” That’s what Annie Murphy’s “Schitt’s Creek” alter-ego Alexis Rose would likely say if she could see how hard AJ McLean’s still fanboying over meeting her.
During the Backstreet Boys’ recent DNA World Tour stop in Toronto, it was another loved Canadian, Drake, who stole the show by helping the quintet perform “I Want It That Way.” But behind-the-scenes, Murphy proved the highlight of McLean’s evening.
“That was more fun and cooler than Drake,” McLean told us while promoting his new single “Smoke” from upcoming solo album Sex and Bodies. “Drake’s such a gentleman and an unbelievably humble human. But I was geeking out more about Annie Murphy!”
McLean had contacted his publicist, Cara, wanting to invite anyone from “Schitt’s Creek” to the show. Murphy and co-star Dan Levy were top of his wish list.
“Next thing, she sends a screenshot of an email from Annie, saying, ‘I already had tickets, but the fact that AJ’s personally inviting me – I’ll be there topless with bells on,’” McLean said. “I also got to meet ‘Schitt’s Creek’ writer [David West Read] who wrote for Max Martin’s Broadway show and we sat on my bus, laughed and talked.”
Like a true fanboy, McLean already had ideas brewing for an epic social media post, which led to the hilarious viral video, in which Murphy responds, “Ew, AJ!” as he performs the “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” dance.
“As soon as she came on the bus, I said, ‘Ask me whatever you want, but you have to do one thing for me because I’m totally fangirling,’” McLean said. “We finished talking and she went, ‘What did you want me to do?’ and I told her to do, ‘Ew, AJ.’ She was like, ‘Okay, but you have to do the ‘Backstreet’s Back’ dance.’”
“I was like, ‘I’ll stand on my head if you ask me to,’” McLean continued. “We’re freaking homies for life, now. She said, ‘I’m going to stalk you,’ and I said, ‘Stalk me. Please.’ She’s so sweet and humble.”
McLean grew up watching Murphy’s co-stars, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, on Canadian sketch series Second City Television. “Catherine’s phenomenal,” he gushed. “Whether it’s ‘Beetlejuice’ or one of my all-time favorites, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, she’s hilarious. As for Moira, my God!”
He’s not the only Backstreet Boy loving “Schitt’s Creek”. After Murphy posted a photo with McLean, Kevin Richardson commented, “Ummm, why didn’t I get a visit too? 😢.” Dan Levy meanwhile wrote, “Omg.”
In the video of McLean and Murphy’s skit, the actress was even rocking yellow nail polish, which matched the boy bander’s hat and sweater. And, whether it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll roll out an Alexis Rose-themed shade in his nail polish line, Ava Dean Beauty, he has plenty on the way with the brand, named after his daughters, Ava, nine, and Lyric, five.
He just dropped a Backstreet Boys collection, with shades chosen and named by his bandmates, and with the group releasing A Very Backstreet Christmas, on October 14th, McLean and his bodyguard and business partner, Josh Naranjo, are planning fun festive additions to the line.
“Josh and I talked about doing a three-colour box set with a candy cane, snowman then red or green polish,” said McLean. “But the next colour I’m doing is ‘Naranjo,’ named after Josh. It’s a burnt orange because orange is my new favourite colour.”
Having spent years on the road together, colleagues like Naranjo have become family for McLean. However, he has also been reconnecting with blood family, including his father Bob, who divorced his mom, Denise, when he was young. During the Backstreet Boys’ recent Orlando, Florida, show, McLean teared up giving Bob a shout-out.
“I have somebody special in the audience that I’m really happy I’ve reconnected with – my dad is here tonight,” said McLean, who lost his stepfather, Tony Solis, in 2021. “I love you Dad and I hope you’re proud of me.”
Getting emotional, McLean then joked, “Sh** – I’m supposed to be the bad boy. I’m ruining it!”
Last night was so incredibly special! @aj_mclean reconnected with his father recently and he was in the audience at last nights show here in Tampa Truly amazing!! As a lifelong AJ fan and knowing how special that was had me all in my feels! #BackstreetBoys #DNAWorldTour2022 pic.twitter.com/bPO30BAT1F
— Heather (@heather_lynna) June 22, 2022
McLean credits wife, Rochelle, for initiating the two reconnecting.
“When I was in rehab the second time, before we were married, they were friends on Facebook and Rochelle [told] him where I was,” McLean told us. “He flew to L.A. and we talked with my therapist and it went okay. Now, we text a lot and speak once a month. I’m still not 100% there with him, but it was good to see him and we had a great conversation.”
“There’s this whole side of my family I’ve never met,” McLean continued. “I have uncles, aunts and cousins in Arizona and Boston, where my dad’s from. He wants us to connect so once he’s gone, I have other family. I’m curious and interested. I was proud to be on stage in front of him and I know my dad’s proud of me, too.”
And there’s a lot to be proud of! As well as continuing the DNA World Tour, which returns to Canada in August, and releasing A Very Backstreet Christmas, McLean’s remaining sober and in great shape, continuing gigs with EDM side project A.TC.K., which he started with DJ Lux, and gearing up for releasing Sex and Bodies.
The first single, “Smoke,” came about through a connection he made with musician Killa B while writing for the Backstreet Boys’ DNA album. The two penned “Fire,” which his bandmates loved, but their label rejected. The track left an impression on McLean’s manager, Johnny Wright, so when he took McLean out for steak at Del Frisco’s Grille to celebrate the singer’s birthday in January, he raised the track. “He goes, ‘I think it’s a hit,’” said McLean.
Wright encouraged McLean to revisit the song with Killer B, however once they reunited at L.A.’s Record Plant Recording Studios, they changed direction. “I said, ‘Screw it. We’ve got other writers here, so let’s just start writing from scratch. We’ll get to ‘Fire’ later.’”
Instead, ‘Smoke’ was born, which got Sex and Bodies rolling. The album features up-tempo tracks like “LMBTM” (Let Me Be the Music) and “Hot Damn,” plus “For the Night,” which Richardson wants the Backstreet Boys to record.
“It sounds like a Max Martin song,” McLean shared. “Kevin’s like, ‘Dude, if we cut this, we could get it on the radio right now.’ There are also ballads, including, ‘You,’ which might be the best record I’ve ever written. The whole album’s incredible!”