The 'Backstreet Boy' 'Fesses Up About Being Part of 'The Genesis Awards'
By Lori Golden
AJ McLean, member of the successful group The Backstreet Boys, had no idea what The Genesis Awards were when his fiancée, Sarah Martin, booked him on the prestigious awards' show. Sarah first read about the show in the February issue of The Pet Press and was intrigued by it. 'I had never heard of the awards before,' said Sarah, 'but the concept of honoring animals and the people who work with and for them was very appealing. So I quickly picked up the phone to see if we could get tickets.' One thing led to another, and without even consulting AJ, she agreed that he would be a presenter on the show.
'At first I didn't want to do it. I had no idea what it was,' confesses AJ. 'The main reason why she got me to go was because I knew Shannon Elizabeth was going to be there, and I have a big crush on her… I think she's the most gorgeous thing next to my fiancée. I had no idea what to expect. I was going to get dressed up in my black leather suit! But then Sarah told me, 'you can't go in a leather suit.' She kind of schooled me a little. I was just really in a total blackout about the whole thing.'
'I think it was absolutely a fabulous show. It was such a learning experience for me. I had no idea about so many things. It was such an eye-opener. I haven't gone Vegan yet, but eventually I think I will. For someone who has never even considered doing it, it's a big change for me.'
What's not a big change for AJ is being involved with animals. He's always been an animal lover, especially dogs. An only child living with his Mom and grandparents in West Palm Beach, Florida, he comes from a very tight-knit family. 'My mom's always been the closest to animals, but we're a very animal-oriented family.' First there was Leo, who was put to sleep when AJ was about 9. Then came a little weiner dog named Tobi, who recently passed away at 17. With an ex-girlfriend he had two Shitzus named Panda and Bear, and later two little Yorkies named Jack Daniels and Vegas. 'They're still my dogs, but they stay with my cousin Kelly in Florida.'
These days AJ is building his future with Sarah, which very much includes dogs. 'When we got our first house together, I asked her what she thought about getting a dog. I didn't want to get a little dog. I wanted a big dog that would grow to a big size that would be kind of intimidating… more of a safety thing and a companionship thing for Sarah since I was going to be gone so frequently.'
'I cannot for the life of me recall where in the hell I got this Bull Mastiff idea from,' continues AJ, 'but all three of my dogs are 'bull' oriented. 'My dream dog has always been an English Bulldog… ever since I was a kid I've wanted one. I used to watch the Tom & Jerry cartoons with the big bulldog that would kick Tom's butt. I've always been infatuated with them. And my grandparents were big fans of Jake and The Fatman… Jake was the little bulldog. I've been obsessed with them ever since.'
'Our first puppy was Serenity, aka the Byrd, but Sarah and I were stressing out a bit because it was a big responsibility. We both had to pull our weight to take care of her while being very busy. I had done something in the past which seems to have always worked, which was to get at least two dogs, so they have somebody to play with when both of us are gone.'
Enter Daisy, a mostly American Bulldog mixed with some pit, that Sarah found at a parking lot adoption. 'She was very timid at first, but within about a week she really took to me and is really into her daddy.'
When they moved to Malibu they got Tank to join the other dogs. 'Daisy, at about a year and a half is the oldest and the smartest of the group,' says AJ. 'She's just the most composed and listens when you call her. Byrd is still a little young (about 8 months) but she's definitely over the poop and pee inside the house 'thing.' And then there's Tank, the purebred bulldog who's growing before our eyes. He and the bull mastiff have really taken to each other- they're like brother and sister. But we have to really watch Tank when he gets too hyper, because he's got an abnormally small trachea and has trouble breathing. Hopefully as he gets older his trachea will grow. We have to really restrict him from a whole lot of playtime because he starts to pant a lot and hyperventilate. Bulldogs have a history of tons of things: heart problems, hip dysplesia, they can get skin cancer from the sun, and they can't overexert themselves because they can get easily dehydrated. He's a lot of maintenance, but yet he's not because he really doesn't do much except sleep all day and play with the Byrd. Together our three dogs are like a comedy team.'
It's no secret that AJ McLean spent a month in rehab last summer, attributed to alcohol abuse and depression. The dogs all came after. The Byrd was originally named Serenity because 'I wanted to name her after the serenity prayer I said every single day when we finished group sessions when I was in treatment.'
'Sarah, on the other hand, has this thing with calling dogs Byrd, and eventually that's how Serenity's name got changed. In my mind she's still Serenity, but I haven't called her that since we left Sunset House.'
'To have the furry companionship of the Byrd really helped me a lot after rehab, but I think more so when I got Daisy,' AJ says. 'The Byrd kind of took to Sarah and Daisy really took to me. Daisy is like my child. They all are, but Daisy is my favorite and if anything ever happened to her I would absolutely lose my mind. If anything happened to any of them I would lose my mind!'
Knowing how much AJ loves his dogs, he was a natural to introduce the touching film tribute to the 9/11 search and rescue dogs on this year's Genesis Awards. The segment featured some of the dogs sent in to find the humans, living or dead, at the crash sites in New York and Washington. 'These firemen and policemen and women get to take these dogs home because they're like family. Just like the one guy said, 'all they need at the end of a long day is a bowl of water, a bowl of food and some good old fashion tender loving care.' And that's all they need. That shows them that they're doing a good job.'
Included in the film tribute were some of the animals forgotten in Afghanistan. 'People got a little blindsided and were so focused on the US, they didn't thing about what was going on with the innocent bystanders in the middle of the war over in Afghanistan,' explains AJ.
'The tribute segment was a very emotional thing for everyone, but it had special meaning to me because of the loss of Daniel Lee, one of our crew members who was on his way back to LA to visit his wife who was having their second child. Everyone in our entire crew (of The Backstreet Boys) is family. If anything happens to anybody in our crew, everybody is affected by it. Whether it's a grip, a lighting guy, a sound guy, a carpenter (which was what Daniel Lee was, and he was on the stage with us every single night)… it was pretty devastating. So this segment was a real heart-stopper.'
Sarah was also very much affected by The Genesis Awards. 'It's sort of a double edged sword because there I was, crying all my make-up off at the sight of some of the cruel circumstances that these amazing, beautiful creatures endure every single day of their lives. My heart was aching and I felt so ashamed to be a part of the human race. But I had to watch. And learn. And on the other hand I was overjoyed that there actually are people who take the time to help. So many beautiful people who feel that it is their purpose in life to make some critical changes for the animals. I will never forget that night. AJ and I talked in the car the entire way home... and I could feel that he had been affected by what he had seen, just as I was. It was such an honor to be there. I'm looking so forward to watching the Awards on Animal Planet May 19th.'
The affect of being at the Awards was just as great on AJ. 'I just want people to be aware of the things that we do that harm animals for no apparent reason but to appease and benefit us. We're the ones who are doing the damage to these animals for business or for trade or for jewelry or for clothing or for materialistic things that can be made out of non-animal hurting material and look the same or taste the same or smell the same or whatever. Being so close to children… use me and abuse me when it comes to letting me be a voice that will be heard along with the other celebrities that come to the Genesis Awards and the other events to save animals of any species.'
AJ thinks the greatest misconception people have about him is that 'I'm a bad ass. But I'm not. People think this about me because I have the tattoos and I drank and I did drugs… but I talk in a baby voice to my fiancée and I play with my puppies and I'm a huge animal lover and just a big sap.'
In fact, the photo of AJ with his dogs is a real Pet Press exclusive. 'I actually took the photo without wearing sunglasses because I wanted people to see me how I am at home. (I messed up shaving which I why I don't have a mustache, because believe me, I hate when I don't have one.) But this way people see my eyes and can see that I'm a real person and not just this big phony guy that wears sunglasses and puts on a front.
Right now the biggest thing happening for AJ is his upcoming wedding to Sarah on Valentine's Day. He also has his own foundation, The JNN Foundation to raise money for Juvenile Diabetes along with Music Cares, two causes very near and dear to his heart. Meanwhile, The Backstreet Boys are back in the studio working on a new record, but probably won't go out on tour until next year. Of the new record AJ says, 'I'm finally going to include my three children in my thank you's. I am very thankful for all three of them and, of course, my soon to be wife. It's going to be a great year!
(For more about AJ's foundation, visit www.jnnfoundation.org.)