Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync: A Look Back At a 90s Boy Band Rivalry

Ah, the mid-90s. When going online meant connecting to a screeching modem, which allowed you to browse low-resolution photos and text-heavy websites that took forever to load. Michael Jordan unretired and led the Chicago Bulls to a second threepeat because why not? Tragic love stories featuring sinking boats were all the rage. And Lou Pearlman — head of a company that offered travel agency services, male exotic dancers, and offering charter flights — decided there must be more to life than travel agency services, male exotic dancers, and offering charter flights. Once while providing a charter plane for New Kids on the Block, he wondered how they could afford to do so, and how could he ride that gravy train/plane? And voilà, he entered the music business.

After forming Trans Continental Records, Pearlman invested $3 million into a talent contest with the goal of creating a boy band. The first winner chosen was A.J. McLean, who auditioned in Pearlman’s living room. The remaining auditions were held in a blimp hanger, which would eventually be the place where the group members would rehearse their singing and dancing for as many as 8 hours…without air conditioning. Howie Dorough, Nick Carter and Kevin Richardson also got the gig, but Perlman was having a difficult time finding a 5th member. Finally, Dorough suggested his cousin Brian Litrell, who was shuffled out of his high school history class to answer the phone call. The Backstreet Boys, as they were called, didn’t achieve success immediately. They spent a few years toiling around in Europe, waiting for their big break with the U.S. audience. It finally arrived in 1997 with their hit “Quit Playing Games (With My Heart), reaching #4 in the Billboard charts. 

But as all of this was taking place, Pearlman was up to something downright sneaky: he had formed a second boy band – ‘N Sync – without The BSB’s knowledge. He had first chosen Chris Kirkpatrick, followed by Justin Timberlake (perchance you’ve heard of him!) and J.C. Chasez, the two of them having finished a run on The New Mickey Mouse Club. Kirkpatrick’s friend Joey Fatone, who happened to be working as a stage performer at Universal Studios, joined along and Jason Galasso capped things off…or did he? It turns out, he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of becoming a heartthrob for the teenybopper crowd, so Lance Bass replaced him. 

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