Rolling the dice with Joey Fatone: The *NSYNC legend on his wide-ranging career, mental health, and his Legendary tour with Backstreet Boy AJ McLean

Photo of Joey Fatone by Amy and Gabe Mendoza at TwentyNine Northwest Studio

Joey Fatone & AJ McLean: A Legendary Night | 06.13.24, 7:30pm | The Factory, 17105 North Outer 40 Road | All ages | from $59.50

Legendary Night will own, St. Louis! It’s a do-NOT-miss show. 

The “A Legendary Night” tour finds two legends of the boy band era—Joey Fatone of *NSYNC and AJ McLean of the Backstreet Boys—joining forces for a night of music featuring not only their own classics but also unexpected covers from across the spectrum of musical styles and genres in a setlist that doesn’t created until after the show starts. How exactly does that work? Who better to let us know than Fatone himself?

As a longtime boy band fan (though you’d never know it by all the metal I love to cover), *NSYNC is my jam, so imagine my hyperventilation upon getting the news that I’d get to interview Joey Fatone. I couldn’t even tell my friends because I went into a panic. What would I ask? Would he be nice? I mean, of course he would, but ahhh. I fangirled. At 49.75 years old. FANGIRLED. But damn. Leading up to the day, I kept thinking about what would be appropriate. What would I want to know? It’s my likely one and only chance at this, I can’t fuck this up. Until that morning. I couldn’t sleep. I was in the tub. I get a message that he’s running late. Cool, cool. Then I get the “hey, we’re calling you in 3 minutes” so I rush out of the tub and get all set up and tell myself, “Try not to mess this up.” 

And then…there he was. 

Joey Fatone: Hi, Diane!

The Arts STL: Hi Joey! I know you’re really busy and we have limited time so I wanted to get right into it…

JF: Oh, no worries at all. 

So tell me—what can St. Louis fans expect with this legendary tour?

JF: We’ve been having a blast with these shows, myself and AJ. We had the idea that we’d kinda throw back to old times and bring [the audience down] memory lane and through to the future. So we like to play a couple of *NSYNC songs, a couple of Backstreet—and then we throw a blow up dice, a big die into the crowd. It’s a six-sided die and it’s kinda like musical chairs. What happens is the music will go and once the music stops, the audience member holds up the die and whatever number is on the die corresponds to different songs on the board. So it can be “My Own Worst Enemy” from Lit, “No Diggity” from Blackstreet. We’ve done Lady Gaga, “Sweet Transvestite” from Rocky Horror Picture Show, “A Whole New World” from [Aladdin]. It’s random stuff on this board [from] night to night. We do a bit of audition songs that we’d done prior to *NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. 

We’ve been able to pick and choose with a lot of different songs and flip a lot of them on their side. We do an *NSYNC song “Here We Go” Latin style, we do a similar style with [the Backstreet Boys song] “The Call,” this flamenco Latin version of it. “Tearing Up My Heart,” we do a jazz version, kind of a Frank Sinatra jazz fusion version. It’s been such a blast that we’re able to do something like that. Me and AJ are such hams, so this gives us yet another outlet to perform when we’re not touring with our bands or doing our solo projects.

Speaking of, you have kept so busy—it’s always felt like you’ve never gone away, which is great. My wife and I watched every episode of the game show Common Knowledge that you hosted, hearing you announce Steve Harvey on Family Feud, and, being a fan, that’s meant a lot that your career blossomed in so many different areas. How is that experience for you with hosting game shows, being in movies and on reality tv series, apart from the touring musician that many identify you as? 

JF: You know what? It’s a blast because, like you said, some people associate me one way [but] you never know where I’m going to pop up. One time I was at a Comic Con and I was signing something and a whole family came by, and it was really cool because the grandma was like “Oh, he’s from Dancing with the Stars” and the mom is like “No, he’s from *NSYNC” and the one kid is like “No, I’ve seen him on Impractical Jokers, no, no, no, Masked Singer.” It’s really funny that all these things I’ve done have spanned across so many demographics and different ages to where the variety is palpable.

Not that I’ve been like I needed to do it, but it just happened to work out that way. From My Big Fat Greek Wedding to Dancing with the Stars, to Impractical Jokers—it’s just great that different people have been exposed to me in all of these different lights and ways. I’ve been embracing it and having fun with it—especially competition reality shows, I love to do those. They’re so fun and a lot of people know they can go to me cause I’m like a guinea pig, like “Heck yeah! Let’s do it!!” It’s no harm, no foul because it isn’t my career. It’s not my life. You know, I’m not going to dress up in a rabbit outfit for the rest of my days. 

But that was fun. 

JF: Yeah, it was a blast. That’s my point. Just boom, one season, DONE, thank you. That’s what’s so great is that I get to pick and choose the things that I want to do. I don’t have to do anything for a check, [they] are things that I genuinely want to do. A lot of times these side ventures don’t pay a lot of money, believe it or not. For this show, we aren’t trying to jack up ticket prices and make it crazy, [to] where people can’t afford the experience. We’re doing it in theaters because we like it to be more intimate, so we’re trying to keep it to venues 2500 to 5000 seats maximum, and we’re not interested in going any bigger than that. This way we’re able to get to run into the audience and dance with fans. 

Do you feel like the crowd is reflective of that collective body of work that you’ve done, diversity-wise? For you and AJ, as well?

JF: I think it is everything across the board, believe it or not. You look at AJ, who did RuPaul’s Drag Race—he was Poppy Love at one point. It’s cool to get to see all walks of life from white, black, Asian, LGBTQIA+. And the coolest point is you’ll also see the mix: the Backstreet amongst the *NSYNC and they aren’t killing each other, which is amazing! It’s so funny that, being so diverse, all the while existing in the same genre, but having really different diehard fans loyal to just one [part of my career], to now come to this great mix.

Now I’ve gotten many messages from Backstreet fans, like “I was never an *NSYNC fan but I became one” or “I never liked Backstreet Boys but now I do.” It’s such a unique opportunity to be able to change a perspective of someone by just performing in front of someone who may not have ever given you the opportunity in a normal scenario. In a show like this, it allows for so much entertainment because of the genuine fun we’re having, and that’s contagious throughout the audience. We take you on a musical journey for a Legendary Night and a legendary blast. 

Speaking of legendary—you recently reunited with the *NSYNC boys for a couple of new tunes. How does it feel recording now as opposed to the No Strings Attached, height-of-fame era? 

JF:  Well, I wasn’t in the studio for days and days and days, so for me it was great because I’m not the hugest studio rat. I love it, don’t get me wrong, and I love the process, it’s just that I don’t love doing it that long, for weeks and months. That drove me nuts. For us, this time it was like riding a bike. Like, “Hey, here’s the part we’re singing. Here’s what we’re doing. Let’s try this, let’s do that. Done.” We did those two songs and that was great. 

One thing I wanted to touch on: with my wife being a concert photographer, we’ve been around a lot of bands in a mostly male environment and there appears to be a stigma, as if mental health isn’t something treated as a priority in such environments. Have you ever felt that? That your mental health wasn’t a key focus and wasn’t supported? You’re also an admitted ham and fun guy, so what have you maybe done to keep spirits up as you tour, which I’m sure is hard to be so far away from family and loved ones? 

JF: It gets a little crazy every now and then. That’s why it’s essential now for me—and for AJ—[that] we get to pick and choose what we want to do now. We’re basically working on the weekends and then we’re back home with our kids. That’s the greatest thing about it, first of all.

As far as the overall mental health, I can’t speak for myself because I’ve never had depression or anxiety or anything like that. I do know that AJ has gone through many things like that and actually went to rehab on top of that. And now he’s finally understanding and working through it. In the show, he does talk about mental health. There’s a song he wrote called “Arizona”—it’s a beautiful ballad that he wrote for his new solo EP. It does explain and talk about mental health and his persona of “AJ” onstage and how he had to let that go and be “Alex” when he’s not onstage. When you’re a young kid and a young star, you don’t separate the two I guess, and that’s something that he didn’t do, which mentally put a strain on him. So he was going through a lot of different things, but now he’s taking different classes and taking different steps to be able to persevere.

Thank goodness, ‘cause some people don’t get out of that. And he did. He’d relapsed a few times in between, but he’s on the road and he’s been amazing. We’re there for him and I’ve always been there and supportive of him. I’ve actually talked to him a little bit about mental health and I never knew. I was honest in telling him that I’d never been there with my mental health. Have I felt down and depressed? Of course. For me I’ve always known there is light at the end of that tunnel. When there’s a good thing, there’s always a bad thing so you have to take those bad things and figure how to flip them into something positive and switch it around. But I know for some people it’s not that easy. And people say that I always have this happy outlook on life, or something tragic has happened but you’ve found some optimism. Like my mom would worry…she had breast cancer, and thank goodness is now cancer-free, but right at the moment [when] she goes to the doctor to get a mammogram is when she starts freaking out. And I’m like, “Mom, the doctors told you you’re free and clear. Why are you freaking out?” A lot of times, we as people heavily worry about what’s beyond our control and it seems to always go to the most negative possibility. 

Again, for me, it’s never gone there, but a lot of people around me struggle with those moments and you have to have conversations, and it does help for people to talk and have someone to listen. It’s so important to find the right person to talk to who will listen to you and support you. I actually have had someone talk me through one time when they were having a panic attack. She explained what was going on and now I have a much better understanding even though I don’t know how it feels, but I now know how to handle this situation better and differently. So it’s important to be there to help and not judge a situation you do not know. 

Absolutely. I definitely appreciate your feelings and introspection on that because a lot of people deal with that quite a bit in our world as of late so I am grateful you shared that. 

JF: Absolutely. There’s negativity to be found plentifully. Are there bad things that happen? Yes, but also shit happens. 

Right? You just ride the wave as much as possible and go with the flow. 

JF: Yes. That is correct.

So who would win in arm wrestling: you or AJ?

JF: Me, of course. He weighs like 5 pounds wet. Are you kidding me? I’ll have to throw my weight around and it’d be a wrap. 

I’m a chunky girl, I get you. If you had to do a similar tour like Legendary Night with a member of New Kids on the Block, who would you choose? 

JF: Um, you know what? I’ve talked about doing stuff like that with some of the guys. I want to do an idea of like the Rat Pack—so Joey Mac [Joe McIntyre] might be a good one. Donnie is also a huge ham so he’d be great too.

He’d fit the you-and-AJ vibe, for sure.

JF: Donnie gets it. For sure. 

I want to thank you so much for your time. It means so much. I can’t wait to see you and AJ in St. Louis next Thursday at The Factory for a Legendary Night.

JF: I am so excited, it’s going to be a blast. I can’t wait to have some fun with you all. So St. Louis, get ready to sing, to scream, and to dance because that’s what we’re coming for. 

I promise, we’ll deliver. 

JF: I love it. Thank you so much. | Diane Ruff

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