How ‘Drag Race’ made Backstreet Boy AJ McLean feel like ‘a completely different person’

These days, Backstreet Boy AJ McLean is indeed feeling “Larger Than Life.”

And the 44-year-old boy-bander has “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” to thank for it.

“I am a completely different person, and it really all started with this show,” McLean told People ahead of competing in the Friday finale of the VH1 reality spinoff from the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” juggernaut.

In addition to transforming into Poppy Love on “Celebrity Drag Race,” McLean has undergone a major makeover of his own this year. He’s lost over 30 pounds, had plastic surgery to tighten up his jawline — and, most importantly, celebrated a year of sobriety on Monday.

The star credits “Celebrity Drag Race” for helping him to — in the immortal words of Mother Ru — “love myself.”

AJ in drag as Poppy Love on "RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race."
AJ McLean will compete in Friday’s finale of “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race” as Poppy Love.

“Hands down the biggest thing I took away from this amazing experience was to love the body that you’re in,” said McLean. “That’s something I’ve long struggled with, and this proved to be the catalyst for me to really look inwards and do the emotional work to embody the person I am and really just love myself. Because as Ru says, how can I love anybody else if I don’t love myself?”

McLean’s experience on “Celebrity Drag Race” even convinced him to get liposuction to tighten up some loose skin around his neck that had long bothered him. He noticed how much firmer his skin looked when it was taped up to get into drag.

Backstreet Boys in the '90s.
AJ McLean (center) found fame with the Backstreet Boys in the ’90s.
Getty Images

“I got to see what I looked like with a jawline, and Ru told me how beautiful I looked, and I got so emotional,” he said. “It really struck me.”

After the procedure, McLean now feels like a new man. “I look 10 years younger … I just feel like a new human,” he said. “Now I can say for the first time, I love my profile.”

The singer has also dropped from about 175 pounds to about 140 since February — no doubt, with some help from all that synchronized hoofing on tour with the Backstreet Boys this summer.

AJ McLean
AJ McLean has gone from his boy band heyday with the Backstreet Boys to “RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race.”

“I started working out five days a week, and then mixing it with healthy eating — literally, grain-free, gluten-free, and sugar-free foods,” he told People. “It’s the most sinfully boring diet you’ve ever done, but I see the results and I feel freaking fantastic.”

And McLean has gotten some special support in staying sober during his stint on “Celebrity Drag Race.” “When I walked on set, I was so at ease because there’s a massive sober community there,” he said. “I even had a couple of meetings while I was in rehearsals, which was phenomenal. I felt like I was home.”

Although McLean said that “Celebrity Drag Race” is “by far the most liberating thing I think I’ve ever done,” he added that “I’m no stranger to drag … I grew up in musical theater, wearing makeup, painting my nails — all that is nothing new to me. But doing drag like this — it just changed me.”