The 'Backstreet Boys' singer talked to PEOPLE at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas on Saturday
AJ McLean will soon celebrate a noteworthy anniversary: two years of sobriety.
On Saturday, the Backstreet Boys singer, 45, talked exclusively to PEOPLE at the iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas, sharing that while life is "grand," his sober journey is an ongoing process.
"This coming Tuesday, I will be two years sober, so life is grand right now," he tells PEOPLE.
“It never gets easier, but it just becomes a working part of the mind,” McLean says. “You have to literally make it an everyday thing whether you make it to a meeting or not.”
“I talk to my sponsor every day. I talk to people in program every day,” he adds
After the Backstreet Boys' DNA World Tour ended in May, McLean says he even used some downtime to go to an intensive outpatient program for mental health in Arizona, spending 10 weeks there.
“I knew I had a window of time, so I said, ‘You know what? I need to do some inner work. The sobriety thing is good. I need to go back and do some digging.’ Ten weeks for the rest of my life, I am super grateful for it,” he tells PEOPLE. “It was totally worth it.’”
McLean — who along with his Backstreet Boys bandmates Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell — had a residency show at Planet Hollywood from 2017 to 2019 in Las Vegas, said that while the city was “not good” for him during those years, now, he’d “love” for the group to do another residency.
“It's not even about geography. Addiction goes anywhere you go, so I can't blame it on a city. Yes, it’s Sin City but that’s some BS,” he says. “I was [drinking] in podunk wherever. But again, now I play the tape out. That's my whole theory. I play out the tape.”
He adds, “I know how it's going to end if I pick up a drink. Now, with the fentanyl crisis, I've lost 12 friends in the last two years. It's terrifying. It's scary out there. You don't know what's out there. So just don't walk through the door, just stay on this side of the door.”
In addition to his sobriety, McLean has other things to celebrate, too. He’s already launched a beauty line called Ava Dean that is inspired by his daughters; he’s launching a clothing line soon; and is set to release his debut solo project.
"It's a little bit of everything that I am a fan of,” he says of the new album. "It's funk, it's R&B, it's pop, it's soul. There's kind of an ‘80s flair. There's some Silk Sonic vibes. It's some really good stuff.”
"There's probably going to be about 18 songs roughly on the album, so I'm probably going to split the album into two parts. So hopefully January is part one and part two probably end of April. I got about two more songs to finish and then it is going to be done," he adds.
The singer previously opened up to PEOPLE last month about his recovery and hosting 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at his home.
“I’m trying to keep my feet firmly planted in the program,” McLean said at the time. “I’ve battled self-esteem issues my entire life, and I’ve learned a lot. My sobriety is the most solid it’s ever been."
"I'm in the best shape of my life, both mentally, physically, spiritually. I'm actually really happy and I love it, and I don't want to lose it. I want to continue to keep growing, growing with my wife and my kids and myself," the singer added.
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The singer also acknowledged his fame and substance abuse created a strain on his personal life at times. Earlier this year, he and wife Rochelle, 41 — who share daughters Lyric, 6, and Elliot, 10 — revealed they had separated. When chatting to PEOPLE last month, the singer (born Alexander James McLean) said that he is now focused on who he "really" is as well as his role in his family amid his health journey.
“AJ’s a persona,” he explained “Alex is who I really am. I need to know that when I’m done with AJ’s stuff, I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a friend. If I know how to turn that off, that’s a healthy way of living.”
And as well as his solo album, the singer has big plans on the horizon with the Backstreet Boys. Next year, he is set to join his fellow bandmates at the Moon Palace in Cancún, Mexico to perform at an all-inclusive concert vacation from April 18-21, 2024.
He told PEOPLE that he will attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings there "whenever I have a break."
"It just takes two for a meeting," he added.
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