In an explosive new documentary, some of the biggest pop stars of the nineties have revealed how they spent their early years being scammed out of earnings by their conman manager.
Lou Pearlman was a failed blimp business owner who went on to become one of the biggest pop "Svengalis" on the planet before he fell foul of the music industry and settled into a life of Ponzi-scheming.
He was also an alleged paedophile who was at one time the biggest pop music mogul on the planet.
The Boy Band Con, produced by Lance Bass of *NSYNC, delves into the experience of how some of the biggest superstars of the nineties were scammed out of their earnings by obese conman Lou Pearlman.
Pearlman was a pop mogul who'd parlayed earnings from a dodgy blimp company into a career as a boy band manager and music mogul. He would go on to become a billionaire while his confused pop stars earned barista-level wages.
Pearlman was the founding manager of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Take 5, Aaron Carter and Innosense (a group which included Britney Spears) among others and was a sought after Svengali manager.
In the new Youtube Premium documentary, multiple stars have talked about enduring years of shocking underpayment while Pearlman managed their finances, claiming while they moved millions of records and sold out stadiums, they were paid a pittance, and would have been better off working at "Starbucks".
Appearing in the documentary are AJ McLean of Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC's JC Chasez, Chris Kirkpatrick, Lance and his mum Diane, solo artist Aaron Carter, O-Town's former frontman Ashley Parker Angel and Justin Timberlake's mum.
Pearlman used to spend all his time with his young boy bands, touring with them and eating dinner at their hotels; first with Backstreet Boys, then *NSYNC. Pearlman, who weighed about 150kg, had the nickname "Big Poppa".
However, his artists — who quickly rose to mega stardom — became suspicious of him after their pay packets began to arrive lighter than expected.
Many of Pearlman's artists moved tens of millions of records and sold out stadiums, and have told of being paid "Starbucks" wages at the height of their careers.
Pearlman was also accused of sexual misconduct by former artists and parents.
Before he worked with musicians, Pearlman managed to have a career as a blimp salesman, where he scammed luxury brands like Jordache with dodgy golden flying machines that crashed into flying dumps.
During his entertainment career he would go on to be sued by 12 of the 13 artists he represented. After being disgraced in the entertainment industry, he embarked on a large Ponzi scheme that defrauded thousands of about US $300 million. He was eventually nabbed by the FBI and died in jail.
THE BOY BAND CON
Pearlman lacked remorse for what he did to the members of his bands according to the new documentary.
Lance Bass, producer of The Boy Band Con and former member of *NSYNC said he thinks Pearlman felt the world owed him.
"I don't think Lou felt bad at all," Bass said told The Washington Post.
"I think he really believed the world owed him all of this."
Bass joined *NSYNC in 1995, two years after the formation of Backstreet Boys. Pearlman picked him up in a Rolls Royce but also had a limousine on hand.
"You're not even thinking this guy could be a crook," he said.
"When someone promises you the world, you believe him. Now, if I ever met someone who popped up like a peacock in the beginning, I'm like, 'Yeah, you're full of s**t'."
"Every band he's created so far says he's crooked, and they're leaving and they're suing him. He's the guy giving you the paperwork to sign with his company, and you're like, 'What do we do?'" explained Ashley Parker Angel from O-Town.
"Ultimately, we signed the contract, because that was the opportunity on the table. … But you realise, I could have made this much working full-time at Starbucks, and that's disheartening, but you're in this weird position as a young performer to either take an opportunity or not."
WHERE IT BEGAN
In 1980 Pearlman formed Airship Enterprises Ltd. with the lofty goal of starting a business leasing promotional blimps to businesses. As ridiculous as this might sound, blimps were an exciting fad in the eighties and nineties, and Pearlman managed to convince luxury designer goods rand Jordache to lease a flying machine from him.
Pearlman, however, had leased a blimp he didn't own and didn't have the money to buy. So he wrangled together used balloon "envelope" parts and hired a contractor from New Jersey to help him construct a blimp of his own, according to a 2007 Vanity Fair article.
Jordache wanted their blimp to be golden, and Pearlman cut corners with the paint which browned in the sun making the blimp look like a "turd".
On the blimp's maiden voyage it was scheduled to fly over a Jordache promotional party in New York Harbour and promptly crashed into a garbage dump.
The incident made national headlines, and Pearlman blamed it on the weight of the golden paint covering the vessel.
There was talk from insiders that Pearlman, a scammer, had never intended to fly the blimp according to the 2007 reports.
But he managed to recover, and by making money from pennystocks, he raised enough to buy a second-hand blimp, which he leased to McDonalds, who kept it in the air all year long in 1985. The deal meant Pearlman became a millionaire and rented a Penthouse in New York City. He bought a Learjet and started looking for other investment opportunities.
He heard about New Kids On The Block, a boy band grossing $100 million a year.
In 1992, Pearlman advertised in an Orlando newspaper for a band to be made up of teenage boys. He auditioned AJ McClean first in his living room. Over the coming months more auditions would take place, some in Pearlman's blimp hangars.
By 1993 the rest of the members — Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell — had been assembled by Pearlman, and they formed the Backstreet Boys.
By 1994 his blimp business had gone from five operational blimps to one and had posted losses of US $4 million.
WHERE IT STARTED TO UNRAVEL
The first band to sue Pearlman was Backstreet Boys.
Things had started to sour between the boy band and their manager after he took on *NSYNC and actively encouraged the bands to compete against one another.
Pearlman dressed them differently, putting the Backstreet Boys in darker clothes and *NSYNC in brighter colours, giving the new band a more goofy image.
Kirkpatrick from *NSYNC says in the new documentary, "If I were the Backstreet Boys, I would have hated us too!"
Backstreet member Brian Littrell became suspicious after the band only received US $300,000 collectively in 1997, while Pearlman's company had gathered several million.
The band hadn't lost their humility, but making about US $12,000 a year didn't quite add up. Backstreet, one of the biggest bands in the world in the late nineties, had toured relentlessly, sold our stadiums and their 1997 self-titled album selling over 28 million copies worldwide.
During the lawyers investigation, it was revealed that as well as marking himself a producer and manager, Pearlman had himself on the books as the sixth member of Backstreet Boys.
"He totally deceived me," Kevin Richardson from the Backstreet Boys said in 2000, adding that Pearlman insisted it was all about family. "Then you find out 'It's about the money, it's about the money'."
In 2006 Justin Timberlake, speaking on behalf of the band, referred to *NSYNC's foundational years as "being financially raped by a Svengali".
*NSYNC's hit song 'Bye Bye Bye' is a reference to their divorce from Pearlman, as is the album title "No Strings Attached".
Every artist he represented, excluding US5, sued Pearlman in federal court. All the artists who sued were either successful or settled with him out of court.
He was accused of mismanaging their careers and finances, racketeering and criminal activity.
THE PONZI SCHEME AND DOWNFALL
As his music career ended and he tried to cope with a slew of lawsuits from irritated pop stars, Pearlman embarked on the creation of a false company, Trans Continental Airlines, where he encouraged his friends and family among 2100 others to invest.
He solicited people for money, up to and including their life savings.
He gathered about $300 million in what was one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in US history.
He was apprehended by FBI officers at a hotel in Bali, and eventually sentences to 25 years in prison in 2008. He'd conned people in their seventies and eighties out of their retirement.
He died in custody at a Federal prison in Miami in 2016 from an infection caused by heart surgery.
PEARLMAN HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR
Vanity Fair published allegations about Pearlman's conduct in 2007, including accounts from a number of his bandmates that the mogul hand behaved inappropriately while they were young.
Different performers and staffers spoke about misconduct including naked wrestling with 13-year-old performers, Pearlman's full frontal nudity and showing the boys pornography at a young age.
"Basically this was an excuse for Lou to hang around with five good-looking boys," said Phoenix Stone, an original member of Backstreet Boys, told Vanity Fair.
"He was along for the ride … what he liked to do was take boys out to dinner."
"As a mother, you kind of put two and two together," AJ Mcclean's mother said in 2017.
"Is this all innocent? Or is it more? I kind of thought that there might have been some strange things going on."
"I tried to expose him for what he was years ago. … I hope you expose him, because the financial (scandal) is the least of his injustices," said Jane, Nick Carter's mum.
"I can't say anything more. These children are fearful, and they want to go on with their careers."
Nick Carter never has never confirmed that any inappropriate conduct occurred. Lance Bass told Vanity Fair at the time of the publication that there had been no inappropriate conduct while Pearlman managed *NSYNC.
Pearlman himself staunchly denied the allegations in a 2014 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, saying "The Vanity Fair piece interviewed only people that had a grudge."
Speaking about Pearlman's death, a former Backstreet Boy said he didn't know how to feel.
"You don't know whether to cry, laugh, feel relieved, feel happy for everyone else," Kirkpatrick told The Washington Post.
"There was so much wrong with everything about him and what happened that you don't even know how to take death."