The mutation of your common, third-album boy-band pundit into furrow-browed philanthropist seems inevitable. After all, every action deserves its opposing recourse, and lyrics like "you are my fi-re, my one desi-re" simply beg for big-budget dedication ceremonies in rehab clinics, if only to make them mean something. So that's why we're all (OK, so far only three) here midday in the cavernous Hard Rock Live mosh pit, bearing slightly cynical witness to another pop distraction gone all good.
Why cynical? Well, Backstreet bad-boy A.J. McLean has chosen this hot day in hell to announce the launch of his juvenile diabetes/VH-1 Save the Music-boostering JNN foundation, following the leads of bandmates Howie (lupus), Kevin (his dead dad), Brian (heart) and Nick (um, the ocean). Only, he's using his lesser-known pseudonym, Johnny No Name, as its moniker, and nobody knows quite why.
"Do we address him as Johnny?" chuffs the radio jock to my right, fresh from real news sound bites involving the governor and the prison, wondering, perchance, why we're addressing him at all.
"Who's Johnny, she said," I DeBarge.
Truth is, we're all a little skittish about dialogue engagement, and not just because disease is never funny. The fact that three grown men (work with me here) are occupying one front-of-the-stage table with three empty tables surrounding -- and are backed by padded barricades to horde off the expected crush of "Tiger Beat"-ers -- has us scrambling for any pertinence whatsoever.
"Mr. No Name, what's your take on the Janet Reno situation?" I glib. "And what about those nasty allegations ... "
Before we can fully serve our assigned role, the legions of fans are let in for their A.J. Feeding. Except there are no legions here. Just a sparse 50 or so pre-pubes and tragic post-pubes pressed inexplicably up to the blocker. So they're to be the plebes behind us, A.J.'s to be the king in front, making us either sharks in the moat or discarded bodies to the cause. Either way, we're stuck.
"None of this would happen without us in the middle," supposes the radio jock. If only.
Almost tastelessly, "Like a Virgin" is boomed over the speakers, stirring the manic smattering into their requisite vogued lip-syncing of chaste and chaste-not.
"Oh my gaaawwwwd," grogs one large-mouthed know-it-all leering over my shoulder. "This is soooo A.J.'s song!"
And that's soooo A.J.'s mom leading the trio of Johnny (er, A.J. -- "He's shaved his freakin' head!" squeals the large mouth in disbelief), a diabetes rep and VH-1's Save the Music suit. Mom quickly takes to explaining their family's involvement, rolling her eyes at every necessary mention of her son's (Alex, she calls him) alias, and detailing her pride in A.J.'s early days as a chorus junkie (prior to music program cuts) and the fact that his uncle and his dog (Tobi) suffer from diabetes. Tellingly, the dog bit is the only one to inspire a coo of "awwwws" from the girls. You mean he has a puppy?
"How else are you going to embarrass me?" A.J. grudges, readying for his media inquisition. "Why don't you just call me ‘skinny butt' like they did in school?"
Ooooooh, I get first question! OK, skinny butt, why did you choose to use an assumed name to title your foundation, when you already have a perfectly good real one?
"I wanted to keep it hip and new," he flushes. "And keep it separated from the Backstreet Boys."
Clever? No. But the overriding humanitarianism should be enough to save the B-boy the sideways press glares.
"Not to sound egotistical," he conditions as we gasp, "but to use the celebrity of my status ... "
OK, maybe not. But as long as he also has a "Mature" fan club, seen here in wide mommy attendance, and represented inexplicably in the press moat by a Georgia teacher (who's dressed like the ugly teen in Puffy's girlband Dream) and a pantsuited Big Girl, he'll be forgiven. Especially if they have money. Big Girl approaches the stage with a $3,000 "Mature" club donation to the JNN, adding that the organization for fans 25 and older has similarly aging philanthropic concerns, and is happy for all the work the Boys are doing.
"Imagine that," whispers my new favorite friend, the radio guy. "Nooooo wedding ring!"
After the press is through with its three obvious questions (How? Why? How big?), the remote mike is passed to the mini-mass of mini-mece, and the expected unraveling of I-just-wanna-says ensues.
"I just wanna say ... when my dad died," oozes one Street-girl, "you guys leveled my head."
All I wanna say at this point is goodbye, but before a hasty exit A.J. (Mc)Leans in for an epiphany.
"I just wanna say that everybody thinks that this life is all hunky dory and glitzy glamour," he glitzes. "I'm a normal human being and I bleed like everybody else."
Hurrying to put his Johnny No Name signature on a Johnny No Name suit for charity auction while sitting beneath a Johnny No Name banner, he pauses.
"It's J-O- ... I'm really bad with these things," he spills.
"It's above you!" assists radio guy.