It’s been eight years since Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough and his wife, Leigh, anxiously awaited their newborn son James’ release from the NICU at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after coming into the world six weeks premature.
So, as the Florida-based singer enjoyed a recent father-son trip back to L.A. to film the USA Network’s Big Star Little Star, the musician couldn’t help reflecting on the “strong, healthy, well-spirited boy” his son has grown into and shares that the Hollywood visit even cemented James’ dreams to follow in his footsteps.
“Right now he wants to be a singer,” Dorough tells ET. “He wants to be the next Backstreet Boy and start his own group! I would support my kids in whatever they want to do, but it would be honoring and flattering if he did choose to become a singer.”
“One of the best gifts my wife could ever give me was my two little boys,” continues the “I Want It That Way” singer. “James was our first child and he was six weeks premature. He came out 4.5 pounds — this itty bitty guy — and we had to keep him in the NICU for a couple of weeks, but he’s definitely made up for it now. He’s come out of it so strong, is a kind, sweet-hearted little boy, and I’m very proud he’s got such a big heart.”
The pair were thrilled to join Big Star Little Star, which sees celebrities team up with their kids and compete to see which parent-child duo knows each other best. Quizzed on topics like how their parents annoy each other, each team wins money for their chosen charity. Dorough chose Lupus L.A. in honor of his sister Caroline, who died from the disease in 1998.
In ET’s exclusive sneak preview of the series, which is hosted by Cat Deeley, the pair are seen hilariously performing a song they made up about Dorough’s younger son, 4-year-old Holden, while competing against Meet the Parents star Teri Polo and her daughter, Bayley, and Dancing with the Stars runner-up David Ross and son, Cole. “James loved filming the show,” says Dorough, 43. “He’s already like, ‘Is there any more shows coming up that we can do, Dad?’”
While James clearly has the show biz bug, he’s not sitting around waiting for offers to land in his lap. Dorough reveals that the driven young kid is carving out his own path in entertainment, having started his own YouTube channel, titled James the Great, and is quickly cultivating a growing fan base!
While Dorough and his wife of nine years were initially wary of letting James share his life with the online world, they monitor his filming projects and make cameos in episodes. “He’s a little ham,” says Dorough, the youngest of five siblings. “He has his own little fan club out there and he’s always saying, ‘Dad, I got more followers!’ He gives people tours of our house, brings in his friends, shows people how to play Minecraft. He loves it.”
It’s hardly surprising that James loves the spotlight, given that he’s grown up in the Backstreet Boys world, joining his dad on the road from as young as 4 months old. However, Dorough notes it’s only in recent years that he’s starting to fully realize that his dad’s job is slightly cooler than most!
“Definitely in the last couple of years, it’s really starting to catch on who dad is, especially with friends at school and some of the teachers recognizing me and being fans. The teacher he has right now is constantly playing our videos and songs in his class and all the kids are like, ‘Hey Mr Dorough! We love that video!’ It’s very cute.”
Dorough can’t always be on the school run, frequently traveling with BSB and now spending chunks of time in Las Vegas, where the GRAMMY-nominated band have launched their Larger Than Life residency at Planet Hollywood’s AXIS Theater. The “100” singer recently told a San Diego concert crowd that the record-breaking run, which resumes on June 15, has been extended for two years.
While he admits those stints apart from family are the hardest part of juggling BSB life with fatherhood, Leigh and the boys have always been understanding and “gracious” when it comes to sharing him with the fandom.
“Now, more than ever, it’s hitting James, when he’s like, ‘Oh, Dad, you’re leaving again?’” says the Dead 7 star. “He gets a little bummed, but he also knows that daddy goes to work and makes a lot of people happy. Holden is like, ‘Whatever, dad can come and go,’ because he doesn’t really get it yet. But thank God for Skyping and Facetime. It was the best thing, waiting until we did to have kids, because it would’ve been so much harder back in the day without being able to see them on a daily basis. James is so tech-savvy that he’s constantly showing me and my wife how to do things on the tablets. He’s like, ‘Dad, we can actually Snapchat now instead of FaceTime,’ and totally showed me how to do it while we were on the phone.”
Frequent FaceTime calls are a natural part of BSB’s life these days, with all five members now married with children. Youngest member Nick Carter joined the Backstreet dads club a year ago.
“Nick’s a great dad,” says Dorough. “Unfortunately, his father passed away, so he’s dealing with that right now, but he’s definitely taking on good characteristics of being a father and doing all of us proud. He’s really surprised us, because if you had asked him 10 years ago, he [would have] said he’s probably never going to get married and definitely not having kids. Boy, has that changed! He got married, has a child and loves being with the baby. He’s all over him — reading and doing all these fun things with him. It’s been a life-changer.”
While dad life and their Las Vegas residency is keeping the quintet busy, the group still has two new records in the works. In addition to a special album featuring “some of our hits remade with an acoustic vibe,” the boys are recording new music, with their first single anticipated to drop by the end of the year.
Following their hit “God, Your Mama, and Me” collaboration with country duo Florida Georgia Line and visits to Nashville to meet with songwriters, Dorough confirms that at least some of the upcoming record is likely to have a country flavor.
“We’re always experimenting, and we’ve recorded a couple of songs with a country vibe and most likely one or two of them will go on the record,” he says. “Our records have always been diversified — a bit of R&B, pop, dance. And, looking back on our past albums, a lot of them were written by country writers, so it’s not going to be too much of a departure — especially now with the lines being more blurred with country music [and pop]. I think we’ll definitely have some country love on there.”
Watch Dorough and his bandmates meet a 96-year-old fan girl at their Las Vegas show below.
Big Star Little Stars premieres May 31 at 10/9c on USA Network and Dorough’s episode airs on June 7.