October 28, 2002 12:00 PM

When you’re a pop idol, a simple errand can turn into a Survivor episode. Last April, Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell and his wife, Leighanne, stopped by a drugstore near their Atlanta home to buy a $16 pregnancy kit, and the last thing they wanted was to give the tabloids gossip fodder. “Brian ducked behind a shelf and I got in line,” says Leighanne, who panicked when she saw that the object of their quest was under lock and key. “I babbled to the pharmacist about my sister needing a pregnancy test,” she says. “Then I bought two value packs to be sure—neither of us wanted to go back.”

They won’t have to. By September the rest of the world had learned what the couple had known since their furtive purchase: A Backstreet Baby is on the way, and fittingly, it’s a boy.

The news is yet another sign that the Boys—who sold more than 65 million records in the ’90s—are all grown up. “Some people still think of us as the kids we were back when we started,” says Littrell, 27, of the dream-boat spell he helped cast with Kevin Richardson, 31, Nick Carter, 22, A.J. McLean, 24, and Howie Dorough, 29. “We’re men now: Kevin’s married, A.J.’s engaged, I’m going to be a daddy—and that’s how it should be.”

It hasn’t all gone quite as planned. “The first time, when we thought we were pregnant but turned out not to be, we were surprised at how disappointed we felt,” says Littrell. “So the second time we were extremely nervous. I remember we both walked hand-in-hand into the bathroom to read the test. We saw that straight line that means you’re pregnant and we didn’t know whether to be happy or sad. We were in a state of shock.”

The shock quickly gave way to elation. But when Littrell’s son arrives sometime during the holiday season, it’s unclear whether all the other Backstreeters will be there to pass around cigars. “There haven’t been a lot of calls congratulating us,” says Leighanne, 33. Richardson demurs. In the summer, “when Brian told us about the new baby at a recording session, we were all very happy for him,” he says. Though the other Boys declined to be interviewed, “we are still together,” says Richardson, “but we also have to give each other space.” Littrell agrees: “We don’t see a lot of each other except when we’re working. We all have our own lives now.”

Littrell’s life with Leighanne Wallace began after he met the actress on the set of the Boys’ 1997 video “As Long as You Love Me.” They soon started dating, and a year later Leighanne was at Brian’s bedside when he had surgery to repair a congenital heart defect. “Since then,” she says, “I never had a doubt we’d be together.” But his bandmates did, she says, after the couple wed in September 2000: “Some of them had bets we wouldn’t last a year.”

These days some may wonder how much longer Backstreet itself will last. In recent years the boy band has suffered from public growing pains. McLean entered rehab for alcohol abuse and depression last summer. Then, in March, all but Carter elected to leave the Firm, the band’s L.A.-based managers. Jane Carter, Nick’s mother, says his independence rankled the others. “They’ve pressured Nick to quit the band,” she says. Not so, says Littrell, who contends that they all support Carter’s solo effort—Now or Never, due out this month—and that Backstreet’s youngest member has already rejoined the others in working on a new album.

Would Littrell ever consider going down his own road? “A solo album? I suppose I still have that as a goal someday,” he says. A Baptist, he may pursue a Christian-music career. “Brian sings a lot of gospel music,” says Leighanne.

But with a baby on the way, “our priorities have changed,” says her spouse, spreading a blanket for the two of them on a friend’s grassy lawn in L.A. “I’ve put on a good 20 lbs. since we got pregnant,” he says, shaking his head at his burgeoning girth. “I’ve definitely had the pregnant brain, forgetting everything like crazy.”

And putting other things—like music—on hold. Right now, “I’m just going to be writing lullabies for my little boy,” he says. Not to worry, fans. “He’ll always be a Backstreet Boy,” says Leighanne. “Even if he’s somebody’s daddy too.”

J.D. Heyman

Pamela Warrick and Teena Hammond in Los Angeles and Gary McKechnie in Orlando

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