August 13, 2001 05:05 PM

Denise McLean, mother of Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean — whom she still calls Alex — said on Friday night’s “20/20” that her son is really two different people. A.J., 23, was released from rehab on Saturday after a month of treatment for alcohol abuse and depression. “A.J. is the bad boy, crazy boy on stage,” said his mother, referring to her son’s public persona, in which he “makes all those pelvic thrusts and does all this stuff to drive the girls crazy. And A.J. is the one that got the tattoos, and A.J.’s the one that colors his hair for the audience.” “Alex,” on the other hand, is “the complete opposite of that,” she said, calling that boy “the sweetest” and “most gentle person . . . you could ever imagine.” She acknowledged that her son is still struggling to reconcile two conflicting sides of himself and that he retreated into his A.J. mode in order to escape his insecurities and emotional distress. She said that since he was young, Alex initially had his sights set on Broadway (rather than the pop music world). But after answering a newspaper ad, he joined the boy band that became known as Backstreet Boys. Within two years, they were a phenomenon, and Denise, once an escort to the group (first as a guardian and then as a manager), said she watched helplessly as their mother-son relationship was placed on the backburner and Alex/A.J. fell victim to other influences. “I think people started coming around that really were not interested in Alex anymore,” she said. “They were interested in what the Backstreet Boy could do for them . . . It was not about him, it was about them.”

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