September 22, 2014 09:30 AM

Tiffany Rose/Getty

After 20-plus years as a Backstreet Boy, it’s safe to say that A.J. McLean knows a thing or two about adoring fans.

The days of women tossing their undergarments onto the stage may have passed, but McLean, 36, is far happier with a girl who is more likely to playfully hurl food from her high chair: his daughter, 22-month-old Ava Jaymes.

“She is my number one fan!” he told PEOPLE Thursday while attending the Get Lucky for Lupus 6th Annual Poker Tournament, benefitting Lupus L.A., at the Avalon in Hollywood.

“When my wife turns on ‘In a World Like This,’ she is like, ‘Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!'”

He continues, “She’s definitely a daddy’s girl, she lights up, she’s laughing.”

And while there’s no doubt that Ava loves listening to her dad’s music, McLean admits he has yet to figure out how she became such a fan.

“She has never seen me perform it live, so I have no idea how she knows it’s my voice,” he explains. “But she’s super smart, and she is the raddest kid in the world.”

For the singer, parenthood seemingly brings a new revelation each day, but none more astounding than his daughter’s capacity to not only take in, but process the world around her.

“The most surprising thing would have to be just how much she picks up on every little thing, and retains it,” he says. “It’s this little person that can barely talk, but she knows how to communicate, knows what she wants, knows how to dictate it, and if she does’t get what she wants she is actually okay with it.”

With Ava rapidly approaching her second birthday, McLean happily admits that his daughter still holds the crown of the most level-headed member of the family.

“Most kids freak the hell out, but she’s okay if she doesn’t get what she wants,” he says with a laugh. “We’ll see how long that lasts, but for now she is the perfect kid.”

After almost three decades in the entertainment industry, McLean admits it all pales in comparison to having a child.

“It’s crazy! It’s the best thing in the world,” he says. “There is no more rewarding job — and I’ve been doing this, performing, for over 30 years — and this is the best job in the world, to be a father and have a little girl that admires me, loves me, unconditionally.”

— Reagan Alexander


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