Boy Band Con: The Lou Pearlman Story, a feature-length documentary about the former *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys’ manager, reveals his slide into disgrace after swindling the bands and other investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Pearlman, who was convicted in 2008 for conspiracy and money laundering, ran one of the largest Ponzi schemes in U.S. history. The film, produced by YouTube Originals, Pilgrim Media Group and Lance Bass Productions — the former *NSYNC member’s film company — debuts on YouTube on April 3. It premiered at SXSW on March 13.
While Pearlman’s role in discovering *NSYNC, the Backstreet Boys and several other teen acts is the focus of the first half of the 99-minute documentary, the film also delves into Pearlman’s life as a conman and how he scammed 2,100 investors out of more than $250 million. “The boy bands are really the vehicle to get us into the story of Lou,” says director Aaron Kunkel. “They’re obviously a huge part of it, but there’s so much more underneath that, through all the businesses he was running as well as the scheme and the empire he had created.”
Kunkel also helped provide objectivity that Bass, perhaps, could not. “We knew from the start and from talking to Lance, we really wanted to make this as unbiased and as truthful a story as we could,” he says. “A lot of times it was difficult, because it’s hard to work your way through the webs of lies when multiple people are telling the story of the exact same day, but they have a completely different recounting of what happened.”
Pearlman, who died in federal prison in 2016, started scamming early, appropriating school friends’ stories as his own to bolster his influence. For Bass, delving into Pearlman’s past provided new insight. “Lou would always tell us tons of elaborate stories about his childhood, how he became the businessman he is,” Bass tells Billboard. “But in doing this documentary, you start poking all the holes in all those stories and realize that, oh my gosh, they were not even his story. They’re friends of his that he would just take and make up this life. So I think the most surprising thing for me is to see at such a young age this chubby little kid that had no friends had this whole persona and life just so that people would like him. And it breaks your heart in a way.”
Bass’ *NSYNC bandmates JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick are also interviewed, as well as Backstreet Boy AJ McLean, Aaron Carter, O Town’s Ashley Parker Angel, Innosense’s Nikki DeLoach, several people who grew up in Queens, New York with Pearlman and a number of people who lost their life savings to him. While Justin Timberlake’s mom, Lynn Harless, appears, Timberlake does not, nor do any other members of Backstreet Boys besides McLean. “I didn’t even ask Justin because I knew it would be a no,” Bass says. “That’s why I went straight to Lynn, because I really wanted the parents’ story in there.” Bass’s mom also appears.
For the band members — many of whom did not have strong father figures — Pearlman was a de facto parent, one they called Poppa Lou. He was their patron and biggest supporter — until they called into question his accounting practices. After touring and working nonstop for two years, including landing two No. 1 albums, and only getting paid a $35 per diem, the members of *NSYNC were expecting seven-figure checks when Pearlman touted a “check presentation” ceremony to the band. To their dismay, each member got $10,000 after all their expenses had been recouped by Pearlman, who had written himself into their contracts as the sixth member of the band.
After *NSYNC tried to amend their contract, Pearlman sued the band, losing in court. The Backstreet Boys ultimately paid Pearlman to get out of their deal.
Even after Pearlman’s house of cards began to fall, acts still signed with him and people invested money because they wanted to believe that he could make their dreams come true. “I really wanted to make a film that examines what makes us believe things, maybe sometimes when we shouldn’t,” Kunkel says. “Are we always giving everything we hear the correct amount of analysis to make sure it’s not a lie?”
Carter, a solo artist and the little brother of Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter, comes across as one of Pearlman’s few defenders, adamantly insisting that any pedophilic allegations about Pearlman were untrue. “Aaron really didn’t have a great family upbringing, so he really attached to Lou,” Bass says. “I was surprised that he was that protective of Lou still and got so emotional, but you see that hurt come out of him.”
For Bass, who hopes to next work on an environmental documentary with Kunkel, working on the film provided closure that Pearlman’s death did not. “There’s still so many layers to this Lou Pearlman story that we didn’t even get into, so there could be a whole other documentary after this,” Bass says. “But I feel like that chapter closed. Learning as much of the story as I could learn, it made me feel better about myself and I didn’t feel so alone [because] when you see so many people have the same or similar stories and a lot of heartbreak that they went through, you now feel more of a part of a family.”