Now 15 years into their history, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the Backstreet Boys are rapidly maturing beyond their eager-beaver early 20s. Take for example, the BSB known to his fans as Howie D, and to his family as Howie Dorough. Howie hits (zowie!) the big 3-5 this summer.

"Yeah, the big 35 - I'm the old man now," he affirms (for the record, Nick Carter is 28, A.J. McLean is 30 and Brian Littrell is 33; if recently defected member Kevin Richardson were still on board, he'd be the "old man" at 36).

Howie hits that milestone the same day as his Backstreet Boys concert Aug. 22 at the U.S. Cellular Coliseum in Bloomington (8 p.m., with opening act Girlicious).

Quick, somebody order a cake?

"I'm sure the guys will do something embarrassing on stage, as they always do on birthdays," Dorough predicts.

And he has no doubt that the faithful Backstreet Boys minions in the audience will be well-prepared for the milestone.

"Our fans have been dealing with this stuff for many years, and they usually bring cards and signs. It's always nice being recognized for those details," he says.

If nothing else, expect a group sing of "Happy Birthday to You," with both audience and fellow band-mates chiming in.

Thirty-five or no, Dorough claims he still feels "like a kid barely older than 21; I definitely don't feel 35. But then I've never looked at age as a number. I don't look at it as, wow, you're getting up in years. It's how you feel in your heart."

And in his heart, he's still Howie D at the height of millennial Backstreet Boys mania (1998-2001).

Never mind that for the first time in Backstreet Boys touring history the group will only amount to a quartet.

Two years ago this summer, band member Kevin Richardson departed the group to the beat of another drummer, namely "the next phase of my life."

The split was amicable, says Dorough.

In fact, "I was just with Kevin a couple days ago. He's probably one of the best friends I've ever had. He's just wanting to start a family. They've got a beautiful baby boy, and he and his wife are in a great place."

Richardson's exodus came around the time the band's current album, "Unbreakable," was being recorded.

So what's Kevin up to two years later? "He's doing some acting in a movie being directed by Lou Diamond Phillips for Hallmark," Dorough says.

There are no plans for him to be singing with the group anytime soon, he adds. "But the door will always be open for him if he ever decides to come back."

Exploring their own identities has always been part of the Backstreet Boys dynamic, says Dorough, with each member having gone the solo project route at some juncture, some more successfully than others.

Formed as a New Kids on the Block variant in 1992-3 by entrepreneur Lou Pearlman, the Backstreet Boys were first unveiled to the public on April 9, 1993, bearing their Florida origins on their marquee (the group is named after Orlando's Backstreet flea market).

International success preceded their own breakthrough back home, which didn't happen until the single "Quit Playing Games With my Heart" began receiving airplay.

The rest, as they say, is BSB history, much of it turbulent backstage and offstage: Pearlman was sued by the band in 1997 for taking excessive profit percentages and misuse of money; the following year Littrell underwent open-heart surgery in the peak of Backstreet Boys mania; the same year, Dorough lost his sister to lupus; McLean's drug and alcohol woes sent him into rehab in 2001; and a crew member was killed that same year in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But, clearly, the membership reduction from five to four will be the most visible Backstreet Boys change in their 15 years of ups and downs.

"On stage, we'll look different," Dorough agrees. "But we'll be able to compensate for it and adapt to it. Once we get into a couple songs, the fans won't notice any differences."

In addition to turning 35 this summer, Dorough also entered the ranks of the hitched in December when he tied the knot with his true love of the past seven years, Leigh Boniello, who was employed as the band's Web site master when they first met.

"Yeah, I was the last (single) man standing!" notes Dorough. "Being with us on tour, Leigh had seen the craziness of it all, and was my biggest supporter. She really digs it when girls go crazy and ask to take a picture with me. She'll say, 'here, give me the camera and let me take it.' She's totally cool with it. There's no jealousy at all."

His newlywed status notwithstanding, this summer's tour will be bittersweet for Dorough at best.

Losing his sister to lupus 10 years ago, at the very peak of Backstreet Boys mania, was a challenge to get through. But since June 22, Dorough has being grieving the death of his father from brain cancer.

"That's probably been the hardest thing to deal with of all," he confesses. "But the guys (in the band) have been totally there for me. To my surprise, they all flew in for his funeral. We're just a really tight unit that way. And the fans have been so supportive, both with my sister and, now, my father."

Speaking of which…

"A lot of the fans we see are from the very beginning, and they're older and some of them are married. And the tone to the screams is not as high as it used to be," he says of the view from the concert stage 15 years after Lou Pearlman assembled the group via want ads and auditions.

"And they're bringing their own kids to the show," he continues. "My own niece wasn't even born at the time we began, and she's become one of our biggest fans."

Then there are other demographics to contend with.

"Just the other day when I was on a road trip with my family, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel to grab some food, and this little old lady came up to me. She was older than my mom, and she said, 'You're Howie from the Backstreet Boys, aren't you?'"

He pauses to reflect on the moment.

"So some of our biggest fans are now 75! It's amazing!"

Or: See what happens when you turn 35?

At a glance

What: Backstreet Boys with Girlicious

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 22

Where: U.S. Cellular Coliseum, 101 S. Madison St., Bloomington

Tickets: $22.50 to $42.50

Box office number: (866) 891-9992

Boys in the band

Or, how to tell which Backstreet Boy is which:

• Brian - The blond one with minimal facial hair, an open-heart surgery scare in his medical history and second career as Christian pop singer.

• Nick - The other blond one with the least amount of facial hair, the "Sexiest Man in the World" ranking from CosmoGirl magazine and the reality TV series track record ("House of Carters").

• Howie - The dark Hispanic one with the "nice boy" rep, the countertenor voice and, when upper-register duty calls, the falsetto skills (also the one interviewed for today's GO! story).

• A.J. - The other dark Hispanic one with the "bad boy" rep, including the drug/alcohol woes, the rehab stint and the tell-all book by his own mom ("Backstreet Mom").

• Kevin - The dark country one (Kentucky native) with the Teenage Ninja Turtle past (at Disney World), the Broadway track record (Billy Flynn in "Chicago") and, currently, the leave of absence from the band.

Backstreet Boys' openers are Girlicious

By Pantagraph staff

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction - especially in the seismic world of pop music. As proof, we submit the following:

Opening for boy-band Backstreet Boys at their Aug. 22 U.S. Cellular Coliseum concert is girl-band Girlicious.

Though Girlicious is young enough to have been screaming-tween Backstreet Boys fans back in the late '90s, they've hewn closely to boy/girl band traditions.

Comprised of Tiffanie Anderson, Nichole Cordova, Natalie Mejia and Chrystina Sayers, the group is a sign-of-the-times affair, with direct ties to a reality TV series.

In this case, "Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious," aired for 10 episodes between February and April on The CW.

Like the Dolls, Girlicious was engineered by Robin Antin, the combo choreographer-clothing designer-music video director.

She assembled the team for the series around a year ago, and had them working on an album and music videos prior to the series' premiere.

The album was due to be released this week, and was preceded by the iTunes release of the singles "Like Me" and "Stupid S***." The former reached No. 1 on the iTunes chart.

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