Lance Bass at SXSW on hiding sexuality in 'N Sync: ‘I was playing a character’
He’s many things ― ex-boy band member, film producer, TV host, Southerner, gay rights activist, Christian, Taurus ― but Lance Bass is not shy. The singer made that clear Wednesday at a candid South by Southwest talk, moderated by Dave Holmes and Matt McConkey for their podcast “Homophilia.” Bass produced “The Boy Band Con,” a YouTube original documentary about infamous pop impresario Lou Pearlman, who discovered teen-idol groups like ‘N Sync and the Backstreet Boys. The film premiered at the Paramount Theater a few hours after Wednesday’s session.
Delving into the era of his life examined in the documentary, Bass held little back. He said he didn’t speak too much during public appearances in those frosted-tip days. He knew he was gay from a young age, but he also knew he had to hide it. Not talking, Bass said, was his way of making sure people wouldn’t fixate on things he said that might expose his sexuality. That’s how he got pegged as the “shy one.”
“I was playing a character,” Bass said.
Holmes, a former MTV VJ in those days, said he never picked up on any such “tells,” though he did wonder about a pair of silk harem pants Bass wore to a Y2K party.
The hourlong talk covered all the ground you’d hope Bass would cover.
On growing up as a teen idol: Those boy-band fashions of the late 1990s and early 2000s were tragic, a fact not lost on Bass.
“I think (‘N Sync) won worst fashion,” he said. “The clothes would go past my fingertips.”
It wasn’t all tacky clothes on the road to success. Bass said that the band’s friends and family all thought they were lying about their early success in Europe, where Pearlman started them out before they hit it big in the U.S. Being on MTV was “the birth of the band,” Bass said.
“When we first started out, we were not great writers at all,” Bass said of ‘N Sync’s early songwriting attempts. He cited the song “Giddy Up” off their 1997 self-titled debut album as an example, even offering a vocal sample at Holmes’ request. It wasn’t until 2000 album “No Strings Attached” ― when the group broke away from Pearlman and started working with Swedish producers like Max Martin ― that they felt they had some artistic freedom.
Those days haven’t left Bass entirely. He said he still feels the pain from the dance moves in his knees, back and neck.
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On what he listens to: Bass said that as a Mississippi boy, he grew up on Reba McEntire, Garth Brooks and Clint Black. He also found time to squeeze in some Madonna. These days, he said, he’s been really into 1960s French pop.
On coming out and finding love: When Bass said he was gay to someone who turned out to be a Washington Post reporter, he had 24 hours to decide whether or not to come out on his own terms. He did, in a People magazine story in 2006.
When he was younger, Bass turned to drinking as a way to cope with hiding who he really was.
“I wanted to be as drunk as possible. … I always wanted that excuse of, ‘Oh, I drank too much,’” Bass said.
By the time he encountered that reporter, Bass said was on his third relationship, knew his family loved him and finally felt comfortable with telling the world about it.
His husband, Michael Turchin, was in the audience at SXSW. The couple met after a friend’s Palm Beach birthday party. Bass thought Turchin, who broke the ice via a Facebook “poke,” was straight at first.
Bass proposed to Turchin in New Orleans. He said that while he was down on one knee, a fan came up and asked if they could have a picture with the singer. (Bass asked the fan to wait a minute; the person stood off to the side, which at least meant there was a picture of the proposal.) They couple later did a re-do proposal in Africa.
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On faith: Bass was raised Southern Baptist, and he still considers himself a Christian. He doesn’t recognize the current mainstream church, he said, decrying what he called “fake Christians” and adding that he thinks church leaders have gotten too political. Following the teachings of Jesus is progressive and aligns with Bass’ views, he said.
On reality TV: Bass, who is friends with Bravo personality Lisa Vanderpump, is a reality TV connoisseur. He thinks the “Real Housewives” franchise is getting stale. He’d gotten behind on “The Bachelor,” but seemed satisfied with the outcome when spoiled by Holmes (though he doesn’t think Colton Underwood was actually into any of the contestants, which Bass said with a raised eyebrow).
“Finding Prince Charming,” the short-lived gay dating show Bass hosted on Logo, doesn’t seem destined for a second season. He said there was talk about moving the show to VH1, which fell apart. Eric Leonardos and Robert Sepúlveda Jr. from the first season are no longer together, Bass said. He thinks there’s still room for an LGBT dating show on TV and has been pitching a dating show for bisexuals.
“‘Big Brother’ is my favorite show of all time,” Bass said. “It’s my Super Bowl.”
And yes, he plays fantasy leagues for reality shows.
On social media: He’s of two minds about whether it would have been a good thing if social media existed in the days of ‘N Sync. But Bass was pretty confident of one thing that would have happened if it had. There would have been a high chance of the band members' careers derailing because of “something stupid Joey (Fatone) said.”