The horrible crimes of the man behind the boy-band craze. As if Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC weren’t bad enough, he also stole half a billion dollars.
In his first book, Blender senior editor Gray untangles the twisted web of financial scams and con games spun by pop impresario and would-be aviation titan Lou Pearlman, “Big Poppa” to his friends. An obese, balding, ungainly man repeatedly described as “creepy” by his associates, Pearlman seems an unlikely arbiter of teeny-bopper taste, but he twice captured lightning in a bottle with Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC. With these ’90s-defining boy bands, he racked up millions in album sales and relocated the pop scene from its gloomy grunge headquarters in the Pacific Northwest to sunny Orlando, Fla. Pearlman became famous in the process, appearing in the early MTV reality show Making the Band as a sort of hit-making Svengali. What viewers didn’t know was that he was dogged by rumors of “inappropriate” behavior toward his young charges and that he bankrolled his acts with the spoils of long-running scams involving phony airline companies and retirement-investment schemes that would ultimately defraud investors—including many close friends and family members—out of some $500 million. Gray meticulously charts the complicated layers of pyramid- and Ponzi-type cons that worked for decades by virtue of Pearlman’s unbelievable audacity (he invented accounting firms out of whole cloth and forged corporate documents willy-nilly), his peculiar brand of charm and a state of self-delusion so profound that it drew people into his orbit with a kind of infernal gravitational pull. Despite Pearlman’s crimes, he comes off as a surprisingly sympathetic figure: not malicious or even greedy in the usual sense, just an unattractive momma’s boy blessed with remarkable energy and optimism who as a child daydreamed about blimps and wanted to be somebody important. The moral? Be careful what you wish for.
A uniquely American story of ambition, kitsch and monstrous appetites.