'N Sync was one of the most successful boy bands in pop music history. But breaking record sales and performing for millions was just the beginning of the story.
The music business can be a tough industry, especially when you are young and naive. But for Lance Bass, the bass singer of the group, the worst thing about being a pop star was the lie it made him live.
Now Bass has revealed all in his new memoir, "Out of Sync," and for the first time is speaking publicly about his decision to come out as a gay man. "My first memories are probably when I was 5 years old," Bass told ABC's Elizabeth Vargas. "But as long as I remember, I knew that I was gay."
Lance Bass grew up in Mississippi, singing in church choirs and local groups. He was just 16 years old when his mother got a phone call that would forever change his life. Justin Timberlake's mother was on the other end of that call, and she was inviting Bass to join a new music group.
'Laid Back Shy Guy'
After auditioning for the other members of the band, Bass became the fifth member of 'N Sync, and said that each member soon developed a persona within the group.
"Justin was the sporty one, Chris was the crazy one, Joey was the flirt and J.C. was like, you know, the dad, like responsible one. I was the laid-back shy guy," said Bass.
After struggling for a year, the group hit it big. The crowds of screaming girls grew and record sales soared, and Bass knew he had to keep his secret. As time passed, the group only became more successful. Its album "No Strings Attached" sold 2.5 million copies in one week, making it the biggest-selling record of the new millennium, but that huge success only made Bass feel more pressure to keep his sexuality private.
"My biggest fear was harming the band," he said. "I totally blocked off the gay part of myself, and I walked the walk of a straight guy."
After the release of 'N Sync's third album, "Celebrity," Bass was not the only member of 'N Sync keeping a secret. Justin Timberlake was preparing for his solo career, unbeknownst to the rest of the group. Bass recalls his shock when he first learned the news.
"When you really look back at it, with the song 'Gone,' you know, it was just him," said Bass, "[but] never did we think that it was grooming him to become a solo artist so that he wouldn't go back to 'N Sync."
Saying 'Bye, Bye, Bye' to 'N Sync
Bass said that he and the rest of the band supported Timberlake's solo album, but they always thought he would return to the group. According to Bass, Timberlake kept promising to come back every few months, and for more than a year, the group waited.
"It meant a huge sacrifice, 'cause I gave up so many opportunities," said Bass. "There were some television projects that I personally wanted to do, but I knew I couldn't."
After more than a year, Bass said Timberlake finally broke the news that he would not be returning to 'N Sync. "Justin was like, 'OK, I don't see myself doing another album anytime soon,' meaning probably not ever," said Bass.
The slow breakup of 'N Sync also marked the beginning of the end of Bass' secret personal life. Even as he began privately exploring his true sexuality, there remained one seemingly insurmountable reason to stay in the closet: his Southern Baptist parents.
His closest friends, including "Sopranos" actress Jamie Lynn Sigler, became co-conspirators in keeping Lance's secret. Bass said, "If we went out at night, and we were dancing, or going out, you know, I was usually the — kind of the distraction. I was always sort of on her arm, and maybe her boyfriend would be on the other side."
Bass is just as protective of his friends and remembers rushing to Las Vegas when he heard friend Britney Spears was about to make a terrible mistake.
"They're like she's gettin' married just for fun. … We were in her room and we watched the video of the wedding and I remember looking at her as she watched it and that's where I just saw it in her eyes that night. … She was just really lost."
Spears' fateful 55-hour marriage became instant tabloid fodder.
Last year, Bass faced his own battle with the tabloids, when they began reporting sightings of him with men. He decided then it was time to tell the truth — to his family and the entire world. He came out on the cover of People Magazine.
Today, Bass is living in New York and doing what he loves best — singing. He is currently playing Corny Collins in the Broadway show "Hairspray." And he's looking to the future.
"The great thing about writing this book is I have closed the first chapter, and I have many chapters to write."