“Very often I’ll hear one of our songs come on in a mall and I’ll just feel proud, because I love the music that we did.”
Lance Bass is waxing nostalgic about the good old NSYNC days.
“There are some songs that I cringe to — like, ‘Ugh, I can’t believe we did that one,’ — but I’m happy with everything we released [as singles]…. And every song I hear brings back a lot of great memories. I can remember where I recorded it, how long it took me, what we did the next day.”
Though the band took a hiatus in 2002 — one from which they’ve yet to return — they’re widely considered among the best of the boy bands, influential in their reach, and considerable in their natural talents, enough to produce lasting hits like “I Want You Back,” “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” and “Bye Bye Bye.”
In the mid-2000s, Bass forged a successful career producing film and television. At one point, he came close to being the youngest person in space as a Russian Cosmonaut, undergoing rigorous astronaut training only for the mission to be scrubbed at the last moment.
And yet, his biggest moment in pop culture’s headlights hit a decade ago, when he came out on the cover of People magazine. It was a huge relief for the Mississippi-born Bass, who had stayed deeply entrenched in the closet for years, despite being well aware of his genuine feelings.
“I knew from an early age I was attracted to guys,” he says. “You know, those little crushes that you have as a kid? It wasn’t on the little girls — it was on a little boy in kindergarten. I remember I was part of this prom king/queen thing. They put me with a little girl and they were like, ‘Okay, now, kiss her on the cheek,’ and even at that age, I did not, I knew I did not like it at all. So, yeah, I knew at such an early age that I was definitely more attracted to boys than girls.”
At 37, Bass is back in the public eye, as the congenial, low-key host of Logo’s answer to the recent flood of heterosexual dating reality shows like The Bachelor and Bachelorette. Premiering Thursday, Sept. 8 at 9 p.m., Finding Prince Charming will follow the stunningly handsome Robert Sepulveda, Jr., as he whittles his way through 13 eligible partners. Sepulveda, who resembles nothing short of a Disney prince, says he’s looking for a connection, for the spark of love, and many of his suitors say as much in their brief intros during the first 45 minutes. Yet, the series has generated controversy even before its launch, when it was revealed that the successful 33-year-old designer and former fashion model worked as an escort during his college years to pay the bills. Bass is unconcerned about the scandal.
“A lot of people get kicked out of their homes and have to live on the street,” he says, noting that sometimes a person can’t help the circumstances they face at a specific time in their lives. “They have no other choice.” But he’s glad that the topic of sex-workers is getting some attention. “I’ve loved seeing a lot of those conversations happening on the chats. People have been very positive about it and are willing to listen.”
A preview of the first episode doesn’t reveal much — the press copy cuts out before the first elimination — but the show has promise in the assortment of oil-and-vinegar types that have been assembled within in the household. Critics will likely complain that Finding Prince Charming reduces the idea of same-sex romance to physical attraction, but the first episode at least tries to point to a different philosophy: that these guys are all seeking real, meaningful relationships.
Even Bass, who is married to artist Michael Turchin, notes that Prince Charming’s competitive, game-show quality slightly tarnishes its authenticity. “When you see the end of The Bachelor and someone getting down on their knee proposing to someone, you think to yourself, ‘There’s no way that they actually love each other in that short amount of time. It just doesn’t seem real.’ Yeah, the game element definitely takes people out of the realistic part of it.”
Still, Bass, who hasn’t yet seen any finished episodes, calls Finding Prince Charming groundbreaking for presenting a “house full of gay guys talking about love and wanting love.” To some extent, he’s right. If nothing else, Finding Prince Charming should get people talking about the ups and downs and realities of same-sex dating and romance.
“I hope the guys in the house have great conversations that promote constructive conversation,” he says in his silken, deep Mississippi drawl. “I doubt that it’s going to be so ugly that it’s going to hurt the community. I don’t see that happening at all. Instead, I think you’re going to see great conversations happening around dating and relationships in our community.”
METRO WEEKLY: Given that Finding Prince Charming is, in essence, a dating competition, let’s start here: Has dating been difficult for you in the course of your life and career, particularly being so visible in the public eye?
LANCE BASS: Of course. I think dating in particular is hard for the majority of this community. Most of us were told that there’s something wrong with us and that the world hates us. Most of us grew up not liking ourselves, thinking, “I’ll never be able to date anyone and I’ll hide this part of myself for the rest of my life.” It gives you a warped sense of reality and a warped sense of what dating and love really is.
Once we’re able to become ourselves and come out and love ourselves, that’s when we are able to start finding love, but often a lot later in life. With me, I started dating in my twenties. I missed the teenage fun of hitting puberty and having crushes on boys and asking them out for the first time and going to the dances — just that young, fun puppy love. A lot of us had to miss that, which is unfortunate. When you are finally able to date, you’re kind of juvenile about it at a later age.
MW: Do you think the social advances we’ve seen will change the ways younger gays will interact with regard to dating?
BASS: I hope that things will be different for this younger generation. As a gay kid, I never knew anyone in my town that was gay. I used to be the only gay in the village, which felt very lonely. Of course, you do everything so hetero — you just follow everyone’s lead. You ask the girl to the dance. You play spin the bottle and your first kiss is with a girl.
Now all these kids are feeling better about coming out at such an early age, so much that there is no such thing as coming out to them, because as long as they’ve known, they have felt this way. I see six and seven year olds knowing who they are and being fine with it. And the people around them accept it, their families accept it. It’s really encouraging to see. I’m anxious to see how those kids handle life and what it’s going to be like for them to be in high school and not having that weight on their shoulders of hiding this major, major thing where you go to bed every night praying that you’ll turn different the next day. All that is off the table for kids like so they can really focus on becoming who they are. That’s going to be amazing. Kudos to any kid that can find themselves at such an early age.
MW: On one level, Finding Prince Charming is a reality game show. Apart from the competitive aspects of it, is there a greater purpose to the show?
BASS: There is a greater purpose: visibility — to see a house full of gay guys talking about love and wanting love. It’s groundbreaking because these conversations have never really been had on television, especially for someone like little Lance from Ellisville, Mississippi, who hated himself and thought there was something wrong with him because he felt a certain way. I would have loved to have been able to see this on television and say, “Oh my gosh, there’s other people like me and they want to find love.” It just gives them hope that there’s someone out there for them.
MW: When the previews for the series came out, a friend commented that “It’s all guys who are cookie-cutter perfect, good-looking guys.” But when I was watched the first episode, I noticed a conscious effort to run the gamut. There’s quite a bit of diversity. My friend was wrong in his pre-judgment.
BASS: I got those comments, too. People make up whatever they want to make up. The people saying that obviously didn’t really take a close look at the cast because I even got people saying, “I can’t believe there’s not one black guy on the show.” I’m like, “Are you looking at the same picture that I am?” They’re like, “They’re all white.” I’m like, “You know our bachelor is actually Puerto Rican, right?”
The one thing I worried about going in to do a show like this is the same thing that they were scared of — I didn’t want to be a part of something that was superficial. I watch all those dating shows and they’re all perfection in the looks department. I wanted this to be a little real and diverse. I didn’t want everyone to be eight-pack, white, six-foot-six. It would be boring if it was all the same type of person.
When we shot the first day and I got to meet all the suitors coming in one by one, watching them go into the house, I was like, “Wow, okay, they really chose just your average gay guys to your more entertaining ones, over the top, that are going to make great television,” just different waist sizes and heights, ethnicities. I was really excited when I saw all that. I knew that they had made a conscious effort to make sure that there was a lot of the flavors of the rainbow there.
MW: It’s been reported that later in the season, one of the bachelors is revealed to be HIV positive. Can you verify whether or not that’s true?
BASS: I don’t know exactly what happens because I haven’t seen anything that happens on the show except the eliminations and my one-on-ones with the guys and Prince Charming. Even you’ve seen more than I’ve seen. So, I have no idea what comes out in the show but yes, I have heard that one is HIV positive, which I think is a great thing. I don’t know if Logo knew this before going in, but I’m excited that it will be a storyline this season, because it is a huge subject for our community. This way we can really have a great dialogue about it and hear what the other suitors have to say and feel about it. Hopefully it will educate a lot of people watching.
MW: It can cut both ways. There could be some backlash if he’s rejected because of his status. It could be a very dangerous storyline for Logo.
BASS: You’re one hundred percent right. Everything about this show is very dangerous for Logo and for the community, because all eyes are on this show. I think half the people want it to fail for their own reasons and the other half want it to be there to educate people. Logo is walking on eggshells, I believe, with everything that’s going to be shown. The thing they can’t control is how everyone acts in the show. When you put all these different personalities in a house, the good, bad, and ugly come out. Logo can’t script that. These are real people and it’s how they feel.
MW: Why do you think people would want this to fail?
BASS: Oh, my gosh, there’s so many different reasons. I would say right wing people would want it to fail because they think that seeing this on television brainwashes children. I think a lot of the suitors’ ex-boyfriends are wanting it to fail because they hate them now and don’t want to see them succeed on television. Everyone has their own reasons for not wanting to support another gay person. That’s totally valid. But, for me, if you’re going to complain about a television show, that’s about as catty as you can get — because you can just change the channel.
MW: True, they don’t have to watch it.
BASS: It’s ridiculous. I hear it all the time because I work in television. One of the tackiest things for me to hear is people complaining about how reality is destroying the world. I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” Some of the most amazing shows on television are in the reality category and have educated so many people. Just because you don’t think it’s real doesn’t mean it isn’t real in that person’s life. I think it’s fascinating to see all these walks of life on television.
MW: There was news last week that the show’s Prince Charming, Robert Sepulveda, Jr., worked as an escort when he was younger. How do you respond to the controversy surrounding that?
BASS: Everyone has a past. The one positive thing about everyone finding out about it this week, from what I’ve seen, is a great conversation happening around the sex industry. It’s a big part of the gay community and there are all kinds of reasons people become escorts. It’s really fascinating to see everyone’s reasoning behind it. And I’m surprised at how great everyone has been defending it. I don’t know what happens in the house. But I can’t wait to see him talk about his past with the suitors and see how they’re going to react to that.
MW: If it’s even on the show.
BASS: I’m sure it is. I hope so.
MW: The implication seemed to be that it was suddenly revealed and Logo didn’t know anything about it. How important is a past when you’re judging a person by their merits in the present?
BASS: You have to judge a person by who they are now. Everyone has gone through their shit. People have been lost in their lives. People just aren’t lucky to have things given to them in their lives. I was lucky to have an amazing family. I had food on my table. I was a lucky guy being raised. A lot of people aren’t that lucky.
You can’t really judge someone from their past unless they keep repeating their past over and over again. I think you can just use common sense to know that if someone is changed and a good person. You just have to look at them for who they are today.
MW: As for your present, you’re happily married now.
BASS: Yes, I am.
MW: When you were dating your husband, how did you know he was right for you?
BASS: The moment I knew that I wanted to be with him the rest of my life was we were in Mexico. It was one of our first vacations together. I was very happy to find that when we go off to places together we have the best time and there’s no drama.
When you travel, it tells you if you can be with someone the rest of your life. Your first vacation together, you don’t know if he’s the adventurous type or he just wants to chill, that kind of stuff. I’m seeing what he really wants to do. I like adventure, but when I’m on vacation I just want to chill out. We had these onesies that we put on. We didn’t take those onesies off for basically three days and just hung out in our onesies on the beach having the best time. I knew then that this was the guy I wanted to marry — if he could stay in a onesie with me for three days and do nothing.
MW: That almost sounds fetishy.
BASS: [Laughs.] He’s very cute in it.
MW: Are you a romantic person?
BASS: I am a romantic person. I love doing special things for my significant other. I totally believe in love. I’ve always been that type of person. I put my heart on my sleeve, for sure.
MW: How did it feel to get married?
BASS: Incredible, because I never thought I would ever be able to get married, at least legally. We all are raised by our parents and whatever they believe in is something that you’re taught. Watching my parents have an amazing marriage and they’re still together and how much love they had, that’s what I wanted. That’s my influence. I always wanted to be able to marry someone and have a family. I’m just so excited that I was able to publicly and legally say this is my husband now.
MW: Has anything changed in your relationship since?
BASS: Nothing really changed too much after that moment, but the world definitely changed around us. Everyone treated us differently. It was more of a respect. When you just say, “Oh, this is my boyfriend,” people in the back of their minds think, “Okay, well, it could end at any moment. It’s not that real.” But when you say husband, it’s a different respect. People know that it is a commitment. That’s how I like to be treated by the people around us. I want them to know that this is my man and we are committed to each other. I want y’all to respect that.
MW: Have you talked about what the future holds for you both?
BASS: Oh, yes, for sure. We’re going to start the family at some point. Once we start having kids together, that makes me even more excited because then I know that he can’t get rid of me the rest of his life. He’s stuck with me. It doesn’t matter if we grow apart and get divorced — we’re always going to be connected through our kids and our family. I love that.
One of the main reasons I wanted to make him my husband is because I know how great of a dad he’s going to be. His empathy is just off the charts, his heart is so huge. I know this because of how he treats my friends and how my best friends have just fallen in love with him — they basically like him more than they like me at this point, which I’m totally fine with.
MW: I want to talk a little bit about the NSYNC years. Were you out to anybody when you joined the band?
BASS: Oh, no. I’d known I was gay since I was four years old. Yeah, I knew my whole life that I was gay, but it was something that I would never act on or tell anyone, because it was, in my mind, wrong. When I joined NSYNC at 16, that was still my mentality. I’m from a small town. The only thing I knew was my church and my family and about nothing else. As long as I was with NSYNC, I never told anyone.
MW: How stressful is it to enter into a situation where you’re going to be in the public eye with a supergroup and you have to not only not act on your sexuality, but also have to be extraordinarily careful not to reveal it to the press. Most of us live a part of our lives in the closet. And that’s stressful. But I can’t imagine the amount of stress that accompanied your situation.
BASS: It got more stressful as we went along. When I joined the group at 16, I didn’t know that we would be famous at all. I thought that we were just going to be an a capella band working at Disney World in Orlando. I never felt that we would have a fan base of 99 percent girls and that I would be a “sex symbol.” That just never went through my mind. Then I’m in the group. A couple of years go by and you’re really getting to that age of “Wow, I probably need to start dating now and I need to be interested in someone because all the other guys are.”
That’s when it started getting stressful. Thank goodness we were so busy that we had a lot of excuses not to date people, but when we did have that week off or two, all the other guys had girlfriends. That’s when I was like, “Oh, my gosh, they’re going to figure it out.” The longer the group lasted, the more stressful it got.
MW: How much of a relief was it to finally come out?
BASS: It was amazing. The whole world felt like it was shoved off my shoulders. It was very scary, because at that time it could have gone either way. It could have been a really positive experience or a really negative experience. I was just lucky that it was the time in history everyone took the high road and made it positive. It just made me feel great about myself. I wasn’t scared anymore. I lost a lot of friends over it, but obviously they weren’t real friends in the first place. On top of that, I made incredible new friends. I’m a completely different person after being able to be able to come out. It changes everything about you professionally and personally.
MW: How were the guys with it?
BASS: I was definitely scared to tell them. We had obviously worked with so many gay people before in this industry, I knew that they weren’t homophobic and that they loved gay people, but I was scared that they were going to hate me for not telling them the whole time.
MW: Why didn’t you at least tell them at the time of NSYNC?
BASS: At that time I thought that if anyone knew any of us were gay, that would just end our career, that everyone would hate us. All the girls would hate me and then that would just destroy our group. I didn’t want to be the person who destroyed NSYNC.
MW: Do you miss NSYNC?
BASS: Oh, my gosh, every day. I miss performing with those guys. I love being on stage with those four guys. It’s the most comfortable I ever was, the most fun I ever had. I was just so lucky to be able to experience something like that in my youth. My teenage years were spent traveling the world with my four brothers. I could not have been more lucky.
MW: The bad blood that occurred between you all and manager Lou Pearlman is well known. How did you feel when you heard that he recently passed away?
BASS: It felt odd because you feel sorry for him in this weird way. Dying in prison is a terrible way to go. It also felt like there was a chapter closed. You felt this weird sense of closure also on this nutty chapter of your life that started when you were 16 years old. So it was just an odd mix of emotions.
MW: We’re going to play a quick boy band game. Take That or New Kids on the Block?
BASS: That one’s a hard one. I’m going to have to say New Kids because they were way more influential.
MW: New Kids on the Block or Jonas Brothers?
BASS: New Kids.
MW: New Kids or Boyz II Men?
BASS: Ah, that’s like choosing between two kids. Oh, my God, oh, my God. Boyz II Men is more influential, so I’ll go with that.
MW: Boyz or One Direction?
BASS: Although they have amazing music, I’m going to choose Boyz II Men.
MW: Boyz or Backstreet Boys?
BASS: Boyz II Men.
MW: Boyz II Men or NSYNC?
BASS: I’m going to have to say Boyz II Men, because if it wasn’t for them Boyz, we wouldn’t be NSYNC.
MW: Boyz II Men wins the day! Two final questions, one about space exploration. You trained. You came very close to going into space. Do you still harbor dreams of going into space some day?
BASS: Yes, I do. I’m still very well connected with the space community. Ever since I was a little kid I was obsessed with adventure and exploration. My goal as a kid was either to be a magician or an astronaut. Everything I ever thought of in school was always pointing towards becoming a space engineer. I remember as a little kid that was the job that I wanted. I was obsessed with exploring and going where people had not gone before and I wanted to be part of that. I still want to be a part of that. I still want to be a part of firsts and becoming a Cosmonaut was incredible — I was going to be the youngest person in space. Of course, it was disappointing, but to get that close and to go through what I had to go through, I would not trade that with anything.
MW: If it were possible to go to Mars today, would you make the time investment?
BASS: At this point in my life I would say no. If I was in my twenties, yes, I would completely do it, but right now I have so much life going on — my husband and my future family. I would miss them too much. So, yeah, unfortunately I’d say no to it.
MW: Finally, Hillary or Trump?
BASS: It’s no secret. I am definitely voting for Hillary in this election. I just know too much about Trump and I know how this campaign has gone. It’s a joke and sadly it’s easy to fool a lot of people. It’s just sad to see that as a nation we’re not educated enough to sort fact from fiction.
MW: Is Trump dangerous for the LGBT community?
BASS: Trump himself is not dangerous for gays because — look, I’ve known Trump. He’s supported my career. Obviously, he doesn’t hate gays, but the party that he will be leading hates gays. Just look at their platform. They’re wanting to take my marriage away, and that right there shows me I would never support that platform. It doesn’t matter how fiscally responsible you are, if you’re not up to date on your social game, it doesn’t even make sense.
That’s why I’m very vocal this election year, because I’ve studied both sides. I’ve heard everything. I’ve questioned myself. I’ve vetted everything and my conclusion is that there’s no choice at all except Hillary Clinton.
Finding Prince Charming premieres Thursday, September 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Logo, with a simulcast on VH1. Visit logotv.com. Follow Lance on Twitter @LanceBass.
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