Pop Turned Pro
‘N Sync’s Lance Bass on His Sirius Show, Insomnia, Relationships
The former boy-bander is trying his hand as a talk-show host. Ramin Setoodeh on why Bass shouldn’t be underestimated.
Lance Bass has so many ideas swimming inside his head, he can’t sleep at night.
“I have insomnia—big-time insomnia,” he says. “I’m a night owl for sure. I didn’t know it was insomnia until the last few years. I remember, in junior high school, I could never go to sleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. I tossed and turned, because my brain doesn’t shut off.”
He’s finally found one way—or a dozen—to channel all that restless energy. Bass, 32, just launched his own weekly talk show on SiriusXM. The Pop Ten is a countdown of his favorite music, broken up by jabber from a peanut gallery of his friends, who are like a hipper, more outrageous version of The View. “Everybody told me I had this voice for the radio,” Bass says backstage on a recent summer evening. “My voice was the first to change in my class in the seventh grade. My dad had a low voice, so I got it from him.”
On a recent episode, he confesses that the toilet in his bathroom flushes, heats, and cleans itself. He and his friends debate the best sex tapes ever released and the top fetishes at Comic-Con. "When we start recording, especially when it's live, all of a sudden, it comes out of me," he says, "like this constant natural talking. I don't even know what I'm saying half the time, but thank God it makes sense."
The more comfortable Bass gets, the more Southern he becomes. He has a calming—and sexy—drawl that you never hear in TV interviews. He grew up in Mississippi, and he throws his home state into the conversation from time to time. “I’m the only gay person my parents know,” he says in the greenroom. “In Mississippi, you don’t admit that you’re gay. It’s just an awkward thing down South, which is sad.” He says he could see himself getting married and settling down. “The parents want grandkids, that’s all they care about: Give me some grandbabies,” he says.
All this adult talk is a little strange coming from a guy who used to bop to No. 1 hits like "Tearin' Up My Heart." Then again, that was a long time ago. When ‘N Sync stopped performing together, around 2002, its members started to embark on wildly different paths. Thanks to The Social Network, Justin Timberlake is now getting all the ink. (Certainly an unsurprising career for the frontman.) But Bass, the quiet one of the group, might actually be the more interesting one to watch. While Timberlake recently jumped aboard MySpace, Bass is expanding his cultural reach: he acquired FamousYardSale.com, a website where celebrities can sell their possessions. He got the idea, he says, when he was clearing out the ‘N Sync warehouses in Florida and didn’t know what to do with all the bejeweled costumes, confetti machines, and mechanical bulls that the group (naturally) acquired during its heyday. But why stop with a website? He’s also planning on turning the concept into a reality show.
Bass has at least four TV other shows in development, including a sitcom and another reality competition in a format similar to The Voice, but for aspiring boy-band members. He also recently appeared in a supporting role on the Lifetime series Drop Dead Diva. And despite Oprah turning down his pitch for a series about gay teenagers in the South, he’s producing the documentary anyway—just not for OWN. “That was her first decision [at the network], not to pick up the show,” he says, without a hint of ill will.
“He’s always telling me what’s going on, and it’s always a lot,” says his friend, Bravo host Andy Cohen, who sometimes receives nocturnal texts from Bass about where they should go out in New York. “I don’t think for a second he’ll only be known for his time for ‘N Sync. He could be known as a producer, or a writer, or in business. He’s a creative guy.”
Everyday moments and interactions inspire him, like the people in the streets of New York, where he lives for most of the year. “It always starts with the title for me,” he says. “I think there should be a show called … blah blah blah.” He has a binder with the concepts of 200 screenplays and films he’s written during all his restless nights. “There are a lot of times, especially if I’ve had a few drinks, and I’m home drinking my wine, I’m like, Yes! This is the best thing ever! But I look back a couple weeks later and go, That’s shit.”
“I know he has written one [script] about a crazy trip he took to Mexico,” says his assistant and friend Lisa Delcampo. “He tends to do sci-fi for some reason. I don’t know why.”
Well, there are a few hints. For a long time, Bass was known as that ‘N Sync guy who harbored an unrealistic, slightly crazy dream: He wanted to go into outer space. He paid $450,000 to train at a space camp outside Moscow, only to see his dreams dashed when he couldn’t raise the $20 million the Russians wanted for a seat. “When my mother first heard about the plan,” he wrote in his memoir Out of Sync, “she called me up and asked, quite calmly, if anything in my childhood had happened to make me such a risk-taker and lover of danger. I chuckled and said, ‘Mom, maybe it’s because I had such a good childhood that I’m able to do the things I really like to do.’”
Some highs and lows were scattered along the way. He finished in second place on the seventh season of Dancing With the Stars, and gained millions of new fans with his paso doble. In 2001 he was the first member of either the Backstreet Boys or ‘N Sync to star in his own movie. The romantic comedy On the Line proved the shrieking teen groupies didn’t follow their heartthrobs everywhere. It opened with a measly $2.3 million. He made waves when, in 2006, People magazine put him on the cover with the screaming headline “I’m Gay.” He was developing his own sitcom with former bandmate Joey Fatone at the time. “I don’t know if that had something to do with them canceling the show,” he says. “I mean, it could have. The show was the new odd couple, but it didn’t [originally] have any storyline of me being gay at all.”
Years later, he’s showing a little more restraint about sharing details of his personal life. This new attitude might be a byproduct of his high-profile breakup with reality star Reichen Lehmkuhl in 2006. It’s not easy navigating the gay social scene: “I’m a serial dater,” he says. “When I see someone I like, we go on multiple dates. In my older age, I’ve learned to take things slower, because I used to be that total-fall-in-love-after-a-day guy. I’ve learned, you can have those feelings, but you don’t have to show that. Then you don’t have to worry about them saying, ‘He was my boyfriend.’”
Still, he’s on the verge of his first serious relationship in a while. “I don’t want to have so many exes. I haven’t had a boyfriend in four years. But now it’s getting there,” he says of a guy he’s been seeing for a few months in Los Angeles. “I’m such a relationship guy. I really am.”
As he grows up and gets more serious, Bass is even starting to look the part of a savvy businessman. “For the first year of ‘N Sync, my hair was just a bad comb-over and really greasy,” he remembers. A stylist in Germany suggested spiked hair, which became his calling-card look for the last 10 years. But now, in an effort to look more mature—and because his hairdresser recommended a “summer cut”—he announces, almost wistfully, “The spikes are done.” Another chapter ends for Lance Bass, but he’s not ready to sing “Bye Bye Bye.”