There is something nostalgic about Christmas time that brings us back to years of traditions and memories—whether good or bad. This year will be different for me. I have never spent the holiday away from New York and away from my family. While I am sad, I am also lucky that I have so many good friends to spend the holiday season with in Nashville.
To make this month a tad easier, and even a bit familiar, was the opportunity to attend a charity event with a Backstreet Boy. Christmas in Alpharetta took place this past weekend as an event for the Ronda Lee Culley Foundation, which benefited the Children’s Miracle Network. “[Charity work] is super important to me,” Brian Littrell shared with me in a brief interview. “It’s a blessing to us, to be able to give back, to raise money and create awareness. I’m a heart patient. I’m a father. I’m a husband. I’m a lot of things other than a Backstreet Boy, so being able to give back is why I do what I do.”
Alpharetta, Georgia residents, Brian and wife, Leighanne are often donating time, items and money to charities, especially to ones involving children. The first part of the event took place at a pop-up shop for Leighanne Littrell’s fashion line, Wylee. BSB fans shopped, sipped delicious sangria, made by Leighanne’s sister, Suzanne, and mingled.
Once Brian showed up, everyone seemed to stop and hang on his every word. Fans became so enthralled, while Kindell Moore, my best friend/photographer, and I tried to shop around them. As we weaved in and out of the oblivious crowd, Brian was all they cared about at that moment.
As a fan myself, I understand this enthrallment, but all my years of being a journalist have graced me with patience and a low-keyed nature when it comes to celebrities—even ones I adore, like Brian. Kindell and I received our press passes, purchased some items (I love my new coffee themed tote, perfect for me—the traveling barista!), and just observed.
At one point, a silence fell over the room as an older woman approached Brian. Kindell turned to me, “Why is it so quiet?” I laughed and whispered, “Because they’re all trying to listen to Brian’s conversation.” I managed to pick up that the woman was related to Brian’s band mate, Howie. A cousin, or so I thought I heard. No one seemed to believe this and thought I heard wrong. It did seem random, but we later found out while she was not Howie’s cousin, she was his aunt. See, I’m not so crazy after all!
Leighanne stepped out of the back room and instant recognition appeared on her face when she saw me. Impressive, since I last saw her four years ago! She hugged me and introduced herself to Kindell before gushing about hers and Brian’s 13-year-old son, Baylee. She just found out from his agent that he would be starring in a Broadway show. After the New Year, the Littrells will be moving to New York City for 6 months! You could literally see the excitement and pride in Leighanne’s eyes as they teared-up slightly.
After the pop-up shop, there were a couple of hours to kill before the dinner started. Upon entering the Hilton Garden Inn, we entered a bathroom only to quickly exit. Every stall was taken, each with clothing draped over the doors, along with a half naked girl standing in the middle of the bathroom. Yup, the Backstreet fans had taken over. Luckily, we found another, and very empty, bathroom.
While we waited for the guests of honor to show up, we enjoyed some cocktails, mingled with others, talked fashion—after all, it was a semi-dressy event and Leighanne is a fashion designer. A few of the guests were dressed in things they bought from the Wylee shop earlier that day.
We were encouraged to begin eating since Brian and Leighanne were running late. It’s cliché for celebrities to be late to events, but I have grown an understanding of it. They give so much of themselves to events like this, constantly chatting with eager fans that I would imagine they need some time to decompress.
When they entered the room, Brian looked over at us and our plates with a wide-eyed expression.
“You guys are almost done?”
“Well,” I started. “You were late,” I laughed.
In true Brian form, he made a funny face that portrayed a mix between embarrassment and anger, but followed with a cheeky grin and a laugh. So far, that had been the only thing I had said to him all day.
Brian and Leighanne were seated at a dais along with other people close to them… Joe, their bodyguard, Suzanne, Wylee head designer, Miguel, and Howie’s Aunt Johnnie, who is a children’s book author and all around character.
After dinner, the party moved into the auction room and all hell broke loose! No, the fans didn’t go crazy and attack Brian. Instead, Leighanne, who was tipsy to say the least, entertained us—and her husband—with her antics.
She had the bartender, whom she re-named Woodstock, bring the bar from the other room. Leighanne then began auctioning off $30 shots and a kiss on the cheek from Brian. I’m sure this was not how the auction was supposed to go, but no one was complaining. The night carried on like a variety show with Brian and Leighanne being a blonde Sonny & Cher! They goofed off, sang pieces of songs, made shadow puppets on the wall, and somewhere in between all of that auctioned off autographed merchandise.
LaVonne Hagensen Loumiet, and her daughter, in honor of her best friend who passed away, started the Ronda Lee Culley Foundation. Ronda was a huge Backstreet Boys fan and the foundation supports multiple causes close to the band.
The event ran overtime, but everyone was having such a good time. I wasn’t in some rush to do my interview and get out of there. It was nice to be in such an intimate setting and see Brian just having fun.
It truly felt like a Christmas party with close friends, and maybe even family to some of us. After all, Brian has been in most of our lives since we were kids and vice versa.
He became misty-eyed as he made a speech in acceptance of the award the RLC Foundation presented him. It was truly wonderful to see how grateful he is to his fans and for all that he has. He and Leighanne are two of the warmest and most humble people you will ever meet.
Finally, it was time for the meet & greet photos. One problem, the photographer cut out early! Kindell came to the rescue and stepped into the position. As for me, I had to act fast on interview time with Brian, which didn’t go quite as I had planned. Wylee’s head designer, Miguel interrupted and while I had enjoyed his feisty personality during the auction, I was a little bummed he tried to rush me.
I understand how it goes, though. This wasn’t my first rodeo. Usually folks around a celebrity are extra-protective and think they need to be firm in order to move things along. I stood my ground and Brian apologized for the rush. He answered all of two questions, but the interview wasn’t important really. Though I did manage to find out in my oh-so-brief interview that BSB have six songs recorded from the new album and they hope to release it in the summer of 2016.
As a writer, sometimes you get more answers from observing than asking questions. The answer I got that night was Brian Littrell is the perfect example of Christmas spirit. He gives in every way he can and receives with an immense gratitude. His love for his wife, his family, and fans, shows on his face.
In an entertainment industry full of over the top images and a world of overexposed bad news, it’s nice to be reminded of the good. I’ll always remember my Christmas in Alpharetta.
To make it even more memorable, I did manage to tell Brian how BSB had inspired my writing over the years and gave him a copy of “Dream Catchers”. He didn’t say much, but he gave me that cheeky smile he is known for.
“Will you sign it for me?” He asked.
That was the perfect response. What an incredible honor to give my idol an autograph!
I hope everyone’s holiday season is filled with love and happiness. To share a piece of this day with you, I am giving away an ornament autographed by Brian Littrell along with my novel “Dream Catchers”! On December 16th, go to my Instagram: @AuthorSandyLo and find out how to win!
Photography by Kindell Brinay Moore.