Kevin Richardson
Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

Today, the eldest Backstreet Boy, Kevin Richardson, turns 42, and in honor of his birthday, I got his biggest fan on the phone: Entertainment Weekly readers, meet my 53-year-old mother, Donna Highfill. She’s the woman who taught me that Robert Redford was what people call “sexy,” and she also opened my eyes to what a “good kisser” was on the big screen. Among the men she loves are Johnny Depp, Michael Cudlitz, and, of course, Kevin Richardson.

As a child of the ’90s, I loved the Backstreet Boys basically from the moment I was born. And when my mom took me to a concert at age 10, I screamed my lungs out when we saw the band’s bus drive by and Brian waved at me. And just moments later, my mother screamed her lungs out when she spotted Kevin. It was then that I realized that I might love BSB more, but my mother loves Kevin more.

Now, 13 years later, my mother and I are still attending BSB concerts — we went to one in August — and so when I found out today was Kevin’s birthday, I wanted to see how my mother, who’s really your mother, feels about the joyous occasion:

On the moment she first fell in love with Kevin:

Your mother: Initially it was just pure attraction because of his height and size. There was no real depth to it.

You: Not his face, just his size?

Your mother: His stature. I liked his stature …

You: Do you realize that both of your husbands have been short?

Your mother: I know! But before that I always dated usually very tall guys. Well, not always, but I liked his stature, and I liked his demeanor. There seemed to be a wisdom to him; I don’t know what it was. Maybe because he was oldest in the group. There was just a wisdom to him that I sensed and liked.

You: Now that he’s been a part of your life for 20 years, what’s your favorite thing about him?

Your mother: [Serious thinking] Part of it probably is that he seems to have a sense of faith that goes beyond typical Hollywood “be popular” stuff. It’s his commitment and the whole group’s commitment to quality. It’s his sense of risk-taking, that he stepped out and went on to Broadway, tried that out. It’s the way that he seems to take the other guys under his wing and teach them. And I love his voice. I love the way he can both blend beautifully and have this standout quality when he does sing. He doesn’t demand the spotlight, but he has a voice where he could if he wanted to.

You: Are you aware that he’s one of the main reasons A.J. [McLean] went to rehab?

Your mother: No, but pretend I did and say that’s why I liked him.

You: Well you kind of said that when you mentioned him being fatherly. But yeah, Kevin busted down the door and told A.J. that he was dead to him and A.J. broke down.

Your mother: Wow. See, there is a quiet strength to him. He’s kind of like Gary Cooper in the day, not that Gary Cooper was in my day. Gary Cooper had this quiet strength about him. I’ve always liked …

You: You like stoic men.

Your mother: Yes! I love strong, stoic men. And there is a stoicism and wisdom to him. It’s not a gentle wussiness; he’s got this quiet strength about him.

You: And he’s got that deep voice …

Your mother: He’s got that deep voice, and he just never seems to be all about him. I get the sense that it’s about his art and what he does and that he’s got a deep reason for doing it that goes beyond fame.

You: How much do his cheekbones help?

Your mother: 80 percent. [Laughs] I do love his cheekbones; I do love that whole look.

You: Describe to me what happened when you were at a concert recently and could not control yourself when, in a moment of transition between songs, you lunged forward, threw out your arms and screamed “KEVIN!” at the top of your lungs.

Your mother: [Laughing hysterically] I really don’t know.

You: Take me through that moment.

Your mother: I don’t know! I think that it’s like when he got that close, it’s that weird thing that fans have when you feel like you have a connection with somebody when you really don’t, because they don’t have any idea who you are. But when he was standing there — I don’t know if it was I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. … It was like the time I saw, and this isn’t a compliment to him necessarily, but I went and saw The Monkees and I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid, and Davy Jones came out on stage and I lost it. I went running down the stairs; I was standing at the railing screaming, because as a kid I had such a crush on him that I think in that moment with Kevin, it’s kind of embarrassing, it was regressing back to being a teenager and it was like one of those Beatles moments. He was just that close and I thought “Hey Kevin! Here I am!”

You: Except you didn’t say “Hey Kevin,” you screamed at him.

Your mother: I know! And you know what’s weird about that is I didn’t feel myself do that. It was kind of quiet after I did it, and I heard my voice echoing and I thought, “Well, that’s embarrassing.” So all I can say is it’s one of those spontaneous, uncontrollable moments, and to be honest with you, I have no idea where it came from. I don’t know.

You: What do you want to say to Kevin on his birthday? He might read this …

Your mother: Oh my God!

You: I don’t know what he’s doing …

Your mother: I would say: Keep the faith, because that’s your power. And keep the cheekbones, because that’s what made me scream out loud. Or maybe keep the ass because that’s what made me scream out loud.

You: And it wasn’t the first time. You screamed at him on the bus at the Millennium Tour.

Your mother: When they were on the bus, you screamed for Brian, Brian waved at you, and Kevin came over and I lost it. So there’s been twice in my life when I’ve lost it over Kevin.

You: Will there be a third time?

Your mother: There will definitely be a third time. Because I think there’s just something about him; I just lose my sh–.

Happy Birthday, Kevin!

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