McLean was born on 9 January 1978 in West Palm Beach, Florida. His parents got divorced and his father left the family when McLean was two years old, and he was raised by his mother and her parents. In January 1986 at 8 years old, he acted in his first role as Little Mike in the 1986 film Truth or Dare. In 1990, he moved to Orlando, Florida with his mother and grandparents to concentrate on his acting and singing career. A.J. McLean met there Howie Dorough and they both decided to set up a band with their younger friend Nick Carter. In early 1992 Lou Pearlman had placed an ad in Orlando Sentinel announcing auditions to compose a boy band. A.J., who was the first to audition for Pearlman in his living room, became the group's first member. Then his big "Backstreet Boy career" began.