‘DWTS’: AJ McLean Shares the Greatest Lesson He Learned From Cheryl Burke During Season 29

Dancing With the Stars pro Cheryl Burke learned a lot working with AJ McLean during season 29. But the Backstreet Boy took away one major lesson from Burke, too. 

AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke
AJ McLean and Cheryl Burke | Eric McCandless via Getty Images

Cheryl Burke and AJ McLean remain close after ‘Dancing With the Stars’ 

Over the summer, Burke and McLean connected the way most people are these days — over Zoom. When they realized how much they shared in common regarding sobriety, the Pretty Messed Up podcast was born. 

Throughout their DWTS journey, Burke and McLean shared behind-the-scenes stories with fans through the podcast. Now, the episodes focus on their sobriety and mental health. They also answer fan-submitted questions and interview guests like McLean’s fellow Backstreet Boy, Nick Carter. 

AJ McLean taught Cheryl Burke being vulnerable is a strength

During a phone call with Burke in November 2020, Showbiz Cheat Sheet learned how much Burke values McLean’s friendship. Burke’s biggest takeaway from working with McLean has been how incredible allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be.

“[McLean taught me] being vulnerable equals strength,” Burke said. Burke, who has been sober for two years, opens up on the podcast regarding her mental health. McLean’s vulnerability has given Burke a fresh perspective on the perks of being vulnerable. 

“I’ve definitely worked through all of this in therapy, but to see somebody actually practice it and to be so vulnerable, especially during his first year of sobriety is very encouraging,” she added.” 

Cheryl Burke taught AJ McLean to ‘get in touch’ with his emotions 

During a Zoom call with Showbiz Cheat Sheet, we asked McLean the same question — what’s the one thing he has taken away from working with Burke? 

“Honest to God the number one thing that I have been able to take from my experience on the show and meeting Cheryl and now having her as an intricate part of my life is to really be able to get in touch with my emotions,” McLean explained. 

The performer said he was never really able to grapple with his emotions — especially the uncomfortable ones — until Burke came into his life. 

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“I am a very emotional person just by nature, but I was never OK with leaning into the uncomfortable feelings that I might feel — sadness or pain or even happiness,” the Backstreet Boy added. “I would be going on a great run in my life and somehow self-sabotage because I felt I didn’t deserve that happiness.” 

Fortunately, things are different today. 

AJ McLean found a unique purpose on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ 

Yes, Dancing With the Stars is a competition show that pits celebrities against each other to train in the art of ballroom dance. But for McLean, it’s so much more than that. 

“Doing the show is not all about dance,” he told Showbiz. “It’s really about a journey of self-discovery and growth as a person, as an artist, or whatever your job is — you’re going on this journey.”

For McLean, who is a year sober, participating on Dancing With the Stars and being partnered with Burke changed his life. 

“I really feel like I learned a lot in a four-month period,” he admitted. “Probably more than I’ve learned in four years. ”