Aaron Carter was only 13 when he made his Broadway debut as JoJo in Seussical, but he was already a veteran performer. Carter, who is back on the New York stage as rebellious young lover Matt in off-Broadway’s The Fantasticks, cut his teeth opening for the 1990s megagroup the Backstreet Boys, which featured his older brother Nick Carter. Aaron has four studio albums and three gold singles to his credit, not to mention numerous television guest spots and reality TV gigs, from starring in House of Carters with his siblings to a stint on Dancing With the Stars. His drama-filled dating life (with starlets like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan) has made him a source of media scrutiny, and he hit tabloids recently owing to some time in rehab and his friendship with the late Michael Jackson. Below, Carter chats with Broadway.com about his return to the New York stage, loving his fans and what he has learned from the King of Pop and Celine Dion.
What made you want to be a part of The Fantasticks?
The Fantasticks is the longest running musical ever, so there’s a lot of respect and history, and I wanted to be a part of that! I wanted to get in the mix, and everything is going amazingly. Way better than I ever anticipated.
Did you connect with your character, Matt?
Actually, I did. It wasn’t really that difficult to get into this character. He’s love hungry, like me. He thinks he knows everything, like me. And he enjoys life, like me, so there’s a lot that I can relate to in this role.
Were you nervous about coming back to the stage?
Definitely. When I did JoJo in Seussical, I had three days to prepare for the show. I had about two weeks for this one, which in the scheme of things is also a short amount of time, but it was plenty for me. It was grueling and enjoyable at the same time. I had to change how I sing, I had to study so much and it was a lot of work, but it’s been amazing. It’s almost like I went to a theater school or a music school in two weeks!
Is the theater life easier or harder than life as a solo pop artist?
The weekends can be a little tough because we have four shows, but doing my own stuff is also challenging. Anything that I do in the entertainment world is challenging! If it’s not, I’m doing something wrong.
How do you take care of yourself?
I try to get as much rest as I possibly can. Sleep is really important for your voice. I heard that Celine Dion sleeps like 12 or 13 hours at a time to rest her voice, and she’s one of the best singers in the world. You’ve gotta rest and drink a lot of water, and your nutrition has to be on point. It’s a really good life lesson/learning experience for me.
You’re also doing some solo shows on top of your Fantasticks schedule. Are you crazy?
A little bit! I’m doing it on my days off, but I love to perform. For me, it’s like going to the playground is for little kids, so the more I can do it, the better. I’m going to be able to see fans that can’t make it to the show here.
You’re so engaged with your fans online. Why is that important to you?
I love them. They’re always so sweet to me, they’re always caring, and there are a lot of people that deserve for me to say hi and make their day. If I can do that with the click of a few buttons; why not? A lot of people want to seem like they’re too cool, but I’m just gonna be me. I don’t talk to my fans because I think I’m going to gain something from it, but at the same time I do gain something. I gain this amazing feeling of being loved. It’s something that is undeniable and I can’t get it anywhere else, and a lot of them can’t get it anywhere else either. So I’m going to give it back to them and show them my appreciation.
Who are you a fan of?
I listen to a lot of older music, to be honest with you, but I’m a fan of Bruno Mars and I’m a fan of Justin Bieber. He’s doing pretty well! I think Cody Simpson is really, really talented. He’s the one everybody needs to watch out for right now. I’m into all the entertainers like that, especially the blond, goldilocks boys, since I was the first one of that kind to come out, really. I know what it’s like to come into the industry, and it was difficult. I spent three or four years in artist development, rehearsing, practicing, doing media training, all of those things. I had to work very hard.
What's your earliest memory of performing professionally?
Oh my gosh. One is my mom dressing me up in really baggy clothes and throwing me out on the stage in front of 50,000 people! That was one of my first performances, opening up for my brother [Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter] in Germany.
What performance experience are you most proud of?
I would have to say Dancing With the Stars [in fall 2009], which was very difficult. I have a lot of respect for it and I consider it one of my highlights.
Was that fun or just plain stressful?
It was very, very, very stressful. It was grueling. I didn’t always get along with my partner [2011 champion Karina Smirnoff]. Sometimes we liked each other, sometimes we couldn’t stand each other, and that probably played a part in why we didn’t make it as far as we could have in the competition. [The pair finished fifth.]
What were your expectations when you started that show?
I expected to win! I don’t ever go into a competition not thinking I can win. Anyone who says they don’t think that is a liar, I don’t care what they say. Except for maybe the people who get voted off first. They could just be doing it for fun.
You’ve worked with a lot of wonderful artists. Who do you look up to as a performer?
Hands down, Michael Jackson. Michael is such an amazing inspiration to me. He was such a good guy and he always tried to make a difference in the world. He loved everyone and he cared about, appreciated and acknowledged every single person in his industry. A lot of people don’t do that these days. A lot of people are so selfish, and they’re too afraid to even mention another artist unless they have a merchandising deal with them, or a tour deal, or they recorded a song with them. I think that’s kind of pathetic. You have to appreciate what other people do, and hopefully that’s something I’ll be able to keep up and pass on.