Even though Nick Carter has sold more than 36 million records as one of the Backstreet Boys, he thinks of himself as just another new artist with the debut of his "Now or Never" album.
"I'm really ... like somebody who hasn't sold a record," says Carter, the youngest member of the group and the first to release a solo album.
But he's got one advantage over other aspiring singers: an instant fan base. Some two dozen fans waited outside his midtown Manhattan hotel recently, hoping to see him.
"These are the small things that mean so much to me," says Carter, sporting spiky hair, jeans and a bike chain for a bracelet.
"Whether I have two fans or 5 million, there are people out there, and I'm going to do my best to entertain those people who want to be entertained."
The Backstreet Boys ignited the recent teen pop craze when they stormed the U.S. charts in 1998 with their self-titled debut, a smash album that was followed by other multiplatinum discs.
But Carter's road to solo stardom hasn't been smooth. His first single, "Help Me," wasn't a radio hit, and his debut album, released last month, hasn't garnered as much attention -- or sales -- as that of 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake, whose solo album debuted a week later. "Now or Never" sold 68,000 copies in its first week of release; Timberlake's "Justified" sold 439,000.
His clean-cut image took a bit of a hit when he was arrested in January for refusing a police officer's order to leave an area outside a Tampa, Fla., nightclub. The misdemeanor charge was dropped after Carter agreed to perform community service, which he completed by visiting children in hospitals.
1. Why did you do more rock than pop songs on your album?
Carter: I'm just doing what's coming out of me. I have a really hard time of faking who I am. ... I have such a passion for rock music. When people listen to the music, and when they see me perform, I think that's the one time that they'll really understand what I'm doing is for real. I'm not here to fool anybody or follow a trend.
2. Have you felt you haven't been able to do your own thing as a Backstreet Boy?
Carter: No. I like the Backstreet Boys because I kind of consider myself a chameleon. Even though I say I love rock music, I love all types of music. ... I get a chance to grow and sing in a band together as one voice that creates, like, one out of five that creates one big voice. I'm just a part of that. So I really honestly feel like it's something that I love doing.
3: Are you worried your album isn't getting enough attention?
Carter: I can't even be happier. I'm learning. ... I'm really happy the way things are going. And the way I feel is I don't care if I sell 10 records or 10 million, it doesn't matter either way to me.
4: Did you slow down after your arrest?
Carter: I didn't slow down too much. The one thing, I was just being myself. Being a normal 21-year-old who goes out to a club, and in Tampa, that was the situation I got into. ... I haven't slowed down, I'm still crazy and wild and being myself, and you might see me at a nightclub sometime.
5. I've read that you're dating Britney Spears, but you say you barely know her. Where do you think those rumors came from?
Carter: Wishful thinking? I have no clue. I think people like to start stuff or something. They better be careful though, you know why? You keep saying it, it might be true.