“I’m not a 12-year-old kid anymore, I’m not a 15-year-old kid, I’m not who you want me to be,” Aaron Carter says. It’s mid-March, and he’s in St. Louis on a national tour which, rather than traditional shows, revolves around him getting lunch or dinner with a group of fans every day. “The biggest challenge, I think, about coming back,” he tells me, “Is just getting people to realize that I am who I am.”
Carter, now 26, isn’t the same skinny blonde kid dunking on Shaq. It’s been eight years since his last tour, 16 since he opened for Backstreet Boy brother Nick, and 13 since “Oh Aaron” hit Billboard’s top 10.
It would be easy to write Carter off as another has-been, a child star whose best moments live on in “I Want Candy” karaoke nights and holiday-time “Merry Christmas, Lizzie McGuire” GIFs. He knows it, too. “I call them my so-called fans,” he says of the people who love him for who (and what he meant to them) over a decade ago. “They’re like, you’ll never top what you did before. But music means a lot to me. Sorry that you’re over 20 and wanna pretend like you’re 12.”
If it sounds like he’s ungrateful, he’s not – it’s clear in the way his voice softens when he describes his recent success; he’s incredibly appreciative of the people who believe in him and the opportunities he’s generating for himself. But there’s understandable frustration involved. His biggest news-making moments recently haven’t been his stint in off-Broadway show “The Fantasticks” or his recent 170-date “After Party” tour. There was also his bankruptcy in late 2013, brought on by mismanaged finances when he was a minor, his representative says. Also that subtweet confessing his lasting love for Hilary Duff.
“I’m a troublemaker,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m always in trouble, with girls or something.”
“I’m not a perfect human being,” he continues. “Are you perfect? I’ve lived a crazy lifestyle – it still continues to be crazy – but now I’m writing my own fate.” He began by joining the cast of “The Fantasticks,” doing over 400 performances, about 8 shows a week. A booking agent noticed how dedicated he was and offered to set up a trial run of 17 shows. The initial 17 grew to 40, then 70, and ultimately over 170, all of which Carter funded himself. He’s been producing music since he was 18, and recently put out an album of instrumental beats he’s created. He’s currently working on his sixth studio album, which he’s already begun to record in Nashville, and which looks to have a more mature pop sound.
“I’ve made a life where it’s been fun and I’ve had a lot of things, and I’ve also had things taken away from me and I’ve lost everything, hit face first in the dirt. I was able to pick myself up on my own, you know? When no one believed in me.”
“I guess I can maybe be some sort of inspiration to people because a lot of people say ‘oh my god, you’re so inspiring,’ but the reason that they say I’m so inspiring is that they see that I’m going against the odds, despite what everybody says. If I can do it, maybe you can do it too. But it’s tough, you know? It’s not easy trying to get people believing in me again.”
“I’m starting all over with people having preconceived notions of who I am,” he continues. “But I’m gonna keep it real with you. If you don’t like who I am, you don’t have to like who I am. I’m just a guy trying to live my life and enjoy the things I love.”
And is Hilary Duff the one that got away? “Come on,” he says. “Everyone and their mother knows the answer to that.”