By STEPHANIE HAYES
Times Staff Writer
Is this where we make the "Backstreet's back" quip?
Let's not. It's way overused, not to mention possibly inaccurate. Nick Carter says the Backstreet Boys never went away — even if you didn't notice. For 17 years the group has toiled to stay alive. They've sold more than 100 million albums. They've been golden boys and guilty pleasures. They lost a member and continued as a foursome. Their latest album, This Is Us, came out in 2009. The Backstreet Boys are back (fine) on a world tour, stopping at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Memorial Day.
Carter, the teen idol who grew up in Apollo Beach and Ruskin, is now 30. He has navigated addiction, screamy reality TV and industry scandal, but says he's in a good place. He called from home in Nashville to talk about the tour and his favorite Tampa memories (RIP, stadium Bennigan's). And if Justin Bieber loyalists don't appreciate his music, he's content to count their moms as fans.
Do you still keep a house in Tampa Bay?
I don't, but when I get some time, I'm going to go look again in Tierra Verde. That's one of my favorite places.
What was it like growing up here?
My experience there was amazing. I have so many friends there. Tampa's my home. I'm a huge, die-hard Buccaneer fan. On my Twitter, I have the Bucs flag as my picture. I'm kind of a fanatic. I'm a little crazy, you know?
What about the Rays?
I'm down with all Tampa teams. I love the Rays, too.
How is the tour going?
The show itself is probably one of the best we've ever put on. It gets really big. We've got four girl dancers, a lot of people on stage. The new music, the new record, it's dance pop. … It's basically what we've done over the years. Anyone that comes to the show is going to get an opportunity to go in a time warp and enjoy the '90s again.
Are you playing more intimate venues in America?
There are some places that are bigger and some places that are smaller. The show is designed for an extremely big place. We just did Asia and we were playing 20,000 seats a night. We were playing 20,000 in Europe. We had to take smaller venues in the states. (Overseas) they're not afraid of pop music and boy bands.
How is it different touring now than 10 years ago?
I think it's more fun because, think about it, there are a lot of groups out there who probably wish that they could still be doing what we're doing, and they just can't because they gave up or they didn't believe in what they were doing or they moved on in life, and they're all sitting back and home and fat and we're in shape. We're out on the road and dancing and we're healthy and singing music and entertaining, and they're probably all kicking themselves in the butt. We stayed the course. It's been 17 years solid. It's almost like we're the pop version of the Rolling Stones.
How do you feel about teen pop stars like Justin Bieber?
We were there. We were doing the same thing and now we're in our own zone, our own generation. Their kids are into these new artists and their parents are going, "We had a pop band, too. We liked the Backstreet Boys." Now they're probably going to rediscover us again. That's kind of how it goes in life. When they rediscover us, they'll realize, wait a minute, it's not just nostalgia. It's not just old music. There's a new album out that's amazing.
What surprises you?
To this day, seeing all these fans coming to the shows. You see so many people coming still and it's like, man, they don't get enough. I guess they realize how great of entertainers we are. To be a Backstreet Boys fan is taboo. In some way, they like that. They like being a part of something special.