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NBC News: Today

Profile: A Look At The Life And Career Of Singer Ricky Martin

By Dan Moffett

May 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 National Broadcasting Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

MATT LAUER, co-host: As you get ready to shake your bon-bon this morning to the beat of Ricky Martin, with the help of VH1 we thought we'd take a look at the pop icon's career. Entertainment reporter Jill Rappaport has his story.

JILL RAPPAPORT reporting: Twenty-nine-year-old singing sensation Ricky Martin has climbed to the top of the music world, achieving superstar status .

Ms. GLORIA ESTEFAN: He can sing, and he dances like I don't think anyone we've seen since Elvis.

RAPPAPORT: Born Christmas Eve, 1971, on the island of Puerto Rico, Ricky's parents divorced when he was two. "Little Kiki," as he was called, faced an often lonely childhood.

Mr. RICKY MARTIN: I remember that one day I woke up crying, and screaming, `Nobody loves me! Nobody loves me!'

RAPPAPORT: Soon, he found himself loved by millions, performing with the legendary boy band Menudo.

Mr. MARTIN: I was the biggest fan of Menudo. Menudo was a legend. Menudo united generations.

RAPPAPORT: But, eventually, life on the road took a toll on the teen-ager.

Mr. MARTIN: They tell you what to wear. They tell you what to sing. They tell you what kind of haircut. It's--you completely lose perspective of, you know, what personality can be.

RAPPAPORT: After five years, Ricky was burned out and left the band. He found work as an actor in Mexico City. But just two years later, in 1991, he signed a record deal, beginning his solo career in Mexico.

Mr. MARTIN: My friend, we went everywhere. I just needed a spotlight and a microphone. That's all I needed.

RAPPAPORT: His first two albums sold nearly a million and a half copies, making him the first Menudo member to make it on his own. In Mexico, Ricky was riding high, but he had yet to conquer American audiences.

(Clip from "General Hospital")

RAPPAPORT: His break came in 1994 on the daytime soap opera "General Hospital."

(Clip from "General Hospital")

RAPPAPORT: In 1998, it was back to the recording studio for what would be his fourth album. "Vuelve" debuted at the top of the Latin charts. But despite a number one single in 22 countries, most Americans still hadn't heard of the heartthrob, but all that was about to change.

Ms. ROSIE O'DONNELL: Ricky Martin!

(Clip of Martin performing at Grammy Awards)

Mr. MARTIN: When I walked on stage at the Grammys, I thought it was definitely the opportunity of a lifetime. I wanted to go out there and let people know who I am.

RAPPAPORT: Well, Ricky rocked the house at the 1999 Grammy Awards. The spotlight was now on him, the anointed leader of a Latin invasion. Sony capitalized on the frenzy, releasing his first English language album. After spending the better part of his life striving for fame, Ricky Martin was finally "Livin' La Vida Loca."

Unidentified Fan: I'm living la vida loca with you, baby.

RAPPAPORT: Now, we caught up with him last April during rehearsals for the star-studded benefit concert to save the rain forest.

You're just magnetic to watch. I mean, just to see you up on stage...

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you.

RAPPAPORT: ...the singing, the dancing, the whole persona of you is pretty incredible.

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you. Thank you.

RAPPAPORT: I mean...

Mr. MARTIN: Thank you very much. You know, it's--it's one of those things that's completely addictive, and it's one of those few things in this whole business that I'm still enjoying. And I live every instrument and I live--I live every face that I'm watching, the reaction of that audience.

RAPPAPORT: You seem so down to earth and nice and unphased by it, almost. I mean, how are you reacting to all this attention and the success you've had?

Mr. MARTIN: You know, I've been praying a lot. I've been praying a lot, because it's not something that started yesterday. I've been working for many years on stage, and I've had a lot of ups and downs. And luckily still things impress me.

RAPPAPORT: The ups and downs have humbled you.

Mr. MARTIN: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

RAPPAPORT: And so that even with all the success and the accolades, you still remember the other side of it.

Mr. MARTIN: It's very important to keep it as simple as you can and surround yourself with the right--you know, the right group of people, and--and always be close to your higher power, whoever that is, you know.

RAPPAPORT: For TODAY, Jill Rappaport, NBC News, New York.

LAUER: And you can catch "Ricky Martin: Behind The Music," tonight on VH1. We're back after this.

(Ricky Martin's band plays and sings)

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