Ricky Martin is Latin pop's passionate elder statesmen — and he takes his role seriously down to the last drop of sweat.
The trim, athletic 44-year-old's two-hour concerts are fiesta-like workouts. They're packed with Spanish- and English-language hits from the past two decades, backup singers and dancers, costume changes, audience sing-alongs — and as a forum to share the outspoken tenor's message of social responsibility.
"Concerts are a great way to send your message across," Martin said in an August email interview during the Australian leg of his One World Tour, which shifted to North America in September and includes a stop on Sept. 16 in Reno.
"I'm a passionate defender of children's rights and my (non-profit Ricky Martin) Foundation is dedicated to the wellbeing of children around the world in areas like education, health and social justice. We've created a powerful alliance with UNICEF and with companies that want to make positive changes in the world. We built a center in my hometown island in Puerto Rico last year and have been able to rescue over 140 kids into our safe haven to protect children from exploitation. Awareness is important and music unites."
Early reviews of Martin's One World Tour have cited its message of togetherness. That includes connecting with fans old and new. The former child star is still charting with dance pop and ballads alike, and he retains followers dating to the 1980s Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, as well as his 1999 worldwide smash "Livin' La Vida Loca."
"My fans in the '90s and early 2000s have grown with me on my journey of self-discovery and also influenced my musical growth,," Martin said. "But, I'm excited every time to ask the question, 'Who is at my concert for the first time?' And the whole venue fills with arms in the air.
"My fans have been there with me throughout my evolution, and social media and TV shows like 'The Voice' (Martin is a mentor on the Mexican and Australian versions) and 'La Banda' (he is a judge on the Univision vocal competition) are giving me access to a new generation that connects to my music."
Martin's concerts mix hits old and new in English and Spanish.
"We have created a beautiful journey with some greatest hits, and songs of my latest album, 'A Quien Quiera Escuchar.' The ballad section takes me and my fans back to my beginnings, before the show ends in a huge carnival that makes everyone get out of their seats and dance."
Which song causes the wildest response?
"I would say 'Livin' La Vida,' 'Cup of Life' and 'Vuelve' are turning the arena into a big backup choir," Martin said. "I love hearing the audience's reaction and to see they are having fun. They sing and dance along with me."
Time has seemingly been kind to Martin. A yoga devotee, he eschews miming any notes on stage despite constantly dancing, and switching costumes ranging from jeans to leather pants to a kilt.
Longtime fans may find it hard to believe it's been 16 years since "Livin' La Vida Loca" had Martin's festive tenor topping the world's pop-music charts and bouncing through radio waves, while the accompanying music video gained massive airplay — introducing millions to his matinee-idol face.
Martin's superstardom at 28 was hardly an overnight story. He'd been a show-business professional since age 6, appearing in TV commercials in his native San Juan. At 12 he joined Menudo as it was on the verge of becoming the biggest Latin American teen act of the 1980s. Born Enrique Martin Morales, he was a perfect fit for the group designed to make young girls' hearts flutter.
After five years with Menudo, Martin went solo, chasing the Spanish-language market with albums while building an acting resume. By 23 the bilingual heartthrob was starring in "General Hospital" in the role of longhaired singer "Miguel Morez."
As the 1990s drew to a close, Martin scored two major coups that busted open the floodgate for Latin pop saturating Top 40 radio with salsa and meringue rhythms. Already successful landing albums and singles on Billboard's Latin-music charts, Martin sang "The Cup of Life" ("La Copa de La Vida") from his 1998 album, "Vuelve," at the 1999 Grammy Awards — earning a standing ovation. His next single, the Spanglish "Livin' la Vida Loca," zoomed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart and became his signature song.
Women constitute the majority of Martin's fan base — his concerts frequently have the flavor of a girl's night out. He's also developed a large gay male following. (The father of two finally announced his homosexuality on his website in 2010.)
A career break from 2007-10 hasn't diminished Martin's pursuits. His autobiography, "Me," hit the New York Times Best Seller list in 2011, and he performed the Che Guevara character in "Evita" on Broadway. Martin's 10th studio record, "A Quien Quiera Escuchar," hit No. 1 on the U.S. Top Latin Albums chart this year.
"It's a very romantic, honest and transparent record," Martin said. "The songs are filled with cultural influences and they reveal my emotions and the experiences I've had over the course of my life." His concert is a multicultural extravaganza, as well.
"The show is staged in various acts with amazing backup dancers and a full band composed of musicians from all over the world. We spent a lot of time creating the perfect show."