Nick Carter

Former Backstreet Boy Nick Carter has had success as a solo performer -- but also a tumultous personal life. (Omar Cruz, handout / January 30, 2012)

If you're looking to get on Nick Carter's good side, address him as Lord Balgrott, his "World of Warcraft" character. The former teen heartthrob is such a fan of the online role-playing game that he changed his Twitter avatar to an illustration of the white-bearded guild leader.

It's not the type of career move — yes, social media management is a part of the game in 2012 — many would expect from the handsome, blue-eyed member of the Backstreet Boys. But compared to his pop peers, Carter, 31, has had one of the strangest career arcs, full of chart-topping hits and embarrassing personal lows.

Drinking, as evidenced by a 2005 DUI arrest, was the cause of many of the singer's problems.

"My main vice of choice was alcohol, but to the extent of overindulgence and abuse," Carter said.

It all came to a head in 2008, when Carter was diagnosed with the life-threatening heart disease cardiomyopathy, a result of his hard-partying lifestyle. It got so bad, Carter told People magazine in 2009, that he "went nuts" with alcohol and cocaine the night before the test results came back.

His ability to calmly talk about his troubled past is a sign he's on the right track. But it's more than talk — Carter has changed his lifestyle, focusing on strenuous workout routines while leaving the drugs and binge-drinking behind. He said he is even considering going vegetarian ("I like the way the meals taste better, honestly"). Friday, he performs at Rams Head Live.

The change has paid off. Carter, who weighed well over 200 pounds before his health kick, is now in the best shape of his life, he said. Last year, his doctor said he could no longer detect the cardiomyopathy in his heart.

"You can change your life around," Carter said. "You don't have to be a victim. But it's a work in progress every single day. It's not easy."

With fewer concerns about his health, Carter turned his focus to the Backstreet Boys and "I'm Taking Off," his solo album from last year. It took Carter nearly a decade to follow up his gold debut, "Now or Never."

"I felt as a writer, I wasn't good enough. As an entertainer, I didn't know enough," he said of the delay. "I didn't know who I wanted to be, and I didn't know who I was."

The Backstreet Boys continued to record and tour between "Now or Never" and "I'm Taking Off," and Carter said that made all of the difference. He leaned on his bandmates while he grew as a performer and writer.

"You can call me a late bloomer, I guess," Carter said. "But I'm super young, so I can still do it. I like to say I went back to college."

During that time, Carter and his family starred on an E! reality show, "House of Carters." The eight-episode season showed the harsh side of a family of entertainers attempting to re-energize their careers. It was a dysfunctional tale, with plenty of bickering and sibling fighting. It made for ugly TV, but according to the singer, it was the catalyst for getting his life on track.

"It really opened my eyes," he said. "I was overweight. I wasn't feeling good about myself. It was a pivotal point in my life."

"House of Carters" was a shocking reminder to longtime fans that the era of boy-band hysteria was firmly in the past. Now, when Carter talks about the height of the Backstreet Boys' popularity, there's a sense of pride but also wistfulness.

"There was a lot of competition going on between the different groups, and it was fun," Carter said, obviously nodding to 'N Sync. "Everyone was watching MTV for the videos and the music."

We're a long way from those days, but Carter is optimistic he and his group will find their place in pop again. ("I think things go in cycles. Hopefully, it'll come back," he said.) Until then, he will focus on supporting "I'm Taking Off" and the upcoming Backstreet Boys tours in Australia, Europe and Indonesia.

He's also working on the next Backstreet Boys album, which begins recording this month. Carter is adamant about the group's input on the record, perhaps signifying he has truly bloomed as an artist.

"One thing is for sure — we want to write on it," he said. "We want our influence on it. That's so important."

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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If you go

Nick Carter performs Friday at Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Doors open at 8 p.m. Guinevere also performs. $30. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.