Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 24, 1971, Martin got his first taste of performing in grade school, where he acted in school plays and sang in the choir. As a small child, he appeared in a number of television commercials, and (with his parents' encouragement) immersed himself in singing lessons. Though many have assumed his earliest influences were Latin musicians and singers, the truth is, as a preadolescent Martin's tastes ran more toward David Bowie, Boston, and Cheap Trick. One day, however, his mother escorted Martin and his brothers to a Celia Cruz concert, an event that had a profound effect on the fledgling singer.
At around age 10, Martin discovered the music of the Latin boy group Menudo and immediately gained an audition with the teen sensations. After initially being rejected as too young, Martin finally landed a spot with the group in 1984, and for the next five years he maintained a grueling regime of recording work and tours. In 1989, when Menudo was at the peak of its success, Martin opted out (or was asked to leave, depending on who you ask) and moved to New York, where he hoped to achieve solo success. A year of unemployment ensued, however, and in frustration the aspiring entertainer moved to Mexico.
While living south of the border once again, Martin's fortunes took a turn for the better. Soon after being cast as a regular in the Mexican soap opera Alcanzar una Estrella II, Martin began dividing his time between acting and music. Released in 1992 and 1993, respectively, his first two Spanish-language albums (Ricky Martin and Me Amaras) were bubble-gum affairs that, nonetheless, achieved gold status in several countries. Emboldened by his success, Martin moved to Los Angeles in 1994, where he garnered a role as bartender (and weekend nightclub singer) Miguel Morez on the American soap opera General Hospital. He also began working on his third Spanish-language album, A Medio Vivir.
Released in 1995, A Medio Vivir constituted a turning point in Martin's recording career. Co-produced by Menudo veteran Robi Rosa and American native KC Porter (whose credits include manning the boards for Bon Jovi and Richard Marx), the album combined Latin stylings with a rock orientation. Worldwide sales reached 600,000 within six months, and in October 1997 the release was certified gold. Even more impressive, in the midst of this musical triumph, Martin was awarded the prestigious role of Marius in the Broadway production of Les Miserables. He also found time to dub the Spanish version of the popular animated Disney film Hercules.
Barely pausing for breath, Martin launched into work on his fourth Spanish-language album as soon as his year-long stint on Broadway was completed. Titled Vuelve, the album (which sported the aforementioned smash, "La Copa de la Vida") was released in early 1998 to spectacular worldwide sales. Following Martin's 1999 Grammy victory (Vuelve was named Best Latin Pop Album), and his much talked-about performance at the awards ceremony, sales of Vuelve jumped six-fold, thus creating the perfect buzz to presage the May release of Martin's first English-language album. And indeed, in the aftermath of the Grammy telecast, media interest in all things Latin intensified, with features about Martin and other Hispanic-American pop star peers appearing in nearly every major entertainment publication.
Released on May 11, Martin's new album, titled simply Ricky Martin, appears worthy of the hype surrounding it. In addition to being team-produced by Robi Rosa, esteemed Cuban-American hitmaker Desmond Child, and Miami Sound Machine mastermind Emilio Estefan Jr., the album features songs penned by Jon Secada and Diane Warren, as well as by its esteemed producers. Mostly, however, it's Martin's high-octane energy — which he exhibited to great effect at a May Saturday Night Live appearance — that carries the day.
Thus far, Martin appears to be handling his success with great aplomb and a sense of proportion. He turned down a chance to star opposite Jennifer Lopez in a film remake of West Side Story, on the grounds that the movie helps perpetuate Puerto Rican stereotypes. He also continues to maintain a relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Rebecca de Alba (who hosts a TV show in Mexico), and is attempting to take the long view with regard to his career. "I want to do this forever," he recently told USA Today. "I don't want to be the hit of the summer, and, hopefully, with a lot of humility, we can talk in 10 years and I'll still be here."