Aaron Carter’s sister, Angel Conrad, is opening up about losing her “selfless” twin, how she and older brother, Nick Carter, are carrying each through their grief and why the loss has “lit a fire” inside her to fight mental illness.
Aaron passed away in November following a long struggle with mental illness and addiction. He was 34. Amid her grief, Angel organized Wednesday’s star-studded West Hollywood benefit concert, Songs for Tomorrow, to celebrate Aaron’s life and generate conversation around mental illness.
“I will always remember Aaron as a selfless, goofy person, who ultimately just wanted to be loved,” Angel told ET Canada prior to the concert. “Unfortunately, he didn’t learn to love himself first, which is something a lot of people struggle with. In his own words, self-love meant self-respect and self-worth — he had a hard time with that.”
However, there was no doubt about the love and respect the “Fool’s Gold” singer had at the concert, featuring LFO’s Brad Fischetti, 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons, Ryan Cabrera, David Archuleta, *NSYNC’s Lance Bass, B. Howard and O-Town’s Jacob Underwood, Trevor Penick and Erik-Michael Estrada. Nick, 42, performed his Aaron tribute, “Hurts to Love You,” while his Backstreet Boys bandmate AJ McLean sang upcoming single “Electric”.
The event, where fans wrote Aaron recollections in a memory book for his 1-year-old son Prince, raised more than $150,000 for On Our Sleeves, a movement to improve and protect children’s mental health.
“Aaron and I were very close,” Angel told us about how grief inspired her to help such organizations. “Nobody knows him better than I know him. Even though our relationship was extremely difficult over the last few years, I tried to remain hopeful he would get the help he needed. After he passed away, a fire lit inside me. I said, ‘I cannot allow my brother to die in vain.’ The real Aaron was too special for that. When he was in his right mind, he thrived off of helping people.”
“As a child, he spent a tremendous amount of time with children fighting cancer or other challenges,” continued Angel, 35. “Making other people happy was paramount in his daily life, even as he struggled. As Aaron’s twin, I’m hoping I can use this platform to help make a change.”
Fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness (which affects one in five American children) has given Angel, who has a 4-year-old daughter Harper with husband Corey Conrad, newfound purpose. She has also been leaning on father-of-three Nick — who previously detailed his work with On Our Sleeves to ET Canada — via phone calls and hugs.
“We’re finding comfort in one another,” she shared. “There’s nobody else I can talk to that truly understands what the feeling is like. I’m hopeful we can show our children how we took this tragedy and turned it into something positive. Where there is love, there is often pain.”
Despite his pain, Aaron was remembered as an energetic, fun, passionately-devoted musician by those ET Canada spoke to before “Songs for Tomorrow.” LFO’s Fischetti recalled “full of life” Aaron proudly playing his first single from a boom box at age 7.
“Fast-forward a few years and I walked into a club and see Aaron talking to older girls,” Fischetti recalled. “He was around 14 and I was concerned for him being so young in that lifestyle. A couple of years later, I saw him at Lou Pearlman’s birthday party and he was having a tough time, so I invited him to live with me. He needed a place to go.”
The offer didn’t materialize and by the time Fischetti joined the “Pop2000 Tour” alongside Aaron in 2019, the “Sooner or Later” singer’s mental state had raised alarms. Fischetti looked into getting Aaron into a Florida treatment program. “But it’s a year-long commitment and I didn’t think he’d go for it … now I regret not pitching the idea.”
Cabrera, too, reached out to Aaron. “I would tell him, ‘If you ever need anything, don’t be scared to holler,’” Cabrera said. “One of the hardest things for musicians today is cyber-bullying and he was a target. Some people go, ‘I don’t care,’ but he cared what people thought about him. He didn’t show it because he had that hard exterior. People need to be aware of how what they’re saying online gets to people, whether they admit it or not.”
Concealing pain is something Fischetti’s familiar with, having entered a “deep hole” after losing LFO bandmates Rich Cronin (in 2010) and Devin Lima (in 2018).
“Losing Aaron’s similar in that these young men died so young, but what makes Aaron’s death different is it could have been prevented,” said Fischetti, who honoured his late bandmates by hanging their sneakers on his microphone stand. “I couldn’t stop Devin getting cancer or Rich getting leukemia, but Aaron’s death could have been prevented.”
“When he was growing up, there was a significant stigma with mental health, especially for males,” Fischetti continued. “It’s hard for a man to admit they have an issue. When Devin died, I went into deep darkness — like somebody put a hood over my head. I couldn’t find joy. Eventually my wife said, ‘You’ve got to do something,’ so I went to my doctor, therapists, psychiatrists, pastor, friends and family and pulled through.”
For O-Town, Aaron became part of their “touring family” after joining the “Pop2000 Tour.”
“He was a troubled soul and to do this for him, spread the word about mental illness and help people heal is what’s important,” said Penick.
“I hoped and prayed this day would never come for him,” added Underwood. “If there’s any awareness we can bring to the struggles of addiction and mental illness then I want to be part of it and help others avoid this pain.”
Nick and Angel’s relentless efforts to ease Aaron’s pain were highlighted by family friend Lori Knight during Wednesday’s event, at Lance’s club Heart WeHo. Lori stressed how the siblings had been “fighting like hell” to save Aaron.
“If anybody doesn’t think [Nick] has done stuff for Aaron, they know nothing about Nick,” she said. “On tour, [when] Aaron was low, Nick was the man I called. He would talk to him for hours. He would fly in on his one day off to spend six hours with Aaron to make him feel better. And Angel was his North Star whenever he got too lost. Now he’s going be her North Star.”
With her “North Star” looking down, Angel held back tears co-hosting the event, which opened with Aaron’s friend B. Howard, before Cabrera sang a medley featuring Goo Goo Dolls’ “Slide” and Aaron’s 2000 hit “I Want Candy.”
“American Idol” star David Archuleta dedicated Robbie Williams’ “Angels” to Aaron, before performing his track, “Just Breathe,” inspired by therapy.
Fischetti was joined by O-Town for LFO hits like “Summer Girls,” before O-Town performed “All or Nothing.” The group got Lance on stage for “Bye Bye Bye.”
Dr. Drew Pinksy spoke about mental health while artist manager Johnny Wright recalled how 8-year-old Aaron confidently introduced himself then jumped in a pool wearing a three-piece suit. Months later, Johnny noticed Aaron looking sad at a Backstreet Boys rehearsal. “I said, ‘What’s wrong?’ and he goes, ‘Nick’s leaving me and I’m not going to have him to go fishing with this summer.’”
Johnny helped keep Aaron by Nick’s side — discovering his vocal talents and getting him a spot opening for the Backstreet Boys. Soon, Aaron was selling one million records and while it’s early hits like “Crush on You” which some remember best, powerful tracks like sobriety-inspired “Recovery” and 2018’s “LØVË EP” spotlighted Aaron’s vast musical abilities.
“Recovery” played for 600 concert-goers, before Nick performed “Hurts to Love You”, penned with Stuart Crichton and Tommy Lee James. The music video, shot by director Danny Roew and his wife Mikki, shows Nick and Aaron in happier times. Fans — both at the venue and watching the Veeps livestream from around the globe — were brought to tears watching his raw, poignant live rendition of the track.
Fellow Backstreet Boy AJ also sparked waterworks while detailing his sobriety struggles, difficulties seeking help and ongoing self-doubt.
AJ was joined by Nick, Lance and Jeff for the Backstreet Boys’ “Shape of My Heart” and “I Want It That Way” before a closing group performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Nick noted the lyrics reflected Aaron’s message to the world.
“It means so much to have you here supporting us,” a teary Nick said. “This is my little brother … I’m always going to love him and I know you love him too and that means a lot, so I thank you.”
— Gail Kizlyk (@gail_kizlyk) January 19, 2023
Fans can donate to On Our Sleeves in honor of Aaron here.