Although the research isn't conclusive, there's a promising trend in the potential longevity of TV-generated pop bands with recent news of a reunion tour by the Monkees, beloved TV icons of the 1960s.
So it's conceivable that Big Time Rush, the latest example of a bunch of TV characters who double as a band, could transcend its current spot on Nickelodeon's prime-time lineup to create a musical legacy, too. The boy band will put a spotlight on its musical side on Tuesday at Amway Center, the group's first arena show in Orlando after appearances in town at Universal Studios in 2011 and earlier this year.
Yet, even at the advanced age of 23, Pena and his bandmates — Kendall Schmidt, 21, James Maslow, 22, and Logan Henderson, 22 — might have a few more good years ahead of them. Looking at the recent successful reunion tours of ancient boy bands such as the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block also is encouraging, Pena says.
"If we keep putting out fun radio hits, I think we could be around for a while," Pena says. "I'd love to be like New Kids and the Backstreet Boys and do a 40-year-old reunion."
So far, the band has done an admirable job of building a real-life music career to match the pretend one that is the basis of the "Big Time Rush" TV series that debuted on Nickelodeon in 2009. Although each band member plays a fictional character, each keeps his own first name, all the better to blur the real and the imaginary in the tale of four performers who move to Hollywood to become pop stars.
Before each season, the show's producers sit down with the band members to hear about real-life stories of touring and recording, experiences that often find a way into the show's scripts.
"So it's an over-exaggerated version of our real lives," Pena says. "It's like watching us become who we are in the TV show. We put out an album in the TV show, and in real life we put out an album. So it's a timeline."
In real life, Big Time Rush's 2010 self-titled debut was certified gold (for sales of 500,000 copies) and was followed by a sold-out, 30-city U.S. tour. The band's follow-up CD, "Elevate," has pushed the band's sales figures above 1 million albums and 3 million digital tracks worldwide. In October, Big Time Rush opened for Justin Bieber for 70,000 fans at a concert in Mexico.
On Monday, the band played a "Kids' State Dinner" at the White House.
Is Pena surprised by the band's success?
"It's really cool to see how the group and the music and the brand has evolved in last four years," he says. "As a touring act, it's a little new for us, but we kind of enjoy it a little more than the TV world.
"There's a little more freedom and room for expression. if we want to change it up one night onstage, we can do it a little differently. We're definitely enjoying it."
The band also enjoyed more creative freedom on "Elevate," taking a bigger role in song selection, cover art and other decisions. That input has continued as the band has started work on its third album, which has yet to be assigned a release date.
"I don't think they [the record company] knew exactly what we could do, but I don't feel like we've reached our ultimate level yet," Pena says. "No one really expected for us to want to take control of the second album. It was a shock to them and it took time for them to realize that this project was a band."
That's also more than Pena might have expected when he was first approached about the show — and was reluctant to be involved. He was studying musical theater at Boston Conservatory at the time, with another career in mind.
"My goal was to end up on Broadway in New York," he says. "But Broadway will always be there. This is a great opportunity and I've learned so much, grown so much.
"There are advantages and disadvantages to it, but at the same time, 90 percent of the people in the world would want this experience and I'm so fortunate and so grateful."
One of the perks on the band's current tour is a swing through Florida that is a homecoming for Pena, who moved to the Fort Lauderdale area at age 10 and lived there through his teens. He's hoping that if old friends come out to a concert, they will recognize his personality onstage, not the image of his TV alter ego.
"This tour is a great representation of who we are — not the characters, but us four. It's a fun show, with pyrotechnics and awesome lighting. It's terrific to be able to give that to kids. For a lot of them, it might be their first concert and we want them to look back and say, 'That was the best ever!'"