When the Nickelodeon-spawned pop band Big Time Rush comes to South Florida for a Friday concert at Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Weston-raised member Carlos Pena Jr. will go to his three bandmates and ask each for spare tickets to give to his friends and family.
It’s what they do for each other whenever the tour hits a venue close to home: Texas for Logan Henderson, Kansas for Kendall Schmidt and Southern California for James Maslow. While being able to share his success with loved ones is fun, Pena’s favorite moment of the tour is with strangers.
“We all have our cities, but the best is when we’re, like, in the middle of Nebraska, where we don’t know anybody. Before the show we’ll go out a side door, and we’ve got 30 or 40 tickets, and we just start handing them out. The looks on their faces is so awesome,” Pena says.
BTR's instantly likable single "Boyfriend" was made even more so with a respectful cameo by rapper Snoop Dogg, and millions of young, mostly-female fans across the country know every word of songs from their two studio albums, including "The City is Ours," "Elevate," "Halfway There" and "If I Ruled the World." The quartet's evolving maturity was evident in the March release of Nickelodeon's "Big Time Movie," a "Help"-style James Bond send-up set to Beatles classics updated for the Auto-tune generation.
Just a few years after his best days were spent chasing chicks with his buddies at Weston’s Town Center, Pena understands that he is living the dream. Literally. He planned on a career in entertainment even before high school (American Heritage and Sagemont), and Pena was just 15 when he got his first major network role on “ER.”
Speaking by phone from his place in Encino, Calif., Pena says his Weston friends were similarly ambitious, and his voice betrays some pride as he mentions that one just graduated from medical school. But not everyone got it.
“Here’s the thing, back in the day, a lot of guys would make fun of me, that I would sing and dance, that I was a cheerleader,” Pena recalls. “But I kept my head on straight. I had goals. And here I am now, and some of those kids are still living at home. I’m not saying ha-ha, but you make your own decisions.”
Pena, whose piano and theater talents honed at Sagemont led to a scholarship at Boston Conservatory of Music and then on to BTR in 2009, admits he didn’t do it alone. He grew up with three brothers: 20-year-old Antonio (now at Hofstra University), 18-year-old Javi (University of Miami) and 14-year-old Andres (Sagemont), and credits his dad (who has an import-export business in Miami) and mom (a homemaker) for his success.
“It was a joint effort,” says Pena, who is of Venezuelan and Dominican descent. “I was so fortunate that my dad could work and my mom would make time to take me where I needed to be.”
7 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CARLOS PENA JR.
Happy Birthday: He turned 23 on Wednesday.
Status: Single. He and actress Samantha Droke broke up.
Favorite BTR song: “Superstar”
Sports fan: He played roller hockey growing up and was a Los Angeles Kings fan long before they won the Stanley Cup.
Sky diver: Pena, brother Antonio and their dad went skydiving in the Keys earlier this year. “Gotta do it again,” he says. “But Nickelodeon may get upset.”
Social media: He was more than 100,000 off when asked if he knew how many Twitter followers he has at @TheCarlosPena (740,000 plus), but he’s a major Instagram fiend.
Friend of Victoria: He’s met Nickelodeon star Victoria Justice, who grew up in Hollywood, after they moved west, but they never see each other. “It’s funny that we could grow up so close to each other with the same goals and aspirations ... but it’s so hard to meet up.”