On Wednesday, January 18th, I virtually attended a concert benefiting On Our Sleeves, a national movement to break stigmas surrounding children’s mental health. More than $150,000 was raised. The event was held at Lance Bass’s Heart WeHo venue in West Hollywood, California. After hearing recordings of Aaron’s music, I saw Angel (Carter) Conrad and Lance Bass take the stage.
Lance said, “When Aaron passed, Angel here, the twin of Aaron Carter, needed to do something.” She called Lance, who offered his stage and his help. Angel expressed her appreciation for the crowd and explained, “A week after Aaron passed away, a fire lit inside of me and I said, ‘I cannot let Aaron die in vain.'” Angel and Lance concluded their thoughts and introduced the host, social media influencer Rod Thill, who is known for his nostalgic TikToks and Instagram reels. The first musical performer was B. Howard, who was joined by two singers introduced as Ian and Blake. Dr. Drew briefly spoke to the crowd about the importance of taking care of the mind, just as we do the body. Next was singer Ryan Cabrera, who had a technical difficulty with his guitar battery but still resonated with the audience. Surprisingly, he started rapping the theme to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and he sang a snippet of “I Want Candy” (a cover Aaron Carter was well-known for) at the end of his set.
Rod shared more information about On Our Sleeves and then introduced Lori Knight, Aaron Carter’s former manager. She spoke candidly about the Carter family and defended Angel and Nick’s efforts to help Aaron. “We’ve been fighting like hell to save him,” she said. In describing 25 years of knowing Aaron, Lori used the words “scary, “sad,” “heartbreaking,” as well as “love and laughter and pain and hope and hopelessness.” The manager expressed the complexities of working with the singer and told a story about his kindness toward a fan who had been in a car accident. “I know AC is here, I know he is, and I know how excited he is that we’re all here…” she said, naming audience members she knew, including Hilary Duff’s mother, Susan Duff, and several individuals who worked with Aaron.
Following Lori Knight’s emotional speech, David Archuleta was such a wonderful face to see on the stage. Like Ryan Cabrera, he experimented a bit with his set, opting for an impromptu piano-vocal performance of “A Thousand Miles” but stopping before the second verse. David said after his hit song, “Crush,” “Something that helps me get through — I benefited a lot from going to therapy, and I did an album called Therapy Sessions… one of the things that I felt was most most important to learn, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, when you’re feeling anxious, when you’re not feeling good enough, to take a step back and just breathe.” The last song in his set was “Just Breathe.”
I think the best performances of the night were from the boy band members — representing LFO, O-Town, *NSYNC, and the Backstreet Boys. Brad Fischetti tragically lost both his former LFO bandmates, Rich Cronin and Devin Lima. He paid tribute to both of them, addressed the importance of mental health care — “Be vulnerable enough to say, ‘I need help,'” he said — and shared poignant memories of Aaron with the crowd. Brad was then joined by O-Town’s Erik-Michael Estrada, Trevor Penick, and Jacob Underwood. The “Girl on TV” performance was very moving, balanced by a rousing rendition of “Summer Girls.” O-Town stayed onstage for a bit, shared their Aaron Carter remembrances, and closed with “Bye Bye Bye.” They invited Lance to jump in, and he joined them toward the end of the number, which was amazing!
In between the boy band festivities, former manager Johnny Wright discussed the time when he worked with Aaron, at the beginning of the singer’s career. In fact, he shared that he started Aaron’s career. Johnny recalled how sad Aaron was that Nick would be leaving for the Backstreet Boys’ first headlining tour in Europe. He asked Aaron if he could sing, and the boy answered, “Yes! And I can sing better than Nick!” From there, Johnny had Aaron recording The Jets’ “Crush on You,” and the rest is history. The stories Johnny shared from Aaron’s adult years were more somber, involving his struggles with rehab. Later came an equally deep address on choosing sobriety from BSB’s AJ McLean, who performed his new song “Electric” while wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt. “I’m a f*cking ray of sunshine” was written on it. Both AJ and Brad Fischetti brought to life the energy and light of young Aaron’s memory.
Fans were met with Aaron’s voice as he sang “Recovery” in a previous recording. His sister Angel shared that the song had come out of his efforts toward sobriety in the early 2010s. Young Aaron was then projected on-screen playing basketball with Nick, right before Nick’s performance of “Hurts to Love You.” This heart-rending new song is worth a listen.
Closing out the night were the boy-banders with “I Want It That Way” and “Shape of My Heart.” In addition to Lance Bass, Nick Carter, and AJ McLean, 98 Degrees’ Jeff Timmons joined for these, too! It was so special to see these singers supporting each other, and Nick expressed his gratitude for the crowd’s support. “This is my little brother, and no matter what, I’m always gonna love him. And I know that you love him, too,” Nick said. The final song, with all performers invited back up, was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” From start to finish, the performers and speakers honored Aaron’s life and shed light on the importance of mental health and treating mental illness.
For more information about On Our Sleeves, visit their website. From this special event, I’ve been reminded of two important things: Seek help when you need it, and do everything you can to help the people in your life. Rest in peace, Aaron Carter.