Nick Carter

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For Nick Carter, the show must go on.

The Backstreet Boy hit the stage at New York's Irving Plaza tonight, his first public appearance following the death of his sister Leslie Carter from an apparent prescription-drug overdose on Wednesday.

Ear-piercing shrieks from a packed, estrogen-laden crowd shook the theater as Carter made a dramatic entrance decked out in spaceman garb, complete with an astronaut helmet.

But even if the night's theatrics shot for the moon, a tender moment kept Carter firmly grounded to somber earthly realities.

So how did it all play out?

Carter was the consummate performer, immediately launching into an energetic show despite the undercurrent of tragedy. He performed tracks from his recent solo album, along with tunes by U2 ("With or Without You") and Rod Stewart ("Do Ya Think I'm Sexy") that whipped the crowd into a bubblegum-flavored frenzy.

Fans wearing pink glowsticks in their hair and waving heart-shaped signs sang along as Carter flirted with the audience, unzipping his jacket and flashing his bicep tattoos.

"You guys are naughty and you know it," he teased at one point.

But the night's most poignant moment came when Carter dialed down the hamminess, pulled out a guitar and spoke quietly into the mic.

"I never thought I'd ever have to, but I'd like to dedicate this song to my sister," he said, choking up.

Carter then launched into a heartfelt performance of his song "Falling Down." The singer was clearly emotional throughout the song, his eyes welling up as some in the crowd sniffed back tears of their own.

Carter's game-on attitude to push through with the show wasn't lost on his fans.

"Nobody would have begrudged him if he decided to cancel his show, but he's a trooper and we love him for that," said Galina Matlin, a 28-year-old die-hard who's traveled as far as Australia to see Carter perform with the Backstreet Boys.

Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Debes, who says she's a new-ish fan, thinks that "it means a lot to him to do these concerts, and his sister would want him to do it. It's his choice. That's his grieving process probably."

Carter has pledged to continue his tour, which he says will be dedicated to his late sister.

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