Carson Daly: Gets An Encore

Go ahead. Call him Mr. TRL. Because despite his success as both host and producer of NBC’s juggernaut The Voice – along with a gig in the mornings on Today and his own late-night show, Last Call (does he ever get a chance to sleep?) – Carson Daly knows that some people will always see him as the amiable MTV veejay from the height of millennial pop music mania. “I felt like the unelected official of an era,” reminisces Daly over a beachside lunch near his Santa Monica home. “I wore it like a badge of honor.” He knows times have changed since teens shrieked for Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera outside Total Request Live‘s Times Square studio: “You needed MTV to be cool then. You needed Kurt Loder to tell you the news. We live in a different world now.”

So does Daly. At 40, he’s a father of two (Jack, 4, and Etta, 1, with his fiancée, Siri Pinter, 32) who’s traded nights closing down bars with Kid Rock for 9 p.m. bedtimes and weekend soccer games. Daly is proud of how he’s reinvented himself. “After this many years in the business, I know who I am,” he says. “All I care about now is providing for my family.”

Only a few years ago, Daly came close to losing it all. In 2002 he left TRL, passing up offers to take the show to prime time, and instead moved to L.A. to start his own show. “I had been told that my career would end on MTV,” he says. “I felt like it was time to develop outside of that.” Offered the graveyard 1:30 a.m. time slot for Last Call, he built the show into a modest hit. But during the 2007 writers’ strike, Last Call was almost pushed off the air. “Siri was pregnant, and we had just bought a house. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m screwed,'” recalls Daly. But the show squeaked by, and soon Daly also landed a radio gig on L.A.’s KAMP. In 2011 his dogged work ethic paid off, as he helped launch The Voice to blockbuster ratings. Still, his take on being part of a hit is primarily practical: “The happiest feeling I have now, [beyond] the success of the show, is that my mortgage is paid. I go, ‘Okay, maybe I’m good now.'”

The devoted dad lost his own father to cancer when he was 5. Raised in Santa Monica by his mom, Pattie, a TV producer, Daly spent his teen years bagging groceries for A-listers such as Michelle Pfeiffer. A radio internship with family friend Jimmy Kimmel helped him land a deejay job on L.A.’s top rock station, KROQ. Then MTV came calling. “It was a crazy time,” Daly recalls. “Super Bowls and spring breaks and private jets. It was a real rock star life.” He didn’t like making headlines himself. “When I was pulled into the gossip stuff, it was weird,” he says of his romances and messy breakups with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tara Reid, to whom he was briefly engaged. He doesn’t keep in touch with either. “I got caught in the vapor trail of TRL‘s success,” says Daly, who maintains he drank but didn’t do drugs. “I partied hard. I left it all on the court. But I don’t regret any of it. It makes me a better dad, a better husband.”

After leaving TRL, Daly focused on Last Call, where he met Pinter, a writer’s assistant, in 2005. “There were times she would walk into our writer’s meeting, and I would look at the other dudes in the room, like, Do you see what I see?” he says. “It was undeniable.” Engaged since June, the pair will marry “when we have time,” says Daly. “The husband-and-wife thing? That’s just a bow around something. We’re partners. Our end game is we want to be together forever.”

His busy schedule means long hours and weekly flights to New York for Today, but leaves plenty of time for family. “Siri and the kids are [on-set] all the time,” says Voice executive producer Mark Burnett. “Carson is the epitome of a family man.” Yet when Daly does feel like reminiscing with someone about those heady turn-of-the-millennium days, he doesn’t have to look far. He and Voice judge Aguilera get nostalgic “every day!” Daly says. “Our kids play together now. We sit there and look at them and say, ‘Can you believe this? Look at us now.'”

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