December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

Nothing against soul-searching. But as the phenomenon called Ricky Martin makes clear, sometimes it’s better to just, as he so aptly puts it, shake your bonbon. From the minute the Puerto Rican-born Martin, 27, earned a standing ovation for an electrifying performance at the Grammys in February, he’s been driving the music world loco. Madonna hit him up for a duet. Luciano Pavarotti invited him to share a stage. A June performance of his hit single “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on NBC’s Today virtually closed down midtown Manhattan. And the joyful, Latin-infused sound that has been selling out concerts nationwide (not to mention opening the door to fellow Hispanic acts such as Jennifer Lopez [see page 80] and Marc Anthony) rocked more than 11 million viewers of CBS’s Ricky Martin: One Night Only! Thanksgiving weekend special. The question today is not, will the yoga devotee with the blond-tipped hair still be as hot next year? The question is, after a lifetime of performing—he began his career at 12 in the all-boy singing group Menudo, went on to a successful solo Spanish-language singing career and spent nearly two years on the ABC soap General Hospital—why has he captured the heart, soul and libido of mainstream America now ? “Besides his fantastic leather pants, his body and his good looks?” asks friend Gloria Estefan with a laugh. “What Ricky exudes is exuberance and honesty and love of what he does. Not since Elvis have we seen a male idol who moves so incredibly well.” Martin deals with the pressures of superstardom by meditating and hanging out with his parents, siblings and nieces in Puerto Rico. “He has incredibly positive energy,” says Madonna, who finds Martin “very centered, considering all of the attention that is being heaped on him.” “I know it doesn’t sound relevant,” adds Michael Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, which sponsors the Grammys, “but he’s a nice kid.”

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