05/10/1999 at 01:00 AM EDT
Watching his gyrating, red-hot performance at this year's Grammy Awards, many Americans said !Hola!
for the first time to mightily matured Menudo alum Ricky Martin, 27. Now they're happily dancing around the den to his first English-language single, "Livin' la Vida Loca" (Livin' the Crazy Life). And they'll soon be seeing a lot more of the Latin superstar (four hit albums), whom Madonna
tapped after the Grammys for a duet. "Ricky's absolutely electrifying," says Sony Music president Tommy Mottola. "He's got this special charisma that comes along only once in a while."
It's been building since 1984 in Puerto Rico, when the 12-year-old son of a psychologist father and accountant mother joined the musical institution known as Menudo. "You weren't allowed to talk or express yourself," says Martin, who nevertheless credits the pop group with the ever-rotating cast for making him "centered and focused." Not to mention chronically adorable. "When I was 14, I started to get the chills around older women, but they would always say, 'Ohh, cute little Ricky!' " he recalls. Women were sighing for different reasons in 1994, when the 6'2" Martin (who left Menudo at age 18) began a yearlong stint as bartender Miguel on daytime's General Hospital
. "People just love and adore Ricky," says GH actress Lilly Melgar, who played his girlfriend. "He has a regal presence with the spirit of a child."
Now living in Miami—and often in pajamas ("They're like pants and sweaters to me")—Martin has a kid's aversion to primping. "Everyone is telling me that I have to do this and do that," he says. "I'm like, 'Argh! Give me the cheap shampoo and the hotel soap.' " After his morning yoga and shower, he also requires a hearty breakfast—yogurt, pancakes or French toast, juice and raisin bran—to prep him for daily gym workouts and rock climbing, during which he exercises his favorite body part. "I like my hands," Martin states. "They're big, they're bony, they're strong." Anything more hands-on is reserved for his girlfriend, Spain-based TV presenter Rebecca de Alba. "She knows how to pamper herself," says an admiring Martin. "If she can make an appointment for me to have a massage too, that I like."