Carter was born in Phoenix, Arizona, the daughter of Juanita (née Córdova) and Colby Carter. Her father is of English and Scots-Irish ancestry, and her mother, whose family hailed from Mexico, is of Mexican, Spanish and French descent. She has one brother, Vincent, and one sister, Pamela. Carter made her public television debut on Lew King's Talent Show at age 5. During high school, Carter performed in a band called Just Us, consisting of a marimba, a conga drum, an acoustic guitar, and a stand-up bass played by another girl. When she was 16, she joined two of her cousins in another band called The Relatives. Actor Gary Burghoff was the drummer. The group opened at the Sahara Hotel and Casino lounge in Las Vegas for three months; because Carter was under 21, she had to enter through the kitchen.
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