Emmanuel, one of the best-known Latin pop stars in the world, likes to show off his knees.
Right there in the crowded restaurant at the West Hollywood hotel where he is staying before his shows tonight and Saturday at the Greek Theatre, he pulls up one pant leg in a flash. "See that scar," he says, pointing to a gash running across his knee. Up goes the other pant leg. "Here's the other," he says. "Both legs."
The effects of one angry bull are indelibly printed on Emmanuel's legs. Before he was known by his lofty nicknames "The Voice" and "The Leader" in the world of Latino music, he was known as a feisty young bullfighter in his hometown of Mexico City in the early '70s.
"I was almost, woosh," he says making an upward motion with his hand, "going for the top, when the injury happened." After a bull gored his legs, he spent the better part of three years in a hospital until his doctor told him that his matador days were over.
To Emmanuel, the scars don't bring painful memories. They are war wounds he is proud of, because they are responsible for leading him into a new arena. When he hung up his red cape, he followed his second love: singing.
"When I decided to be a singer, I thought, 'If you have to be a singer, you have to be the best,' " he says matter-of-factly. "Otherwise, there is no meaning to it."
Some would say Emmanuel, 33, has achieved his goal. He has won numerous awards, including a 1987 Grammy. Since he started his career in 1976, he has recorded 11 albums, many of them million-sellers. One, "Intimamente," sold 5 million copies worldwide. Of Latino singers, it is Emmanuel's name that rings a bell with non-Latino audiences, right after Julio Iglesias.
"This guy is different. He's clearly not a fad," said Fernando Beltran, head of the West Coast division of CBS Discos Internacional, Emmanuel's label. "He is the type of artist that lasts."
Emmanuel says the stage is one of his favorite places to be. "It still moves all of my fibers." His modern, physical act is full of dancing and movement as he croons fast pop numbers or romantic ballads. His moves are reminiscent of the bull ring.
"The bullfighter movements are part of me, I trained so hard day after day, they're natural," he says.
Of his on-stage energy, he says, his Spanish accent thick: "Some animal is living here inside of me, and it has to get out."
Emmanuel's passion comes through to his audiences. It is not unusual for women to run up on stage when he sings such syrupy hits as "Toda La Vida." It's his trademark to grab them, and dip them for a soulful kiss. "Sex symbol? What's a sex symbol?" the auburn-haired singer says with a chuckle. His tank-top is low cut under a safari shirt. His pants are printed with leopards. But Emmanuel is a married man with two children.
Through singing, he can get his messages out. And these messages are often socially relevant. "Every act in life is a social act. Even love is a social act. In the street, a starving kid is a social problem. In my music, I touch on all these things that touch me."
His current crusade is the environment. "I love the trees, scuba diving with the fish. But some of this beauty is dying out." He doesn't like stars that pay lip service to environmental problems. " 'Now I'm gonna sing for Earth Day.' I find that stupid," he says.
He prefers taking action. He organized a clean-up of a national park near Mexico City, and thousands of people collected trash. He works with the Mexican government to produce videos about saving the environment.