He Never Sang for His Father

Jordan Levin is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Enrique Iglesias poses reluctantly for a photograph by Biscayne Bay. "I hate having my picture taken," he grimaces. "Always. It was worse when I was a kid, because then I didn't have to. Now I have to."

He shifts his weight self-consciously, looking moody and dark, every inch the Latin heartthrob--except he's wearing jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and a baseball cap. He soon gets bored with this, and starts talking. "When I first went on television, I went like this, in jeans, and they just flipped. They said, 'You're going on like that ?' So the Latin press, they started saying I don't take showers because I don't wear a suit and tie."

An onlooker asks jokingly whether he took one that day.

"I do too take showers," Iglesias says with a laugh, suddenly the teenage boy next door. "The only time I didn't was when I used to spend the night on the beach so I could go windsurfing."

There has been a lot of picture taking for Enrique Iglesias in the past two years, and almost no windsurfing. There have been a lot of concerts, for more than 700,000 people throughout the Americas and Europe, interviews, awards shows, television appearances, magazine covers and record sales in the millions. Even for someone as familiar with the facts of stardom as the son of Latin pop icon Julio Iglesias, it has been a drastic change.

"Not long ago I was flying to Madrid, and the world champion windsurfer was in the same flight," says Iglesias, 22.

Iglesias didn't say hello. "I was too embarrassed. Windsurfers are in a different world, all they care about is windsurfing. When we got to the airport there was a lot of press, and then he looked at me like, 'Who's this guy?' If he only knew I was dying for an autograph."

He misses windsurfing--"I've always loved it, because I love being by myself"--but he loves performing even more. "My dream was always to be in front of thousands of people singing my songs."

Enrique Iglesias' rise has a kind of improbable cinematic drama: shy, neglected son of world famous pop star becomes a star himself, even threatening to outshine his father.

The younger Iglesias' first album didn't just come out, it exploded. Released in 1995, it has sold almost 6 million copies, according to his label, Fonovisa, and the first five singles held the top spot on Billboard's Latin pop charts for 26 consecutive weeks. U.S. sales, according to SoundScan, are 380,000.

"Vivir," released in January, has sold more than 4.5 million (274,000 in U.S. SoundScan figures) and had three consecutive No. 1 songs on the Latin chart. He has inspired Beatlemania-style adoration from legions of Latinas. His first Southland area show, at the 12,000-seat Pond of Anaheim last May, sold out in hours. On his current world tour, which will bring him to the Forum on Friday, he has been playing for audiences ranging from 20,000 to 46,000 in Spain and Latin America.

Earlier this year he won a Grammy Award for best Latin pop performer, and he has been on television everywhere from David Letterman to the Miss Universe pageant. (He will appear on "The Tonight Show" on Monday.) In an astonishingly short time, he has become one of the biggest stars in Latin music.

"I can't think of another case where an artist has broken out so big and so quickly," says John Lannert, Latin and Caribbean music editor for Billboard magazine.

Pio Ferro, programming director at KLVE (107.5 FM), L.A.'s top-rated Spanish-language station, cites a number of factors in Iglesias' success: romantic, hook-laden songs, heavy promotion, his good looks, and coming out at a time when audiences were ready for an alternative to longtime reigning pop idol Luis Miguel.

"You always need someone who can say, 'Yeah, but there's also me.' That's a big reason why Enrique worked--he was timed just right."

But Ferro echoes Lannert in noting a less definable element at work, which had teenage girls calling the station professing fatal illness to get an Enrique Iglesias concert ticket. "It's not just hype--he's a phenomenon," Ferro says. "With just two albums he is probably as hot as his dad was in his heyday. I don't think we'll have another Enrique for another decade. The last one we had was called Luis Miguel."

Perhaps the root of the phenomenon is in Iglesias' own desire. He wanted to be a singer so very much.

The youngest of three children of Julio Iglesias and Madrid-based socialite Isabel Preysler, Enrique Iglesias was sent as a child to live with his father in Miami because of security concerns after his grandfather was kidnapped, and because his parents wanted him to learn English. With his father constantly touring, he was raised by his nanny, Elvira Olivares. (His first record is dedicated to her.)

"I didn't like it at all at first," Iglesias says, sitting on a park bench behind his manager Fernan Martinez's office near downtown Miami, watching the sun set on Biscayne Bay. There are probably several million young girls who would give almost anything to be on this bench, but passing joggers barely give him a glance. "I was only 7, and I was separated frommy mother. But I got used to it." He has a brother, Julio Jose, who is an actor and model. His sister, Chabelli, is a Spanish television personality.

He started singing and writing songs as a teenager with two friends, Mario Martinelli and Roberto Morales, who played and sang in a restaurant in Miami's Little Havana district. Five songs Iglesias wrote during that period are on his first record, and three are on the second. By the time he was going to the University of Miami, he was singing at Morales' house for hours every day. It was his private world.

"It's not like I was looking for a record deal then," Iglesias says. "I did it because I loved it. I never told anyone. For me it was a getaway to sing, one of those things I didn't want anyone to screw up."

When he approached Fernan Martinez, who had earlier been his father's manager for nine years, Martinez had no idea what was coming. But when he heard Iglesias sing, Martinez knew he had something special. "He communicates," Martinez says. "He was so emotional, you could see him shaking. He expresses himself with his voice, his eyes--you see how much he believes in what he's singing."

Iglesias insisted, however, that Martinez get him signed without using his father's name. Several labels turned down the singer, whom Martinez presented as an unknown from Central America, but Guillermo Santiso, president of Los Angeles-based Fonovisa, liked the voice and the good-looking photograph.

From the beginning, the label tried to keep the focus off Iglesias' parentage, both at the young singer's insistence and out of fear that he would be dismissed as a novelty riding on his father's coattails. It was a justifiable concern. Even now people often assume that Iglesias' success is due at least in part to Julio.

"He loves his father, but he didn't want to be known as Julio's son," Martinez says. "He wanted to do it on his own. Because he thinks people will say, 'Oh, you got this because of your father.' "

Iglesias walked out of a New York radio interview when he was introduced as Julio's son, and he turned down an Oprah Winfrey show about "Sons of Famous Fathers." He quit school and signed the record contract without telling his parents; his father didn't find out until they were months into recording.

For Iglesias, this was a personal as well as a professional issue. "I've always been very independent. I don't need my dad's help. I never did. I really grew up by myself. So when it came to taking that big step, I just said, 'Well I can do it myself.' If it goes well, it goes well for me. If it goes badly, it would look even worse [if I had] my parents' help."

There have been rumors that Iglesias' success and insistence on going it alone have led to estrangement from his father, although publicly Julio (who was traveling and did not respond to several requests for comment for this story) has always said he is proud of his son's achievement.

"What has happened to him is sensational," he said of Enrique in a story last fall in the Miami Herald. "Parents hope for great things for their children, but how do you imagine such success?"

Their separation is partly a practical matter of father's and son's globe-hopping lives, but for the younger Iglesias it is also a matter of continuing to be independent. "I love my dad more than anything in this world, but when it comes to work we are so separated that it has affected us personally. My life right now is my music and my fans, and that does separate you whether you like it or not. I love doing things by myself. When I'm on tour and I look back at my band, I say, 'This is my band.' My outfit is my outfit, my manager is my manager, my career is my career. That's why I'm so separated from my father. When we get together, music is the last thing I want to talk about."

Perhaps because he recognizes the potential for tension there. "I was talking to my dad--this is why I don't like talking about music with him--and he said how much his album has sold. And I said, 'Dad, I know, but you know I'm really the Latino artist that sells the most albums now.' And he goes, 'No, I am.' And I told him, 'Dad, I triple your sales.' And he just stayed quiet. It was a funny conversation."

Long-limbed and 6 foot 2, Iglesias has the quick, blunt grace of an athlete, with an open, mercurial face that can shift instantaneously from darkly pensive to boyishly glowing. He is curious and impulsive, bursting with questions and opinions. One minute he seems much older than 22, the next like a disingenuous teenager. He wears jeans and T-shirts on stage and off. His genuineness is part of his appeal; he's the unaffected--though extraordinarily good-looking--boy next door that any girl could have a crush on.

"He's probably the nicest guy I know in the industry," says KLVE's Ferro. "He's genuinelynice. You can't say that about a lot of singers. He's very interested in other people--he's not me me me me me."

"He doesn't have the smugness and arrogance of a lot of Latin pop artists," observes Billboard's Lannert. "I don't think he's the Latin lover type. That's why he downplays his looks and tries to be the kid next door. I think he really just wants people to listen to his music."

Iglesias is keenly aware of the ego-expanding dangers of stardom. "If you took a 22-year-old kid and stuck them with all the attention I have now, it would screw up their head for sure." He shakes his head. "I do concerts where I see 50,000 people there just to see me. Just to see me sing. I never had it before but I saw it with my dad. But for someone that's never seen it, it can definitely get to you."

The female hysteria he inspires is particularly perplexing to him. He's only had one serious girlfriend, and this spring a screaming crowd of girls chased him through the streets of Venice. "It gives you a complex. I used to sit next to these girls at the university and I got rejected all the time--well, sometimes I didn't, but sometimes I did. And suddenly you never get rejected. You wake up in the morning, and you say, 'I'm still the same guy with the same defects.' It's really weird."

Especially since the teenage idealism with which he composed such hit songs as "Si Tu Te Vas" (If You Leave), at 16, and "Enamorado Por Primera Vez" (In Love for the First Time) at 18 still lingers with him. "I was young," Iglesias says. "But I think that's when love is most sincere and real. When you grow up and you're 24, 25, you change. Girls become a lot more aware of things that never mattered to them when they were 16, like if a guy has money and what kind of car he has. Love becomes not as sincere."

Iglesias is very conscious of the particularities of his position. Although some have seen a paternal, even Svengali aspect to Martinez's careful orchestration of Iglesias' career, it seems to be much more a partnership. Iglesias is knowledgeable about the music business and involved in all decisions.

He talks enthusiastically and authoritatively about the growth and quality of Latin music, which he says isn't getting the recognition it deserves, and which he thinks his own success is boosting. "Latino music is growing so much in the U.S. When a Latino singer can fill up an arena, and a lot of American singers can't . . . That's pretty cool."

A fan of '80s arena-rock bands such as Foreigner and Journey (his favorite album is Dire Straits' "Brothers in Arms"), he talks proudly about his show having the scale and production values of concerts by Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John, something not usually afforded Latino artists. (He also gets a thrill at having musicians who played with Joel and Springsteen now playing behind him.)

His own music mixes guitar heavy mainstream American pop rock with the extravagantly romantic lyrics of classic Latin balladry. Critical reaction has been mixed. In a Times review of "Vivir," Enrique Lopetegui complimented his songwriting, but dismissed the music as formulaic.

Reviews of his concerts have generally commended Iglesias' singing, charisma and down-to-earth quality, with caveats usually having to do with his inexperience or the commercial nature of his music. Yvette C. Doss, reviewing the Pond concert for The Times, cited his "effective manner and theatrics" and wrote, "Iglesias shows encouraging signs of being a quality singer."

As much as Iglesias' explosive success has allowed him to do what he loves, it has also put him under severe pressure, which can only be intensified by the shadow of his father's three-decade career. "It is a problem," Martinez says. "Since he came out he has been No. 1. He doesn't know what it's like to be No. 2 or No. 3, and he has to learn that."

Iglesias feels the pressure most intensely. By the second day of a vacation last year, he says, he was already worrying that "someone else is taking my spot." He knows this is irrational, but he can't help it. "People always forget--I don't care how big you are. You can't be No. 1 forever. I feel good about my career now, and so I want to make as much of it as I can. I compete against myself. Fernan told me, 'Your album has been out there for a year, it's normal that it goes down.' But it's hard. That's why I don't know if I could stop. What if I make an album next year and it doesn't sell? What if I do a concert and nobody comes?" He is momentarily silent. "That is really depressing."

"It's a hard call," says Billboard's Lannert. "When you start at the top, you can't go beyond that--you can only try to stay there. He has a really good chance of having a long career, but all the ingredients have to be there. He's burning so brightly and so quickly, how do you keep the flame? You have to wonder where you go from here."

Still, the same desire that makes Iglesias vulnerable to anxiety is what kept him singing in secret all those years, and what is keeping him going now. "I'm thinking about music, stuff I want to write. It's hard to say--but my big album musically is still not here." He wants to do an album in English, but says he's not ready yet. "I'm too young to sing in English. For that I have to take even fewer showers. I have to be more real. To have lived more. It's not my age--I just have to live more."

*

* Enrique Iglesias appears on Friday at the Forum, 3900 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood. 8 p.m. $12.50-$37.50. (310) 419-3100. Also next Sunday at Fantasy Springs Casino, 84-245 Indio Springs Drive, Indio. 7 p.m. $25-$37.50. (619) 342-5000.

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