Juan Gabriel Steals Show, Calle 13 Sweep Latin Grammys
Juan Gabriel Steals Show, Calle 13 Sweep Latin Grammys

Juan Gabriel was the big star of the 10th annual Latin Grammy Awards, which aired live on the Univision network from Las Vegas' Mandalay Bay Events Center yesterday (Nov. 5). The fabled composer and showman extraordinaire, who performed live for at least 40 minutes -- an unprecedented occurrence for a live awards show -- was feted as the Latin Academy's 2009 Person of the year.

Gabriel strutted on and off stage, walking among audience members, who stayed solidly on their feet past the end of the show -- which went several minutes past its three-hour duration to accommodate Juan Gabriel's performance. In the end, it was hard to determine if this was an award show or a live Juan Gabriel show. Although ratings were not immediately available, the presumption was that minute by minute ratings were strong to justify the show going over its announced three-hour duration by more than 25 minutes.

At 11:23 p.m., when Gabriel finally finished singing his set of more than seven songs, after his mariachi band danced and after he cavorted with the audience, urban duo Calle 13 was finally announced as the winner of the album of the year award.

Calle 13, which led nominations for the 10th annual Latin Grammys, took home five Latin Grammys. Those included album of the year and best urban music album for "Los de Atrás Vienen Conmigo" (Sony Latin), best short form video for "La Perla" and record of the year and best alternative song for "No Hay Nadie Como Tú," a track with Mexican alternative group Cafe Tacuba.

"First of all, a big round of applause for Juan Gabriel," said René Pérez, one half of Calle 13, before dedicating the award to the late Mercedes Sosa. The grand finale of the show, a rousing performance (as usual from her) by Brazilian Daniela Mercury, took place at 11:30, three and a half hours into the show.

Other winners in the major categories included newcomer Alexander Acha, son of crooner Emmanuel, who was the best-known name among the best new artist nominees and took home the award. The song of the year nod went to the hit "Aquí Estoy Yo," from Luis Fonsi's album "Palabras del Silencio" and penned by Fonsi, Claudia Brant and Gen Rubin.

Perhaps with the exception of Mexican trio Reik, who bested La Quinta Estación to win the Grammy for best pop album by a duo or group with vocal for "Un Dia Más" (Sony), there were few surprise wins in an evening of musical performances peppered with comedy sketches and Vegas flash.

Pausini, who won the Latin Grammy for the best female pop vocal album for "Primavera Anticipada" (Warner), opened up the show singing her hit "En Cambio No" with acrobatic group Le Rêve performing in the background.

Calle 13 performed their single "La Perla" with Ruben Blades and Cirque Su Soleil's Mystère. Alejandro Sanz performed his new single with artist Alicia Keys, and, perhaps most encouraging, David Bisbal, a former best new artist winner, performed alongside best new artist nominee Luz Ríos in a rare show of support from established to new artists.

Aside from Gabriel, long performances were the norm, with Pepe Aguilar and Shaila Dúrcal performing overly-long medleys, but with Gilberto Santa Rosa and Oscar D'León jamming in a rousing salsa performance with great improvisations.

Apart from Calle 13, other multiple winners of the evening included Nicaraguan salsero Luis Enrique. The singer's hit "Yo No Sé Mañana" (I Don't Know Tomorrow), penned by Jorge Luis Piloto and Jorge Villamizar, won the Latin Grammy for best tropical song. The track is the first single off Luis Enrique's album "Ciclos" (Top Spot Music), which won the best salsa album Grammy and has effectively jump-started Luis Enrique's career after years without a hit.

"Luis was looking for a concept within tropical music that was more of a singer/songwriter concept," explained Piloto, who has previously written for Luis Enrique. The song, he said, was tailor-made for Luis Enrique, who chose it based on a rough demo that featured only Piloto and Villamizar on guitars.

"It's a singer/songwriter song that practically proposes a philosophy of life," said Luis Enrique. "The idea was to make people think, and dance."

Likewise, Mexican rock group Jaguares won the Latin Grammy for best rock album by a duo or group with vocal for "45" (EMI Music Mexico) while frontman Saul Hernández won best rock song for "Entre Tus Jardines," a track he penned for his wife Julia.

Brazil's Caetano Veloso won two Latin Grammys, for best singer/songwriter album for "Zii e Zie" (Mercury Records/Universal) and for best long form music video with Roberto Carlos for "E a Musica de Tom Jobim."

If the Latin Grammy stage was lively, the press room-for a change-was equally so. Several artists, including Pausini, Bisbal and Gilberto Santa Rosa spontaneously sang for reporters, with Bisbal apologizing to Grammy personnel wanting to move things along.

"I'm sorry, it's my time, you know?" he apologized with a smile.

Also in the press room, Enrique Iglesias, who wasn't nominated but was there to introduce Person of the Year Juan Gabriel, provided the most amusing repartee.

"It's my first time at the Latin Grammys," he said. "I didn't even know I was a member. I'm going to start voting for myself to see if I finally win."