Q&A: Chayanne

Excerpted from the magazine for

After a 20-year career and 12 studio albums, Puerto Rican singer Chayanne is one of the undisputed icons of Latin pop.

Often referred to as a heartthrob, Chayanne is much more.

He is a relentless performer whose last world tour spanned more than a year with 110 dates in 26 countries. He is a success at retail and radio, scoring eight No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart.

He is also a successful actor who has appeared in film and TV with the likes of Calista Flockhart and Vanessa Williams. And he has been featured in countless advertising campaigns for such products as Pepsi and Dentyne.

"Chayanne genuinely represents the best of Latin entertainment," Frank Welzer, chairman/CEO for the Latin region at Sony BMG, told Billboard last year. "He is the ultimate performer who can sing, dance and act equally well, and he's one of the best-looking people on the planet. He also happens to be a joy to work with and one of the nicest people I know."

Between working on his upcoming studio album for Sony BMG and promoting his current set, a compilation of romantic material titled "Desde Siempre," Chayanne sat down for a live interview during the recent Billboard Latin Music Conference. Here are highlights from that session:

Q. During your "Provócame" tour 12 years ago, you played in 12 countries. Last year, you went to 26. Did you ever think you would come so far?

A. Three weeks ago, I went to Australia for the first time. And it's one of those countries we do little by little. When I did "Provócame," I went to Argentina and Spain for the first time, and now these are countries where I play 12-15 shows at a time. When I did those 12 countries, I thought, "Now what am I going to do next? What am I going to make up?" And I'm telling you, every tour, every album is about looking for new things and creating an illusion. That's why I'm still in the business. When I stop feeling that, it's time to take other decisions.

Q. You began your career with Los Chicos, an all-boy band in Puerto Rico. How did that come about?

A. It was an accident. We've always had music in our home, going back to my grandparents, playing instruments, living the folklore of Puerto Rico, the traditions, where [at] Christmas you played guitar, cuatro, shakers.

We all lived that since we were very small. I played percussion, but my sister was the one who sang and danced. She was going to be in a group made up of three girls and four boys. But they were college-age, so that fell through. And because I was the one who was always with my sister —- I was her chaperone —- they asked me to be part of a group of boys.

I was around 10 years old. And they called it Los Chicos because we were all boys [chicos], 10 and 11 years old. I did my first album with them when I was 10, my first movie when I was 12.

Q. Did Los Chicos serve as the basis for much of what you do today?

A. If we were rehearsing for the tour, it was at least four hours of dancing and singing. Create the steps, memorize them, repeat and repeat. That was my schooling. I now go to Los Angeles to choose my dancers—even though my band is here [in Miami]—and to create the steps.

I try to choose dancers who understand Latin rhythms along with urban and pop choreography. We rehearse at least eight hours a day . . . Having started with Los Chicos unconsciously taught me many things. It was a game! When you're 10 or 11 and you perform in stadiums in Costa Rica or Guatemala, you're playing that you're in a helicopter, and there are 30,000 people, and it's not a soccer game but your concert.

Q. Obviously, it's very difficult to go solo after being in a boy band. Were you very clear that you wanted to be a solo act?

A. I knew I wanted to continue in music. And I kept studying. I took vocal lessons, dance lessons, I went to the gym —- I've been lifting weights since I was 14, even if it doesn't show! And I prepared for the opportunity. And I was lucky that the opportunity came nine months later in Mexico, with someone who was marvelous with me: Fernando Hernández, then president of Ariola [Records].

Ariola had huge income. I know! [laughs] They had Juan Gabriel, Rocío Jurado, José Jose. They had a marvelous catalog, and it was the first time they began with a new artist—relatively speaking.

Q. How did Chayanne become your nickname?

A. They wanted to change it when I did films, because they said I would never be successful in film with that name —- because it was one name. They wanted to see two names, and Chayanne Figueroa didn't cut it. My mom gave me the name. [My family] lived in New York and watched a TV series called "Cheyenne." And she liked the series and the character, and when I was born, she started calling me Chayanne. My real name is different [Elmer]. Actually, I'm getting to like it now.

Q. Today's labels talk about signing singer/songwriters. You don't write. Why not?

A. I don't write a big percentage of my material because I've dedicated my time to my music and the show. I try to have my writers know me —- not only through my career but also personally. And you don't have to sing only what you write. There is so much talent, you can sing other people's songs and identify with them and give them total heart.

Q. What should we expect from the upcoming album?

A. Right now we're listening to new songs, working with new writers. It's more about having them get to know me ... Talk with me, feel what I am today, and then we'll work together.

Excerpted from the May 14, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to subscribers.

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