May 8, 2009

The Mercado Report: Idol Iraheta could be the next Latino Diva

By Humberto Caspa

I have a confession to make. Like millions of Americans, I’m hooked on Fox’s reality show American Idol. I’m not yet one of those maniac TV viewers who ponders when the show is over. I haven’t counted impatiently the days, hours, and minutes before host Ryan Seacrest starts a new show the following week.

Instead of sending out my vote to save my favorite contestant, I’m more interested in who is more likely to shake up the market beyond Hollywood’s glamour and economic boundaries.

This season is almost obvious that current idol king, David Cook, will pass the torch on to Adam Lambert, even though the two female judges, Kara Dio Guardi and Paula Abdul, are cajoling people to vote for Allison Iraheta and soccer moms are crossing fingers for all-American good boy Danny Goky.

When push comes to shove, neither the judges nor the baby-boomers determine the outcome of the Idol game. Teens and young adults do, and they are more likely to vote, and deservedly so, for Lambert. He is a quite bizarre guy, but also has proven to be a unique performer, and is equipped with the most formidable pipes of the season. He can rock, sing R&Bs and even do Lambada in a mixed Bolivian-Brazilian style.

All seems to suggest, like previous Idol winners, Lambert will pocket a fat check after one or two hit songs. I have doubts, however, that his success will reach out other none mainstream markets and his music will be able to appeal to those markets south of the border. So far no idol king has conquered –in a way Madonna or Michael Jackson or Shakira did— the Latino market. Lambert has the pipes, a bonita face, but not a Latin soul.

As we all know there are 14 million people of Latino descent in the United States; that’s close to 15% of the total population. Latin America alone has half a billion people in various countries. Most of them speak Spanish, many do Portuguese, and some speak English and French. Last year alone, Aventura, a soothing R&B-bachata band from Puerto Rico, enabled to grab a tiny fraction of the Latino market, turning its latest song “Mi corazoncito” into a piece of gold. The group sold more than 4 million copies across the U.S. and Latin America.

The Latino market in the U.S. is up for grabs. Some stars like Vicente Fernandez and Juan Gabriel have remained loyal to their style and language, concentrating exclusively on the Spanish-speaking population. But others like Colombian diva Shakira and Puerto Rico heartthrob Ricky Martin chose to crossover to mainstream America and made fortunes as a result.

American Idol contestant Allison Iraheta can do the same. By all measures, she is unlikely to win the 2009 contest. Nonetheless, she is potentially the next Latina diva, someone who can perhaps awaken the spirit of Selena, and revive Rock en español. Selena didn’t speak Spanish well. Yet she started out her stellar career in the Spanish world and from there she made a huge leap to mainstream America right before her unfortunate death.

Selena has set a big precedent for U.S.-Latino artists. Iraheta is uniquely positioned to conquer both mainstream America and the Latino market. She already has name recognition, possesses a unique funky style and great pipes. Her face even resembles the famous Bratz doll, favorite among Latino children. Iraheta is the reason why I’m so hooked on Fox’s reality show. Poor me.

Update: Allison Iraheta was voted off the show this past Wednesday.

Return to the Frontpage