Taken from the "Day and Night" supplement in the Irish Independent.
~ Enrique Iglesias is surprisingly normal. Well, as normal as anyone with a legendary dad, killer Latin looks, 7 million selling albums and a girlfriend to die for. He talks to Paul Whitington.
Whatever you do, I repeat to myself as I head towards the uber-posh hotel room and my appointment with Enrique, don't mention tennis (he's supposed to be going out with Anna Kournikova at the minute and she's just given it up). And don't mention his dad (hairy chested 1970s heart throb Julio), he's very touchy about that apparently. And don't mention the mole he just got zapped off his kisser either (he lives in Miami and was worried about skin cancer, or at least that's what it says on the internet, so it must be right).
In fact, as I pad along the shagpile carpet, I am confronted by a minefield of subjects the very mention of which could bring our interview to an instant, huffy end. I mean that's what all pop stars are like, isn't it? My head is full of fabulous stories of mad pop divas who travel in huge entourages and change hotels if there's a crease in the pillow case and have conniptions if they even see a trace of yellow in their bowl of M&Ms. And the problem is, if I can't mention all of the above, what the hell am I going to talk to young Master Iglesias about? His new album? This could go horribly wrong.
When I am ushered into the presence, however, my expectations are totally confounded. For instead of a wild-eyed, huffy pop prince, I am confronted with a polite, rather shy and totally unassuming young man. Enrique is tall (it said he was 6'2" on the internet and for once the internet speaks the truth) and lean and dressed down in a t-shirt, jeans sneakers and a large blue baseball cap. "You want a beer or something?" he asks after standing up to shake my hand. I'm so taken aback by his manners that I think I do.
Even I, a mere man, can appreciate his striking Latin looks. His dark eyes look eerily familiar, but they're the only aspect of Enrique's famous face that remind me of his dad. He smiles and puts his feet up on the coffee table as I ask him how many TV, radio and print interviews he;s done in the last few days, and one gets the distinct impression that he tolerates the spotlight rather than revels in it, but at no time in our intervies does he betray the slightest sign of impatience of boredom. He even thanks me for "having come all the way over" to see him!
To the Anglophone world he's a relative newcomer who arrived with a splash a few years back with that duet with Whitney about kissing and string of huge American and international hits like "Hero" and "Escape". To the Hispanic world, however, he's been a huge start since 1996. His new album, "Seven", is so called because it's his 7th album, an not his second, as many would think. In fact, by the time his "breakthrough" English album "Escape" was released in 2002, he's already sold 20 million CDs.
"The Spanish market in America is huge," he explains, " I mean there's 39 million Spanish speaking people in the US - and that's legal! There's probably about the same again that don't have visas. And in a lot of the big cities, like Miami, NY and LA, the number one stations are in Spanish, which is pretty crazy when you think about it." All of which means that you can become a huge, million selling artist without Anglophone America ever hearing of you, - and that's exactly what happened to Enrique.
Born in Madrid on May 8, 1975, Enrique arrived just in time to witness the peak of his crooning father's huge international success in the late 1970s. When he was 8, however, the Iglesias children decamped with their dad to the US following the kidnapping of Enrique's grandfather by the Basque separist griup, ETA. He grew up in Miami, and though he says that he still feels "100% Spanish", his influences were very much those of the average American high school student. "Spanish was my first language," he says, "but I didn't listen to Latino music when I was growing up - I liked Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen."
He started writing at 14. "It was poetry at the first, he says, "but they kind of always had a melody." He write his first song at 16, and developed an intense ambition to make it as a singer and songwriter. Most young men in Enrique's position would have traded on the family name, but he had other ideas. When he made his first demo, while attending college, he sent it out under an assumed name so no one would know who he was.
"I guess I wanted what I did to be different", he explains. "I mean I didn't think it would be too much of a problem because there was such a gap in generation, but I knew it would attract attention from the media, and I also knew that who I was would take away some of the credit for what I produced. So what I did was I just sent out some demos with my name and some without my name, just to see. And it's funhny because at the end of the day it didn't make any difference - the ones that liked it liked it and the ones that didn't didn't, with or without the name.
All of this hectic musical activity had been carried on withour his parents' knowledge and when he broke the new to them that not only had he been secretly recording songs, but also had landed himself a recording contract at the age of 19, they were more than a little stunned. "They were annoyed, dazzled and confused," he says. His father never encouraged him in the direction of music - "on the contrary," he says - and "thought I was crazy when I said I was going to quit college, but this might be the chance of a lifetime. Sometimes the door only opens once, so I might as well take the chance."
He did and his first album was released in 1996. By the end of that year it had sold over a million copies, and by the age of 21 Enrique had been #1 in the Spanish charts, appeared on the "David Letterman Sow" and won himself a Grammy. The sudden success must have been overwhelming. " It didn't feel all that sudden to me," he says. "This was what I had wanted to do since I was 14 , and I didn't do my first album till I was 19, so for me it, the whole procees, seemed never-ending - I though I was never going to get there!"
Writing most of his own songs, he released another album in 1997 and soon his records were selling 5 and 6 million copies, which, as he says, was "unheard of" in the Spanish scene. A 3rd album followed, but by the year 2000, he had arrived at "a point in my career where I felt stuck. I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but i felyt like had done everything I could in Spanish, and I though the next step was to try recording in English."
The result was "Escape", which sold over 7 million copies and propelled him to a whoke new level of success and fame. Now he's a household name in middle America - and mother other places come to think of it, and has achieved sales his father could only dream about. Was all that sudden attention difficult?
It wasn't difficult," he drawls " it was funny. There are times when it does bother you - I mean if you wake up in the morning and you have a paparazzi hanging fomr the tree outside your window, it can get to you, but you know I think that's a small price to pay for what you get back."
And speaking of paparazzi, I venture, all brave all of a sudden, what about Anna? He confirms that they're still together and smiles broadly the way happy men do, but otherwise says no more, so I don't not press the poor man any further. Since "Escape" his start has rocketted, and he's even indulged in a spot of acting. With refreshing honesty, he describes himself as "definitely" not the greatest actor in the world" but has nonetheless appeared in a cameo role alongside Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek and Johnny Depp in "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" , and sats he enjoyed it. " It was great fun, and Robert [Rodriguez, the director] is a really nice guy.So yeah, I'd like to do more, as long as they were small roles that don't demand a lot of responsibility."
He quells a persistent internet rumor that he's due to make an appearance in "Sex and the City", "I don't know where that one came from - everybody's asking me that today."
For the moment, though, music is the day job and "Seven" is another showcase for a siniging and songwriting talent that's hard to dismiss. He will be touring next year, and wants to return to Ireland. In fact it turns out that Enrique's very keen on Ireland. He played a sell-out at the RDS a few years back and remembers the evening fondly. "Man, the crowd in Ireland, it was just sick,man," he says and I should point out here that he means sick in a good sense. "They're unbelievable - they just sing every song at the top of their lungs." I explain to him how we're fond of the old singing.
"You know," he says " I wanted to do a live CD and I really wanted to do it in Ireland. Maybe I'll do it on the next tour......" So get your high notes ready everyone.
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