He's sung high-profile duets with Puerto Rican merengue queen Olga Tañón and pop princess Christina Aguilera. He's been part of a boy band with future 'NSYNCer Joey Fatone. But it's been on his own that Luis Fonsi has made it to #1. In Venezuela.
"Imagíne Sin Tí" (Imagine Me Without You) (RealAudio excerpt), a single from the Florida-based singer's second album, Eterno, has been jockeying with Aguilera's "Come On Over" for the top spot on Venezuela's pop chart for several weeks. That success, along with a five-night, sold-out stand at the Centro de Bellas Artes in his native Puerto Rico, would seem to justify Fonsi's decision to sign with a Latin-music label (Universal Latin) a few years back.
"Right now, I'm in Venezuela and it's number one on the charts here. And it's just good to travel everywhere and see the reaction of the people," Fonsi said from Caracas.
"People are like, 'Wow, it's a different sound. It's something new; we like it. It's a mix between the pop stuff, the choreography, the dancing and then when you pop in front of a mic and just sing a really powerful ballad.'"
Fonsi's one-man boy-band act, in which he also plays guitar and piano, recalls his beginnings in an Orlando high school vocal group called the Big Guys. However, unlike fellow Big Guy Joey Fatone, who quickly hit the big time in 'NSYNC, and Puerto Rican salsa/R&B/pop quartet Son by Four, Fonsi ended up on his own.
"I'm going to be real honest," Fonsi said. "I never saw myself as a solo artist. I sang in a group for four years, and you just kind of get used to it. You don't really think about being by yourself."
Upon graduating from high school, Fonsi decided, "I'm going to get prepared. I'm going to get my music degree. Still I thought, maybe I'll meet some guys in college and start a group."
At Florida State University, "I got into producing and writing," Fonsi said, "and I said, 'Let me just give it a try and see what happens.' And that's when I got my big break with Universal."
As well as forgoing the boy-band trend, Fonsi, who spent the first half of his 22 years in Puerto Rico, made the decision to sing in Spanish.
"Back then, none of this Latin boom was even around the corner. But I don't regret it," he said. "I'm happy with what turned out with my Latin career. And hopefully, pretty soon I'll have my break in the North American industry."
Fonsi, whose recording career commenced with 1998's Comenzare, is poised for just such a break. "Imagíname Sin Tí" was briefly #1 on the Billboard Hot Latin Tracks survey, and his Wednesday (January 3) performance during halftime of the Orange Bowl, the college-football championship game, gives him his biggest platform ever.
Eterno, produced by Latin ace Rudy Perez ("He's a monster," Fonsi said approvingly), gives the singer a solid foundation for wide success. The album includes songs by boy-band hitmakers Veit Renn and Jolyon Skinner, including "Déjame o Dame Amor," reprised in English as "Love Me or Let Me Go," and one by the ubiquitous Diane Warren, "Show Me the Way Back to Your Heart," translated by producer Perez as "Dime Como Vuelvo a Tener Tu Corazón" (RealAudio excerpt).
The album also includes "Mi Sueño" (My Dream), the composing debut for Fonsi, who earned a music degree at FSU.
"I was involved with every single arrangement. I mean, everything from the background vocalists to the instrumentations, the musicians. I got to work with a lot of great guitarists, which is my instrument," Fonsi said.
"I was there day and night. And even if I wasn't working, I was just there for the learning side of it."
Fonsi sees producing in his future, with one of his dream clients being Christina Aguilera. While Fonsi was not the first choice (that would've been Spanish pop sensation Alejandro Sanz) to sing on "Si No Te Hubiera Conocido" (If I Hadn't Known You), included on Aguilera's Perez-produced Mi Reflejo, she was his.
"She's amazing. I don't think anybody could argue with that," Fonsi said. "If you were to have asked me a month before we did that, 'Who would you like to sing with, if you could pick an artist?,' I would have said Christina Aguilera, believe it or not.
"She's young, she is extremely talented; she's got a great vocal range, a great control of her voice. She knows her instrument very well."