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Chayanne: Scandalously Nice Guy


April 2, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

Chayanne may be a sex symbol, but he's a nice sex symbol who loves his wife.

Witness the case against Latin pop superstar and mega-hunk Chayanne, charged with blatantly and recklessly violating basic celebrity rules of conduct.

Allegation #1: Defendant leads scandal-free life in Miami, where batallions of gossip journalists track celebrities, reporting on their slightest indiscretion (real or fabricated).

Allegation #2: He is a sex symbol, having starred in Latin American soap operas, posed for Playgirl Magazine (though not naked) and played romantic lead opposite Vanessa Williams in a Hollywood movie yet, although his looks melt women's hearts, the ones who melt his heart are his wife and two children, ages 3 and 6.

Allegation #3: Famous since age 10, he avoided the hell many former child stars end up in by their mid-30s: a divorce lawyer on speed dial, gold membership in a rehab facility and a ruined career.

Allegation #4: He has a reputation for treating everybody -- from fans seeking autographs to his staffers -- with respect, warmth and consideration. This despite earning prima donna rights through a stellar 25-year career in Latin pop, including millions of albums sold, consistent critical praise (including several Grammy nominations) and numerous radio hits.

Asked to defend himself, the accused former child star blames his parents.

''Whenever I got back from a concert or a trip, I rejoined my family's life, as opposed to them adapting themselves to my world,'' says the 35-year old singer. ''That always made me feel that I was coming back to reality.'' Open and shut case. Guilty as charged.

For the first 10 years of his life, Elmer Figueroa Arce led a conventional life in San Lorenzo -- a town southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico -- with his four siblings and his mother, a teacher, and his father, a distribution manager.

Life turned unconventional when he joined the Puerto Rican boy band Los Chicos (The Boys). ''I traveled with three suitcases: one was for my Atari video console, one was for my school books and one was for my clothes,'' he says laughing of the many times when the band would perform abroad.

Chayanne went solo while still a teenager and, despite his modest vocal range, reached colossal levels of international fame in the late 1980s and early 1990s, thanks to his knack for recording catchy songs, his ability to do justice to both ballads and up-tempo tunes and, most importantly, his electrifying live presentations, a showcase for his considerable dancing talents.

His career lost momentum in the mid-1990s when he and his then manager had a disruptive split, but Chayanne came back with a vengeance with the appropriately titled Volver a nacer (To be born again) in 1996 and he hasn't looked back.

His latest album, last year's Sincero, (Sony Norte) has generated chart-burning hits, earned a Grammy nomination and triggered a massive tour that began in early March in South America and will run through at least October. Press dispatches from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile so far describe his shows there as enthralling. The tour stops in Miami on today at the Miami Arena. Fans can expect new choreographies and soft-rock arrangaments that are edgier than his traditional pop sound, he says.

Following this tour, he wants to take on an acting project in the United States. After starring with Vanessa Williams in the 1998 movie Dance with Me and appearing on the TV show Ally McBeal in 2001, he regularly gets offers for Hollywood movies and U.S. network shows. (Work commitments forced him to turn down appearances in the The Sopranos and Sex and the City, and in the movies Havana Nights and Bad Boys 2.) Also in his plans is a much delayed crossover into the Anglo pop music market.

In the meantime, the current tour is bittersweet because it forces him to be away from home. ''That's the difficult part of the career,'' he says during a break in rehearsals for the tour, which began a few days after this interview. ``My heart is breaking.''

Skeptics might argue that Chayanne's squeaky-clean, good-boy image could be a fabrication. However, after one has observed him throughout the years in unscripted situations -- autograph signing sessions, rehearsals, sit-down interviews -- it's hard to think he might be putting on an act.

José Negroni, creative director of Sony Norte Publishing, and leader of the jazz group Negroni's Trio, pinch-hit for Chayanne's regular keyboardist in a New York gig last year. ''He made me feel right at home,'' Negroni says. ``All his staffers seemed happy. It was a real harmonious environment.''

His manager Patricia Bolívar, who has known him for about 15 years, says: ``On and off the stage he's always the same person: down-to-earth, unassuming, a friend to his friends.''

''This isn't an act. This is how I am,'' he says. ``I'm very low key. I love my family. I'm with them whenever I'm not working.''

This extends to his staff, especially during tours. ''I want everybody to be fine because being on the road for so many months isn't easy. If one of them has a problem, I make a beeline towards that person, to find out what's wrong, what happened. I see them all as my family,'' he says. ``I say that from my heart.''

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