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Chicago Tribune

Young Latinos Get More Chances To Shine

By Sandra Barrera, Los Angeles Daily News.

20 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved.

On a Sunday morning in Burbank, Calif., Gina Cano, a 28-year-old from Toluca Lake, walks into NBC Studios and serenades Emilio Estefan with a wistful song about Cuba.

"I know this sounds crazy, but I think I saw a glimmer in his eyes," she says following her 30-second performance of "Mi Tierra." That "glimmer" could be from the fact that the song she sang was written by his wife, singer Gloria Estefan. Or it could be dollar signs.

Cano is auditioning for "Nuevas Voces de America," a sort of "American Idol" en espanol that premieres on the Telemundo network in February.

Target marketing

The series is at the crest of a new wave of music programming aimed at and employing Latino teens and twentysomethings. Although Cano is older than the target age of 14 to 24, she is emblematic of the emerging diversity of niches in the U.S. entertainment ecosystem now blooming: reggaeton, urban regional, bilingual music channels such as LATV and Mun2, and big-budget variety shows such as "Nuevas Voces de America."

To a lot of people who control the purse strings in the industry, this is the future.

In recent years, more impresarios such as Estefan and a growing army of marketing whizzes have been trying to appeal to this demographic through programs such as "Nuevas Voces." The series was created as a promotional vehicle to help drive the lackluster record industry back to somewhere near relevant.

"I don't see a lot of record companies releasing a lot of new artists, and I think that's a problem," Estefan says, referring to the tendency for labels to stick with tried-and-true talent, even if they no longer are selling what they used to. "By creating this show, they have to release new faces, because this is going to be a big show ... and it's going to be very young, very MTV, very cutting edge."

Estefan's series will spotlight 20 pop-star hopefuls he has yet to handpick from auditions held throughout the U.S., including Puerto Rico. Finalists compete for a $250,000 record contract with a label -- also yet to be named -- while undergoing boot camp in preparation for an image-obsessed American audience.

The interest in the young Latino market has already spawned a handful of new programs and promises more, which is good news for the would-be artists.

Doors opening

"I think it's great that there's so many opportunities for Latin pop singers trying to make it in the world," says Elizabeth Cano, 19, the sister of Gina Cano.

She recently came from auditions for another talent search called "Objectivo: Fama," set to air on Univision. On that show, winners get a deal with the TV network's own record label. However, not all of these new, reality-based music shows are competitions. Elsewhere on TV there's "La Familia Perfecta," a documentary about a day in the life of five recording artists in the making. The series premieres on the Mun2 network in March.

"I hate calling this a reality series, because there's very few reality series that are this real," says Yolanda Foster, vice president of programming for Mun2, the Telemundo cable network for young bilingual Latinos launched in 2001.

That network, one of the pioneers in tapping the market, provides a variety of programming, from music to shows about car culture, extreme sports and celebrities, as well as documentary series.


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