For the past few years, very few people shamelessly announced to the universe that American Idol was TiVod weekly. However, last year, during the 2005 American Idol semifinals, a then-unknown Mario Vazquez coaxed the closet fans to emerge from hiding.
With curly hair, pensive eyes and a voice as smooth as caramel, Mario was undoubtedly going to soar to the top. And he did just that, reaching the Top 12 with flawless performances – but when America met their Top 12, Mario Vazquez was missing. Speculations circulated as to why he vanished, but there was no clear answer at the time. That season of American Idol resulted in Carrie Underwoods victory, but she wasnt the only one granted a recording contract.
After one audition with Clive Davis, Mario Vazquez met his destiny and signed a record deal with J/Arista Records. Since then, hes been perfecting his debut album, slated for release this Summer. The project boasts production from the likes of Scott Storch and the reggaetón power twins Luny Tunes, and his first single Gallery is already making waves with eager fans.
Mario sat down with us recently to recount the time following his departure from American Idol and his progress on the new album. He also discussed his work singing backup on the song Whatever Happens for Michael Jacksons 2001 Invincible album. You didnt know? Read on
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Can you describe the series of events that followed your decision to leave the American Idol Top 12?
Mario Vazquez: Once I left Idol, there was a media storm that pounced on my front steps and I just did a lot of interviews and stuff. There were a lot of rumors about why Id left the show. I was approached by J Records, which was actually one of the last labels to approach me, and I was offered to audition for Clive Davis. So I auditioned for him the day after Carrie Underwood, who was the winner of my season, was crowned American Idol. The next day I was in [Clive Davis] office auditioning for him, and got signed the next day after.
Ever since then Ive been recording my album. Ive been in and out of the studio from Atlanta, Miami, Puerto Rico, L.A. and New York City. Right now Im in Atlanta sweeping up the remainder of the album, and were gonna set to release August 29th. We just premiered our video for Gallery on TRL, and right now Im on a radio promo tour for Gallery. So yeah Ive been pretty busy!
AHHA: It sounds like it! Did you have any reservations signing with J, being the only Latin male artist?
Mario: Not at all. That was the great thing about it. I think its much better, because they can focus more on one instead of ten artists who are Latino and in the genre Im in. I feel very free artistically at this label because theyre not trying to put me in this box. Thats something that I considered when I left the show as well. My art is very important, and I dont want anyone to dictate anything else.
AHHA: Growing up, who were your influences?
Mario: I have so many influences. From all the doo wop, the Stylistics, the Teenagers, from Prince to Michael Jackson from Mary J. Blige, everybody. Im a kid from the radio. I loved everything under the sun. I always say Im a sucker for a melody, because Im a true singer at heart. Anything I feel, I just start singing. Im so glad I was exposed to that earlier on from my family because not too many people are exposed to Motown, doo wop, or even the old Latin Jazz classics like Eddie Palmieri stuff like that. Im pretty fortunate.
AHHA: How was your family growing up in terms of nurturing your craft?
Mario: My family theyre the ones who started it off. They gave me the bug. My mothers a singer, my uncles and all of my aunts are musicians and singers as well so theyve always been involved in the arts.
AHHA: So youre from quite a musical family.
Mario: Yeah, definitely the Vazquez genes. [laughs]
AHHA: You mentioned Michael Jackson as one of your influences. What was it like working with him when you were younger?
Mario: It was great. No one is like Michael Jackson. No one. At one point, once I finished the session with him, I actually took a little hiatus because it felt like a big dream of mine had come working with him. But then, you know, reality kicked in and I had to move on. But it was definitely a major opportunity in my career a big highlight.
AHHA: Well we all know Michael Jackson has the ability to sing and dance on stage, and I know youre the same way. How do you manage to combine all the dancing with the singing in your performances?
Mario: I think it just comes naturally. Were Latino, were always dancing and singing and talking and moving. I dont know, its something Ive always liked and something Ive always admired in videos and performances. I think if youre going to be an entertainer, do it right. If it means having dancers, background singers to make your show bigger, fine. Youre there to entertain your audience. And Im definitely into doing that – I was born to do what I do!
AHHA: You had a huge fan base during Idol and Im sure theyve carried over to now. Has anything crazy happened to you yet?
Mario: Well not what I would consider crazy. Like on the MySpace pages and stuff – there have been some kinds of weirdos. [laughs].I know they like to cut little pictures and do montages and stuff, but nothing too crazy. The fans have been very positive, and Im so happy that I can still have fans from Idol who are supporting me and waiting for the record. I really appreciate that.
AHHA: I read somewhere that before the music [was] poetry.
Mario: I was always involved in music first and foremost but I think you might mean storytelling. I used to be a champ at that. I won like state finals and championships. [laughs] I think thats why I lost my accent. A lot of people tell me I dont necessarily have a New York accent. I blame that on the whole storytelling competitions I was involved in. People are like, Wow youre the whitest puertorriqueño I ever met! Im like, Damn. Thanks. Ive been getting that like, Damn, youre Latino? Im like, Yeah Im Latino. What do I have to speak like that [heavy Spanish accent]?
AHHA: Growing up in New York, were you involved in the Hip-Hop culture?
Mario: Yeah, you know, around my way I wasnt heavily into it. I leave that to my middle brother, he was involved with everyone on the block. There were times coming back from school, theyd be breakin at the end of my block, so that was always the highlight of school was seeing the b-boys do their thing. I was actually more involved in Freestyle, but later on I started getting more into Hip-Hop. Right now on the album, Im actually getting to work with a few R&B/Hip-Hop artists and Scott Storch. Were definitely getting that Hip-Hop influence on the album.
AHHA: What can we expect from the album?
Mario: You can expect everything from this album: Hip-Hop, pop, R&B, Im experimenting with reggaetón. Im fortunate enough to be able to do the album like this being a new artist. Its pretty hard to market an album, when youre coming from all of these different genres, but I feel like Ive definitely succeeded in doing that with this record. Its about having the right producers, the right lyricists to work with. Ive been pretty fortunate.
AHHA: So you have reggaetón on the album.
Mario: Yeah were actually working with Luny Tunes on a few tracks. Nothing is confirmed as of yet, but weve worked with Luny Tunes and Lester Mendez as well. And Scott Storch has actually been doing some reggaetón! Its kind of more of a breakdown type of thing. And were working with this brand new rap artist named Knox; hes Latino, and hes doing his thing on the track. I also have one song featuring Akon, I recorded here in Atlanta with kind of an Atlanta-based sound. We have Alicia Keys singing background on one of the songs; the last song I performed on Idol called How Can You Mend A Broken Heart; got Krucial Keys producing it. Its working out really well.
AHHA: You have a remix to Gallery featuring Baby Bash.
Mario: There is a remix featuring Baby Bash, which is actually what we recorded for the video, so he has a cameo in there. We had a lot of fun doing that. It was hot. Its a whole mixn match thing, which I love. It keeps things fresh.
AHHA: Whats currently in rotation on your iPod?
Mario: Lets see: M.I.A, Esthero. I love Esthero. Shes one of my great artists on my iPod. Plus, just a bunch of old school stuff. I have an eclectic mix.
AHHA: Do you plan on adding that eclectic taste to your own music?
Mario: Yeah were trying to put pieces of that and sprinkles of the eclectic-ness. [laughs] Were trying to keep it fresh for this record, and for the second album were definitely looking into doing more Spanish stuff. Maybe even a holiday album or something. Just I wanna make beautiful music and sing. Thats it.
AHHA: If you werent here, where would you be?
Mario: I think I would be working in [publicity]. I can sell anything. Ive got high hopes on this, so Ill take it one step at a time. [laughs]