Jaci Velasquez: Chasing Papi star with a blazing trail of album hits – Main Cover – Cover Story
When a clean-living, church girl, whose mom accompanies her to work, beats Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Christina Aguilera to a Latin Billboard Award, she’s changing something in the entertainment world. Jaci Velasquez’s voice and faith have reached out to millions of nonreligious people and won her endless accolades and awards.
Billboard reported that Jaci Velasquez’s voice is capable of expressing every subtle emotion in a song: a voice that reflects her religious upbringing and carries her lyrics to audiences way beyond church walls and traditional Christian music fans. And moviegoers heard that voice in her first acting role earlier this year in the movie Chasing Papi.
The 23-year-old singer has clearly broken out of the “up and coming” artist category. Velasquez has a portfolio full of outstanding achievements. With seven albums under her belt, she also has three Grammy Award nominations, four Dove Awards for Christian music, three RIAA-certified Platinum recordings, five Billboard Award nomination, and has notched up a Premio Lo Nuestro award. Continuing along the fast lane to stardom, she cruised through Hollywood’s main entrance to play Patricia in a Chasing Papi lead role.
Her musical and religious influences were strong from the start, being a daughter of musician parents–her father was the lead singer of the Four Galileans, a Christian music group.
According to family folklore, while singing in church one Sunday they were stunned when they heard a voice piping out “Our God Reigns,” and realized it was two-year-old Jaci’s voice, coming from the nursery. A year later she made her solo debut and sang for audiences alongside her parents who performed in Houston churches. When she was ten, her parents sold the house to tour the country giving Christian music shows.
“My parents weren’t just talking and singing about something. They were living it,” she said. To them it was not just a pastime. It was their lives. It was the gospel. “That was a greater influence on me than any music.”
Velasquez’s ethnicity, was another major childhood influence.
Her mother has Mexican ancestors. Between both sides of the family Velasquez is Spanish, French, Scottish, Arabic, and Mexican, of to put it more briefly, American. Her Spanish-Mexican ancestors were Texans before the state rebelled against Mexico and joined the United States in the 19th Century. As Texan-Americans are fond of saying, ‘”We never crossed the border. The border crossed us.”
She grew up in Houston in a white, English-speaking neighborhood where only one other household was Hispanic.
“Those neighbors were really embarrassed about being Hispanic. They tried everything they could to not be Hispanic,” she said.
“My family was very proud of its roots. We all spoke English perfectly–better than Spanish–but you learned to respect the culture. My family was really, really instrumental in my knowing my roots and appreciating them.”
Her family also encouraged her to develop her voice early in life and prepared her for some of the later pressures she would face. She won her first major contest at age 11, beating out 3,000 competitors, and two years later she performed at the White House.
At age 14, Velasquez’s main break came when her family performed in Texas. A pastor drew her to the attention of talent spotter Mike Atkins, who became her manager two years later, quickly signing her to Myrrh Records.
Spotting gold, the firm and Velasquez wasted no time, and she soon had a hit CD, Heavenly Place, which made it to the top ten of SoundScan’s Christian Music Chart in 1997 and held its ground lot 83 weeks on Billboards Heatseekers chart. It was her first million-selling recording and became the fastest-selling solo debut in the history of Christian music.
The adolescent’s ambition drove her to tour the United States and Europe, performing more than 120 concerts. She became a teenage singing sensation with album sales over the three million mark, and followed it up with a Simon & Schuster book deal to reach people with a series of her inspirational thoughts and words.
In 1999, she honored her Mexican/ Spanish heritage by releasing her first Spanish-language disc, Llegar a Ti, which also became a hit.
“My family kept speaking Spanish because in the Latin culture you continue the tradition,” Velasquez said. “My parents spoke” Spanish at home when they didn’t want me to know what they were saying.”
Although Velasquez sings in Spanish, her understanding of the language is limited, and someone translates them for her from English. Not that that detracts from her appreciation of it. “The thing about Spanish is that it’s such a passionate language that lends itself to romance and beauty. It’s amazing,” she said.
It’s also helped her career. She has been the voice and image of Target stores’ publicity campaigns for Hispanic markets, John Frieda’s Frizz&Ease hair products, and Doritos.
“In Hollywood you get typecast when you’re a Hispanic. But in the music business people rake you a little more seriously. Latino people are generally talented,” Velasquez said.
Her roots have let her span many music genres, including country, Latin, and Christian. She shared the stage with Evangelist Billy Graham before an audience of 65,000 people in San Antonio.
“I change styles a lot. I’m always trying something new and having fun with it,” she said. And if her fans don’t always enjoy the switch, Velasquez takes it all in stride.
“I’m not stupid enough to think that everything I do will be extremely successful, and everyone will want to buy it. Because sometimes I’m going to make music in the way that people don’t like. And that’s okay.”
Velasquez has also overcome what call be an obstacle in show business, her faith, and turned it into a selling asset. Her image of the “good girl in Latin music” pleases a wide range of both Anglo and Hispanic audiences. “It’s as if I had two lives, one connecting with an audience that only speaks English, with one that only speaks Spanish,” she said. “But with both I share the same beliefs and experiences.”
And those beliefs are deep. A young single woman, she has been spokesperson of the religious organization True Love Waits, which advocates for sexual abstinence before marriage among young people.
“My mom always goes on the road with me and keeps me accountable,” Velasquez said, “She doesn’t let me get away with anything. And my dad can’t always go, but he’s always praying for me when I’m out somewhere.”
Unlike some Latina singers who would be embarrassed to be caught wearing too many clothes, Velasquez refuses to deliver all openly sensual image or a constant change of looks. In the pop music mainstream, those are great tools for becoming an icon, but she does not imitate competitors. Her voice, religious drive, and candor are her best marketing tools.
Ironically, her church girl reputation, combined with stunning looks, for many, has added to her sex appeal.
On one of her admirers’ websites a fan said, “Because of her church upbringing, Jaci is often seen as a conservative girl, saving herself for marriage. As a result, a lot of her appeal is ha what she hides from us. Today’s pop stars try to outdo each other by wearing less and less clothing, so when we encounter someone like Jaci who barely lets her stomach show, we react with surprise. She dresses with elegance and class. “Are give her praise for not giving in to the pressure of attracting fan the cheap, “Britney” way, and for being herself. At least we can look at her, realize she is pretty hot, and still have respect for her. How many big artists can you say that about?”
Another website dedicated to Velasquez calls her, “a Latin enchantress,” and said, “Her songs fall under the Christian genre, bringing out the old teenage infatuation with the local choirgirl in all of us. Hell, we’d convert for her in a second.”
Velasquez’s Latin Billboard Award win over Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Christina Aguilera shows that her faith and lifestyle have not held her back. On the contrary, she is one of the most outstanding music artists in the Hispanic world, with seven albums notched up, which Velasquez puts down to her religious convictions.
“Doors have been opened for me to bring the message of Christ to the Latino audience,” Velasquez said, happy that secular people enjoyed many of the same songs that her Christian fans drove to the top of sales and airplay charts.
Yet, her beliefs have not deterred non-religious people from enjoying her music, which may be due to Velasquez’s tolerance and respect for other beliefs that sets her apart from many of America’s overtly Christian conservatives. “I know what I believe in, but I can’t say that other people’s beliefs are wrong just because they are different from mine,” she said.
Faith and music have helped her through crises and have been influenced by it.
And her personal problems, such as her parents’ divorce, are intensified by being under media glare.
She faced that crisis and shared with her audience what was happening during one of her concerts.
“Musical producer Rudy Perez and his wife were there, and they heard me. Rudy then came up to me to tell me that he thought my story would make a beautiful song,” she said.
And that’s how she wrote, “Como se cura una herida” (How to heal a wound).
Personal problems, the search for a meaning in life, and stardom all made Velasquez rethink whether she wanted to continue her career in entertainment.
“I came out of this with more faith than ever,” she says. “I have a completely different vision of what life is, of what spirituality is, of what love is.”
Many of her Christian fans questioned her faith when she sought a role in the movie Chasing Papi, as Patricia, one of three beautiful Latinas all after one man. It upset them for more than her changing music style ever had.
Velasquez had to reassure them in a heartfelt letter that she had not sold out. “No I haven’t left my personal faith in God, and I don’t ever intend to,” she said.
Velasquez’s brother, also a devout Christian, leaped to her defence on the Internet. “Did you know that when Jaci got the script for the movie it was rated R. Because of the changes they made for Jaci the movie turned into a PG movie. I don’t know any unknown actor who would have the opportunity to change so much of a script. When you see this movie you’ll realize that Jaci does not drink, does not cuss, and is so covered up.”
She said the sexual aspect to the movie challenged her convictions and beliefs. During the entire filming of the movie, her mom, brother, of manager were always there with her. And the production company allowed me to change and edit several scenes that she was uncomfortable doing because of her beliefs.
“The process of deciding to enter Hollywood was a very thoughtful, prayerful one. I constantly consulted my family and pastor to make sure I was answering my calling,” she said.
Controversy aside, Velasquez is casual about the movie giving another boost to her meteoric career.
“I didn’t know that I wanted to become an actress. I just knew that I loved cinema, I never thought anything would happen,” she said, crediting the audition opportunity to her agent.
“It was my first ever audition and my first movie. And everything kinda blew up over there. I learned from the movie how it’s not easy to put a movie together and how to enjoy a really long day.”
And barely had the singer-turned-actress left Hollywood when she turned her megawatts of renewable energy to her next ambition, recording in Italian. “I love that language,” she says. Then she wants to put out two more movies and record another English-language album.
Of course, the multi-talented star puts her success mad gifts down to God. “I want it to be crystal clear to people that I am who Christ has made me to be, and I’m attempting to follow in His footsteps.”
COPYRIGHT 2003 Ferraez Publications of America Corp.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group