People's Choice

A brand-new label takes a chance on a little orphan has-been -- and wins

"I spent seven years with the group," remembers Montenegro, who had entered the entertainment business as a child playing Annie in Mexico. "With Garibaldi we traveled a lot, so I learned the discipline required to do tons of promotion. Like now. For the past nine months, I have been doing promotion nonstop."

When speaking of Garibaldi, Montenegro shows little emotion. But when she goes back to her days as the first Mexican "Annie," red ringlets and all, it's a different matter. Asked to sing "Tomorrow," she chokes up and tears run down her face as the words come out. "It's been so long since I last sang it," she says while the table goes quiet.

In the late 1990s Montenegro's solo career took a back seat to her acting in telenovelas, always cast as a villain. A particularly popular one was Gotita de Amor (Little Drop of Love). (Montenegro has recently returned to the small screen, appearing in Te Amaré en Silencio [I'll Love You in Silence] -- the first new soap opera produced by Univisión in Los Angeles -- finally playing a good girl.)

Three years ago, a former Garibaldi colleague introduced Montenegro to Reynoso. A businessman from a wealthy family, he became her manager and married her last year.

"And if she hasn't fired me by now, I don't think she will," he says jokingly.

"I trust him completely," adds Montenegro. "We are a team."

While the team counts its blessings at its luxurious condo on Brickell Avenue (where fellow Mexican singing star Cristian Castro also lives), Montenegro and company hope the good times will keep rolling with a new single, "Alguien que una Vez Amé" ("Someone I Once Loved").

Montenegro shrugs off any criticism that her success stems only from blanketing the country with remixes, or that the Univisión TV network cross-promotes her heavily on the air.

"Pilar has worked her butt off," says Perez, who based on the success achieved with his protégé will now be launching other artists. "Throughout all of this she has been a real trouper. She has to get on top of a horse to promote her record? She does it. No complaints. Because she believes in herself. And she believes in this album."

Mark Woodard, Latin music buyer for Trans World Entertainment, at 1100 stores the biggest independent music-store chain in the country (Spec's Music, FYE, Coconuts, and Strawberries), can vouch for Pilar's hard work.

"She does what it takes. Like visiting a store, or letting us know if volume is low. And this is not common in artists, to have this kind of initiative," says Woodard, who adds that orders for Desahogo keep coming in every week. "Sales in New York, Puerto Rico, and Miami are huge."

So what's the appeal?

Part of it, believes Bonilla, is that "men warm up to her, but women too, because she is not threatening."

Perez sums it up this way: "Pilar is very likable, down to earth, and that comes through. She has this raspy voice that is commercial, a voice that anybody can sing along with. She has what we call a 'voz de pueblo' ['a people's voice']."

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