If Yahaira Antonia Vargas would have made the cut on season one of Diddy's Making the Band 3 in 2005, the “tropical Latino urbano” singer, who goes by the name Miss YaYa, probably wouldn't be where she's at today.
YaYa didn't make it into “the next international girl group sensation,” but she got something even better: a 2009 Grammy and Premio Lo Nuestro nomination for Best Tropical Album and Best Tropical Group as the voice of the Dark Latin Groove salsa crew.
“I'm not upset at all,” YaYa admits. “We lost to Jose Feliciano for the Grammy and Aventura for Premio Lo Nuestro. After hearing we were up against them, it was like, 'Yeah, they're gonna win.' But just the fact that I can say I'm Grammy nominated is amazing. I know a lot of artists trying to make it – I still consider myself trying to make it – but to be able to put that in the front of my name is huge.”
Although YaYa remains a member of DLG, la cantante is working towards her dream of becoming a soloist, making her debut appearance as Miss YaYa at Grand Central on April 15. Of even greater significance for the singer, the show will be recored and released as her first full album in June and concert DVD in November.
While YaYa's '05 appearance on Making the Band 3 and Gigantes Del Mañana (the American Idol of Univision's longest-running variety series, Sábado Gigante) the prior year gave the singer plenty of exposure, the third-generation New Yorker never let the flashy lights and cameras distract her from earning a Bachelors degree in broadcast journalism from the City College of New York.
“Growing up watching MTV, I always wanted to be a VJ,” she recalls. “I always wanted to be in front of the camera, and was always into writing. I looked up to people like Carson Daily and thought, 'How'd he get there?' I saw he studied broadcast journalism. That made me wanna do that.”
“I still did music in college, but I made sure to finish school. My mom always pushed me towards getting an education. As soon as I finished, I said, 'Bye, mom' and moved to Miami.”
“My goal was to get a record deal, no matter what. I moved to Miami to become a Latin artist, all the Latin labels are here. I said, 'This is what's happening. That's it!'”
But YaYa didn't just hop on a plane to the Magic City and hope to be discovered. After Making the Band 3, the singer met her former manager who put her in contact with the 305 through Sergio George, the man behind DLG.
“He [YaYa's aforementioned manager] sent a message to Sergio through MySpace – back when MySpace was hot,” she laughs.
“Sergio answered back within the hour to set up a meeting in Miami to what I thought was a solo deal. But he suggested putting DLG back together [the band went through a seven-year hiatus from 2000 to 2007] and wanted me to be the singer. I was like, 'Huh?' I was a dream come true. I was a huge fan of DLG and pictured my sound to be similar to theirs, fusing the Latin and American sound.”
Much like la rumba y ritmo of DLG, YaYa's solo work is all about making la gente bailar.
“With DLG, James ["Da Barba" de Jesus] and I play off of each other, but [as a soloist] I feel free enough to get loose. If I wanna throw myself on the floor, I'm gonna throw myself on the floor. The fact that I'm able to express myself with music whether I'm with DLG or on my own is a perk within itself.”
But in the music biz, working independently comes with its own set of challenges, financial in particular.
“Me, as a solo artist, I'm doing all the work myself, with the amazing help of my musical director and manager. All this money is coming from my pocket with my day job [when she's not making music, YaYa works in retail] and touring with DLG. I used to get frustrated thinking, 'If only I had the money...' No. It's not gonna fall from the sky. You gotta bust your ass and get it.”
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.7 p.m. Wednesday, April 15, at Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-377-2277; grandcentralmiami.com. Tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via ticketfly.com. Ages 21 and up.