Paid the Cost

At first glance Roselyn Sánchez appears to be another Puerto Rican multiple-threat mami -- actress, dancer, and now singer/producer -- slowly but surely climbing up the ladder of success, right behind the ubiquitous J.Lo. This petite star with the impossibly long hair, lithe figure, and no apparent penchant for bling-bling, however, really does seem to be Roselyn from the block. There are no bodyguards around, no minions catering to her every whim. And when she lets her guard down, she laughs heartily, unafraid to use language more appropriate for a man. Any publicist would cringe at this type of behavior, but Sánchez won't have it any other way.

All this, of course, could change as her star rises in Hollywood and audiences everywhere sample Borinqueña, an album she cooked up with former manager Raymond Castellón and Dominican music producer Roy Tavaré. In Borinqueña (the name alludes to Borinquen, the Taíno Indian name for Puerto Rico, and its people, borinqueños), Sánchez runs the gamut of genres, from hip-hop to salsa, from ballads to tropical rhythms such as cha-cha-cha, guaguancó, and guajira. Singing pals Tyrese, Tego Calderón, and Víctor Manuelle also lend a hand. Though the album may seem like a ploy to exploit the buzz she's gotten from starring in movies like Chasing Papi, Boat Trip, and Basic, Sánchez declares that this is not the case.

"I've been trying to get this project off the ground for years now," she explains during a recent visit to Miami to promote Borinqueña, before leaving for Vancouver, British Columbia, to shoot her next film, The Underclassmen. "In the Nineties, shortly after moving to New York, I was going to record an album in English. I was always saying 'I'm gonna do it, I'm gonna do it,' but I ended up postponing it time and time again," continues the San Juan-born, thirtysomething bombshell.

After being approached by various labels and eventually signing with BMG U.S. Latin, Sánchez recorded several demos in English, with disappointing results. "There was this idea that I would be a Latin Sade in English, so I ended up recording more rhythm and blues than anything else," she says. "It was very nice and all, but I don't have the voice for it. I don't sing like that." Instead, when she met Tavaré through Castellón, they all agreed she should stick to her roots and sing in Spanish while adding a multicultural edginess often lacking in Latin pop records.

Not that Sánchez is belittling her über-famous colleague La Lopez, who found astounding success when she switched gears from the generic pop gloss of On the 6 to the hip-hop and R&B groove of "I'm Real." "She's opened all these doors for us, God bless her. And I admire her. But she's who she is and I am who I am," she says. She adds that she just wants to show who she is -- a Caribbean woman proud of her roots.

As a young girl, Sánchez pursued such classical interests as ballet and piano while entering (and winning) local beauty contests. Her first flush of fame came in the early Nineties when she became known as the Fly Girl -- oops, sorry -- as the dancer and co-host of a variety show called Qué Vacilón (which loosely translates into "What A Blast"). Then at 21, chasing not a papi but her lifelong dreams, she left for New York City. While going on casting calls, taking acting lessons, and learning English, Sánchez paid the bills by working as a hostess at the famous Nuevo Latino restaurant Patria. Success seemed to elude her, though, and she almost gave it all up.

"I used to go into the restaurant's bathroom and cry," she remembers. "Then come out with this long face. The customers must've thought I was unfriendly. Until one day I decided that I was going to do it right and move to Los Angeles, or go back home."

In Hollywood she first found work in short-lived TV shows such as Fame L.A. and Ryan Caulfield: Year One. A 1999 movie, Held Up, led to her break in 2001, when she played secret agent Isabella Molina next to Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Rush Hour 2; that opened the door to a slew of increasingly bigger acting roles.

Entering the music industry, however, has proved to be a sobering experience. "I'm used to how the movie business works. There I do my job, I get paid, and I leave. If the movie bombs, I'm not going to be blamed," she figures. "But with an album, whether it fails or succeeds, the responsibility is mine. The triumph can be bigger, but so can the failure."

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Juan Carlos Perez-Duthie