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If Americans know Luis Miguel at all, it's as the former arm candy of Mariah Carey, one of many men who sent her speeding down the tracks on the crazy train. Or maybe they know the Mexican crooner for his broken-English duet with Frank Sinatra on "Come Fly With Me" about a decade ago on some network special. Really, if Americans know Luis Miguel at all, it's as a joke. But to the Mexican nation, the man they alternately call "El Sol" ("The Sun") and "Luis mi Rey" ("My King Luis") is God with better hair—the top-selling Latin music artist in history, a matinee idol par none, the singer who sells out arenas across the world and will grace the county with a visit April 8 at the Arrowhead Pond.
Joke or idol—or both. Who's right—Americans or Mexicans? Like the immigration debate, the truth falls somewhere in between. Luis Miguel was initially Mexico's Michael Jackson—a child star (prodded into a career by a domineering father) who grew up in the spotlight and matured into an artist of immense popularity and questionable talents, a favorite of the scandal sheets. Unlike Jackson, however, Miguel saved his career in adulthood and transformed into the Mexican version of Frank Sinatra, sans the manliness.
Miguel first became famous in 1981 at the age of 11 with "1+1=2 Enamorados" ("1+1=2 People in Love"), a synth-heavy tune with lyrics as laughable ("I'm a fire that reaches the heavens/I and I cover you and I feel you") as its title. The subject matter didn't change for the next decade—always about love, always treacly. He starred in a couple of forgettable films—Ya Nunca Más (Never Again), where he lost a leg in a motorcycle accident, and Fiebre de Amor(Love Fever), where Miguel saves a kidnapped fan. As the 1980s ended, he seemed destined for the path of other childhood flameouts.
But 1991 brought a stunning transformation with Romance, a collection of Latin American standards. Romancerevealed someone whose now-deep vocal cords provoked awe instead of guffaws. Miguel's bold interpretations earned him newfound respect from older audiences and introduced wonderful songs of love to a new generation. The singer would record three other Romancecompilations, wisely ditching the synth-heavy pop of his youth for violins, horns and other adult-contemporary trappings.
Nevertheless, Miguel has never transformed into a true crooner. The crooner persona works best when expressed by men who wrench emotion from every syllable and turn of phrase yet remain cold and distant. Mexico's best crooner remains Agustín Lara, the chain-smoking pianist of the 1940s who composed and sang songs of love as seen from the prisms of heartache and infidelity. Miguel consistently drinks from the Lara song well but to middling effect, sucking the bitterness out of such melancholy tunes as "Solamente Una Vez" ("Just One Time") and "Noche de Ronda" ("Night Watch"). It's as if Miguel fears that treating love any other way than in its unrequited or puppy form would harm his fame and fortune. And thus we have the true Luis Miguel: a perpetual adolescent. Miguel Jackson.
LUIS MIGUEL PERFORMS AT THE ARROWHEAD POND, 2695 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 704-2500. SAT., 8 P.M. $35-$155. ALL AGES.