InDepth InterView: Jon Secada Talks New Album, Concerts, Broadway, Hollywood & More
Today we are talking to a two-time Grammy Award-winning performer, songwriter and producer who has carved out a remarkably unique career in the entertainment industry between his many platinum albums, notable contributions to film soundtracks and numerous live performances in solo shows and various musicals over the course of his twenty-five-year career in show business so far - the charming and talented Jon Secada. Discussing various aspects of many of his most memorable recordings to date and his process in capturing them in the studio, as well as reflecting upon the ever-chaning recording industry itself, Secada opens up about his work with some of the biggest names in music - Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Frank Sinatra, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias, Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz and more included - as well as all about his new single, forthcoming album, music video and his most recent sold-out appearances around the globe. Plus, Jon recounts his experiences performing on Broadway in the hit 1990s revivals of GREASE and CABARET, as well as reflects on his most recent stage work, in JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT on the road. Plus, Secada shares his thoughts on iTunes and AMERICAN IDOL, muses on future stage roles and much, much more!
More information is available at Jon Secada's official site here.
Never Too Far Away
PC: The recording industry has changed so drastically since your heyday in the 1990s. How do you view the iTunes era we are now in?
JS: Well, everything has changed - just like you said. What I think has changed the most is the way that people buy their music - which has changed a few times over the last twenty-five years, actually. The economy has changed, too, of course - and, really, the whole world has changed in that time, I think. But, most importantly, the technology has revolutionized everything - everything; all of our lives.
PC: Tell me about the influence of technology on the music industry.
JS: Oh, it's in everything - everything. I mean, just as an artist and as a singer and as a songwriter, the way you record has changed a lot - a lot. When I look back now on how things have changed, if there is one thing I have always tried to do it is to follow the simple advice of "Embrace change." Embrace change.
PC: Learn to adapt.
JS: Yeah, exactly. Embrace change - learn to adapt. Make it work for you - make how things work differently now work for you. If you do that, it can change your life. It really can.
PC: Is that the most vital ingredient to a lasting career, would you say?
JS: I would. As an artist, especially - especially if you are lucky enough to continue having a commercial career.
PC: Like you have.
JS: Yeah, I think that's the one thing that's most important, though: embrace change. Entertainment is constant - people will always love music; people will always love theatre - it's just a matter of how we challenge the people now. In that way, I think we've changed.
PC: You just sold out a huge concert at the Hard Rock in Florida, did you not?
JS: Yeah, yeah - about 5,000 seats. It was a great, great show for me and to be able to do that and have that kind of connection with my fans after all of these years is really something. I love what I do, so to have the people still love me means so much - the fact that they come out to my shows still means everything.
PC: How did your new single come about? Is it part of a new album?
JS: Yes. We have been working in the studio on some new tracks and "I'm Never Too Far Away" is one of the ones we have been working on. I have to say that I love the new songs and I love the fact that we are able to work like we always have but have found a more cost-effective way to do it. I am so lucky that I still get to do what I love, though, you know? So, yeah, the next goal will be the rest of the record now that the single is out and the music video is out.
PC: So, are you planning another single already?
JS: Yes. We are planning to do something else once this single and music video have been out for a while. I am really excited that we were able to put this song out first and get such a great response to what we are planning on doing with the rest of the record. So, we are definitely looking forward to put out some more singles while we work on finishing the album.
PC: The video for "I'm Never Too Far Away" has a really uniquely arresting look. Who directed it? The graffiti-strewn location is amazing.
JS: Yes, it is actually a historical location here in Miami and it's been abandoned for years and we caught it just in time before they started doing construction there - obviously, over the years it has gotten more and more graffiti, so the colors just tend to jump out at you and it looks really cool in the video. But, at the same time it's abandoned, so... [Laughs.]
PC: A little treacherous to film there, I take it?
JS: Just a little! It's amazing architecture, though, so it was worth it.
PC: You can say that again!
JS: Definitely. It's a great location and it was a perfect place to do the video.
PC: It's a far cry from the days of big-budget record label-funded videos, though, no?
JS: Oh, yeah - I have done those, too! [Laughs.] But, yeah, it was a very independent production - you know, I have my own production company, so I am independently working on and promoting and recording my music now. So, when making videos, it is a matter of artistic integrity - just like all the changes that have happened over the years, like we have been talking about, and how you adapt to them - and it offers you a lot of artistic control when you have your own production company.
PC: Carte blanche.
JS: You can take it to whatever level you want to take it to and do whatever you want to do - and have complete control while you're doing it. And, so, I think that is one of the biggest plusses of it. I mean, technology has let people be able to do what they want to do and do it more independently.
PC: What are your thoughts on the technical advancements being made - particularly autotune and the way performers sing to tracks and/or lipsync more often than not anymore?
JS: Well, I think there is a place for everything. I mean, technology has been a tremendous plus for the recording industry - across the board. So, I think what it comes down to, really, though, is how you use it.
PC: An illuminating point.
JS: Just make sure whatever you do - especially with as much technology as there is out there these days - that you do it one-hundred percent artistically; from your gut. Always do it with substance - musical substance; artistic substance. Those are the most important things, I think - along with the music and the performance and a good production, too.
PC: What about singing live?
JS: Singing live is the same thing - make sure that in whatever you do that you are transparent as you can be at all times; that is important. But, hey, sometimes things happen!
PC: Indeed, they do.
JS: Mistakes, errors - whether it's something you meant to do or not - is part of performing and with technology it is going to happen sooner or later, so the fastest you realize that the easier it will be for you to deal with it when the time comes.
JS: I mean, sometimes something happens and you have to sing live anyway, so you have to be ready! Or, it could be something like what happened at the Super Bowl a few years ago with the wardrobe malfunction and everything. You never know. There are so many instances where something can happen - and sometimes it does. As someone who does theatre, you always know that once the show starts... that's it! [Laughs.]
PC: It's a runaway train.
JS: Yeah! There's just no stopping a show once it starts! It doesn't stop. Whatever is gonna happen, is gonna happen. So, you just have to follow through with the performance, even if you have an error somewhere along the way onstage.
PC: I bet CABARET gave you some interesting mishap stories over your months spent in that show, did it not?
JS: Oh, man! [Laughs.]
PC: There was a lot of interplay and detail in that production!
JS: There was. Doing any show eight shows a week for six or seven months at a time, a lot of things are going to happen. But, you know, that's the beauty of live performing, really - every show is different; every day is different; every audience is different. But, no matter what, the show must go on.
JS: Always. You just have to keep on doing what you do. I mean, I can think of a million things that have happened onstage over the years, whether in my shows or on Broadway or wherever - millions. Probably the biggest highlight for me, though, since you asked, was during a live performance when I was singing for an event.
PC: When was this?
JS: This was when I sang for the World Cup, back in the mid-90s. I was singing live and there was a problem with the staging - long story short, I fell right before I was supposed to go onstage to sing and I had dislocated my shoulder.
JS: Yeah, it was crazy. But, I made it sort of seem like I hadn't fallen and it was all part of the show or something and my instincts just kicked in. In instances like that you... [Pause.] you just kind of have to keep going if you can - especially if it happens in the middle of the performance like that did.
PC: As a solo artist, did you enjoy transforming completely into a role as enveloping and unusual as that of the Emcee in CABARET?
JS: I did. Absolutely. You know, with CABARET, that particular show in general just changed my career - as a singer; as an actor; as an entertainer; everything. In every way.
PC: How so?
JS: Oh, well, it taught me so much. It was really challenging for me to do - really difficult. But, I loved it - every minute of it. After having done it and now looking back on it with you, I can see that it really changed me into a different type of performer. Like you said, it was a very in-your-face production and in theatre in general there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, so it was really educating for me to be that exposed like I was - a real education. I am very, very, very fortunate to have had that experience and to get the great reviews that I did for that show - and to be able to walk away from it with so many great theatre memories. As an entertainer, I feel like the CABARET run made me a better artist.
PC: Who were your favorite Sallys?
JS: Oh, they all were! I loved them all.
PC: Any particular favorites?
JS: Oh, I had several. Deborah Gibson was great - so was Melina Kanakaredes. Susan Egan was a doll, too. It was so wonderful - it was such a great experience. The cast was always amazing - all of them. It was just the best - it was so, so thrilling for me to be able to do that show.
PC: So many other great performers played your role in that show, too - Neil Patrick Harris, Michael C. Hall, Raul Esparza...
JS: Yeah, I actually know Raul - I have followed his career quite a bit over the years, actually. Hey, he's a pisan - he's a fellow Cuban!
PC: That's right!
JS: So, yeah - I am a big fan of his. I think he's so, so talented.
PC: Speaking of superstars: tell me about working with Frank Sinatra on DUETS II?
JS: Yes, I did get to work with Frank Sinatra once. I did a tribute record to the Great American Songbook a few years ago - I'd love to do another one, actually; I love keeping an English and Spanish theme and do it in both languages - because I have been influenced by so many artists over the years and one of the biggest ones is Frank Sinatra. I will never forget the day I got to record that duet with him, though, for the DUETS project. It was one of the biggest days of my career - it really was.
PC: Had he already laid down the track?
JS: Yes. It was all approved by him and run by the record company. So, I was so overjoyed when I was told that I was chosen by him to be a part of it - and then Phil Ramone was the producer!
PC: What an all-star line-up.
JS: Yeah, it was really amazing, man. Phil Ramone did such a good job putting all those duets together on those albums, I think. So, yeah, being a part of that project is definitely one of the highlights of my career, personally.
PC: Another memorable entry from your resume is your duet on a Alan Menken/Stephen Schwartz song on the POCAHANTAS soundtrack. How did you become involved with that project in the first place?
JS: Oh, POCAHANTAS? I got lucky! Really, really lucky. [Laughs.]
PC: What happened?
JS: Well, Disney got in contact with my agent and they asked me if I would do the duet with Shanice - another great artist - as a part of the soundtrack album for their new film. So, we did it and we ended up doing the song in three languages, actually - English, Spanish and Portuguese.
PC: With different duet partners, correct?
JS: Yes, yes - some wonderful other artists, too. That was all a result of the production company's idea, though - to do it in three different languages and release all three. I loved it - and I loved the fact that I was able to do all three!
PC: Not everyone would be up to that challenge, for sure.
JS: Yeah, I have been really lucky over the course of my career to work internationally quite a bit and to get to work with great artists like I did on that - all three times.
PC: Covering a song sung in the film proper by Mel Gibson, no less!
JS: I know! I know! [Laughs.] I love it. That's the magic of this business, though - to get those kind of great opportunities on great, great projects like that. I'm happy I was involved.
PC: Were Menken and Schwartz directly involved with your cover?
JS: One of them was there on the day we recorded it - I remember that. I can't remember for sure, but I think it was Alan. I mean, I just felt so privileged to be singing a song written by either of them, let alone both of them! They are iconic, iconic songwriters.
PC: What are your thoughts on the place of contemporary sounds in the theatre - AMERICAN IDIOT and SPRING AWAKENING, especially?
JS: I love it! I absolutely love it. You know, it's the fusion of theatre with a fresh way to work and a new way to sound - maybe with new people or established people who want to branch out more. I think it's fantastic! At the same time, I think it's so great that there is a respect for the history, too - and that shows are brought back and revived. To see that new shows bring in a new audience is especially great, though, I think.
PC: Ricky Martin recently starred in EVITA and Enrique Iglesias was a rumored replacement - what was your experience like working with them in the past?
JS: Well, Enrique - I love him and I am so fortunate to have gotten to work with him and some other amazing crossover artists like Ricky and Gloria Estefan and Marc Anthony and Shakira. I am very proud of so many great artists that I've got to sort of see along while I have been off doing my own thing - having worked with them before and see them go on to do great things, like all of those people have. I am friends with almost all of those artists, so we see each other here and there at various things, which is great. I love the fact that I can keep in touch with wonderful artists like that.
PC: Jennifer Lopez, as well. Did you two write together at any point?
JS: No. That was a song I had already written and she said that she really liked it. It was a wonderful experience - just like all those other ones were - and in the case of Jennifer it was very early on in her music career; that song was on her first CD. So, it was a privilege to be a part of that process - definitely.
PC: What are your thoughts on judging reality singing competitions like THE X FACTOR and AMERICAN IDOL? You have done it.
JS: Yes, I have done it - three of them, actually!
PC: Which ones?
JS: Well, I did the Spanish version of AMERICAN IDOL and I have done ones in Peru and Chile, too. I love them, though - I love all of it. I love discovering new talent and I think it's a fresh platform for talented people to get exposure and get seen and get recognized. So, for that alone, I think it's really great that those shows are out there.
PC: Do you think we will have another Latin music explosion soon like we did in the US around the millennium?
JS: I do - I mean, what goes around comes around, right?! I love the fusions and styles of music being experimented with right now, so I am hopeful that we will be hearing more Latin music. I agree - I think people are ready for a fresh take on Latin music and I already see it happening; there are some wonderful artists out there doing some great stuff. It would be so wonderful for people to hear great music - especially Latin music - in a new way. I'm hopeful.
PC: If two bluegrass bands can top the pop charts, anything is possible...
JS: Yeah! Yeah. Definitely. I mean, like I said, fusion never fails - people just like to hear good music at the end of the day, though, so anyone who can present their stuff the best will get recognized, I think.
PC: I was curious: How did you become involved with the soundtrack for EMPIRE? John Leguizamo is unforgettable in that film and your song in it is fantastic.
JS: Thank you. With EMPIRE, someone else had written the song already and they asked me to come in and sing it on the soundtrack. Again, I was very, very fortunate to be a part of a great film like that one was - I thought it was excellent and John was just amazing in it.
PC: Do you enjoy moving between mediums like you have so often? GREASE must have been a baptism by fire, in a way, no?
JS: I do. You know, I have been lucky enough to develop a really solid skill set, particularly through my work in theatre starting with GREASE, and I am just so thankful for all that theatre has taught me. I mean, I have done three musicals now and every time I learn a lot more - and I'd love to go back and do another! [Laughs.]
PC: I have to ask: having played Danny Zuko in GREASE, did you ever get to meet John Travolta himself?
JS: Actually, I have! I'll add that I always knew that he was a great singer and I love the project he just did with Olivia [Newton-John].
PC: You and Olivia have worked together at some point, I presume?
JS: Yeah, yeah - I love Olivia; we have worked together on a couple of things. Again, I am very, very flattered just to get to work with her - and to be able to say I know her is just a blessing on top. We have worked together on a few different occasions over the years. We've performed together a few times, too, I remember - she's wonderful and I just adore her.
PC: Your most recent stage role was the title character in JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT. Did you enjoy doing that?
JS: I did. That was a lot of fun - great show; very light-hearted. For me, I love theatre, so anytime I get to do a show I love it - and, for me, that was a first because it was a tour; I had never done a musical on tour before like that. And, having had such a blast doing JOSEPH, I'd love to do that again, too - a tour!
PC: Was "Close Every Door" a challenge at all for you vocally? It's not an easy sing.
JS: [Laughs.] Well, you know what? That's the magic of good music. When you are fortunate enough to have good songs to sing and great characters to play - like I have had in the three shows I have done - you welcome the rest of the challenges. That's what I do, at least. So, with a song like "Close Every Door", if you do it right and you rise to the challenge, it is always worth it in the end. You have to find it within yourself to do it, if you can - and it was amazing to get to that point when I did, with that song. Just in terms of theatre, too, though - like I said, it's always such an education. I love theatre so much and I love it more every time I do it.
PC: What about future roles - how about ZORBA someday?
JS: Oh, wow! I will keep that on my radar now! I love it - I'll keep my eye out.
PC: Tell me about the stage piece you recently did, LOVING THE SILENT TEARS.
JS: Oh, that was a great project - it was a great format that they got together for that. And, anyway, I just love theatrical formats in general - especially with good songs like that. So, I was very happy to be a part of that and it is a great organization that put that all together. I loved doing it. You know, to be honest, from the minute I was in my first theatrical show onstage...
PC: Which was?
JS: Oh, gosh! [Laughs. Sighs.] Well, it was a holiday musical - I was in high school at the time, I remember that. It was based on A CHRISTMAS CAROL... [Pause.] What was the name of it? Aww. Let me think. Oh, yeah! THE STINGIEST MAN IN TOWN!
PC: What a title!
JS: Yeah - I got to play Young Scrooge, too! It was great - so, so great. [Laughs.]
PC: Did you pursue theatre further in school or in college?
JS: Not really - I studied music; jazz music, mostly. I was bitten by the bug, though - even in college, I would participate in musical revues and stuff. I always loved every aspect of theatre, though - from the strict music-studying and memorizing side to the performing side and all of that. All the elements involved in musical theatre are so interesting to me and all of that has stayed with me ever since I became a recording artist, too. But, theatre is everything to me.
PC: What's next?
JS: Well, I am on my way to South America to do some shows and to do some promotion for the new stuff, and, then, I am coming back and we are going to complete the rest of the record. We are hoping to have the new album done in the next couple of months, so I am really excited about it.
PC: You are on the right track with the success of the lead single!
JS: Yeah, we have been getting some really great responses on the first song, so hopefully people will like the rest of the project, as well.
PC: Thank you so much for this today, Jon. We hope to see you back on Broadway in a big role sometime very soon!
JS: There is nowhere I would rather be! Thank you so much, Pat. This was really, really fun. Bye.
Check out the music video for Jon Secada's single, "I'm Never Too Far Away", below.
Photo Credits: Facebook, Joan Marcus, Roundabout, Disney, etc.