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"It sort of SLIPPED OUT...but I MEANT IT."

  EXQUISITE JADE
  Out Latin pop singer Jade Esteban Estrada talks about Latino Pride, his own label, Charo and Ricky Martin
  The Advocate
  By CATHAY CHE
  Photo by CHRISTINE CAIN-WEIDNER
  May 8, 2001

 

  What is the most irritating question that Jade Esteban Estrada, the first

openly gay Latin pop star, gets asked on a regular basis? "If I think Ricky Martin is gay," says Estrada with a roll of his mischievous dark eyes. "You knew I was going to say that, right?"

     A former stand-up and a veteran emcee on the beauty pageant circuit, Estrada has also had gigs as Broadway grande dame Zoe Caldwell's assistant, Charo's head choreographer, and Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean's "scratch vocalist" (an industry term for a singer who records songs for a songwriter so that they can teach others to sing them), before his own single "Reggae Twist" became a hit on international Spanish-language radio in 1998. But after being dropped by his record label Total Envision Records last year, the 26-year old San Antonio, Tex., native knows he is taking a stand by being out.

     "Basically, Envision let me know when they signed me that they wanted me to be a salsa artist and they didn't think it was in my best interest to be openly gay. But after my song hit, I got asked to perform at Brooklyn Pride [in 1999], which of course is very Latin." Estrada gladly took the booking and one Pride led to others. In 2000, Estrada played around the country and around the world for both gay and Spanish-language audiences, but his actual coming out was not something he planned very carefully. "I don't really change my set, whether I'm playing a Tejano gig or a Pride gig. I get out there and I make the audience feel really good. For a Latin crowd, I would sometimes shout out, `I'm so proud to be a Latino!' So one night--it was at Pride in Utica, New York--I said, `I'm so proud to be a gay Latino!' It sort of slipped out, but I meant it. Then I realized I had the opportunity to represent, so I kept on doing it."

     Estrada (no relation to actor Erik Estrada, though both graduated from New York's American Musical and Dramatic Academy) admits he was extremely nervous about confronting his label after outing himself publicly, especially since his debut album was only half finished. But in August 2000, an hour before his performance at Diversite Montreal, he got a conference call from record executives, and the ax fell. "Basically, they said they had no idea what to do with me, so they offered to let me out of my contract," recalls Estrada. "I was totally in shock and I go out on stage--almost on automatic pilot, and suddenly this wave of energy hits me--like boom! Diversite is huge--the third largest Pride celebration in the world, and I'm standing in front of the biggest audience I've ever played for, and suddenly I remembered something Charo had once said to me: [imitating Charo's accent] `My real family? They don't give a cheet about me--this [the audience] is my real family.' And suddenly, I knew it was going to be fine. I would put the album out myself, and the people would be there."

     Estrada's own label, Vicarious Records, in March released his debut CD, "Angel", an infectious blend of salsa and pop in English and Spanish. Then for the rest of the year, Estrada will be traveling with his dancers on the Angelika Tour 2001, which includes Pride festivals in Atlanta, Charlotte, New York, Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and EuroPride in Vienna. "My music influences come from all over--Celine Dion to Matchbox Twenty, country music to Gregorian chants, but I don't think I'd be where I am today if it weren't for Ellen [DeGeneres], not Elton [John]. Ellen came out and took the flak for all of us, while Elton never really came out--he just eased into it."

     And so what does he really think about Ricky Martin? Estrada smiles wistfully, "He's a good performer, but ... whatever."

     Che is the author of Deborah Harry.

 

2001 The Advocate

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