EVEN THOUGH HE'S ONLY TWENTY-FOUR, Enrique Iglesias is already on his fourth CD – Enrique, his first release in English, which has sold nearly 5 million copies worldwide. In Spanish, he has a track record that includes 14 million in album sales, a Grammy, an American Music Award and what one culturally confused television interviewer described as "twelve Number One singles in Latin." Tall, dark and handsome, with the brooding, lithe good looks of a very buff piece of slightly overripe fruit, he can sell out stadiums the size of the Astrodome in half an hour and has been showered with the panties of screaming young women on numerous occasions. He has been known to lie in interviews just for the sheer sport of the thing, for example once telling a reporter that he was a virgin, a statement he's still living down.
In a nutshell, he's been around the block a few times – it's just that the block, in his case, is the globe, and he's had enough experience telling the press his favorite color in four languages (blue, azzurro, azúl and azul in, respectively, English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese) to last a lifetime.
This has made him sassy, or maybe he was just born that way. Generally lumped in with the Latino-pop explosion, Enrique, who is the son of superstar Spanish balladeer Julio Iglesias and Filipina former model Isabel Preysler, is, in fact, not Latino: "It's funny because I'm completely mixed, but in a way I feel like I'm Latino, because I grew up in Miami with Latino friends. And at the same time I feel Spanish, and at the same time I feel like I understand American culture, because I grew up in the U.S. I think I have the best of three worlds." His record, which includes a Bruce Springsteen cover ("Sad Eyes") and a duet with Whitney Houston ("Could I Have This Kiss Forever"), has some Latin accents in the arrangements, but quite a bit of straight-up love-machine pop.
As to what he learned from the example of his own love-machine pop, with whom he lived in Miami from the age of seven, he says: "I feel like I'm a step ahead, from growing up with my father, in the sense of learning to surround myself with good people. As a little kid, I could tell the people who really loved my father and who didn't. As a kid, you can actually distinguish really well. But ass kissers are everywhere. And a lot of times you do even realize it, but you like it. You start getting used to it. It comes to the point where you just want to hear the good things, and you have to be careful of that, you know? And that's one thing you learn growing up in this business: Surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. Because if something is bad, it's bad."
Iglesias moved from Spain, where he'd been living with his mother, to his dad's pad in Miami for security reasons after his paternal grandfather was kidnapped. "That was kind of like an adventure," says Iglesias. "I mean, it was sad when my grandfather was kidnapped, but then he was rescued, and once he was rescued it became like a movie. I remember coming to the U.S. in a huge plane, and when it landed in Miami, there were FBI agents everywhere, and we were getting picked up by helicopters, and I was like, 'Whoa, cool.' Once I got here, I missed all my friends from Spain, and my mother, and it was pretty hard. I used to cry every single day. But I was just a little kid, it was normal. I think I grew up in a good environment and a healthy environment. I think my parents did a good job. It's not as if it was a Behind the Music kind of environment."
In Miami, Iglesias grew up listening to George Michael, Springsteen, Billy Joel, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, Lionel Richie and Dire Straits – in short, the mixed bag of Top Forty radio of the time, which is reflected in his own work. "To me, they all cross over to pop," he says. "I love the Beatles, I liked Elvis a lot. I hate categorizing music. Nowadays, there are so many categories: Acid jazz, acid funk. I mean, there is funk, of course, but they always have to put another little word on it."
Enrique had wanted to be a performer since he was eight years old, but despite his connections, he mostly kept his ambitions to himself. (Later, when he first sent out demos, he would sometimes not use his famous last name.) "I was shy," he explains. "I didn't want to be eating dinner with my parents and say, 'Dad, I want to be a singer,' and hear, like, 'Shut up and keep on eating.' So I kept it to myself and kept on writing. I used to just dream and dream and dream always. I used to picture myself in an arena singing in front of 50,000 people. I'm not talking about just normal dreaming, I'm talking about where every single day that's all you think about, that's all you want, that's what your mind is getting ready for.
"When I was sixteen, seventeen," he continues, "I used to go to a friend who had a little studio, and I would record little demos, and then I would get in the car and listen to them. And I would be like, 'Oh, shit, this really sucks,' and practically be crying. And it would stop me for, like, a day, and then I'd say, 'Screw it, I'm going to keep on going.' I feel embarrassed to talk about it now, because it was so, so bad, but when you think about it, it's impossible to start perfect. It's the learning process everyone goes through."
When he was nineteen, Iglesias signed to the Mexican label Fonovisa (somewhat to the surprise of his parents, who were under the impression he was in business school) and got his first hit in Latin America that same year. Iglesias now has a reported $44 million deal with Interscope, and is poised to rev up the love machine for even greater global domination. This all requires a lot of traveling, and even more frequent inquiries vis-à-vis his favorite color.
"I'm cranky sometimes," he says. "But you know what? It's not that I'm always happy, but I feel like I'm privileged to do what I do. I feel so lucky. I think about working a job from nine to five just because I need the money, and I would go crazy. So I don't care if I have to travel around the world, although it does get hectic. And the day I go nuts, I'll just . . .… I'll just stop, you know?"