Coming out of Puerto Rico in the 1970s, MENUDO was the first, and the greatest, of a wave of talented singing and dancing groups that's still relevant 30 years later. The legendary group has sold over 40 million records worldwide, broke numerous attendance records including: 13 consecutive sellout performances at Radio City Music Hall, 200,000 fans at a soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, over 500,000 fans at a Mexico City concert and launching the career of international superstar Ricky Martin.
Now – two generations later – a new, updated version of MENUDO is back, with a contemporary sound and look, and the same universal appeal. The five new members Carlos Olivero (18 years old, Mexican/Puerto Rican, Chicago, IL); Chris Moy (15 years old, Puerto Rican/Venezuelan/Chinese, Bronx / Dutchess County, NY); Emmanuel Vélez Pagán (16 years old, Puerto Rican, Trujillo Alto, PR); José Bordonada Collazo (15 years old, Puerto Rican, Manati, Puerto Rico) and Monti Montañez (18 years old, Puerto Rican, Caguas, Puerto Rico / Now Laredo, TX) are young, polished, highly professional singing-and-dancing boy group. They will release a preview of new music on their More Than Words EP that will be released on December 18 in Target stores around the country with their full length album to follow in Spring of 2008, both via Epic Records.
People know and love this new MENUDO already. The new group came together on the MTV & MTV Tr3s reality series Making Menudo. Viewers watched the dramatic competition week after week, as fifteen young Latinos, chosen from nationwide search went through a demanding "boy-band boot camp" designed by legendary pop impresario Johnny Wright to train and choose the five best suited for the even harder job of working professionally as a performing team.
The competition is over, and now the group begins. On Tuesday, November 20, 2007, the identities of the final members of the 2008 version of MENUDO were unveiled on the climactic episode of Making Menudo. Five dedicated, ultra-talented guys between the ages of 15 and 18 were chosen. Carlos, Jose, Monti, Emmanuel and Chris have undergone a rigorous process of musical, choreographic, and professional education that required them to excel individually and to work together as a cohesive unit. Each one can sing lead, and each one specializes in a particular style of music. But they all do all styles, and they harmonize together.
They've already performed on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Live with Regis & Kelly, appeared on Despierta America, Escondalo TV and are set to perform on the Hollywood Christmas Parade and the Disney Christmas Day Parade before the end of the year.
Meet the Group
18-year-old Carlos Olivero is from Chicago. His mom is Mexican and his father Puerto Rican. If you ask him what he brings to the group, he'll tell you, "I'm the urban one, I'm the little hip hop guy in the group." He says he's goofy and he cracks a lot of jokes, but he's focused on his music. "I learned how to dance from my father, because he was a break dancer, so I picked up dancing at a young age – I think I was about five years old when I started dancing. Music was always in my blood because my uncles and aunts, they danced, they sang, they performed." Ask him what it means to be in the new MENUDO, and you'll find someone who believes in his mission: "The way we all look at it is" – he emphasizes group effort – "We're bringing Latino back and to a whole new audience!"
The oldest member of the group is 18-year-old Monti, whose full name is José Antonio Montañez. He's Puerto Rican, originally from Caguas, but now lives in Laredo, Texas, where his step dad is with the U.S. Border Patrol. He's the "dad" of the group, a role he developed growing up during stressful years of relocation to different places (he learned English in Germany) while his stepfather was in the military. "What got me through was my music," Monti recalls. "Singing in my school choir, singing in the praise team in the church choir, joining the drama team in church, that really helped me get my mind together and stop worrying so much about the great danger that he was in being in Iraq. It was hard for my mom, it was hard for my sister, and I had to step up and be a father to my two little brothers." What does he bring to the group? With salsa, bachata, and merngue on his iPod, keeping his beloved Puerto Rico close to his heart, he's the traditional Latin one.
Chris – full name Christopher Moy, just 15, has a Puerto Rican mom and a Venezuelan / Chinese father. He's from the Bronx, though he now lives in Dutchess County, NY. "We all have our styles," he says, "and mine's R & B." Like the others, he was a talent-show star: "I started singing around the age of six. I just did it as a hobby up until about seventh grade, where I did my first talent show, and I started to love performing, so I did more talent shows and more talent shows, and eventually my aunt came to me and told me about the audition for Menudo." Viewers watched his skills grow under the training they received. "Honestly, before the competition?" he says. "I never danced before. So the whole dancing and choreography thing was a learning experience." Though he was already a stylish singer, his powers grew under David Coury's intense, at times intimidating, tutelage, while a TV audience watched: "Our ranges have increased, like, amazingly," he says. "I can hit low notes that I've never been able to hit before. I can sing very high full voice, and I'm starting to develop a falsetto, which I never had before the competition."
Also 15 is José Bordonada Collazo, another self-confessed "talent show kid" who's been singing since he was five and started dancing when he was 11. He's a high full tenor, and he brings a pop voice to the group. Also from Puerto Rico (from Manatí, in the north of the island), his first language is Spanish, but he's fully bilingual. He had maybe the most difficult time in the competition of any of the five, coming down sick during the weeks of competition and getting put "on probation" in front of a national TV audience. But he hung in and came through. "We were really focused," he recalls. He points out something about the backstage drama captured by the reality-show cameras: "Some of us had a little bit of, like, you know, uh, moments with other guys where we would disagree, but us five – I don't really recall a moment that we fought." (To which Carlos adds: "Within the five of us, we've never had an argument, never had a confrontation with each other. We've always been the ones that have been close and problem-free.")
16-year-old Emmanuel Vélez Pagán (from Alto Trujillo, Puerto Rico) is Puerto Rican and proud. Ask him what's different about him from the rest of the group and he jokes, "I'm the one with the accent!" Like the others, he's living a dream right now, one that started when he saw another famous "boy band" on TV: "The reason that I'm singing right now is *NSYNC," he says. They're my idols. I just love their concerts. I just love to perform. When I saw them, that's what inspired me to take this career." If he's a little less talkative than the others, he's also the one that gets everybody laughing immediately. "I'm kinda funny sometimes," he says deadpan. "I don't try to be, but people seem to laugh." What does he bring? "I'm the Latin guy," he says. But wait, Monti said he was the Latin guy? "Yeah, he's like the Latin salsa and all that, but I'm the reggaetón one!"
But they all do it all, and they love the fact that the new MENUDO's music is multi-generic. And it's the sound of now; this isn't your abuela's MENUDO. They've recorded something like 50 new songs for their first album already, and they're already veterans after working with a wide variety of contemporary producers and writers including Danja, The Clutch, J.R. Rotem, Oak, Brian Kennedy, Elvis Williams, Akon, Red One, The Runners, and The Jams. Asked about their new album, José says, "urban pop, R & B, ballads, Latin flavors, a little bit of electronic also. Some of those songs are just those types, some of the songs are all those types together. Music for the clubs, and music just to hear." Monti adds, laughing, "Music that has never been heard before! New styles! It's definitely gonna be loved by everybody. Everybody can relate to it. We put a lot of emotion into our songs, so we want to touch lives, we want to touch people."
How does it feel to step into MENUDO's shoes? Monti says, "Menudo – I think of legendary, I think of history. I think of millions and millions of fans that loved Menudo and respected Menudo. Menudo was not only loved by the Latin community. They were international stars, they were loved by international people. The globe loved Menudo. And to be part of that, it's a huge honor. It's definitely a blessing. Of course, like Carlos said, we're bringing Latino back but we're doing this for everybody!" When it comes from him, it doesn't sound like hype. They're serious. And the passion comes through when they start to sing.
Asked about their new four-song More Than Words EP, they count it off and drop into "More Than Words (A E I O U)," the number they performed on the finale of Making Menudo, produced by Danja and written by The Clutch. They bust out the complicated five-part harmonies just like they were singing on the street corner. The EP will also feature the Spanish version "Mas Que Amore (A E I O U), their other original song "Move" and their remake of Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas." This MENUDO is very much for real. Talented. Hard working. Focused. Entertaining.
And just getting started with life.