Mexican sensation Maria Jose looks for U.S. success

Fri Jun 10, 2011 7:41pm EDT

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MIAMI (Billboard) - Pop star Maria Jose made a name for herself as a member of Kabah, the boy/girl sextet that was hugely successful in Mexico during the 1990s and early 2000s.

Now, as a solo artist, Maria Jose has become even more successful thanks to two cover albums that have become Mexican hits and yielded five top 20 singles.

Replicating that kind of success in the United States won't be easy, particularly at a time when the traditional Latin pop she's known for is being played on fewer U.S. radio outlets.

But the bubbly bombshell brings some significant assets to the table, including a riveting stage presence and a repertoire of girl-power standards. She also has a multirights deal with management company/ label Seitrack, which handles Alejandra Guzman and Zoe, among others.

The idea of recording covers, following a moderately successful solo debut of new material, stemmed from Maria Jose's participation in a Mexican TV reality show that featured guests and contestants singing cover songs. Maria Jose and her team mined deep into 1980s repertoire and released "Amante de lo Ajeno" in 2009. The album became a sensation, spending 80 weeks on Mexico's Amprofon albums chart.

Seitrack quickly followed up with "Amante de lo Bueno," which includes more of the same material. The set, released last fall, also topped the Amprofon chart and was certified platinum for shipments of more than 80,000 copies in Mexico alone.

That success prompted Seitrack to hatch a plan to break Maria Jose in the United States, according to Luana Pagani, Seitrack's U.S. partner. Seitrack released "Amante de lo Bueno" on May 31 in the states with distribution through Sony.

"We put together a team to work the record in music company fashion," Pagani says. "We have a radio department, we have a club/and lifestyle marketing team, a publicist, and we have a digital in-house team."

The first single, "La Ocasion Para Amarnos," is being worked to radio on the West Coast, in the Southwest and Midwest. Maria Jose is also slated to perform three radio shows in California in June.

"I always compare it to a restaurant," Maria Jose says about her independent status after 11 years with Warner, which released all of Kabah's albums. "When you're the owner, you stay until the last client has walked out the door.

"Indeed, one of the factors that's helped Maria Jose's rise is her willingness to perform anywhere, anytime. She plays at least 200 shows per year in Mexico, with audiences normally ranging from 500 to 3,000. In May, the efforts culminated with Maria Jose's first solo concert at the 10,000-seat Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City.

Now, she's starting at square one in the United States, with a series of smaller shows, including one at Los Angeles' Conga Room that's slated for August. By then, Pagani expects U.S. audiences to be more familiar with Maria Jose, who will appear weekly on the Univision network as a judge on children's talent show "Pequenos Gigantes."

"The time is right, because the U.S. is a reflection of Mexico, where it already worked," Pagani says. "And not just the U.S.-also Central and South America, where they see all the Mexican shows. It's step by step."

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

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