Searching for Tejano music’s next superstar

Tejano Idol singing competition turns 5

When Fort Worth resident Mario Macias spotted a flyer announcing a Tejano music singing competition in Austin, the aspiring singer knew it could be his chance.

Although he didn’t sing much Tejano music at the time, Macias says he grew up with the Tex-Mex sound. At just 16 years old, Macias won the Austin Tejano Music Coalition’s Canta Tejano Idol competition in 2013. Since then, the contest has proved to be a launching pad for his music career.

“I feel like it’s opened a lot of doors and allowed me to play at different venues (across the state),” he says.

The singing contest — think “American Idol” with a Tejano twist — is loosely modeled after the popular television show, and is hosted by Tejano music star Shelly Lares. It began as an ambitious project five years ago to help elevate the Tejano music scene, and has now grown to include audition sites across Texas and beyond. The fifth edition of Canta Tejano Idol, which will feature the top 16 finalists, will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the H&H Ballroom.

Since the contest’s launch, people who love Tejano music have sought out the Austin Tejano Music Coalition, which was recognized with a city proclamation on Thursday. They’ve created unique partnerships with other Tejano music-loving organizations across the country, such as the Tejano Society of Holland Michigan, which is sending a contestant to compete at the grand finale show.

“We do it for the love of the music,” says Aggie Sanchez, chairwoman for the Canta Tejano Idol contest and Austin Tejano Music Coalition board member. “It’s a music that was born and bred in Texas.”

Over the years, the singing competition has given aspiring performers a chance to showcase their talents and infuse the genre with a refreshed sound that appeals to a new generation of listeners.

With Tejano music influenced by sounds such as jazz and R&B, Macias says, “There’s no limit to what Tejano music can be. We’re a mezcla (mixture), really, of American and Mexican roots. That’s who I am.” Macias, who has a single releasing later this fall, dreams of reaching the Tejano Music Awards and Grammys one day.

Other former Tejano Idol contestants have also seen their careers receive a boost after the competition. Tejano Idol 2011 winner Ashley Borrero teamed up with Tejano Idol contestant Angel Gonzalez to perform in the local band Angel y Grupo Vimana. Borrero has a single out and is working on her full-length album while Gonzalez has received a couple of Tejano Music Award nominee nods.

Canta Tejano Idol winners receive $500 and a chance to record with Tejano music record label Freddie Records. Throughout the year, the Austin Tejano Music Coalition works to book the contestants at area shows and festivals like the Mexican American Experience during South by Southwest.

“Our Tejano legends are getting older, and we need young people who love the music as much as we do,” Sanchez says.

Tejano music has struggled for more than a decade to gain the popularity it once enjoyed. In 2005, when Austin lost its Tejano radio stations, it sparked a community fight to bring the music back, which helped launch the Austin Tejano Music Coalition.

Austin’s Tejano radio station — KTXZ 1560 AM — recently changed formats to norteño music; 1600 AM now plays Tejano music. On KOOP 91.7 FM, Rancho Alegre Radio produces an hour-long weekly Tejano and Conjunto show at 9 a.m. every Monday.

Today, there’s an evolution happening in Tejano music.

“It’s not the same kind of Tejano music that I grew up with,” Sanchez says. “The kiddos are adding their own style to it, and I think it’s great. It’s given Tejano music a little lift. As far as the talent, we have it. It’s out there.”

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