Kassandra “Kassie” Juárez is slated to open for Steeven Sandoval at a special Serenata para Las Madres in San Antonio on May 12th. The 18-year-old singer and violinist began practicing mariachi music in the 6th grade and has competed in the internationally recognized Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza since the 8th grade. This past December, the culmination of all her hard work and dedication paid off when she was named Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Grand Champion Vocalist of the Year.
Q: So in December, I saw your performance at the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza and your big win. What was that like for you?
A: It’s an amazing competition. Honestly, it’s been like a dream come true. I’ve been competing since the 8th grade. I kept climbing up the ladder until I finally earned the award I wanted. It’s just, like, wow!
Q: How did you get started in mariachi music?
A: I’ve just always been someone who enjoyed music. Since I was a little girl, I’ve loved singing and singing and singing. And now that I have a violin, too, it’s just really beautiful. It’s an escape.
Q: What do you mean by ‘It’s an escape?’
A: It’s … I guess you could say, if you’re having a bad day or a stressful day, I always have music. It’s something I can always fall back on. It’s something that energizes me.
Q: How does your family feel about mariachi?
A: Everyone in my family sings, mostly as a hobby. It’s really awesome. I’m really blessed that my entire family sings — I don’t know if it’s genetic or what. (laughs) My mom and dad both sing as a hobby.
Q: I know you’re opening for Steeven Sandoval at the Serenata… What does Mother’s Day mean to you?
A: Mother’s Day… is the day… it’s your mom’s day. You show her how much you really care about her, even though you’re supposed to do that every day.
Q: Tell me about your mom.
A: My mother goes out of her way every day to do everything for me. No one can make you feel like your mom makes you feel.
Q: Do you have any siblings?
A: Yes, I have two. My brother Abel Juárez is a freshman. He’s 15 and he’s a trumpet player in Mariachi Cascabel. I have another brother, Jorge Juárez. He’s 14 and in the 8th grade. He works on the technical side of mariachi as a sound technician.
Q: What did your family think when you started studying mariachi music?
A: They were ecstatic. It’s something my entire family has loved. My parents — my family and my grandparents… I love it.
Q: What do you love so much about the mariachi?
A: I love everything about it. I can do what I want. I can choose the songs that I want to sing. I can choose to express myself in any way I want. I can show people how it makes me feel and how it can make them feel, if that’s how they decide.
Q: What is training for competition like?
A: Training for competitions is a nonstop thing. I do exercises. I practice other songs — there’s even songs that just get me emotionally ready. I can sing whatever type of song you want me to sing, but I’m one who prefers a more heartfelt song. That is the way to really prepare.
Q: How did you go about selecting the winning song you competed with?
A: I selected a song that Alejandro Fernández and Iris Márquez both sing, “Procuro Olvidarte,” which is played on the radio quite often. I love singing along with their recordings, so my mom suggested I sing it for the competition.
Q: Who inspires you?
A: Music-wise, I’d have to say my two mariachi directors: Mr. Daniel Rentería and Mr. Marcos Zárate. They are amazing people in way they play their music and the way they teach us. They are also Latin Grammy (and Grammy) nominees. If it weren’t for them, I don’t think I’d be where I am.
Q: Who is your favorite traje maker?
A: Janet Luna from El Charro, in Penitas, Texas. She’s such an amazing person and no matter what I ask for, she’s going to find a way to make it work. She’s very down to earth. I just love her.
Q: When you won grand champion vocalist at last year’s Mariachi Vargas you wore a beautiful bright red traje. How did you explain what you wanted in that traje?
A: I wanted a traje — but not a traje at the same time. She came up with the corset, strapless type with a mermaid bottom. It was really beautiful and I loved it.
Q: Tell me about your color choice.
A: Red. I’ve just always felt like red is my color. It goes with me.
Q: What do you plan to wear for the Serenata?
A: I’m undecided for San Antonio. Either the red traje with a different corset, or a gorgeous brown dress. The brown dress is more like a traditional Mexican dress with floral embroidery. Pink flowers. And I asked if she could please add crystals for me. It has a full skirt and is not strapless. It’s a light chocolate brown with a pink shawl that I will wrap around my waist. With the red skirt, I’d wear a bone color corset to match the sombrero (the one she wore in her winning competition) and the embroidery is red.
Q: What is your favorite music?
A: Asking about favorite music is like asking a parent which is their favorite child. You get me? Yeah, I don’t really have a favorite. It’s a mixture of everything: mariachi, pop, music in English and Tejano. I’m not just a fan of mariachi music, I’m a fan of music.
Q: What is your favorite song to perform?
A: I really like the song “Más No Puedo.” It was Mr. Zárate’s sister who wrote it. It’s basically a love song on how that person can’t handle NOT being with the person they love. That person can’t imagine life without his or her partner. It’s one of my favorite songs. When I perform it, I try to imagine what that must feel like. I perform it different every time, but the emotion gets me every time.
Q: What’s your favorite movie?
A: I’m not one to have favorites, because they’re always changing. I like to change up everything, I guess you could say.
Q: What do you plan on doing after high school graduation?
A: What I plan on doing is going to college and getting my degree. My major was biomedical science, but I recently changed it. I changed my degree to music. I plan to come back to Río to be in the same field as my music directors.
Q: So you plan to teach?
A: And to sing. Teaching would be my main thing, but I’d also be performing while I teach.
Q: Where do you plan to attend college?
A: Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Q: What made you choose Texas A&M-Corpus Christi?
A: I had a lot of family members go there and they make it sound like such an amazing school. I think I’d do good there.
Q: Other than mariachi, singing and violin, do you have another hobby?
A: My other hobby is exercising, but not really sports. It’s kind of become a part of me. I was overweight my whole life, but last summer I started to exercise a little each day and to diet. I’ve lost 40 pounds up to this day.
Q: How did you do it?
A: I started with light cardio, walking, jogging – body weight exercises. Then I started lifting. Today was cardio day. I do it once a week. I do miles and miles on the treadmill and the elliptical and cycle. Weight lifting the rest of the week. I just love it – it’s just helped me so much.
Q: A lot of women and young women look in the mirror and don’t like what they see. What advice do you have for them?
A: No matter what, keep going. You can’t give up. When you first start, it’s going to be a challenge. When I started to see results, it was better. I used to hate exercising, but now I hate NOT exercising. Hard work really pays off!
The Serenata para las Madres concert will take place May 12 at the Charline McCombs Theatre in San Antonio. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com.
NOTE: Kassandra Juárez received a $2,000 scholarship from Bill and JoAnn Sims as Grand Champion Vocalist. She also had the opportunity to open for Mariachi Vargas in San Antonio, and will perform with the award-winning UT-RGV Mariachi Aztlán at Northern Colorado University in Greeley, Colorado this summer.
A total of $3,500 was granted in scholarships and awards during the 22nd Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza to the following vocal competition winners: Kassandra Juárez ($2,000) Camila Beltrán ($100), Christina López and Victoria Rosa ($150), Elvia Padrón, Brooke Talk and Samantha López ($200). In addition, Danielle Charles received $500 for a volunteerism award.