When 18-year-old Odessa High School senior Esteban Velasquez walked on staged at the Ector Junior High School Auditorium on Thursday, December 6 he received a response similar to that of Elvis Presley. High-pitched screams and loud applauses came from several hundred young teenagers cheering the handsome and talented teen who took Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S. at Ford Motor Company’s 13th Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza five days earlier. About 500 mariachi musicians, families, teenagers and local television crews, filled the auditorium for the Mariachi Christmas Serenade which featured Esteban and several student-based mariachi groups representing area elementary/middle schools and Odessa High School.
The fact that a teen from a West Texas oil town took Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S. is extraordinary to say the least. Mariachi music isnt quite the norm in this region. People listen to country or Norteño music in this part of the world. Mariachi music is not played on radio stations nor does it get much support from the community. Although, Odessa has found a way to blend the West Texas culture with mariachi music as demonstrated during the elementary/middle school mariachi performance on Thursday. Students dressed in traditional mariachi trajes with cowboy boots. Half wore sombreros and the other half wore cowboy hats!
So how does a West Texas teen master the art of singing mariachi and winning an extremely competitive competition over students from other parts of the country where mariachi music is more popular? Easy. Determination, hard work, persistence and planning is what Esteban knew it would take to win Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S.
Esteban improved this year having competed vocally for three consecutive years. Much of it was due to months of preparation, a boost of self confidence and tremendous support from his family. An opportunity to open for Pepe Aguilar at the Ector County Coliseum in Odessa this past summer resulted in a more confident young man. Luck was on Esteban’s side the day Aguilar was scheduled to perform. Esteban showed up to sound check with the help of a local radio station contact hoping to have the opportunity to meet Aguilar. Aguilar was in El Paso and ran late that day missing sound check and cutting it close for the actual concert. Esteban volunteered to open for Aguilar while the crowd of more than 7,000 waited patiently for the celebrity to arrive. Esteban wowed the crowd with several mariachi songs backed up by a pista prior to Aguilars arrival. Esteban met Aguilar following his performance and Aguilar thanked him for holding the crowd and congratulated him on his performance.
Esteban and his mom Cristela also spent last summer driving five hours to San Antonio for private vocal lessons with former Mariachi Vargas member Manuel Manuelito Vargas. Together Manuel and Esteban picked the song Esteban sang during the competition, Si Te Vas, and practiced this song for six months prior to the event. As the competition was approaching, Esteban wanted to change the song for something with a faster pace but Manuelito convinced him to stick with the song he’d been rehearsing. The advice paid off, along with his mom and dad’s support in taking private vocal lessons in San Antonio and Esteban’s determination to win.
Esteban participates in advanced academic programs and is a member of the National Honor Society, the high school mariachi group, choir and soccer team. Esteban was popular and well-liked before he received the Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S. title but with his recent victory, his popularity has already grown outside of West Texas. As Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S. Esteban opened for Mariachi Vargas at the Municipal Auditorium and performed for a near sold out crowd of 5,000 (click here to see Estebans performance). He won a $2,000 scholarship from Ford Motor Company and Safeco Insurance and will open for Mariachi Vargas March 14, 2008 in Eugene, Ore. as part of a three-day residency program made possible by the John G. Shedd Institute for the Performing Arts. It’s no wonder the girls rushed towards the front of the auditorium to get photos taken with Esteban following his performance at Ector Junior High.
This is just the beginning for Esteban who has big dreams of graduating high school this May and then attending college. He’s not sure what hell do after that, but he knows that his love of mariachi music and singing will be part of his life forever.