Never have I been able to predict the winner of the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza Vocal Competition, and this year was no exception. Although I’m familiar with many of the students and have the pleasure of working with several on a year-round basis, the competition is based on their performance during this one brief moment. It’s all about how well they perform in front of the judges — members of the world’s preeminent Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán — and a live audience of nearly 1,000.
The competition featured 36 outstanding vocalists from nearly 20 cities in Texas. Students were selected out of hundreds of entries as finalists in early November and had the opportunity to perform in front of judges that included Mariachi Vargas’ vocalists Steeven Sandoval, Daniel Martínez and Pepe Martínez, Jr.
William “Carlton” Gálvez stood out shining amongst the finalists on Saturday, December 7 at the Lila Cockrell Theater and was selected as the “Best Mariachi Vocalist in the U.S.,” for his exceptional rendition of “Júrame” — traditional mariachi with a hint of opera.
Like many South Texas students, William didn’t grow up in a Spanish-speaking household. In fact, his father is African-American and his mother is half Mexican-American and half Caucasian. “I have to credit my mother for introducing me to many different musical genres while growing up,” says William. “I listened to everything from R&B to reggae and tejano to country, but it was mariachi music that I connected with the most,” he says.
William first started in a mariachi program in his hometown of Kyle, TX, while at Hemphill Elementary, with the help of Carlos Maldonado. He also participated in mariachi programs offered at the San Marcos Mariachi Academy nearby. He entered the competition four times prior to graduating from high school, but says he hadn’t quite found his voice yet.
William graduated from Lehman High School in 2010 and was persuaded by a member of Campanas de América to attend Palo Alto College in his freshman year. He tried out for the vocal competition once more and made it to the finals, placing second in the college/university category last year (2012). Vargas members told him he had a good voice, but needed to work on his diction. He was determined to improve, and decided to enroll in a vocal class with Juan Ortiz at Palo Alto College. He told Juan he wanted to sing the song “Júrame” for his class project and in preparation for the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, so they went to work and spent the whole semester on improving his diction. He said he practiced and practiced and practiced every day — and it showed.
William’s performance was breathtaking. He nailed it during the competition and during the concert. The audience responded with an overwhelming applause and a standing ovation. His performance of “Júrame” was most impressive. He was stunning, and even Pepe, Jr. stood behind the curtain watching him in front of a sold-out audience, beaming with pride. Everyone loves William and is happy to see him succeed. He is a brilliant performer with a great future. He dreams of continuing his singing career and studying music education and voice, with a minor in communications. He says that although he loves all kinds of music, it’s mariachi he feels most passionate about — mariachi and opera, that is.
William “Carlton” Gálvez is the recipient of a $2,000 scholarship from the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza thanks to sponsors AHMSA International, Valero, Buchanan’s, People en Español Festival and mariachimusic.com. He will represent the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza as the “Best Vocalists in the U.S.” through 2014.