"The name of the winner from the third generation of La Academia is..." Mexican superstar Carlos Rivera then heard his name announced 15 years ago on July 4, 2004. The 23-year-old at the time from Huamantla, Tlaxcala tearfully addressed all those who voted for him in the competition. "I've dreamed of this moment and it came true," he said. Now with five albums under his belt, Rivera is one of the most successful singers to come from the La Academia series. He was able to transcend the novelty of reality TV to become a force in Latin music entertainment.
In Mexico, Rivera was an instant star with his debut self-titled album in 2007 and 2010's Mexicano, which featured covers of beloved and traditional Mexican songs. He not only shined on the concert stage but on the theatre stage as well. Rivera extended his reach from Latin America to Spain when he landed the starring role of Simba in El Rey León, the Spanish-language adaption of the Lion King musical. (He will actually voice Simba in the Spanish-language version of Disney's upcoming live-action remake.)
Having made a splash in Latin America and Spain, 2013's El Hubiera No Existe solidified Rivera's superstar status on both fronts. He later channeled his inspirational story as a boy from Huamantla whose dream came true into 2016's Yo Creo album, another blockbuster release. Last year Rivera dropped his latest record, Guerra, which stands for "War" in English and personally reflects his second last name. It's proven to be a triumph, especially with the success of his Guerra world tour.
In April, I had the chance to see the Guerra tour in Madrid, Spain and Rivera did not disappoint. In his fight to spread the love with that powerful voice of his and those hips that don't lie, he commandeered a hits-filled set that was stunning to witness. Rivera is looking to plant his bandera, or "flag" in English, on U.S. soil this fall with his first headlining tour here. When I met him in Madrid, he was a total sweetheart. "I remember you from tuitter," Rivera told me about the picture I posted on Twitter in front of his giant poster. I told him that I would see him again at his Anaheim, California show in October 10.
With 15 years in the music business and still going strong, Rivera recently celebrated his anniversary with fans at a special expo in Mexico City. Mementos and memories filled the Blackberry Auditorium from his career from La Academia to the Guerra era. He also capped off his visit with two more sold-out shows at the massive Auditorio Nacional, adding up to 11 sold-out shows there for him overall. In honor of Rivera's quince as a singer, here's a list of 10 of his best songs to revisit.
1. "Fascinación" (2013)
Rivera's best song is "Fascinación," or "Fascination" in English, and it's easy for him to capture yours with his soaring vocals. On the mid-tempo ballad from El Hubiera No Existe, he sings about falling for the lucky lady of his eye with heartwarming lyrics. He commands all the attention and fascination in a moving performance. He's especially fascinating in the music video shirtless (eyes wide open emoji).
2. "Regrésame Mi Corazón" (2018)
In last year's Guerra standout, "Regrésame Mi Corazón" (Return My Heart to Me), Rivera pleas to woman who has stolen his heart to give it back. The song seemingly blends Latin pop with a flamenco twist, mixing the best of Rivera's worlds in Mexico and Spain. Sounding like he's sweetly suffering, Rivera channels that emotion into a sultry performance. The hot choreography in the music video is another draw.
3. "Lo Digo" (2017)
Fitting for the Yo Creo album, Rivera re-released it with the empowering "Lo Digo" (I Say It). He dabbled in reggaeton music alongside legendary Cuban duo Gente de Zona. Over tropical beats, the guys trade verses filled with inspirational words and say it like they mean it. Rivera's career is a testament to hard work paying off and on this song he preaches just that while delivering something you can dance to.
4. "Solo Tú" (2013)
"Solo Tú," or "Only You" in English, is another knockout from the album El Hubiera No Existe. Backed by a full symphonic band, Rivera digs deep to let his loved one know just how much she means to him. In one of his best vocal performances recorded, his falsetto hits heavenly highs as he delivers sweet somethings with ease. Only Rivera's powerful voice could pull that off. He's a revelation on "Solo Tú."
5. "Ya No Me Acuerdo Más De Ti" (2019)
For her live album Conexión, former Kabah member and Mexican icon María José teamed up with Rivera for "Ya No Me Acuerdo Más De Ti" (I Don't Remember You Anymore). As the title suggests, both powerhouse singers trade verses denying each other's existence after a bad breakup. On the "James Bond"-sounding kiss-off, Rivera and José do a great job of getting that heartbreaking point across.
6. "Quedarme Aquí" (2016)
The original version of the Yo Creo album was already loaded with some fire in the form of "Quedarme Aquí" (Stay Here). It's the most funky and fun song in Rivera's catalog with horns, bass and soulful singers backing him. He puts his best smooth operator foot forward and tries to woo a woman over with the flirty lyrics. Rivera is sexy and simply irresistible on this swaggering cut.
7. "Qué Ironía" (2019)
From her latest album Valiente, Mexican superstar Thalía teamed up with Rivera on "Qué Ironía" (How Ironic). She released a lyric music video this year featuring the two fighting their feelings for each other. On the pop ballad, Thalía and Rivera are poetic in expressing the dysfunction in their complicated relationship. The irony is not lost on them as they deliver an emotional rollercoaster duet.
8. "Me Muero" (2018)
On the Guerra album, Rivera surrenders to romance on "Me Muero" (I'm Dying). In this day and age with the word "dying" not just meaning passing away anymore but a metaphorical intensity, he channels the passion behind the new slang into a beautiful love song that could kill you with tenderness. The music video is just as emotional with Rivera singing his heart out in the rain while watching over a couple.
9. "Recuérdame" (2017)
Rivera was one of the artists invited to sing "Recuérdame" (Remember Me) for Disney's Coco soundtrack. Out of all the renditions recorded, Carlos sounds the closest to Mexican character Ernesto de la Cruz's version and he sounds at home singing over the rich ranchera music. Leave it to one of Mexico's best artists to represent his country proudly and well in a song.
10. "Esta Noche Es Para Amar" (2014)
Talk about a full circle of life moment. In the finale of La Academia, Rivera sang a Spanish cover of Elton John's "Can You Feel The Love Tonight." He furthered his career years later by playing Simba in Spanish-language adaption of The Lion King musical. For his 2014 live album, he covered "Esta Noche Es Para Amar" again. Like with John, the love is very tangible in Rivera's rousing rendition.