Americano Idol

Here's a dating tip for every guy surfing Amor@AOL for a hot Latina mujer. If, after "musica favorita," she lists, simply, "salsa," there are three hard and fast commandments you must absolutely heed, lest you risk settling for yet another night alone with your Paulina Rubio CD cover.

Number one: Do not, under any circumstances, escort the lady in question to a dance club where the DJ dares to mix samples of the latest house and trance beats over popular salsa grooves.

"Cut off a Gilbert Santa Rosa song in Puerto Rico and you will get killed," cautions DJ Ray Cruz from Hawaii, via the Web. "It is like committing a mortal sin against the dancers," adds David Ortiz, a radio DJ at WRTI in Philadelphia. "You totally kill their flow, climax and ending to a beautiful work of art."


Marc Anthony

Dodge Theatre, 400 West Washington

Scheduled to perform on Saturday, August 10. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $38 to $68. Call 602-379-2800.

Number two: No matter how randy your caliente companion might make you, do not pull an Austin Powers move on the dance floor.

"The worst thing is when you're watching a couple dancing up a storm on the dance floor, and it suddenly goes from classy to cheap," says Edie Espinoza, a leading L.A. dance instructor who also hosts her own Web site, Salsafreak.com. "They're looking incredible out there, his style is very chivalrous, her style is very elegant. A small crowd gathers to watch them dance. Then suddenly, he dances in front of her, grabs her by the hips, kneels down and, just inches away from her crotch, starts shaking his face and tongue back and forth.

"Any type of behavior like this is considered low-life and trashy," Espinoza says, wincing. "It does not belong in the classy salsa scene, and should stay out."

And number three, and perhaps most important: Do not even think about dissing Marc Anthony.

Ricky Martin is fair game — even onetime Menudo fanatics now scoff at his ever-preening camera poses and incessant bon-bon shaking. Enrique Iglesias' continuing bid for pop stud-dom has already begun to distance him from his original Spanish-speaking fans.

But Anthony, the latecomer in the '99 Latin explosion, has somehow survived his triple-platinum pop crossover success — "Got Milk?" billboards and all — with every shred of his cultural credibility intact.

"I feel his passion and feeling in his singing that brings chills down my spine," says Maiann, a contributor to one of the Web's many Anthony fan sites. "I'm half French, half Puerto Rican. When I hear Marc sing Preciosa,' it gives such a sense of pride and belonging that I cannot express into words."

Heather, a tough-talking contributor to one of the Web's many Anthony fan sites, puts it a bit more bluntly. "Marc is just a cool @$$ thug!" she writes.

To the uninitiated, it can be hard to fathom Marc Anthony's huge international appeal. Unlike Martin and Iglesias, the 34-year-old Anthony lacks the macho swagger and pretty-boy looks that American pop superstardom seems to demand. Indeed, in the several forays to film acting Anthony has tried (the singer scored noteworthy roles in 1996's Big Night and Martin Scorsese's 1999 film Bringing Out the Dead, among others), Anthony looks unnervingly like Steve Buscemi, only without the bug-eyed craziness.

His music, too, lacks the obvious commercial punch of his crossover contemporaries, avoiding the hip-hop beats and tech-savvy production of most contemporary pop hits (and not even a guest rapper in sight).

To really get Anthony's appeal, you have to listen to his fans, who seem to follow the New York-born Puerto Rican singer with an almost Elvis-like devotion.

Nowhere is that devotion more apparent than in the chat rooms and letter archives of Anthony's most visited fan site, MarcAnthonyFans.com. Moderated by a group of unusually prolific PC-punchers (the site is bulging with multimedia clips, original wallpaper creations and even custom-created Marc Anthony icons), "MAF" offers a vast community of devout fans eager to e-mail the clueless newcomer glowing personal testimonies to their salsa-singing god.

"Whoever has not had a chance to see Marc in person is missing out on a brilliant interpreter of emotions," gushes Wendy T., a Puerto Rico-born woman who grew up listening to her grandmother's Hector Lavoe and Tito Puente records, as well as the work of Marco Antonio Muniz, the Mexican singer Anthony's musician-father named him after. "It can only be compared to a warm blanket on a cold winter day. He just covers you with this energy that makes you feel warm and cozy all over. When he is on stage, he walks on air — it's not him, it's like he has angels moving him from side to side, up and down. It's incredible. I know he gets goose bumps all over, I can feel it."

Some fans attribute that eerie effect to Anthony's voice, an alternately soaring and soothing instrument.

"I like the sound of his voice, and his vibrato," explains homegirl Heather. "I like how he doesn't sing all choppy and short like other salseros. He sings more legato, with more vibrato than the others."

Anthony's not your mother's Latin heartthrob, though. "I actually hated anything ethnic 'til Marc came around," adds Heather. "My mom listened to Julio, Julio, Julio all the damn time! In the car, at the house, outside by the pool, it was always Julio! That's why I can't listen to Enrique, 'cause he's the offspring of Julio! No mo' Iglesias fo' me, sorry."

On the other hand, some moms actually introduced their girls to the sensual salsero. "I first heard of Marc in my house when my mother would blast his music while cleaning the house," offers Clarissa, a fan who goes by the nickname Lovablexc online. "Oh boy, did I hate me some Marc then! Every Saturday morning, my mom and her Marc drove me crazy — I was into house music and freestyle at that time."

It was a personal connection that finally won Clarissa over. "My father was sick with Alzheimer's disease," she explains. "But while he was still okay he told my mom that El Ultimo Beso' [one of Anthony's early Latin hits] was his song to her if anything ever happened to him. When he passed away, my mother played Marc's music at his funeral, and when that song was played, Marc's singing hit me like a brick. There aren't any words that can explain the feeling that I had with that song, and Marc was in my life forever."

It's those personal connections Anthony manages to make with his fans, both through the aching ballads he specializes in and the atypical attention he shows his supporters in person, that seems to secure those lifelong devotions.

"I was at a concert in Tampa, Florida," recalls Will, one of the few vocal male fans in the MAF community. "Marc just finished performing Hasta Te Conoci,' and an elderly lady managed to make her way to the side of the stage and was stopped by security. Marc stopped the music and in front of everyone told the guards that it was okay."

In the end, maybe it's Anthony's reluctance to cater to those American pop ideals that keeps his international legion of fans close by his side. After all, how many crossover sensations would choose to follow up a triple-platinum-selling English-language debut with a return to Spanish salsa, as Anthony did on 2001's Libre (which nonetheless managed to sell in healthy numbers)?

And even his recent divorce, from former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres, was handled in a most unsensational, un-pop-star-like manner.

"They're still friends and they love each other and they love their child," went Anthony's official statement.

Didn't pop success teach Anthony anything about milking personal drama for publicity? Hadn't he learned anything from Pamela Anderson, who managed to parlay her breakup with Tommy Lee into so many magazine covers? Or Tatum O'Neal, who scored seven pages in People and her own 20/20 segment following her messy divorce from John McEnroe?

Apparently not. And Anthony's fans are grateful for that.

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