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"Selena: The Series" Star Christian Serratos On Playing "La Reina" & The Importance Of Latinx Identity In Hollywood

Christian Serratos as Selena

Photo: Sara Khalid/Netflix

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"Selena: The Series" Star Christian Serratos On Playing "La Reina" & The Importance Of Latinx Identity In Hollywood

"To have looked up to her for so long and then been given the chance to play her, I mean, I can't even—it's a dream!," Serratos tells GRAMMY.com

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2020 - 06:27 am

For countless U.S.-born Latinas, aspiring creatives and Selena admirers alike, the Queen of Tejano music made it possible to dream. A down to earth, unabashed fronteriza (or, border-lander), she represented a new kind of stardom that continues to fuel her enduring legacy—especially one that has resonated fervidly with the Latinx community generation over generation.

Such was the case for the 30-year-old actor Christian Serratos, who's been impacted by the late Tejano icon. So, when the opportunity arrived to play her idol on Netflix's new show "Selena: The Series" (out Dec. 4), it was almost unreal.

"To have looked up to her for so long and then been given the chance to play her, I mean, I can't even—it's a dream!," Serratos tells GRAMMY.com over a Zoom call. She's wearing an off-white sheer blouse decorated with a bow, with her seafoam green nails adding a pop contrast; her hair is black, luscious and in a half ponytail resembling one of Selena's usual 'dos.

Born and raised in Pasadena, Calif. to parents of Mexican and Italian ancestry, the actor mentions that there are "so many things that really connect" her with her character: "Being Mexican-American in this industry, and trying to find yourself at a young age. She experimented a lot with her look. I experimented a lot with my look. She struggled with her language. I struggled with my language."

Serratos began acting as a teenager in the mid-aughts, landing several supporting roles on TV shows like "7th Heaven" and "Hannah Montana," before moving into film with the Twilight trilogy. More recently, she played Rosita Espinosa on "The Walking Dead." "Selena: The Series" is her first starring role.

Co-executive produced by Selena's father Abraham Quintanilla and her sister Suzette, the series arrives 25 years after the beloved singer's tragic death at just 23 years old. It also marks the first TV show to recount her life and musical journey, over two decades since the eponymous biopic was released, the film that propelled Jennifer Lopez's career to superstardom. The Boricua actress and pop star even took to social media to share her enthusiasm for the upcoming series. "Playing Selena was kind of a landmark moment in my career and I was so excited when I saw the trailer and heard about it. It's a great way for this generation to know Selena," J.Lo wrote.

In our interview, the rising Mexican-American star details what new knowledge on Selena season one imparts and why it's important for her to represent Latin identity in American media. She also reveals that posthumous Selena music is underway!

How did you prepare for the role? Did you take dancing classes and dialect training?

Yeah. As a fan, I had already been watching a lot of her performances and videos my whole adult life. Obviously, I still did much more research now that I was going to be playing this person. I was really comfortable with a lot of the iconic Selena that we know. I felt really confident in the long hair in her early 20s.

What I think makes our first season so special is that we're seeing all the hard work that she put in to get to where she was. And we're going to be seeing so much more of her music that we'd never heard before. She has so many famous songs, "Techno Cumbia," Baila Esta Cumbia" "Amor Prohibido," "No Me Queda Mas," but to hear [older] songs like "Besitos" is going to be really strange for some people and then really exciting. They are just as powerful as her later stuff. I hope that they all become just as loved and played as her other songs.



We haven't seen Selena played in this magnitude since the 1997 eponymous biopic. How does the series differ?

I think there might be more comparisons with season two, but season one touches on her childhood, from her life as a child to age 19. Those formative years where she's figuring out who she wanted to be in life as a woman, but also creatively as a musician. We haven't gotten to see that anywhere before. Even some of the moments that we show on the show are rare footage. All the awards that she won as a 15-year-old girl we haven't seen before. Copying those speeches perfectly is going to be really fun for the fans. I was so grateful that her family was involved in our production and had these moments for us to watch and study, because I think being as close to accurate as we can is best for the fans.

What's another thing that you learned about Selena that you were previously unaware of? What stood out to you the most?

Her family life. I didn't know to what extent she, her family, and Los Dinos toured the country and Mexico in a van for many years, and how often she was on the road. It's impressive for those kids to have learned these songs in a Spanish before they were really comfortable with the language. They were children, and they were also really good at what they did—for [her brother] A.B. to have been producing these songs at such a young age. Selena started to write some of the songs too. I think that's just a testament to what incredible artists they were. She became an icon and we love her in our culture. She's an incredible artist, musician and writer. That needs to be talked about more.

Her family was involved in the production of this series. Selena's sister Suzette Quintanilla is one of the executive producers. How was it like to work with her actual family?

It was invaluable to our show. There are things we wouldn't have had access to if it weren't for them in terms of her life at work, like photos and stories. There are many special and intimate moments. And Suzette was nothing but lovely. I'm so grateful they are allowing us to do this, and that they allowed me to have the chance to portray her. For that, I can't thank them enough.

Did you ever contact Jennifer Lopez, who also famously portrayed Selena in the '90s?

I considered it a lot. I am a huge fan of her and what she's done. She's also broken so many barriers being a Latina. I have so much respect for what she did in the movie. I would love to thank her for her portrayal as Selena, because that was also very inspiring to me, and to a lot of young girls. Hopefully I'll get the opportunity to do that.

One of the things you have in common with Selena is that you're also Mexican-American. How important is it for you to have Latin representation in Hollywood and in mainstream American media?

So important. Selena straddled what I think is a very special place of [being] Mexican and American. She did such a good job at demanding that she be accepted for both things. There are so many things that I really connect with when it comes to Selena: being Mexican-American in this industry, and trying to find yourself at a young age. She experimented a lot with her look. I experimented a lot with my look. She struggled with her language. I struggled with my language.

I've been in this industry for a very long time, and so often I was [seen as] not enough of either, which became an insecurity of mine. But I'm so proud of being both things. I just want to keep telling stories about Mexican people and my culture. I think the industry is changing and that makes me very happy.

For so long, especially as a teenager, when I asked for equality, most people thought I was asking for a lot. It was hurtful and frustrating that I was being told by the people who were supposed to be on my side that I wasn't allowed to ask for certain opportunities. That's really hurtful for somebody who's very young. To have somebody like Selena to say, "No, this is possible," is incredible for our culture.

Christian Serratos as Selena | Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

In the '80 and '90s, female representation in Tejano music was almost non-existent. Then Selena earned the Queen of Tejano title, thus breaking another barrier.

She was definitely a pioneer. Most industries are male-dominated. But you're right, Tejano music was really male-driven, and there were only a few women who were trying to change the game. She did it in a very unique way because they blended so many different sounds. So yes, she's somebody to be very proud of.

Selena also represented a new kind of beauty standard, embracing her biculturalism, being down to earth, and donning such an iconic look. One of MAC's best-selling collections is inspired by La Reina. How exactly were her beauty ideals woven into the series?

John Stapleton created the Selena look for the show and he's from MAC. It was really cool to be experiencing what she experienced. She was a huge fan of MAC makeup and we were using a lot of the same products that she used, which I think is really important for our show and the story. It was just really cool to feel I was getting closer to her. I think that's why we all love her, because we know that we would have been her friend. She was so authentically herself. She was so powerful on stage, but she was very down to earth. That's what made her so compelling.

What is your favorite Selena costume?

Her purple jumpsuit [from her final concert at the Astrodome] is what I think people want me to say. And I love the purple jumpsuit. It felt so incredible wearing it. But she actually had that fabric in four or five different colors, and a few different outfits in that fabric—green, blue and another purple-ly color. I thought those were so interesting. I really loved her ruffle-ly big skirt and sleeves. But I also just really loved when she was down-home Selena, and just wore a big t-shirt, jeans, a bun and no makeup. On the show, when I got to do that and wear a big t-shirt, it really felt like I was Selena instead of the icon.

You've previously acted in "The Walking Dead" and "Twilight." They're quite contrasting from your role with "Selena." How did your previous roles help you with this one?

Any project that you do, you should be learning. And I have learned. I always know how I want to conduct myself in the next space. "The Walking Dead" is my family. I grew up there. I learned such great habits there and I'm so appreciative to that cast and crew and network for being there for me, and then allowing me to do "Selena." And in my Selena experience, I learned from that too. I just want to keep taking all these good vibes into the following projects I do. And also these relationships. That's kind of what I do, I go into every set and I find my family and then I keep them with me forever and ever.

Read: J Balvin, Bad Bunny, Anitta & More: 10 Unforgettable Moments From The 2020 Latin GRAMMYs

Some actors have stated that when they play a character, certain traits of their character stick to them off camera. Did you see that happen with Selena?

No. At least not yet. But I did notice that a lot of people said that there were similarities between me and her, which was always so comforting to hear that. She definitely taught me to feel a lot more comfortable with how silly I can be sometimes, because so often to be professional in any industry, if you want to be considered a serious business woman, you have to use your business voice.

Selena was always so herself. So I became a lot more comfortable with not doing the telephone voice or talking to a business person in a different way. I'm just going to always talk the way that I talk, even if it's silly or embarrassing, or if I think I shouldn't. I'm not going to tell myself I shouldn't do something. If I cuss, I won't feel bad for it. I'm going to try to be myself always. And that should be fine.

With the upcoming series, the next generation will learn about who Selena was. What are some of the things that you would like the new fans to know about her?

I just want them to see the hardworking woman that she was, this hardworking Mexican-American family. I want them to see what they accomplished. I think what they did is so powerful, so fresh and very inspiring.

Selena Forever: Remembering The Latin Pop Icon 25 Years Later

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief

Solange

Photo: Daniel C. Sims/Getty Images

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Solange To Play Benefit Show For Hurricane Harvey Relief

GRAMMY winner adds her name to the list of artists who are helping to raise millions in relief efforts for victims

GRAMMYs/Aug 31, 2017 - 04:37 am

GRAMMY winner Solange has announced she will be performing a benefit show to raise money for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. The performance, called Orion's Rise, will be held at Boston's Orpheum Theatre on Sept. 8.

"I'm committed to partnering with organizations on the ground in Houston and making contributions to uplift the city that raised me with so much love," said Solange, a Houston native.

This announcement comes on the heels of other artists pledging their support, including Solange's sister, Beyoncé. But they are certainly not the only ones.

Beyoncé Vows "To Help As Many As We Can" In Wake Of Hurricane Harvey

Houston rapper Bun B and manager Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande) are organizing a televised benefit concert that will reportedly air on four national networks on Sept. 12.

Comedian Kevin Hart pledged $50,000 to relief efforts, and the fund he organized has earned nearly $2 million in additional financial support, with contributions from artists such as the Chainsmokers. All funds will go to the American Red Cross.

The Kardashians and Jenners, Nicki Minaj, and DJ Khaled have also announced they will make donations. Jennifer Lopez and her partner Alex Rodriguez joined in the fundraising efforts, pledging $25,000 each to the Red Cross.

In addition, GRAMMY winner Jack Antonoff is matching donations up to $10,000 for the Montrose Center in Houston, an LGBT community center. Chris Brown will donate $100,000 directly to "the people," and T.I. will donate $25,000 to relief efforts.

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