Saved by the bells?

"I've got a proposition for you," says a mustache into his cell phone outside of lady Estefan's Bongos food emporium at Downtown Disney West Side. "I'm here with Jon Secada's agent. He wants to do New York tomorrow anytime between five and seven. I mean, if he can get on that New York station ... "

If he can get on that New York station, his flagging career will be saved? "Just Another Day" will return to relevant rotation? Wet, curly hair will once again reign supreme in the adult-contemporary world? Oh, to dream.

Well, it's neither five nor seven on this typically drippy midday, and I'm only mildly unenthused about the proposition of sitting on a theme-restaurant stool for five minutes in the floodlights of another failing career. It must be time for a Christmas album.

Oh, it is.

You'll remember that Jon Secada was once the Michael Bolton of Latin pop sap. Hits like the aforementioned "Just Another Day," "Do You Believe in Us?" and "Angel" strained ears with their overwrought earnestness long before anyone wondered whether Ricky Martin was gay. These days, Secada has donned the yoke of calculated novelty sentiment with a big-time holiday offering, The Gift, and -- surprise! -- is available for an interview.

"Jon's busy for a few more minutes," hots the agent hottie, with a polite offering of, "Do you want some coffee ... or water?" He's going nowhere.

Jon, however, is lobbying to go anywhere his semi-recognizable moniker will take him. And if he can't get to New York tomorrow between five and seven, then he'll at least do some Spanish language TV today. As señor Secada and the pancaked faces of Telemundo ambition wrap their recorded repartee, nobody around me is speaking English, which starts to recall those dreams of my demise in a Puerto Rican prison. Mira! Mira! I don't need a shower!

Jon's actually a perfectly nice guy (a prisoner only to his own impertinence) and turns to me kindly with a sparkling caramel gaze. So, why is he in Orlando, beyond the fact that his sugar momma's restaurant is here?

"Well, the record," he yuletides. "It just happened that it coincided with me being here for the 100th anniversary of Disney."

These things do just happen. Kind of like obligatory contract fulfillments.

"I've always wanted to do a holiday record," he ginger snaps. "I just got a deal with Sony Music, and that's one of the recordings they wanted me to do. We recorded it all live in a period of three days. So we did it all old-style, very old-fashioned, as a tribute to the Sinatra ... "

Perry Como? Johnny Mathis?

"Yeah. Very soothing and very timeless, I think," he thinks. "Even the two originals that I put in there, they also have that very standard, timeless feel. I'm very excited about it. We wanted to accomplish something very classic."

And very safe, presumably. Is it hard to record a Christmas record during a summer in Miami?

"It sure is," he obviates. "But the music was so beautiful. I did the album with Emilio" -- Estefan, natch -- "and 62 musicians, mostly members of the Florida Philharmonic. They did an incredible job. I mean, it's one of the most challenging things I've ever done, doing everything all live. Nowadays, without the use of all of the technologies available, it's kind of strange."

Kind of. About this time, I'm peering into Secada's caramel haze, while his entourage of cronies mills around with bent ears. Things I would like to ask, other than "Are you gay?," wander around my head with bilingual translations -- because at least Spanish sounds interesting -- but the fear of upsetting the grand corporate balance of Glo's black-bean empire and the general fear for my life that comes with this territory eventually mute everything down to a digestible pap. Um, what's your favorite Christmas song?

"I really think it's Ã?The Christmas Song'," he chestnuts. "I remember growing up and listening to the classics -- the Sinatras and the Nat King Coles -- and that's what I remember, those kind of songs and that kind of sound. It's a very peaceful, very soothing thing. It makes you feel a healing type of feeling. Especially this year. It's funny that it coincided with everything that's going on ... "

Very funny. Secada's a part of Disney's big, emotional, feel-good whitewash of America's sapped spirits, chiming in wherever he's welcome during the "100 Years of Magic" media junket. That explains his obligatory guesting on the percolating institution Live with Regis & Kelly, broadcast from Disney that morning.

Did you meet Regis? I love this line of questioning.

"Yeah, I met Regis," he nods.

I wanted to meet -- be? -- Kelly Rippa. I think she's fantastic!

"She is fantastic. She's a doll," he feys, suspicions confirmed. "They have a good chemistry."

Surely it's not your biggest career achievement. You've written for Ricky and J-Lo! Yummy Latin chemistry!

"There's a lot of versatility," he blends. "There's a lot of personality among all of these artists. I mean, we're all Latinos, but everybody's got their own thing going on. So it's very diverse, you know. Going from Shakira to J-Lo to Marc to whatever Ricky does."

What does Ricky do? And to whom? Oh, who cares anymore. He's half way to becoming Jon Secada already.


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