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Merengue queen hits pop-music scene 

Merengue, the compelling rhythmic music originating from the Dominican Republic, has a magnificent delegate introducing its sounds to mainstream notoriety in Olga Tañón. But "the queen of merengue" is ready for a new challenge. After releasing five merengue recordings and one album of ballads, Tañón is ready to try her hand at pop stardom.

Her new album -- due in October -- is a stab at crossover success. Produced by Rudy Perez, who has previously worked with Julio Iglesias and Cristian, the still-untitled album will include six ballads and other non-merengue surprises. "I want to sing tangos, I want to sing ballads of tremendous composers, and I want to grow, musically speaking, and fill my life with more success," says Tañón.

One of the most important figures of merengue this decade, Tañón, 29, owns of one of the strongest and most melodic voices in tropical music. Her warm, mezzo-soprano tone and perfect enunciation have often placed the ravishingly beautiful singer's music at the top of the Latin charts. But it is her contagious stage dynamism that enraptures audiences. She captivates her audience with her energetic moves and presence, but jokes and imitations also are part of her show. "The only thing I want is, to work hard on earth to win a space in the last row of heaven," says Tañón.

Her success did not came as a surprise. The Puerto Rican brunette knew that she wanted to be a singer by age 4. At 7 her singing made her the center of attention at her church. Her transformation to professional singing came in the '80s when she was planning a career in fashion design. She became a member of the merengue group Las Chicas de Ringo y Jossie, and by 1992 was recording for Latin-music label WEA Latina as a member of the group Chantelle. She stood out for her contagious energy, diction and a distinctive color in her voice that sets her apart from established merengue singers.

Tañón's hard work has paid off. Seven platinum certifications (equivalent to selling 100,000 albums in the Latin music industry), three Lo Nuestro Awards from the Spanish television network Univision, a Cassandra Award from the Dominican Republic's music-critic association ACROARTE, and a Grammy nomination are among her achievements. She is also the only female merengue singer who has an album certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, for selling 500,000 copies of her last album, "Nuevos Senderos."

The success of "Nuevos Senderos" gave her the confidence to record her forthcoming album of pop songs. But Tañón -- who lives with Texas Rangers baseball player Juan Igor Gonzalez -- doesn't have to fret about crossing over onto the pop charts. She already has secured her place with her fans.

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