For Tejano singers, The Johnny Canales Show was as close to Ed Sullivan immortality as one could get.
It was no different for the young Selena Quintanilla.
Her path to glory and superstardom ran through the popular, homegrown Corpus Christi-produced television program.
Those long-ago appearances can be seen again.
Capitol/EMI has issued the first of a two-part series of DVD compilations, Selena: Performances, from Canales’ Spanish-language Univision show.
The new DVD, which includes several unreleased Selena performances and interviews from 1993-94, is beautifully restored in 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound.
By this point, Selena was a star, but later this year, Capitol/EMI will release TV gigs from Selena’s teenage pre-fame years.
Canales was there for Selena y Los Dinos at the beginning – and at the end.
He acknowledged that it’s impossible to watch her joyful performances – Selena was only 23 when she was murdered on March 31, 1995 – without a tinge of sadness.
“She was an angel. It’s unpredictable where she would be today,” Canales said. “Selena could do whatever she set her mind to.”
At its height in the ’80s and ’90s, The Johnny Canales Show was taped in front of an audience of 3,000 at what is now known as Selena Auditorium (formerly the Bayfront Plaza) in Corpus Christi.
Its reach included major U.S. cities and Latin America.
Canales’ playful on-air banter with Selena is captured here. But behind the scenes, Selena was the same people person.
“I loved that about her, primera la gente,” Canales said. “That’s the thing that people remember about her.”
Selena was always more than the music. She was one of us, Canales said.
“The connection with her fans was unbelievable. Every mother would have loved to have her as a daughter; every abuelita would have loved to have her as a granddaughter.”
It’s inevitable that some will see this footage and wonder what the fuss is all about. But that’s to the miss the bigger point of what she represented: Selena was one of a kind.
Canales recalled a scene at a down-home Corpus Christi taqueria. This was no pretentious glamour-puss diva.
“She’d go mesa a mesa (table to table),” he said. “She’d be eating, but she’d let her food get cold to go say hello. She was very holy, very barrio, very raza, very family.”
Canales ranks Selena as “one of the greatest,” a Chicano icon. As it turns out, there was no “next Selena.”
“We took her for granted,” Canales said. “Someone like that comes only once in awhile. Mexicans remember her like Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Cantinflas. Selena is there. And she never forgot about us.”
Selena’s father, Abraham Quintanilla, initiated the project and selected the footage for the new DVD.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling,” Quintanilla said. “I wish she was here with us. But it really brings back a lot of memories. Fans will enjoy it. Fifteen years later and people still haven’t let go of Selena. They still remember her. They still love her.”
She remains irreplaceable.
“It’s very evident that she touched a lot of hearts. She was loved for her personality. Once every so often, a person like that comes along. Unfortunately, she died young,” Quintanilla said.