Show Business: Hail the Conquering Crooner

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Julio Iglesias wants Americans to love him too

He pays $700 apiece for his jackets, but his trousers are always too short, just as they were when he won the contest that launched his singing career 26 years ago. He leaves the table if salt is spilled, and if he hears very bad news, he sends his clothes, underwear and socks included, straight to the incinerator. When he begins a seven-day engagement at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall this week, Julio Iglesias will of course knock wood several times before he goes onstage. How else will he ever succeed with that fickle and unpredictable creature, the American audience?

The answer: probably the same way he has won over much of Europe, Asia and all of South America. He does not have the best voice in show business, or the most galvanizing or innovative style. But what he does have, an exuberancia of charm and sex appeal, would probably be enough to make even the croakings of Kermit the Frog sound like satin. For Iglesias, 40, all that machismo has done something more. It has made him the most popular singer in the world. The Spanish Sinatra, as he is sometimes called, has sold well over 100 million records in six languages.

His name has only recently become a marketable item north of the Rio Grande, but in much of the world, millions of faces, mostly female and mostly over 25, light up when he is mentioned. Feminine "ohs" reverberate from Madrid, where Iglesias was born and raised, to Montevideo. "He rouses middle-aged women, especially the depressed ladies with no dreams," says Italian Psychologist Erika Kaufmann. "When he sings, they come alive. I call him the sex symbol of the menopause."

What Iglesias has done, more than any other performer, is bring back to popular music the romantic style of the '40s and '50s. He is not androgynous like Michael Jackson, but neither is he aggressively masculine like Tom Jones. He is instead the elegant male, well dressed and sophisticated, but with a boyish, ingratiating smile, so dazzlingly toothy that, for safety's sake, it almost has to be viewed through smoked glass, like a solar eclipse. To keep the tan that has given his skin the color of a tobacco leaf, he has artfully arranged his schedule so that he is almost always in that half of the globe that is celebrating summer. When his 33-city U.S. tour ends Sept. 29, about the time of the first frost up north, he will race back to his $5 million home in Miami, then flee to the Southern Hemisphere and another round of engagements in South Africa, Australia and Latin America.

Right now he is intent on conquering America. Although he has made brief commando raids into the U.S., never before has he attempted to become the star here that he is almost everywhere else. "No non-Anglo Saxon performer has been able to sell music in America," he says. "I want to make a bridge between Latin music and American music that others can cross afterward. In the music business the U.S. is tops. A No. 1 song here goes all over the world. I have taken a risk in coming here, and I have put my challenge in front of everyone."

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