Molly Ferguson, a Music Education college student from Presidio, Texas, traveled to Austin for the first time in her life with nothing in mind other than doing her best at the 7th “Tejano Idol” singing contest. She never imagined that she would go back home the next day not only with the first place trophy but also with the big possibility of becoming the next Tejano mega star.
Ferguson, along with her parents, her brother, her grandmother and her grandmother’s sister, drove from her hometown on the border of Mexico all the way to the Texas capital to compete with other 12 finalists at this year’s edition of the singing competition. The nonprofit Austin Tejano Music Coalition sets up the contest every year since 2000, with the goal of promoting Texas’ roots in music and display new talents.
The contest finale took place on October 1 at the H&H ballroom in south Austin, where a panel of judges–Freddie Records Vice President Marc Martinez, Hacienda Records Director Michelle Chel, Tejano singer Angel Gonzalez, and KOKE-AM radio owner Joe Garcia–elected Ferguson as the 2017 winner.
“I literally had no idea of what to expect when I got there,” Ferguson said. “I came with the intention to meet new people, to make some connections. Like any other contestant, I wanted to win but I also was humble and said to myself, ‘this is just an experience, bring it all in’.”
Ferguson, who conquered the jury with her version of the Los Tigres del Norte hit “Golpe Traidor,” received $1,000 as first-place prize, plus the promise of a recording session with Freddie Records, a video and a photo shoot session.
The other contestants who made it to the top 5 were runner-up Jessica Arreola, from Lakeworth; Mario Benavides, from Houston; Carlos Garcia, from Laredo; and Heather Aragon from Amarillo.
According to the “Tejano Idol” judges, Ferguson and the other top 5 finalists are good examples of a young generation of new artists that have the necessary skills to boost Tejano music back to the mainstream music scene. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, figures like Selena Quintanilla and Emilio Navaira made it big, not only with the Tex-Mex audiences, but also in the nation-wide music industry.
“For a while, tejano music was very, very big,” said judge Michelle Chel, who is also a Tejano music singer. “For many reasons it kind of stopped and it was quiet for a while. Now we are having a resurface. [‘Tejano Idol’] is important because it helps us to find new talent, and it also creates an awareness that Tejano music is still alive and there are several artists out there that love it.”
Selena Quintanilla, who was murdered by her fan club president in 1995, remains as the biggest star Tejano music has ever had. She opened the market for a whole generation of Tejano musicians after achieving multiple accolades, including a Grammy award.
After Quintanilla’s death, Tex-Mex music continued producing new artists, but not with the mainstream success that she had.
“Legends such as Selena, Shelly Lares, Ram Herrera, David Lee Garza, they are the queens and kings of Tejano music,” said singer and former “Tejano Idol” contestant Angel Gonzalez. “Since there are kings and queens, there must be princes and princesses. Molly’s charisma reminded me a lot of Selena; her smile, her manners, her performance on stage.”
It just so happens that Selena Quintanilla is one of Ferguson’s biggest music idols. The circumstances in which both got into music show similarities. As with Selena, Molly’s parents have a family band where she was encouraged to perform as vocalist since a very young age.
The difference is that, unlike Selena, Molly doesn’t have any Hispanic ancestry. However, she is fluent in Spanish and embraces the Mexican-American culture as her own, after being partially raised by her Mexican nanny.
“Both my parents are 100 percent white,” said Ferguson. “I grew up on the border with Mexico, and I even went to prekinder in Mexico. Living in Presidio, when you go to school, everybody speaks Spanish as far as socializing. I love this culture, I just grew into it. Obviously that’s not how my parents were raised, but it’s how I was raised.”
Ferguson’s biculturality could be one of her strong cards in pursuing a music career, according to the judges. Angel Gonzalez believes that the Tejano music audience is eager for a new figure like Selena Quintanilla; someone talented and charismatic enough for them to identify with. But also Tejano music may need to open to other markets.
“Molly, just by living in Texas, is Tejana. She lives here,” said Gonzalez. “Tejano music has parts from different genres, like pop or country. She can signify a little of all that. It’s nice to have somebody from another culture that says ‘Tejano is what I like, it’s what I want to be.’ That can open the doors for us to the Anglo-American audience and pass to the next level.”
Even though there’s a lack of promotion opportunities for current Tex-Mex artists, new performers like Ferguson have much more resources available to showcase their talent, which can help the genre to increase their fan base.
“Because of social media and because there are avenues available, other than record labels, artists can go independent,” said Chel. “Now, they can expose themselves if they learn how to do social media. With social media and exposure, we can make Tejano bigger than it has ever been. We have to keep our culture alive.”