Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

After technical difficulties... please stand by for Maria

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This was supposed to be the year that Winnipeg preteen singer Maria Aragon was launched into pop stardom.

But the same Internet technology that made her a YouTube sensation in 2011 -- when Lady Gaga saw her homemade video of Born This Way and triggered another 50 million views -- thwarted her in 2012. Her Toronto manager, Steven Nowack, had plotted to introduce Aragon's first song, You Are Enough, and other new tunes like the Whitney Houston-esque When I Dance With You on his new free website, welovefreemusic.com, last July but it crashed after about 138,000 downloads from 33 countries.

No music meant no buzz... meant no making the 12-year-old Aragon the next Justin Bieber or Carly Ray Jepson.

"The digital platform had technical difficulties, and when that occurred we made the decision not to release the music to the world," says Nowack this week, a few days short of a year since he came to Winnipeg to sign Aragon to his label, S Records. "Am I disappointed personally? I'm very frustrated."

While Nowack works the bugs out of his multimillion-dollar website, Aragon fans can go to YouTube to check out her new video performance of My Special Christmas Present Is You, a duet with Canadian guitar virtuoso Liona Boyd. An alternate version features the rapping of hip-hop artist Fin-S.

Boyd wrote the song and, after shooting the video, said she thinks that Aragon is destined for international stardom.

Next month Aragon is returning to the San Francisco studio of Narada Michael Walden -- the Grammy-winning producer of hits by Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Aretha Franklin -- to co-write and record more songs for the re-launch of welovefreemusic.com in February. If that makes her name "pop," a concert tour will follow immediately.

"We're looking for an opportunity to position her in a major way," says Nowack. "The career of the magnitude we are predicting for her does not happen overnight. Lady Gaga's discovery of her threw Maria into the limelight but we're trying to craft an artist."

Despite the setback, Aragon remains upbeat about her hurry-up-and-wait year and her long-range prospects.

"I had so many new experiences in 2012," says Aragon, who interrupted some Christmas gift-wrapping for an interview this week. "Definitely the highlight of my year was going into the studio to record my first-ever song. It was a special moment for me."

Although 2012 was intended as her breakout year, it became more of a base-building year, during which she performed at charity events and made public appearances across the country.

"She really grew as an artist this year," Nowack says. "She wrote her first song. She performed for the first time with a live band in London for Google. Her stage presence has grown. I think she's ready."

The Christmas song grew out of Aragon singing on Boyd's 2013 CD The Return... To Canada With Love last summer. She believes that the Juno Award-winning Boyd wrote My Special Christmas Present Is You with her in mind.

"It's a really great song," Aragon says of her first Christmas tune. "It's very joyful. To sing it, you just have to be in a Christmas mood.

"We sing in very different genres. She's a classical artist and I'm more pop and soul/R&B singer. It was a new experience and I'm glad I got to do it."

Her hope for 2013 is that she can continue having fun with her music, which has been an integral part of her life. Finding inspiration for writing new songs is not easy, she says, but knows it is part of her maturation as an artist.

"One of the things I really hope will happen in 2013 is hearing my songs repeatedly on the radio and tour to meet my fans worldwide," she says. "That's basically my dream for 2013."

kevin.prokosh@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2012 G3

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