Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: Lissette Gonzalez balances music with meteorology.
A singing meteorologist? The premise may seem strange at first, then there's the obvious jokes, "Singing in the Rain," "It's Raining Men." But Lissette Gonzalez has no problem juggling the two arts. Although she's a familiar face to South Florida television viewers as an ongoing presence on WFOR-CBS4's weekday morning and noon news programs, only a few people may be aware that she also possesses a show biz resume.
A graduate of the University of Miami, with a double major in broadcasting and music, Lissette starred as Maria in the Off-Broadway hit 4 Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria. A New York Times critic cited Lissette's "comic gusto," saying "She is a bombshell beauty with the face-splitting grin of Julia Roberts." The New York Post raved "Gonzalez delivers Maria with powerhouse zest."
She later reprised her role in the Actor's Playhouse production of 4 Guys Named Jose... at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables and was nominated for the prestigious Carbonell Award for Best Actress in Musical. Her stage success led to a major label record deal with RCA Records in 2001 and the opportunity to work with Grammy-award winning music producers and songwriters in New York, Los Angeles, and Miami -- Rudy Perez, the Matrix and Desmond Child, among them.
And while her TV responsibilities take up most of her waking hours, she still manages to find time to exhibit her vocal abilities by singing the National Anthem at South Florida sports events and sharing her theatrical talents onstage at charity functions and fundraisers whenever the opportunity arises. We chatted with the lovely lady about her many skills.
New Times: Give us an idea of your early music experience -- was there a particular song, performance or show that suddenly sparked your interest in singing?
Lissette Gonzalez: Ever since I can remember, music, theater and the arts have always moved and inspired me. When I was growing up, my mother would always be singing and playing music around the house. My mother had a beautiful, powerful voice and slowly but surely, I found my own voice singing along to the radio and movie musicals we would watch together on TV.
Back in the day, I would pretend that a round hair brush was my microphone while belting out Gloria Estefan and Barbara Streisand songs. When I was a student at Village Green Elementary, my music teacher Mrs. Meils, who I still stay in touch with, encouraged me to sing in the school chorus and to play musical instruments. She helped me take my passion for the arts to a whole other level because I was able to study music theory and perform on stage at school and in local competitions. At our sixth grade graduation ceremony, I performed Whitney Houston's classic "The Greatest Love of All."
I had always been a straight-A student, very studious and focused on my academic courses, but I feel my involvement in the arts helped give me a more well-rounded education. Most people who have known me since I was a kid will tell you I either had "my head in the books" or I was singing on stage. Then in high school, I played the lead roles in the musicals Bye Bye Birdie and Pippin, and I won the state theater competition.
Who were some of your early idols?
I have always been a huge fan of Barbara Streisand. She is a multi-talented woman, an amazing singer, and a phenomenal actress. Funny Girl was one of my favorite movies growing up. I have always admired Gloria Estefan in the pop music world because she was a role model and I could identify with her because she is Cuban-American like me, and she was able to go from singing in a local Miami band to becoming an international recording superstar. I know every one of her songs from her '80s albums recorded both with the Miami Sound Machine and as a solo artist.
She was my hero, and she inspired me to follow my dreams of pursuing music professionally. I thought: "If she can do it, then so can I." My other early idols include Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and, later, Mariah Carey.
Did you start singing as a child?
I've been singing ever since I can remember. I was always eager to sing at school as part of the chorus and in musicals. I also performed with the choir and as a soloist in church, and I would perform in community events and talent shows.
What's been the most profound performing experience for you so far? How did you get the role off-Broadway?
One of my greatest performing experiences was when I had the opportunity to perform on live National TV during the Miss America talent competition. I sang "All that Jazz" from the musical Chicago. A New York theatrical producer named Chuck Gomez was watching the Miss America pageant and he thought I would be perfect for the lead role in the off-Broadway musical 4 Guys Named Jose and Una Mujer Named Maria. He suggested that a Tony-award winning producer named Dasha Epstein consider me for the role. I eventually auditioned for the part in New York and was offered the starring role of Maria. Thankfully, the show received rave reviews.
Who are some of your favorite current artists?
I have a very diverse taste in music and an appreciation for different genres and styles of music both from today and back in the day. My favorite artists include Alicia Keys, Adele, Coldplay, Michael Buble, Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz. I also love U2, Sting, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, and Elton John. Plus, I'm a huge fan of the jazz classics and standards so I enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra and Etta James.