The screaming peaks in the homestretch as Santos points to one fan in the audience (“I love you . . . ”) and her date (“ . . . I hate him”). He pulls another breathless admirer up onstage. Then he does something with his hips that we can’t really talk about here.
He wasn’t always this bold. Two mornings later at a midtown hotel, Santos remembers the teenage years he spent singing at house parties, unable to pull his eyes from the carpet. “Every time a song would be over, there would be silence,” he says. “I was extremely shy.”
Today, Santos can’t afford to be. Breaking from his trailblazing group Aventura, his solo debut, “Formula Vol. 1,” spent three months at the top of Billboard’s Latin albums chart thanks to a push from Sony, which turned Shakira and Ricky Martin into household names. Now, Santos has his own ABC sitcom in development and can already be spotted during commercial breaks on Univision, pitching cellphones for AT&T.
But where Shakira and Martin crossed over to non-Latino audiences by singing in English, Santos sings almost entirely in Spanish and refuses to stray far from the love songs of bachata, a genre born in the plantations of the Dominican Republic.
As he prepares to hit the road — there’s a Patriot Center concert March 9 — the Bronx-born “king of bachata” says he isn’t worried about crossing over to mainstream America: “I want them to cross over to my world.”
“Them” is big enough to include Usher, who lends his voice to Santos’s biggest hit, “Promise.” Instead of a halfway rendez-vous in some predictable dance-pop DMZ, Santos and the R&B star duet over bachata’s signature sounds — rippling bongo drums, a grinding guira, and sugary-sharp notes plucked from acoustic guitars.
Usher, himself, materialized to sing “Promise” during the grand finale at Madison Square Garden, capping off a night of guest performances that included reggaeton heavyweights Wisin y Yandel and Sean “Diddy” Combs. “He’s the newest, biggest superstar in the game,” Combs declared from the stage. “And he’s gonna be here a long time!”
The three-night run at Madison Square Garden illustrated how Santos is expanding his reach without really moving his feet. With nods to R&B, hip-hop and reggaeton, the concerts also included appearances from Prince Royce, a young star undeniably forged in Aventura’s mold, as well as Luis Vargas and Anthony Santos, two long-beefing bachata legends that Santos invited to bury the hatchet by appearing on his new album.