It’s an hour before dawn, and Elisa DeBernardo, an 18-year-old high school senior from North Fort Myers, Fla., is in a swoon. She can’t believe she has landed the night’s big prize: a towel drenched only moments before with the sweat of pop fox Jon Secada. ”Omigod!” she shrieks, burying her face in Secada’s soggy toss-off. As DeBernardo’s friends clamor around her for a whiff, she clutches her trophy tighter. ”I’ll never wash it,” she sighs. The decades zoom by, but the ritual idolization of pop stars by teenage girls still rakes in big bucks. Secada is only the latest to perform at Grad Nite, which Disney World has been producing for 22 years. For $28 a head, DeBernardo and, over the course of six nights, approximately 100,000 other soon-to-be grads are allowed to cavort from dusk to dawn, sample rides, and squeal at the feet of some big pop-music names, including Shai and P.M. Dawn. (The Grad Nites, which ran for three weekends from the end of April to May in Orlando, continue through June at California’s Disneyland.) Tonight’s featured hunk, the 31-year-old Secada, is something of a homegrown hero. The Cuban-born singer grew up in Miami after emigrating with his parents in 1972, worked as a backup singer for Gloria Estefan, and has since socked the charts with a one-two punch as a solo artist. His 1992 debut album, Jon Secada, sold more than 2 million copies (the Spanish version, Jon Secada/Otro Dia Mas Sin Verte, remains No. 1 on the Latin charts after 44 weeks), and the single ”Just Another Day” spent three months in the top 10 of the pop chart. The gravy: Secada’s smoky good looks have made him a cross- cultural heartthrob. ”I feel like I’m the perfect example of the American dream,” says Secada, whose disarming sincerity is a refreshing change from the mega-ego one might expect from a rock star. ”I have fans?” says Secada. ”Me? I’m a punk I never came to my own Grad Nite. I’m flattered Disney wanted me to do this.” Despite his transparent dental braces, suggesting he’s honing his sex- symbol image, Secada seems somewhat awkward in his pop-icon trappings. He whips off his elaborately tooled black leather jacket as soon as he starts to sing (”I sweat like a pig,” he cheerfully admits backstage between his 1:30 a.m. and 3:15 a.m. shows), and his cool cowboy boots give him a rickety gait. But tonight’s pumped-up crowd couldn’t care less. When Secada breaks into ”Just Another Day,” hundreds of sleep-deprived teens wail their hearts out. ”Anybody out there speak Spanish?” Secada shouts, eliciting cries of ”Si!” and ”Otra!” (”Another!”) from the audience. He answers back with the lilting ”Angel,” which he recorded in both languages. As Secada settles into his final ballads just after 4 a.m., a moony calm blankets the weary crowd. Young couples sway, and the conga lines snaking around the stage have lost their frenzied edge. Maybe it’s the thousands of tiny lights flickering through the trees in the tropical air. Or Cinderella’s Castle towering in the distance. But even so obviously orchestrated a Disney moment can make anybody-new grad or no-feel a little misty-eyed. Uncle Walt himself might have been touched.
Posted June 25 1993 — 12:00 AM EDT
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