Two weeks ago, Fernando Varela earned a standing ovation from President Trump and the First Lady. Varela was given another rousing ovation on Thursday in Savannah Center from his extended family of fans in The Villages.
“Politics aside, it was a thrill singing for the President of the United States,” Varela said. “But, for me, it’s also great to be singing here. I feel like The Villages is home.”
The show was billed as Varela “Comes Home,” and he will also be performing in Savannah Center on Saturday and Sunday at 5 and 8 p.m.
It’s all part of Fernandomania that is about to sweep America.
Varela’s nationally-televised PBS special “Coming Home” debuts March 6, at 8 p.m. on WUCF-TV in Orlando. It will be rebroadcast on March 12, at 6:30 p.m. A DVD of the program will be available for donations to PBS stations.
Also, Varela’s album, “Vivere,” goes on sale March 10. A single, “Gloria,” has been released and is available online.
Varela’s show on Thursday was more a folksy return and intimate gathering rather than a concert. He showed clips from the PBS special, in between live songs. Then he sat on the front of the stage for about 20 minutes and chatted with the crowd during a question-and-answer session.
That’s when Varela told about his musical adventure with Donald and Melania Trump.
Varela, along with famed composer/musician David Foster were among the performers on Feb. 11, at a private fundraising gala for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in Palm Beach.
“Nobody knew if Trump was even going to show up,” Varela said. Just as David Foster was about to be introduced and start the music, Trump walked through the door and was seated at a back table, for security reasons, Varela said.
“It was a little strange,” Varela added. “Just as the announcer said over a loud speaker, ‘David Foster,’ Donald Trump walks in the room. I couldn’t believe it.”
Trump wasn’t satisfied sitting in the back, Varela said, and the President and Melania moved to a table in front of the stage.
Next thing you know, Fernando is up there in front of the President and First Lady singing “Nessun Dorma.”
“That is Donald Trump’s favorite song,” Varela said. “I have to say, that is the best I have ever sang ‘Nessun Dorma.’ It was just one of those nights, every note was right.”
Donald and Melania not only gave Varela a standing ovation, he said the first couple also gave him a “thumbs-up” sign.
Varela knows Trump is a controversial figure. Foster, who has won 16 Grammy Awards, earlier made news when he declined to work on Trump’s inauguration.
But performing for charity – and the president — was another matter.
“No matter how you feel about Trump, he is our president,” Varela said. “I hope he does well for all of us. I’m a singer. It’s my job to make the best music I can. It was a special moment for me.”
So was Thursday night at Savannah Center. Varela had help from a tight, band including Charlie St. Cyr-Paul on drums; Chris Queenan, bass; Nik Schonbeck, guitar and Kyle Mattingly on piano.
Varela paid tribute to his Villages’ mentors, Maestro Bill Doherty and the late Oscar Feliu. “I wouldn’t be up here tonight if it wasn’t for them,” he said.
Varela delivered opera and pop songs with passion and power. He sang live for about 45-minutes. Also, he has been growing as a song writer. Songs like “Gloria,” and “Shine” showed depth in creating his own music.
“I feel like I’m finding my voice as a songwriter,” Varela said. “For a long time, I felt like anything I wrote wasn’t any good. But I talked to other songwriters, and David Foster, and they told me they all felt like that; it’s part of the process.”
Among the questions from the audience:
How much time do you spend on the road each year?
“About half a year.”
Who is your favorite singer?
Who would you like to sing with?
“Celine Dion. I’d also love to sing with Barbra Streisand.”
What do you do to relax?
“I don’t have a lot of time for relaxation these days. When I do get time off, I love to golf, travel and just sit on the beach.”
What about his wife, Susan?
“She centers me and provides balance in my life. No matter how successful I get, when I get home she tells me to take out the garbage.”
She isn’t the only family member in Fernando’s remarkable success story.
Julio and Margarita Varela, his parents, sat in the front row along with Fernando’s grandmother, Carmen Soldevilla, who turned 87 on Wednesday.
Like many others, Soldevilla couldn’t help but gush over her grandson’s success.
“Fernando is the greatest,” Grandma said. “I’m so happy he is my grandson. I love him like I love my life.”