Forte singer Fernando Varela. (Photo/courtesy of Julio Varela)

Opinion: Two brothers, one dream – and the power of social media

This is a story of two brothers.

I am one of those brothers. The other is Fernando Varela, one of the members of FORTE, the multicultural tenor trio that made next Tuesday’s final round of “America’s Got Talent.”

It is a study in how Fernando and I looked at each other one day in 2008 and decided to use social media to promote his career. It started with a conversation and a new tool called Twitter (imagine that). We had no idea what it was, but since Fernando was completing his first CD, we needed to find a way to share his talent to the world. It became a family affair. Let Fernando tell you:

“About five years ago my brother and I were talking about how rapidly the entertainment industry was changing. It was becoming evident that fans wanted more interaction with artists and so we decided to join this new thing called Twitter. Little did we know that this would be the future of fan interaction with artists.”

The journey was unforgettable. Little by little we figured it out, yet we realized that no matter what, social media was another way to have conversations with people. We recalled the times when we were kids, sitting around the dinner table with all our family at our grandfather’s home in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. It was all about talking, laughing, being yourself, and never getting too caught up in things.

Soon, people started paying attention. They actually listened to Fernando’s songs and people connected. Here was this young talented boricua interacting with people and thanking everyone who listened to him. Then there was me, a proud older brother who would just tweet people and say, “Hey, have you met my brother? I think you will like him.”

We tweeted in English. We tweeted in Spanish. We moved on to Facebook and shared our stories. Soon, Fernando was on YouTube. The fans were growing. Google was paying attention. And we just keep sharing his story.

The response was beyond our wildest dreams. In 2011, Fernando beat out Juanes and Willie Colón, two legends, and was chosen by the Latino social media community as the Best Artist to Use Social Media. We even worked on a Coldplay song in Spanish.

Then when David Foster was running a contest for a new singer, his people literally came across Fernando’s social media presence and noticed. They saw the admiration from his fans, and Fernando got to sing with Foster in Las Vegas and Asia. He also sang with Lionel Ritchie.

All because of social media.

During those times, my family stood behind Fernando and kept sharing his accomplishments. My dad. My second mom. My siblings. Our extended family, from Boston to the Bronx, Orlando to San Juan. Our friends, our work colleagues, our social media friends. We rallied around him because that is what families do. We don’t ask questions. We don’t expect anything. We just are. And in the past five years, our family has grown. One of the greatest joys I get now is when my extended online friends are now Fernando’s friends, and his friends are now my friends. It sure does take a village.


Fernando Varela, at center, part of the tenor trio Forte, perform on America’s Got Talent. Photo/Virginia Sherwood, NBC.

Fast forward to this summer. By now, millions of people know about how FORTE was formed. Skype rehearsals and killer auditions. Once “the boys” (yeah, that is what I call Fernando, Josh, and Sean) got to Radio City, there was no doubt in my mind that people would love FORTE. The reaction has been surreal, but it was all based on love.

FORTE has embraced social media as well. Not a day goes by that they don’t post a pic of them being themselves. Talented young men who have busted their tails with good old-fashioned hard work and determination. I have told them several times that the world is theirs, no matter the outcome of Tuesday’s final show.

As Fernando says, “Now to be able to tweet immediately after finding out you’re in the finals of AGT or posting pictures from backstage, it’s an amazing way to share your journey with the world in real time.”

This past week, I was blessed to see my brother live with the rest of “the boys.” There was a moment when my son and Fernando were walking down 6th Ave towards Radio City. When we started this journey, my son was only six years old. Now here he was, a starry-eyed nephew talking baseball with his uncle, just hours before FORTE got the longest standing ovation in the history of AGT (thank you, Nick Cannon). I snapped a picture, and paused to absorb it all.

All because of a thing called Twitter, and all because of the love for the most talented man I have ever met.

#ForteAllDay, Fernando. Te quiero mucho.

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Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog,, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. In the past 12 months, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.


  1. Reblogged this on Franky Benítez and commented:

    This one is for FAMILIA. This is what we do what we do. Para Papito Juan y Abuela Lydia.

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