On Dec. 9, 2012, Jenni Rivera, the flamboyant, outspoken, big-voiced singer who was the top-selling regional Mexican female star of her generation, died in a plane crash after performing to a sold-out crowd of 16,000 at Arena Monterrey in Mexico.
Fully comfortable in English and Spanish, Rivera was at the height of her career and stood out not only as one of the very few Latin women consistently on the charts, but also as the only Latina singer poised to make major inroads in U.S. network television.
A force to be reckoned with in multiple media platforms, Rivera had sold over 1.2 million albums in the U.S. alone, according to Nielsen. She had her own reality show, I Love Jenni, on bilingual cable network mun2; she had recently inked a deal to star in a comedy on ABC to be simply titled Jenni; she hosted a syndicated weekly radio program and had launched both clothing and cosmetics lines; she was a coach on The Voice Mexico; and had a role in her first feature film, Philly Brown. Rivera also launched her own foundation to help victims of domestic abuse.
On the fifth anniversary of her death, we spoke with her only sister, Rosie Rivera, who is now the president and CEO of Jenni Rivera Enterprises. Rosie was extremely close to her older sister and has administered her legacy with success, and much grace, under pressure, helming the launch of Jenni’s top-selling biography, Unbroken, and her recent series on the Telemundo network. Rosie Rivera spoke openly and touchingly about her sister’s memory.
You are the president of Jenni Rivera Enterprises and have very successfully led your sister’s business and legacy after her death. Looking back, did you ever even imagine that you would be in a role like this?
No, never. I didn’t plan for this, and I definitely didn’t know that I had the capability to do this. And I don’t want to say it’s me on my own. My brother Juan has done an amazing job. I don’t think Jenni Rivera Enterprises could do it without him. He is the producer of Jenni’s music now, and there are albums that no one has heard yet that he found. But me, I never ever imagined even being in the music industry, much less being the president or CEO of any company. It just wasn’t in my plans and I didn’t even know I was capable.
So in a way, Jenni’s death allowed you to become your true self?
Yes, I think so. I think she has always pushed me to grow. I was 7 years old, and she was taking me to Long Beach City College, telling me that I was gonna be great one day and that I was gonna be the first to graduate college in my family. She was very prophetic about my life. And now I see that everything that she prophesied, for lack of a better term, has come true. I don’t want to say it was her death because that just hurts me to the core, but I do know in essence that it was Jenni. If she had to leave us or if she would’ve stayed until she was 80 with me, I know that Jenni would’ve been the one that pushed me or catapulted me into becoming who I was meant to be.
When you took over Jenni’s affairs, were you familiar with what she did? I know that you guys were very close, but had you worked with her in a business capacity before?
Not in a business capacity. We worked on the radio show for about a year, and that was a blessing, business-wise, because I got to hear more of the conversations. Her manager would go, her booking agent, her reality show. So I overheard conversations just by spending time with her. But Jenni and I decided, gosh, years ago, that I was just gonna be her sister, and we were both so comfortable with that decision. She had enough businesspeople. She had many associates in the business, and she only had one sister. And she had very, very few friends, so I wanted to be that sister that was a friend. So purposefully, we only spoke about boys and kids and girl stuff, and I truly enjoyed our relationship. I think it became very rich. But knowing that she was gonna leave me in this position, I wish that I had at least written some things down. I wish we had had at least some conversation of, “Sister, if I ever die, please do this.” Because she let me know that I would be her trustee.
So she did let you know this ahead of time. It wasn’t a surprise?
She let me know in July. When they were talking about the will and she was meeting her attorney, she asked me. But it was literally a two-minute conversation. “Hey sister, if I ever get a will, would you be my trustee?” And I said, “Sure.” And that’s all it was. And then when they were finalizing it, right before she was about to sign — this was two or three weeks later — “Hey, sister, I was serious about the trustee thing.” And I looked at her finally, like, OK, she’s serious. We never spoke about it again until October when she was upset at Chiquis and decided to change the guardianship. But just to be 1,000 percent honest, I was not the guardian. It was Chiquis then Jackie as guardians. And when Jenni got upset with Chiquis, she removed the guardian piece, and she put me instead. So she asked me again, and she let me know she was making this change, and I said, “Sister, estás enojada, then later you’re gonna change your mind. You know Chiquis has always helped you raise them. You’re just gonna change your mind and it’s gonna cost you a couple thousand dollars to change your will. Why not just wait? Wait till you can talk it out.” Pero Jenni… like all us Riveras, we’re impulsive. I sincerely believe in my heart that she would have reversed [her will]. I know my sister. But just as impulsive as we are, we ask for forgiveness and then we try to mend our mistakes. … That’s a Rivera for you. I think we get it from my dad. But I’m choosing to learn from my sister’s mistakes. Everybody who knew Jenni and the Riveras knows that, así somos.
It’s part of the appeal…
And it makes us interesting. It’s the reason we have reality shows and we’re in the media, because of our quirks, our imperfections. So we’ve accepted it, and being in the fifth year, thank God Chiquis has also come to peace with the fact that she knows her mother made a mistake and would’ve reversed it by now. And a lot of her friends get mad when I say Jenni made a mistake. They get very mad. Believe me, it took me a year to be able to say it, because it feels weird to talk about someone when they’re not here and talk about their faults. But Jenni was always so open about her defects and imperfections, and if we’re gonna make her legacy even in business, we have to continue that. It honors her to be upfront, raw and honest about everything that Jenni was.
Beyond your nieces and nephews, what has been the hardest part in terms of the business? Is there anything that really took you by surprise?
The media. The media and dealing with the fans. I love her fans and this legacy is not possible without them, and I even appreciate the media. But I would remove having to deal with the media and getting the story 100 percent right. I believe it’s that percentage of the story that’s never correct that taints the whole thing for me. I am a very black-and-white person. The truth is the truth, and if you mix any truth with a lie, or with incorrect information, you lose it all. I have a lawyer’s mentality. I was gonna be an attorney, so it’s very difficult for Rosie the person to continuously see interviews, media, construed with a little bit of a lie or incorrect information. So I just stepped away from the media.
What has surprised you about the music? You were telling me that Juan has actually discovered albums of her that have been unreleased?
Yes. Juan decided to go through all her archives. We were looking for voiceovers. And Juan found several songs that nobody from the family had heard. Juan has only let me listen to two, which I’m like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s such a treasure to him, and he’s holding onto them, and the kids and I have heard two. And it is incredible. They are really good. I mean, she cries. I think she dedicates this song to Fernie. I can’t verify that because she doesn’t say that. But the way she sings this song and the way that it is about is so touching that it seems like she sang this song to him.
And then she never released it, and I don’t know why. And those are just one of those mysteries where it’s like, “OK, it’s a great song, her voice sounds great, it’s passionate. Why did she not released this song?” Maybe she wasn’t ready for the world to know that she still missed or loved Fernie. I’m not sure, pero we’re gonna release it and I’m excited. We’re discussing it with her current home of Universal and saying, “Should we do it 2018?” And we probably will, just to let you know.
Where do you see Jenni’s legacy going in the next five years? I thought so much would be lost with her touring, but on the contrary, her legacy keeps growing…
The next five years, I am shooting for her biopic, finally. We still get offers. We are just looking for the right home. The interest is there from several big studios, but we have to be very careful in who we choose. It is very important. I admire the Selena estate for doing it so quickly, and sometimes I go back and I think, “Should we have done it in the first or second year?” But I have come to peace with saying, it will come out when it’s read, God is in control.
Her English album will come with the biopic. That’s my plan. I’m thinking her never-heard-before English album will be released as a soundtrack of the movie. She has at least two more unedited, never-heard albums. And I would like a documentary, like a really, really good documentary on Jenni, everything Jenni, and with home footage that no one has ever seen before. The fashion industry will continue to grow, so I want to expand it to Mexico. We’re in talks about that now, of her being in major stores in Mexico, like Walmart. And definitely her series is gonna be in Mexico, so with that, I’d love it to be all over the world, especially all over Latin America. Dreaming big—I dream of Jenni crossing over to the English market in TV. You know how they did Betty La Fea it and crossed over to Ugly Betty? That was great for Latin America, for us as an industry, and I’d love my sister to do that. I yearn for it to go into the English side.
Beyond Jenni Rivera Enterprises, what about you? What’s your personal dream as Rosie? You have an inspiring book and you are very inspiring. What are your plans?
I’m working on my second back right now as we speak. Next year for sure, my second book will be released. My dream is being at the Staples Center for a huge Latina women’s convention. Just empowering women, and I want it to be free for women. Our society, we don’t have an extra $300 to invest. In our realm, Americans have a lot of women conventions, but I would love to do one for us Latinas, to lift our women. I pray that one day, Rosie Rivera will be at the Staples Center in a huge convention.