The Mrs. Mottola Nobody Knows

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Mexican singer and actress Thalía arrives for her wedding

Sure, Madonna got married. So what? Hard-core media junkies like myself have grown weary of her constant struggle to devise new identities, and her highly publicized wedding to filmmaker Guy Ritchie was such a tired fait accompli — "the Material Girl finally goes domestic!" — that it'd be fair to say it produced no broken hearts among male pop fans. On December 2, 2000, however, I'm a proud enough fanboy to admit that I felt a slight twinge of envy when Latin music megastar Thalía, 28, tied the knot with music mogul and Mariah-molder Tommy Mottola, 52, in a $3 million wedding ceremony at New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Though a superstar in her native Mexico and many other countries from Greece to the Philippines, Thalía is only known in the U.S. to one large section of the populace, namely those who follow Latin pop music (you know, the kind MTV refuses to air at any time — the kind in Spanish) and regularly watch the telenovelas seen on the three Spanish-language networks. Thalía's fans as a whole have been politely avoiding the somewhat Faustian aspect of her romantic merger with Mottola, but the tabloids, both in English and Spanish, haven't been quite so kind. She's been portrayed in English publications as a young Latin soap star positioning herself to be "Mariah II," while Spanish publications have printed as many pictures as they could obtain of her publicly nuzzling her older beau — elaborating how much money and influence Mottola has. The conclusions were implicit: Mottola chose another gorgeous younger woman, but this time he picked a foreign one to avoid the sort of problems he had with Carey (who conducted bitter public arguments with her "starmaking" hubby); Thalía, having already noted in many interviews that she was "too busy" to sustain a relationship at this stage of her career, suddenly found her "twin" in a man whose wiseguy-wannabe wardrobe earmarks him as a conspicuous consumer (he constructed a $10 million mansion for Carey, in which he installed a fully functional recording studio). It's enough to make a fan like myself shrug, sigh, and simply try to forget it all by remembering the intial thrill of discovery....

DIEHARD CHANNEL SURFERS RENDERED CATATONIC by the pabulum served up by the networks and basic cable channels have always known that the most vibrant, unpredictable entertainment can be found on the foreign-language channels, particularly the three Spanish networks. Those of us who studied the language in school but get lost when people begin to hablar rapidamente (talk quickly) can still follow and become absorbed by Spanish-language telenovelas, variety shows and music programs. Fans of vintage movies and TV shows will find formulas they recognize, but the passion and spontaneity with which they are carried out makes one thing certain: The most routine program on Univision is a thousand times more compelling than the sad fare being offered up on Nick at Night these days (when "Facts of Life" becomes "classic TV," it's time to fold up your tents, fellas).

I first encountered Thalía (pronounced Tah-LEE-ah) on "La Movida," a late-evening talk/variety program. About 20 at the time (1992), Thalía was already a showbiz veteran (she started in her first prefab band at the tender age of nine). Her look was what struck home first — a lithe, energetic brunette with a white streak running through the front of her manelike hair, clad in a series of outlandish, eye-catching outfits. Her songs were the next aspect to register — an assortment of well-crafted pop tunes with clearly salacious overtones. The coup de grace was the interview segment, in which the sexpot singer talked quietly and sweetly about her career, her fans and her then controversial image. The show's apparently minimal budget, erratic choreography and abysmal sound quality made the experience all the more charming. Thalía's one number in English was a heavily accented version of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," done in full Marilyn regalia. Here, it seemed, was a young woman truly unafraid of comparisons with the then-still-vital Madonna.

After this appearance, I began keeping an eye out for Thalía on Spanish television. The discovery of her music videos quickly converted me into a camp follower. A little background: Ms. Sodi (Thalía was born Thalía Ariadna Sodi Miranda on August 26, 1972) first achieved fame in a prefab teen band called Timbiriche, a Menudo-esque combo. I have not been blown away by their performances, but they did make a noteworthy guest appearance on a rather startling 1987 Halloween special that has run over and over again on Galavision. "Noche de Brujas y Terror" ("Night of Witches and Terror") is an eye-popping, no-budget Mexican TV reworking of "The Rocky Horror Show" (which features Spanish versions of "Over at the Frankenstein Place" and "Hot Patootie").

Within three years, Thalía had left the band, but she wisely maintained — thanks to her manager mother, Yolanda — her connection with the Televisa organization, which conveniently owned the Timbiriche concept, a record label and several radio and TV channels in Latin America and the U.S. The result was the making of a star — and some of the '90s' flashiest, most memorable music videos, never seen (natch) on MTV.

The videos that promoted Thalía's first three early-'90s solo albums, along with a dazzlingly outlandish TV special called "Love," set up Thalía's musical persona: a "good girl" who became a sex kitten on stage, singing songs with titles like "Sangre," "Sudor" and "Saliva" ("Blood," "Sweat" and "Saliva"). Her costumes were outrageous and provocative, and her production numbers brought to mind (for those of us who keep track of excesses from all eras) the best moments of Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra — although even Ann and Nancy never came on variety shows decked out as an Aztec goddess, a female boxer or a geisha girl.

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