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¡Tequila Time!

A rare moment of contemplation for Mexico's next big export

There's a lull in the schedule, and Paulina Rubio doesn't like it. "Open the curtains," she says across the back of the couch to anyone who will listen. "Let's do something. Let's practice yoga. Turn on the television. Anything."

This should have been a good day; the first interview wasn't scheduled until after three in the afternoon, which means you have the whole day free. But it's so gray outside. And the interview was a disaster. Even before the tape recorder began to roll, there was a question about her brother's health. Who's running around talking to reporters about her brother? And then the question about her opinion on the legalization of marijuana. What the hell is that supposed to mean? "I'd like to talk about my new record," she says pointedly, but it's no use. Tape recorder off. Why do reporters even bother asking questions, when they're just going to write whatever they want anyway?

She gets up to open the curtains herself, but that's no use, either. There's no light outside. "I'm hungry," she says. "Can someone please get me a menu?"

There's another reporter hanging around, trying to exceed her allotted twenty minutes. "I just want to get your flavor," this one says. Well, how are you going to do that in some hotel room rented for nothing but interviews all day? She smiles just the same.

Maybe she should have someone do something about her hair.

"The other day, they did my hair ten times just to keep busy," she laughs, tossing her golden mane toward her publicist, who is sitting across the room.

"That last one left you looking like La Trevi," Joe Bonilla jokes, but no matter how big the stylist teased out Rubio's hair he could never make her look like that loca Gloria Trevi. It's true, both girls were trained up in the Mexican City teen star system, but the world outside Mexico now knows Trevi for her part in a bizarre kiddie sex ring. Paulina Rubio is going to join Ricky and Enrique and J.Lo and Shakira as a hot hot hot Latin superstar. Even Thalia, who got her start with Paulina in the juvi singing group Timbiriche and grew up to marry Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola, even she has only released a few songs in English so far. When Border Girl drops, Paulina will be the first Mexican superestrella to release practically a whole English-language disc. Since last September she's even had the same manager who used to manage Ricky Martin. "This is the Mexican moment," Ricardo Cordero likes to say. "It's Tequila Time!"

"We want to cross her globally," Kim Garner, the senior vice president of marketing at Universal, will tell you. "We want her to be the next big thing, not just in America but all the way around the world." But you have to be careful about crossover. Her last disc, Paulina, sold a million and a half copies in the United States alone, presumably to loyal Latin fans. "Our strategy has been to make sure that Latin radio is taken care of, make sure she does a lot of the Latin press," Garner reveals. "Now that she's crossed over we didn't want people to say she's forgotten her roots."

That's the whole point of being here today: double duty with Latin and Anglo press. And that's the point of being in Dallas two days before and in Tampa the night before that and at a radio-station concert in Fort Lauderdale the night before that, performing her single "Don't Say Goodbye" for the first time for an English-speaking audience, prancing across the National Car Rental Center stage with big big hair, a metallic crop top, a short bolero jacket with flared sleeves, and knee-high stiletto boots.

"Wasn't my outfit chingona?" she pouts defensively, pretending to be offended. "Everyone said I was having a retro moment. Back to the days of the Golden Girl." The days of La Chica Dorada, her first megaseller as a solo artist back in 1991. "Everyone told me, you look terrible. But I loved my outfit, though," she switches to English to emphasize the last word. "And anyway, my boots were brand-new. Sergio Rossi."

One of the guys from the camera crew for the Spanish-language television show Pepsi Charts turns on the television. Everyone watches Bill Murray do a gag about a lounge act who sings Stones covers on a rerun of Saturday Night Live. They can't start the interview until their boss gets here.

Paulina checks her messages, shaking her long honey tresses out of the way every time she brings the phone to her ear. She is talking to her mother, famed actress Susana Dosamantes, who introduced her to show biz as soon as she could walk. "You have to sleep," she scolds, playing mommy to her mami. She gives a pep talk to her father. Someone is in the hospital and she wants to know when she should call, when people can visit.

"Is someone in the hospital?" asks the reporter, who is still hanging around.

"No," she says quietly as she puts away the phone.

Then, as if she hasn't been eavesdropping, the reporter asks, "What do you mean when you say you are part of the new feminism?"

"Well, it's new to me," the star clarifies. "Feminism has been around for a long time, hasn't it? With writers like Virginia Woolf. It's just that now I'm at that stage."

She's starving. Why hasn't anyone found the menu? She can't wear mini-minis if she doesn't stay skinny. But she needs a little something to tide her over.

"You don't smoke, do you?" she asks the reporter.

"Do you have a cigarette?" she asks the camera guys.

No one does.

Finally a cart rolls in with a mound of crudités. Matchsticks of squash and carrots and cukes.

Paulina looks at her watch. 4:00 p.m.

"Dinner's at 7:30," she frowns. "I'll just pick at a little something in the meantime."

But then the Pepsi Charts producer breezes in, blond, trim, and handsome.

"You weren't waiting for me, were you?" he asks. "What happened to the other interviews?"

"Yes, we were," Paulina flirts, nearly purring in English. "We were all waiting for you."

"A touch-up," her publicist tells her, "then the television, then two phone interviews, then you're done."

"Maybe my hair should be bigger," she worries.

She doesn't have to worry about what she will say; interview after interview brings out versions of the same theme. About her music: "The most important thing for me is to fuse different styles. To mix hip-hop with ranchera, urban sounds with your roots." About her lyrics: "I will give them Paulina exactly the way she is. I'm not going to change. All I did was switch the message to English. Love is the same in every language. You don't risk your essence. You still keep your taquitos and your picante."

The next night at crobar for the Pepsi Charts taping, Paulina's prerecorded voice fills the club, but she is not onstage. Squeezed onto the tiny stage, the band gamely matches its movements to the sounds, while a teenage DJ makes a big show of back-spinning vinyl on a turntable. A trio of dancers rises from the floor to execute tight pirouettes, rapid-fire falls, and swings while the techno beat of "Don't Say Goodbye" bubbles from the speakers. One crew member taps the microphone Paulina will use to sing over the track, while another arranges the fans waiting for their chance to fawn on camera.

Finally Paulina joins the dancers in a crouch center stage, waiting for the track to roll again. In the publicity shots Universal sent out in press kits and posted on her Website, her hair falls in delicate tresses. Her skin is baby-smooth. She has a model's ease of expression, by turns pensive, inquisitive, innocent, orgasmic, postcoital. She is almost always in some stage of undress: her shirt falling softly off her shoulder, her shorts riding down her hip. Onstage tonight, her brow is knit into a furrow of concern and her energy is wild and anxious.

She's ditched the retro Golden Girl look in favor of a soft-pink tank top with complicated straps and a pair of tiny brown suede shorts. She keeps dancing in between takes, slinking toward the audience with the lope of a hungry feline; pointing and laughing to the delight of the crowd. While the crew fiddles with some technical snafu, her publicist Bonilla dabs at her forehead with a tissue. A stylist rushes onstage with a comb. Paulina's hair is as big as hair gets.


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