"You don't smoke, do you?" Paulina Rubio makes it to showtime -- barely.

High-Maintenance Superestrella

There's a lull in the schedule in Miami, and Paulina Rubio doesn't like it. "Open the curtains," she says across the back of the couch. "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 3 in the afternoon. 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? "I'd like to talk about my new record," she says, but it's no use. 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, but that's no use, either. There's no light outside. "I'm hungry," she says. "Can someone please get me a menu?"


Paulina Rubio

Cricket Pavilion

Scheduled to perform with Enrique Iglesias on Friday, October 18. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.

There's another reporter hanging around, trying to exceed her allotted 20 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 10 times just to keep busy," she laughs, tossing her golden mane toward her publicist, who is 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 kiddy 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. Paulina's Border Girl makes her the first Mexican superestrella to release practically a whole English-language disc. For the past year, she's even had the manager who used to manage Ricky Martin.

"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 around 1.5 million copies in the United States alone. "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, sporting big hair, 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.

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. She talks to her mother, famed actress Susana Dosamantes, who introduced her to show biz as a toddler. "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 p.m.

"Dinner's at 7:30," she says, frowning. "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 says, flirting. "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. 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 the Pepsi Charts taping, Paulina's prerecorded voice fills the club, but she is not onstage. 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. One crew member taps the microphone Paulina will use to sing over the track, while another arranges fans waiting to fawn on camera.

Finally, Paulina joins the dancers in a crouch center stage, waiting for the track to roll again. Her hair falls in delicate tresses. Her skin is baby-smooth. She has a model's ease of expression. 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.

She's ditched the retro Golden Girl look in favor of a soft-pink tank top and a pair of brown suede shorts. She keeps dancing in between takes, slinking toward the audience with the lope of a hungry feline. 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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