In last week’s anniversary issue, I wrote about eight of my most memorable celebrity interviews since the launch of SFGN. I wish I could have waited just one more week because I still have goosebumps from my recent telephone call with Charo.
Any reader of a certain age knows the singer, actress and virtuoso Flamenco guitarist. In the 1970s, Charo was everywhere. She appeared on a host of variety shows hosted by Tony Orlando and Dawn, Dean Martin, Merv Griffin, Donny and Marie Osmond, and yes, even the Brady Bunch. She was a frequent panelist on “The Hollywood Squares” and competed on “Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes.”
But, I would be grossly remiss if I didn’t cite Charo’s 10 appearances on “The Love Boat” as the plucky Mexican stowaway April Lopez that would secure her place in pop culture.
Charo remerged last year on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” and next week, will perform the world premiere of her new dance mix “Fantastico” at Pride Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, Feb. 11.
The Spanish-born performer’s accent is still strong, but I found it wasn’t her choice of words that resonated most. It was the boundless energy and enthusiasm that managed to travel a continent over a crackly connection.
Charo, born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza, told me that, as a child, she spent summers on the farm of her grandfather near the town of Murcia. She was entranced with the Spanish custom of bulerias, the fast clapping that accompanied Flamenco music.
“I’m going to have the audience clapping at the same time. It’s very exciting,” she promised. “Everyone will be clapping with the downbeat and then I’m going to introduce the remix.”
Then the conversation got personal: “You know how much I love the audience. I’m telling you that when I can see a lot of people—happy, looking for dreams—I will be looking for you. I will be dancing with you.”
Yes, she was talking about me, but I had a feeling that everyone else on Fort Lauderdale Beach gathered around that stage will feel the same way.
"When I came to United States of America, I found it a little conservative and I desired to shake it up and introduce myself in the 70s…I was shaking maracas before Shakira and Sophia Vergara,” Charo said.
She’s also looking forward to an appearance at Pride. Her family taught her at a very young age about the evils of discrimination.
“(I have) many friends who are gay—writers, producers, designers—they are dreamers and I am a dreamer. I never stopped my dreams and I felt very connected with their personalities, happiness, their joy. I became a supporter of the LGBT (community),” Charo said. “I talk from my heart and I’m proud to be invited and to be a part of your family.”
Like most of my most memorable interviews, time flew by as we chatted like old friends. I had to ask her THE question she’s undoubtedly been asked a million times: Where did her signature phrase, “cuchi cuchi,” come from?
“Nobody has ever asked me these questions that way,” she responded genuinely and I believed her.
It turns out she was inspired by a little dog, Cucio, who wiggled uncontrollably whenever excited.
“It was a very funny looking dog that shaked back and forth,” she said before adding with a chuckle, “They thought I was a little bitch, too.”
Charo will greet fans at the Pride Fort Lauderdale kick-off party on Friday, Feb. 9 at the B Ocean Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $65 in advance and $75 at the door. She will also perform on the main stage at Pride festival at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park on Sunday, Feb. 11. Admission is free. For more information, go to PrideFortLauderdale.org.
J.W. Arnold serves on the board of Pride Fort Lauderdale.