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Heating Up the MTV Latino Connection : Television: VJ Alfredo Lewin, who has become almost as popular as the rock stars he interviews, wants to take the network to new heights as a cultural force.

November 22, 1994|LEILA COBO-HANLON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

He is, in the eyes of many, Mr. MTV Latino. The one who gets more than 100 letters a day, the guy with the long hair and the nice smile who can charm any audience and talk intelligently about hard rock.

But Alfredo Lewin, the 25-year-old VJ of "ConeXion MTV" and "Headbangers," appraises his new-found success with a level head.

As one of four VJs on Spanish-language MTV Latino, he has taken to heart what he perceives as his mission within the year-old network: Taking it beyond its self-proclaimed role as "the voice of rock 'n' roll" to become the cable channel that "will dictate the aesthetics, the 'vibe,' the way (Spanish-speakers) speak and feel."

It sounds like a daunting task, considering that MTV Latino reaches more than 3.5 million homes in 20 countries (including the United States) with widely different cultures. But "ConeXion MTV" seems to bridge the gaps.

Indeed, it has made Lewin almost as popular as the rock stars he interviews. During a recent visit to his native Chile, autograph-seeking fans shattered a plate glass window in their determination to get a glimpse of him.

A far cry from one year ago, when not getting letters was the biggest worry that Lewin and his "ConeXion" producers had.

"We knew we had the prestige of MTV," he explains, "but to think that people were going to write from places as far away as Santiago de Chile. . . . When we got our first letter from Bolivia, from smaller places, we were so proud."

The mail started pouring in within a few weeks. Perhaps it was the fact that Lewin had a similar TV program in Chile before getting his MTV gig. Perhaps it was his boyish good looks and charm, combined with his hard-edge outfits. Perhaps it was the fact that he is genuinely smart, a literature major and a musician who always manages to say something interesting about the videos he shows. For whatever reason, Lewin became a favorite of male audiences and the heartthrob of girls around the world.

"You are super handsome, and you're driving me totally and completely wild," a viewer wrote from Ecuador.

"Happiness of my days, light of my eyes, strength of my body, sweetness of life, that's what you are to me," another wrote from Mexico.

"I like you way too much," said an Argentine who attached a photo with her request to meet him.

"ConeXion," with its broad spectrum of music, is largely responsible for Lewin's fame, but his hard-rock show, "Headbangers," is closer to his heart.

"I always connected with that music, since I was a child," he says. "With AC/DC, Black Sabbath, the bands I started listening to a long time ago, and which are the reason I got interested in music."

His story has a fairy-tale quality to it. A literature student at Santiago's Catholic University, he also sang in a hard rock band and hosted a late-night television rock show that was seen by MTV hostess Daisy Fuentes during a visit to Chile.

"The minute I saw his face on TV, you could see a certain honesty, cuteness and hipness to Alfredo. I just had to let my producer know about him," Fuentes says.

Barely a month later, Lewin was called to be one of the three VJs who, with Fuentes, launched MTV Latino from Miami. He was an instant hit.

But his life hasn't been quite that easy.

Lewin's father died when he was 4. He lived with his mother and sister until he was 12, but things "didn't work out" and he left. After roaming from friend to friend, he found a home with a great-aunt, who took him in until she died. Lewin was 22, alone and penniless. Television was his saving grace.

"I did it out of necessity. . . . I needed a job, and (the local station) was having an audition."

He quickly became a local celebrity, and by the time MTV came along, he was ready.

"I want this to be the step to living my next 20 years with music, to say this is what I lived for and made my living from. I want to gain credibility, to go beyond being an image on the screen," Lewin says.

"I don't want to stop being a VJ until MTV is big, until its contribution goes beyond the music. . . . In seven years, I won't be the young VJ that gets all the fan mail. . . . But I do want people to say, 'Alfredo really knows about music.' "

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