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TELEVISION

Latino TV personalities juggle a bilingual stage

For energetic young hosts like LATV's Pili Montilla and MTV Tr3s' Carlos Santos, their playful Spanish-English fusion comes spiked with a dose of media savvy.

October 04, 2009|Yvonne Villarreal

The daffy MTV Tr3s personality has interviewed them and dozens of other celebrities as host of the now-defunct "MiTRL," a Latino spinoff of MTV's music video countdown program. The first on-air talent for MTV Tr3s, the 28-year-old now hosts "Entertainment as a Second Language with Carlos Santos," which just wrapped its first season.

The hourlong variety show features performances from top music acts, interviews with TV and film celebrities and comedy sketches. Think "Saturday Night Live" with a splash of "Sabado Gigante."

And you don't have to be Latino to tune in. "I think what we're working toward is a situation where we don't think in terms of color or ethnicity," Santos says. "There's a flavor that MTV Tr3s and other bilingual networks can provide to the rest of the world. We are in millions of homes; not all of them are Latino."

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Santos left home, where he was studying engineering, to attend Fresno State and received a degree in theater arts. To pursue his comedic ambitions, he headed to L.A. and graduated from Second City's training center.

By 2004, he was a host on rival network LATV. Two years later -- after many auditions -- Santos, who says he learned English by watching American television shows, landed a hosting gig at MTV Tr3s.

With "E.S.L" on hiatus, Santos continues hosting other artist-related specials. He recently attended the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington, D.C., where he helped introduce MTV Tr3s' new show "Yearbook Chronicles," a documentary that examines the disproportionate rate of Latinos dropping out of high school.

"The need is definitely there to represent that flavor of the bilingual community who have one foot in America and the other foot in their homeland," he says. "The main goal for everyone working in bilingual entertainment is to continue making bridges between the old and new generation. When you do that, you're creating a bond that's stronger than anything . . . and here is where you cue the sad music and cry."

Always the comedian.

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Chica talk

Melissa "Crash" Barrera adjusts her leggings so the striped sides will be captured on camera. Beside her is Yasmin Deliz, who croons bits of Keri Hilson's hit single "Knock You Down" as she takes a last glimpse at the show's rundown before shoving the pages behind a pillow in the chic living room-styled set of "Crash & Yasmin Uncensored." Today's topic? Cosmetic surgery. And as the name of the show suggests, these chicas have no filters. They talk about "fake boobies." Ashlee Simpson's nose job, Crash (who got her nickname after wrecking six cars by age 15) says, was an aesthetic achievement -- "It did you good, girl."

When the duo isn't mouthing off on bone shaving and calf implants, they're offering their thoughts on breakups and homosexuality on "CYU" or taking an etiquette class and belting out rancheras on their other show, "The Chicas Project," which just wrapped its fourth season.

And their outspokenness is available in English and Spanish on mun2, NBC Universal's bilingual network. But they don't ration their ranting to meet any language quotas, so don't try to quantify their "Latina-ness" based on the frequency with which they roll their R's.

"I've worked in Latin television before and they've said, 'You don't speak enough Spanish,' 'You sound funny when you speak Spanish,' " says 24-year-old Crash (don't worry, SoCal drivers, she now takes the Metro to work). "I am Latina, and there are tons of kids that are like me. Being fluent in Spanish doesn't make you more Latina than me. I feel like if I portray myself any other way, then I am neglecting those kids that are just like me, that feel so lost in all this -- who wonder, 'Where do I fall in this Latin spectrum?' "

Venezuela-born Deliz, 22, was raised in New York by her Dominican father and Colombian mother. Don Francisco was the dominant Latino television personality; his variety show "Sabado Gigante" continues to air in the U.S. on Univision. Watching him was a "family affair" and once the clock struck 8:00, "nobody even had to say a word, we just went right to the televi- sion and watched." Deliz, who moved to L.A. when she was 16 to pursue a music career, never imagined she would be an alternative to such a dominant figure.

Her partner in crime, the Southern California-born Crash, is a mix of Mexican, Navajo and German. Expelled from two schools and legally emancipated from her parents by age 15, the rockera grew up with an eclectic blend of Spanish and American shows. Her grandma might be watching a telenovela in one room while her uncle was watching MTV in another.

The back-and-forth shuffle between rooms -- and channels -- to get a hearty diet of her cultures didn't seem unusual to the rocker chick. "I never thought it was odd because it's all I knew," she says. "It wasn't like there was an LATV or a mun2. There was nothing like that to compare. So it wasn't like I felt I was missing out on anything."

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