The topic today, people: safe sex. See this cucumber? Watch as we slip this condom over it. The audience gasps, but it's all in a day's work at the Cristina Show. Meet Cristina Saralegui (pronounced Sar-a-leh-gee), the vivacious host. For her millions of Spanish-speaking viewers, she might as well have a trademark sign after her name. Like Martha Stewart and Oprah, Cristina has created a hot brand: herself. And she may be in your home soon.
Gringos who don't know her may recall channel surfing for college football or CSl on Monday nights and seeing the green-eyed platinum blond making dramatic hand gestures to her audience on Univision. At 56, the Cuban-American media mogul is riding a wave that seems in its mere infancy as the country's demographic becomes more Latino. Mainstream advertisers seeking to tap into the Hispanic market have flocked to her like Mexicans to mole. Most often compared with Oprah, Cristina is the host of a show that has received 11 Emmys during its 16 years. It is seen in Latin America, the U.S. and Europe. Cristina publishes her own magazine, called, of course, Cristina. She has a bilingual website averaging 50,000 hits a day. And there's her book Cristina! My Life as a Blonde, published in English and Spanish. "I have been growing my name for some time," she says, explaining her latest venture: Casa Cristina, which includes a furniture line headed for stores this spring. A clothing line is scheduled for later this year. A TV sitcom based on her life is in the works.
The granddaughter of a Cuban millionaire publisher who lost his fortune when the family fled Fidel Castro's revolution in 1960, Cristina is driven to succeed. By 1979, blind ambition catapulted her to the editorship of Cosmopolitan en Espa??ol. In 1983, she met and later married Marcos Avila, a ponytailed bassist for Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine who became her manager. She started her own TV show in 1989. Avila says he doesn't know the dollar worth of his wife or their business, Cristina Saralegui Enterprises, though he acknowledges it is in the millions of dollars. "This is a sort of a mom-and-pop business," he says. "We know Hispanics are very brand loyal."
As a talk-show host, Cristina has revealed her own plastic surgery and her problems with menopause and cellulite. She once "married" a homosexual couple on her show, claiming no one else would. "I often make mistakes, and when I do, I tell my audience," she says. "They like my honesty." Cristina's mission, she says, is to bring the diaspora of Hispanics together. "In unity, there is strength." And dollars as well. --By Jeanne Dequine/Miami