[Originally published in LatinTRENDS Magazine Issue #96; March 2013]
By Giselle Rodriguez-Forte
Mario Lopez is underrated. Not so much as Hollywood stock—the media and public love him—but there’s more to the Mexican-American public figure than his audience may appreciate. Ironically, the bright light his shiny star casts may shadow Lopez’s altruistic efforts.
What some people don’t realize: Lopez is a humanitarian. This is a man who deserves to be on every Latino list concocted by everyone from HBO to People, Sabado Gigante, and abuelas in Washington Heights; he is genuinely interested in creating positive projects and he always keeps his Latino roots at the forefront of those endeavors. His dear friend, Eva Longoria, always makes the popularity and groundbreaker lists! As “they” say, show me who you roll with and I’ll show you who you are (I paraphrase loosely), then it’s suffice to acknowledge Lopez is worthy of the same accolades and recognition.
People reveal themselves without realizing it. This is how I knew Mario Lopez remains grounded despite the uphill trajectory he’s riding: when the phone interview for this article was scheduled, his camp told me to call him directly. It’s a simple, almost unnoticeable detail, but it’s the sort of thing that discreetly says; I am down-to-Earth. There is no phantom yellow tape between him and the world. And bottom line, there’s enough success under his belt to activate his ego. But he remains humble, and the man works.
Ryan Seacrest is rumored to be the hardest workingman in the entertainment business; I’m going to throw Lopez’s name into the ring as a contender. It takes a lot of stamina and energy, both physically and spiritually, to have the wherewithal to not only show up for the activities in his insanely busy life, but to excel at all of them. And not only does he do it, he makes it look easy.
Before speaking with Lopez I did a little journalistic homework. I take that back, a ‘little’ is an understatement because he has a lot going on, and most of it always circles back to the empowerment of his Latino community, celebrating his roots, and following a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s begin at the obvious. Saved by the Bell, which has to be mentioned because, well, it’s a new-school classic playing on the television all the time. Lopez has been a household name since we saw him pirouette in spandex back at Bayside High. These days you can see him hamming it up with Maria Menounos on E!’s Extra!, and as of late, as host of X-Factor (which he just wrapped). But there’s more, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff you may not have heard of yet, but should really take the time to check out.
Did you know he’s penned numerous children’s books, a fitness book, and two cookbooks (published by Celebra, Penguin Books)? One of which, Extra Lean: The Fat-Burning Plan That Changes the Way You Eat for Life (written with Jimmy Peña) made the NY Times bestseller list! There’s no tell-all memoir on his literary resume, nothing to avenge, they are all books written from a positive place – one of them is about him and his daughter, Mario and Baby Gia! Get
more adorable, please.
When I ask about his constant affiliation with health and family, Lopez remarks, “I workout for sanity, not vanity. And that sort of lifestyle, although it obviously helps you physically, it also helps keep my energy up with everything I do, and in turn helps me come home and enjoy and appreciate what I have there.”
Even his literary accomplishments spotlight the family unit. The children’s books and cookbooks are all family friendly. And the recipes and lifestyle he celebrates focus on eating in a nutritious way, rather than limiting oneself to a restrictive diet.
Lopez has also been hard at work on his new series with NuvoTV, Mario Lopez: One on One. He not only serves as laid-back interviewer for the project, he’s also an executive producer on the show (along with his cousin—there goes the family card again). He seems effortless in the room with the A-Listers he’s speaking with; as a viewer you feel like you’ve been allowed to sit in on a private conversation with Mario and a buddy (sometimes his buddy is Mark Sanchez, sometimes it’s Gloria Estefan). And although it’s candid, there’s none of the awkwardness that sometimes comes with one-on-one interviews in which the reporter attempts to have some deep secret revealed on the show; it’s obvious Lopez is not interested in airing out anyone’s dirty laundry.
He says it best when describing his efforts for the project, “I hope it inspires. I want to showcase Latinos who have been successful… and give other Latinos someone to look up to. If they can relate to who I’m sitting with, then hopefully that will make it easier to inspire them.”
There’s something to this theory. Watch his interview with Gloria and Emilio Estefan and you’ll comprehend what he’s saying; he makes these untouchable public figures accessible. Suddenly Gloria reminds you of your sister, or tia, and the wall of “they’re better than me” dissipates. It’s an unconscious way to inspire; feeling equal to those you look up to can help with self-esteem, motivation, and make acquiring your own goals more attainable.
I almost forgot! He also has a radio show on 104.3MYfm, and is the animated voice of a rag doll for Sprout’s The Chica Show. I am literally running out of space to talk about everything he does. He’s not all talk, and not all preachy either. Lopez is no stranger to controversy—but who isn’t. The difference is he’s had his challenges in the public eye. We all have a past, what matters is the present.
These days, if you go to his Twitter page you’ll find photo after photo of his lovely daughter Gia, gorgeous wife Courtney, and a variety of cute nephews and nieces (he’s Latino, as you can imagine, family members run deep). He’s a good ol’ Catholic boy who loves his family, appreciates where he’s come from, and walks the line. He’s also admitted to being an active member of his parish. I asked him about his faith, he responds, “…it’s helped me with structure, clarity…I owe everything to being very blessed, and I don’t take that for granted.” He doesn’t push any religious talk on me; it’s a simple declaration of how faith continues to fortify his foundation of gratitude. It’s a little cynical to think this way, but often I question a celebrity’s affiliation with particular organizations and charities. Intentions can sometimes be fuzzy. Are they representing this or that because it’s fashionable, or an applicable tax write-off—because in Hollywood charities are trendy, too.
Yet even with his organization of choice, Mario’s connection runs deeper than the surface. He is a fitness ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club of America. “My parent’s were great, but they worked. I used to go to the Boys Club after school, it still hadn’t merged with the Girls Club at the time. I spent my time there. That’s where I was introduced to wrestling. It kept me busy, focused, and off the streets.” Mario is not the only celebrity to fondly recall the Club as a safe haven; Latinos Victor Rasuk and Rosario Dawson are also ambassadors for the organization.
Mario’s actions showcase faith in his Latino community, and his commitment to being a positive force for not only us, but for everyone. Luckily, he is a Latino focused on the empowerment of society more so than the personal gratification of his ego. More than anything he wants us, his fellow Latinos, to elevate and have a voice. How can we not support that?