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Will Xuxa spell success on American TV?

THE BALTIMORE SUN

"You can't tell my program's a job -- I love my job," says the

host and star of the children's program "Xuxa."

One recent non-stop day is a good example. After taping four half-hour shows with dozens of adoring children filling a stage at CBS' Television City, Xuxa hangs around to await a group of students whose school bus dispatcher caused to them miss the taping. They arrive long after the camera crew has gone home.

Xuxa, the 30-year-old entertainer, and her dancers/child wranglers (called Pixies) greet the youngsters, answer questions, guide them through the elaborate, global-themed set, sing and dance, sign autographs and give kisses.

"I like children, their smell, sound; when they ask me for a kiss or give me flowers," says Xuxa, whose show airs weekdays at 9 a.m. on WBFF (Channel 45). "I know everybody has a good part and a bad part. [My] good part comes from what I learn with children."

And the children learn from the imaginatively attired, leggy host -- in between the active (and often messy) games and two songs that comprise each half-hour show. In her caring, cheerful manner and limited English, the Brazilian beauty advises her viewers about everything from hygiene to safety, education, tolerance for other people and caring for animals. She also grills her fans with questions like "What is our nation's capital?" or "What is a comet?"

"The songs and music make passing the message -- 'eat right' or 'brush your teeth' -- a happy thing," she says.

Designed for children 2 to 11, "Xuxa" (from her childhood nickname, pronounced SHOE-sha) is an attempt by producer-distributor MTM to duplicate the enormous success that the entertainer/singer/ex-model achieved with the original Brazilian Portuguese and subsequent Spanish versions. In Baltimore, "Xuxa" had a rating of 1.74 during the November sweeps, reaching about 16,000 households.

Xuxa, who has also been ranked the No. 1 recording star in Brazil, is a phenomenon in Latin America. Millions of young viewers idolize her. They scoop up her dolls, cassettes, sandals, comic books in record numbers. "I'm part of children's histories," she offers matter-of-factly. A broadcast executive quips that "she's a one-person day-care center."

Of course, her success a continent away doesn't guaranteduplication here. MTM executives, impressed with what they saw and aware of demands for FCC-friendly children's programming, met with Xuxa and her long-time manager more (( than a year ago. The prolific supplier of network hits ("Hill Street Blues," "Newhart," "Remington Steele") hammered out a deal for a syndicated, English-language, 30-minute version of Xuxa's show.

Initial challenge

Xuxa recalls being challenged by the initial productions. "Because [children] don't know me, the first day I was nervous, not happy. I wanted to get on a plane and go back to Brazil." Not being proficient in English compounded the challenge. While gesturing with her hands, she explains, "Normally I speak to the children directly from my heart to my mouth. But here my thoughts go from my heart, to my brain, then my mouth."

She feels that there's "the love language that children have inside. Sometimes I don't need to speak; just look inside."

With television requiring more than visuals, Xuxa cram-studies English with two tutors who teach her in her dressing room during production breaks. While meeting with reporters, she occasionally seeks assistance from a Brazilian executive proficient in English.

Although exhausted from the show's demands, Xuxa appears gracious and sincere in discussing her hopes of being a hit with American kids.

The 5-foot, 9-inch pop star's blond hair, blue eyes and smooth complexion are dazzling features. Her smile exhibits a set of teeth most people would kill for. A non-smoker and non-drinker, she exercises, eats "lots of vegetables, brown rice, no red meat" and prefers 10 hours of sleep. Referring to the latter, she sounds ever more American: "I'm not a morning person; I look like Garfield."

"I stay quiet; I'm a normal person," she says. "Children bring me more energy.

Where did she spend her 30th birthday last March 27? "I went to Disneyland!"

Xuxa, whose full name is Maria de Graca Meneghel, began modeling at 16 in Rio de Janeiro. The youngest of a military family's five children, she appeared in dozens of publications, eventually signing with the Ford Modeling Agency. With a soft spot for animals, she took university courses in biology ("I want to be a veterinarian"). But she dropped out after her freshman year as the demands of modeling assignments -- including a gatefold in the Brazilian Playboy -- increased and later film roles materialized.

At 17 she began a seven-year relationship with fellow countryman Pele, the world-renowned soccer player, who is 23 years older than she. "I think he didn't believe me when I told him I loved him. When I wanted to get married, he said 'no.' Then, he wanted to get married, and I said 'no.' "

Worth $100 million

Still single, she claims to like the idea of being a wife with an understanding husband and having two children. "If I think I can have a relationship, I will try." With her net worth estimated at about $100 million (listed in Forbes' Top 40 Show-Biz Millionaires), it's obvious that "everything [material] I want, I have."

And what she has, she shares. Through the Xuxa Meneghel Foundation, food, clothing and shelter are provided for 250 orphans in Brazil. She is disturbed by the epidemic of unwanted children and street kids in her home country. "The problem begins with the adults. They think if they have more children that they'll work for them."

The entertainer is also disturbed by young fans who sleep in front of her homes in Brazil and Argentina, where she tapes the Spanish editions, "El Show De Xuxa." "I worry about them; I get upset. 'Go to your houses!' I say, but the same people are there every day."

Taping in Spain

Xuxa spends six weeks annually in Spain taping 40 shows ("Xuxa Park"). Her mother, Alda, and one sister live there now. "My mother did the costumes when we started in Brazil. She has a good imagination."

In Los Angeles, Xuxa crams 65 shows (a year's worth in children's programming) into five weeks of taping. She hopes American viewers will welcome her back for a second season. "I know everyone can have opportunities here. America opens the door for everybody. I really want this.

"I'm 30 years old. I don't know if I have time for Germany and Japan."

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