My first exposure to Charo was in a high schoolera Christmas gift from my parents, The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. There she was: strawberry blonde Pebbles hair framing a face that defined pert, a guitar poised scepter-like, and an impressive décolleté shrink-wrapped in enough sequins to cover all of Carnaval.
I think Charo would laugh at being included in such a Who's Who, which also included Liberace and Chesty Morgan. The singing, dancing, and "cuchi-cuchi!" spouting Castilian sex kitten that pratfalled with the best of 1970s television, the Vegas institution who wound up in that sub-A list purgatory The Surreal Life, is the Charo America knows and loves. But according to this 40-year show biz veteran, the other Charo a classically trained musician with serious Spanish guitar chops is just getting warmed up. A Pride celebrity grand marshal, she'll be riding on a parade float full of Charo look-alike drag queens, followed by a show at the Herbst Theatre.
SFBG How does it feel to be coming back to San Francisco after three years?
CHARO I call it Planet San Francisco because it's different from everything else in this country. And I am honored and very glad [to be a Pride grand marshal], due to the fact that all my life I have detested oppression, dictatorship, and discrimination. 'Cuz, you know, my early learning years were under the fear and dictatorship of [Gen. Francisco] Franco. I was surprised when I came to America that people used such titles as black, fag, skinny, Catholic, yellow. None of this exist in my education.
[Being a grand marshal] is also perfect timing because I am introducing my new single, "España Cani," as remixed for the dance clubs! It's the best thing I have done in my career, and it's just destined to make people live for 10 minutes and feel the passion of flamenco. That will be playing on the float with my flamenco dancers dancing around, and I will be with several look-alikes.
SFBG Are they going to be the same drag queens you judged at the Trannyshack Charo night back in 2005?
CHARO That was a hot-hot-hot evening! But I think this time they will be different. I think that one is better-looking than I am, and I am pissed off because that means I have to have to put a lot of push-up to have bigger tits. And he's a 30-year-old boy!
SFBG Your publicist told me that you lost a Charo look-alike contest in Puerto Rico.
CHARO That was the lowest point in my career [laughs]. I made a big mistake since I dressed like a look-alike. I had a big, big wig instead of my natural hairdo, and instead of dancing like me I tried to copy them. The idiot judge said, "Number 3" which was me "needs more practice!"
SFBG What can we expect from your new show at the Herbst?
Charo: The show is faaabulous. I am going to play as much [guitar] as the audience can take of the new me. I will do it until they ask me to stop. I am a musician in high heels [laughs]. I even sleep with high heels, in case I have to run and the fire department guys can't find me. I am 5 feet 3 inches, and I wear heels all the time. But the bottom line is that I am a musician. I am an entertainer number second.
SFBG When you started making TV appearances it was all "cuchi-cuchi!" all the time.
CHARO Yes. When I was on Johnny Carson and he starts talking to me in English, I just kept saying "cuchi-cuchi" to survive. And the rating was so big that I keep coming back. But the TV producer said if you want to play guitar, do it in your own time.
SFBG On a few of the episodes of The Love Boat your character April Lopez plays guitar for the passengers, no?
CHARO I went to producer Mr.