Technology

Racy MySpace star has growing mainstream following

Tila Tequila says she was born to be a star.

And why not?

If you're not familiar with her, Tequila is the MySpace stalwart who's already gained pop culture fame with her racy photos, video blog posts and catchy dance music. Now, with a reality show in the works, she's proof that it helps to have 1.8 million "friends" in high places.

"I'm crossing over into the mainstream," crows Tequila gleefully, chatting on her cell phone recently from Hollywood. "America is definitely ready for someone like me."

Modesty may not be one of Tequila's strong points, but her confidence is, and it raises a tantalizing brain-teaser:

Can (1) nearly 2 million MySpace friends plus (2) what has become a successful form of online marketing equal (3) the first Internet celebrity to become Real World Famous?

But before we try to solve the mathematics of fame, a quick history lesson.

Born in Singapore to Vietnamese parents, the former Tila (pronounced TEA La) Nguyen grew up in Houston. At 16, she dropped out of high school and moved to Manhattan. What followed next is the stuff of a cautionary Lifetime movie: drugs, drinking and other "crazy things."

By 19, however, Tequila was clean and living in Hollywood, where she took up modeling, music and nabbed a 2002 Playboy.com gig as a "Cyber Girl of the Week."

Then the following year, MySpace co-founder Tom Anderson asked Tequila to join his social networking site.

That's right, Tequila -- already flush with thousands of Friendster pals -- received a personal invitation. The aspiring singer-actress-model came on board -- and brought about 40,000 of her closest chums with her.

That was, says Tequila, now 25, the first sign that perhaps there was something to this whole Internet thing.

"There were other people on MySpace then, but they weren't doing anything with it," she says. "But I have ambition -- I was just destined to become an Internet phenomenon."

FAME 2.0

Tequila's debut single, released in March, is an aggressive slice of tough-chick disco called "I Love U," in which the singer professes her love for a guy -- then threatens to beat his you-know-what if he even thinks about cheating. The track's been downloaded approximately 40,000 times since its release.

Not too shabby, although not exactly the kind of numbers to make Christina Aguilera quake in her Christian LaBoutins.

No worries, says Robb McDaniels, the INgrooves CEO whose San Francisco-based digital music company is distributing Tequila's music.

In this age of LonelyGirl15, he says, Tequila embodies a new kind of celebrity.

"She's cultivated her fan base online and is in direct contact with thousands and thousands of people," McDaniels says. "She's interactive -- an all-digital girl."

And she's done it without spending a penny on marketing. (Corporate advertising campaigns are so 20th century).

"Tila's synonymous with that Web 2.0 concept of user-generated content," McDaniels says. "She's effectively conveyed her personality through (free entertainment) like her blog and MySpace page. She's become a brand."

She's also the perfect It Girl for a generation weaned on the likes of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, says public relations expert Peter Shankman.

"Tequila's eye-candy appeal is obvious," says Shankman, author of "Can We Do That!? Outrageous PR Stunts That Work -- And Why Your Company Needs Them."

"The 14-year-old boys will love her," he says, on the phone from Chicago. "And that demographic is huge."

Teenage boys notwithstanding, how will the mainstream take to Tequila's potty-mouthed, bikini-clad ways?

Define "mainstream."

"The mainstream's gotten smaller," Shankman says. "Tequila's got a huge audience of Web users, (and) advertisers know MySpace is a niche, but that it's a really big niche."

THE RIGHT STUFF

Tequila can't talk about her upcoming reality show, which she says she's developing for VH1, but this much we do know: The cable music network approached her (VH1 confirms that the pilot's in the can, but won't say anything else), and, Tequila says, the concept's "pretty groundbreaking."

One look at Tequila's more obvious attributes -- that cartoonishly curvy figure and bubbly personality -- and, well, we can only imagine.

Not so fast, the starlet says -- you should chalk up her success to good, old-fashioned hard work.

Translation: She's not just some dumb, famous-for-being-famous, body-baring kind of party girl.

"There's a big misconception about me -- people see how ambitious I am and think I just want to be famous," Tequila says. "I'm ambitious in that I want to do things my way -- and if it doesn't go my way, I won't do it."

Her "way" includes spending several hours on MySpace each day, adding friends (up to 6,000 daily) and posting blog entries on everything from Paris, as in Hilton, to physics. No, really.

(Sample entry: "Am I the only person who is absolutely fascinated with Quantum Physics?? I can't get enough of this stuff. The more I learn about it, the more I become fascinated and yearn to learn more and try to find more people who are experts at it to tell me more. I love Quantum Physics more than I love being `famous' or whatever.")

Don't believe that it's really Tequila punching in all those question marks? Believe it.

"People are always surprised," Tequila says with a laugh. "But why would I let anyone else do it? Why would I give someone else that power?"

Certainly, Tequila's MySpace friends seem to love her, visiting her site to post such gushing admirations as "You sexy beautiful woman you!!! TILA!!!! and "TILA U LOOK SOOO CUTE WORK IT GURL."

Dan Bova, Stuff magazine's editor in chief, says Tequila's hands-on-the-keyboard approach is the key to her popularity.

"Tila's made a big point of running her site, and she's just very approachable," Bova says, on the phone from his Manhattan office. "It's not just a gimmick."

Bova, who met Tequila when she appeared on the magazine's April 2006 cover, describes the Internet pinup as a "genuine firecracker."

"She's not just playing the part of a wild rock `n' roll chick," he says. "She's not just going to do something crazy because the camera's on -- whether the camera's on or not, she'd be doing it."

As such, Tequila's shot at breaking into the big time, he adds, is very real.

His advice? Keep it real.

"Two million people are already into what she's doing, so she must be doing something right," Bova says.

Not surprisingly, Tequila's already figured this part of the puzzle out.

"The fact that I'm still really raw is refreshing to people," she says. "I don't do anything for anyone -- the mainstream's going to adapt to me."

Not yet up on your Tila Tequila trivia? Some factoids on the reigning queen of MySpace:

- She was recently signed to Black Eyed Peas' star will.i.am's record label.

- Appeared as a contestant on Ted Nugent's 2003 "Surviving Nugent" reality show.

- Has a bit part in the upcoming film "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry."

- Is dyslexic. In a recent blog entry, Tequila explained to readers that "numbers and letters jump around on me a lot ... everything goes backwards in my mind. I could be categorized as something called Idiot Savant."

- Made the New York Post's "9 Hottest Celebs on the Web" list in April -- besting the likes of Christine Dolce, a MySpace model who, incidentally, boasts 1.3 million friends.

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