When Thalia arrived in the Philippines in August 1996, the media frenzy caused by the Mexican superstar's visit was surpassed only by Pope John Paul II's visit a year earlier in 1995.
The darling of the Filipino people invaded local television via her Mexican telenovelas that made Thalia a household name. RPN-9 made a killing when it made the move to dub foreign shows into Tagalized programs that sparked a revolution in the boob tube. Marimar paved the way for more foreign shows to capture the Philippine market.
On the downside, the Mexican telenovela craze also became a butt of jokes. Remember the badly dubbed episodes wherein the voice-over didn't match the character's lines? Or the spoof on Sergio Santibañez with his chest hair peeking out of his shirt?
Despite these shortcomings, Filipinos fell in love with the oppressed characters played by the sensual Thalia in her telenovelas. But did you know that the sexy actress was actually tomboyish while growing up? Thalia, whose real name is Adriana Thalia Sodi Miranda, preferred playing sports with boys and being outdoors. She turned feminine when she enrolled in a dance school and took training in classical ballet.
Thalia grew up to become a pop singer for the group Timbiriche and she worked her way up from playing bit roles in soap operas to becoming the queen of telenovelas.
A producer named Valentin Pimstein approached Thalia sometime in the ‘90s and asked her to do a trilogy of soap operas with the lead characters all named Maria. The first one, Maria Mercedes, came out in 1992 and immediately broke all ratings records. Two years later, Thalia did Marimar, and once again it topped TV ratings lists. The last installment, Maria la del Barrio, established her as an international superstar. From then on, Thalia's name became synonymous with Mexico in more than 120 countries worldwide.
Here is PEP's refresher course on Thalia's most memorable Mexicanovelas. Be forewarned though, there are spoilers ahead.
Maria Mercedes (1992). In the first installment of the famed "Maria" trilogy, Thalia performed with her sister, Laura Zapata, who was cast in the TV series as Malvina del Olmo. Maria Mercedes is a professional street urchin and lottery ticket vendor who struggles to raise her ungrateful siblings. Abandoned by their mother, she and her siblings suffer from the neglect of their drunkard father.
Maria Mercedes is spotted by Santiago del Olmo, a wealthy man who lives in a posh village in Mexico City. The dying man leaves his house and fortune to the street urchin instead of giving his his materialistic sister-in-law, Malvina, an inheritance. Santiago concocts a plan to marry Maria but the young girl falls in love with Malvina's son Jose Luis, who happens to be impotent.
A marriage proposal, a grandiose wedding, a last will and testament, and a conniving plan by a crazed Malvina are the elements that turn the lives of everyone in the del Olmo household upside down.
Marimar (1994). Who can forget the seaside beauty Marimar and her story of sweet revenge? Marimar is a poor girl who lives by the sea with her grandparents. When she is caught red-handed while trying to steal produce from Hacienda Ibañez, the young master Sergio Santibañez (Eduardo Capetillo) defends Marimar. He is attracted to her sweet, innocent look despite her untidiness.
To spite his father Renato, his young stepmother and ex-girlfriend Angelica, Sergio marries the "dirty girl from the beach." When he leaves to earn money for the two of them, Angelica frames Marimar and tells the police that she stole a bracelet from her. While Marimar serves time in jail, Angelica orders a servant to burn down Marimar's seaside hut, killing the helpless grandparents. As a final blow, Angelica forges Sergio's handwriting in a letter to Marimar, ostensibly declaring that he never loved her and now demands a divorce. Marimar vows to exact revenge on Sergio, his father, and Angelica.
A pregnant Marimar relocates to Mexico City where she becomes the maid of a wealthy older man, Gustavo Aldama. She begins studying and receiving lessons on how to be a refined lady. She assumes the identity of "Bella Aldama" and later discovers that she is actually Gustavo's heir.
Marimar crosses paths again with Sergio and his family, leading her to plot the downfall of her enemies. She manages to bankrupt Sergio's father and humiliate his stepmother Angelica, leaving them virtually homeless, while Marimar becomes the proud owner of all her adversary's properties. Sergio divorces Marimar while Angelica dies in a horrible car accident.
In order to keep his finances afloat, Sergio marries a rich woman named Innocencia. She develops a brain tumor and agrees to divorce Sergio, leaving him free to remarry his great love, Marimar.
Maria la del Barrio (1995). Thalia assumes the role of a scavenger once again in the telenovela Maria la del Barrio. She is adopted by a rich businessman and falls in love with Luis Fernando, the arrogant son. Don Fernando de la Vega brings Maria into his household as his ward, making her a target of hostility for his wife, Victoria de la Vega, and her niece, Soraya Montenegro.
Luis Fernando and Maria tie the knot and are soon expecting their first child. The husband happens to witness an innocent embrace between Maria and his brother Vladimir. He storms out, overcome with jealousy. Luis Fernando does not believe Maria's baby is his, so when her son is born, Maria gives him away during a temporary bout of insanity.
Luis Fernando rescues her from an asylum and adopts another child for her, but she still wonders about the location of her firstborn son. Maria eventually finds lost son named Fernandito, who grew up to be a respectable and good-looking young man.
By this time, Soraya returns to wreak revenge on Maria for taking Luis Fernando away from her (but it was actually Soraya who lured Luis to marry her under false pretenses prior to his marriage with Maria). Soraya ends up seducing Fernandito and for a time turns him against his biological mother, Maria.
Rosalinda (1999). This telenovela starring Mexican singer-actress Thalia was the last of her TV series aired in the country.
Rosalinda is a beautiful young woman who works in a flower shop to pay for her education while aspiring to become a great singer. One day, while delivering flowers to a restaurant, she meets Fernando Jose Altamirano, a wealthy pianist. She instantly falls in love with Fernando Jose and tells him of her dream of becoming a singer.
They fall in love, get married, and have a child named Erika, but circumstances force them apart. Fernando Jose's stepmother Valeria splits the couple up by informing him that Rosalinda's biological mother Soledad is serving a 25-year prison sentence for the murder of Fernando Jose's real father. The truth is, Soledad is innocent and just forced to take the blame.
After learning about this horrible news, Fernando Jose abandons Rosalinda and their daughter. Valeria kidnaps Erika. Rosalinda becomes depressed and eventually loses her sanity. She is locked up in a mental asylum.
Rosalinda is able to escape from the asylum but gets amnesia in the process. She meets Alex Dorantes while trying to steal from his house. The talent agent cleans her up and transforms her into the singer Paloma Dorantes. She falls in love with Alex while Fernando Jose marries Rosalinda's sister, Fedra.
Rosalinda and Alex attend one of Fernando Jose's concerts wherein one of his songs reminds her of the past. She gets hit by a car and all her memories come flooding back. She realizes that she is not Paloma, but Rosalinda.
She must then choose between her former lover Fernando Jose and her current flame Alex.
THALIA THE STAR. Thalia captivated the hearts of Filipinos with her unique mix of innocence and sensuality. That she was a good dancer and singer endeared her even more to Pinoys. Viewers loved Thalia as the underdog who rose above the challenges and harsh treatment of jealous women, usually her mother-in-law.
Her one-week stay in the Philippines in August 1996 received non-stop press coverage, eclipsing a peace agreement was being signed by the government with Muslim rebels and the centennial anniversary of the Philippine revolution.
In the midst of the festivities, the archipelago became known as "Republica de Mari Mar." The rags-to-riches story and bouts of amnesia in her telenovelas may not be original, but her charisma as an actress placed Thalia in a class of her own.