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Vida Lopez

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In Out of Sight, Lopez emerged as perhaps the sexiest screen presence since Sharon Stone, and earned respect as an actress ("Being Latin wasn't even an issue," she says). Lopez and Clooney both brought a sultry maturity to the encounter of a man and a woman (or in this case a bank robber and a federal marshal) that has woefully been lost in the chipper romance of Hollywood movies of the nineties.

"I had followed her film history closely," admits Tommy Mottola.

Mottola, the powerful head of Sony Music Entertainment, took a personal interest in the development of On the 6, Lopez's debut album (so named for the train she took home to the Bronx). "I had heard she wanted to make a record," Mottola says, "and I asked for her demo tape. I listened to the tape, and I wrote a memo: 'Get her on a plane.' ''

Sony, which already had the biggest Latin-music division of any recording company (Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan, etc.), had its hands on the world's hottest Latino actress -- not to mention that Puff Daddy was onboard as one of her songwriters and producers. It was a "win-win": And we'll throw on some hip-hop, and we'll throw on some salsa, and we'll get Emilio Estefan and Marc Anthony on some tracks, and put lots of pictures of Jennifer on the CD . . . (Nine pictures, six with booty.)

"She exudes charisma," Mottola says.

(Mottola gets a little heated, by the way, when asked whether there's anything to rumors that at some point, he and Lopez were also "dating." "I think it's a mistake for you to even go there," he says intensely. "I don't think it is true," says a music producer at another record company. "But too bad for him, know what I'm saying? Jennifer's got a lot more flavor than Mariah.")

If there is any identifiable sound to On the 6, it's the highly polished sound of people wanting Jennifer Lopez to succeed. There are people -- people like Mottola; music people, who are always way out ahead of movie people -- who know just what she means: She's the future of entertainment, among other things, and that means the future of how people will want to spend their "disposable" incomes. (Note: Puffy dances wrapped in a Puerto Rican flag in his latest video.)

It's strange -- because now Kim Porter has moved out of Sean Combs's house and back home to Atlanta with their son -- but Puffy's still denying he and Jennifer Lopez are together. "We just be kicking it," he told a Boston radio station recently. In the current issue of Puffy's magazine, Notorious, the two self-conscious icons (whom a hip-hopper friend calls "Ken and Barbie for the millennium") take the game a step further. "They've written a lot of stuff about us," Puffy says, playing celebrity interviewer to Lopez. "Do you think it could be true one day?" "Yeah, I like you. Do you like me?" Lopez says coyly.

"Puffy bought Jennifer a $60,000 Franck Muller watch and that diamond cross she always wears," relates a female friend of the couple's. "That says it."

"He took his mama to her birthday party" in July, at the downtown club Halo, another friend of Combs's says, adding, "Now, a black man doesn't take his mama all dressed up to a woman's birthday party unless it's real, I-will-die-for-you, tattoo-your-name-on-my-ass love. I've never seen Sean like this about anything. Actually, I think they're both in love with each other -- that's my impression."

Lopez just purrs: "He's a friend, a good friend." She's being very careful now. She says, "You have to be careful."

It wasn't always this way. back in the perhaps simpler days, before the glaring

stare of real fame, Jennifer Lopez spoke her mind frankly, and people kind of liked her for that. "Do I think Madonna is a great actress? No," she was quoted as saying in Movieline magazine in a now infamous interview. She implied that Gwyneth Paltrow had used her relationship with Brad Pitt to get ahead (well, who doesn't think so, really?), and that Wesley Snipes had come on to her on the set of Money Train. (Snipes denies it; Lopez says she was misunderstood.)

And now she seems to be watching herself. Interviewing her is a pleasant enough experience, like eating vanilla custard. She's also taken steps to broaden her appeal; one of the interviews for this story took place during her visit to a Jewish camp in the Adirondacks, the Berkshire Hills-Emanuel Camps. "Just to see the impact you have," Lopez said breezily after dancing the hora, "it makes it all worthwhile." She has become a big star, and like all the other big stars, she is very "nice."

"She's plowing the mainstream a little hard for my taste," says someone in the hip-hop business.

It isn't fair, but now people are saying that "nice" is all part of Jennifer Lopez's new image -- which also includes blonder hair and a smaller posterior. shaking her booty -- suddenly, there's a lot less of jennifer lopez, the New York Post observed recently. If the veiled suggestion in all this is that in order to widen her market, Jennifer Lopez is trimming down, trying to seem less of a "Latina," then the question again becomes . . . what is a Latina? Can't Jennifer Lopez just be a diva?

"I've actually changed the way I talk, I've changed the way I move my hands," she has said of her acting efforts.

"Things do still have to change," Lopez tells me. "That's just the way society is right now. It has gotten better; I've gotten better opportunities, and I can only speak from my point of view." And clearly, that is the point of view of one who knows how to make use of her opportunities. But perhaps that's just what it takes to realize her plans in a society in which Meg and Gwyneth and Julia still command more on the bottom line. One day, Lopez says, she wants to make her own movies. "There are different stories and stuff that I want to put out there," she says. "All in due time," she adds.

In the video of "If You Had My Love," a little dark-haired girl in pigtails stands watching, dancing, enthralled, as Jennifer Lopez makes her moves. The girl may be white, she may be Latino or something else entirely -- you really can't tell.

"It's a beautiful thing," says Lopez.


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