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Paterson Girl Meets Her Idol; Contest-Winning Fan Puts On Show For J.Lo
By TOM MEAGHER, SPECIAL TO THE RECORD
4 March 2005
Maxine Aviles adores Latina superstar Jennifer Lopez.
And sitting in a stretch limousine headed for Manhattan on Thursday, the 10-year-old Paterson girl got a taste of what her idol's life must be like - and what she hopes her own will be someday.
Maxine earned the ride - and the chance to see the pop singer perform - when she won the "Today" show's "Biggest, Littlest Jennifer Lopez Fan" contest. She learned that she'd won the day before, when NBC visited her fifth-grade class at School 18, and the show's co-host, Katie Couric, gave her the news on the air.
On Thursday, the morning show brought her, her mother, two aunts, a cousin and two classmates to Rockefeller Plaza to see the Bronx- born Puerto Rican actress-singer perform.
While Maxine, dressed in jeans and a matching jacket from Lopez's J.Lo clothing line, giggled and played patty-cake with her girlfriends, her aunt gushed about how much she loves Lopez and her movies. She also bragged about Maxine's singing, and how she could someday be a star.
"She used to sing [slain Tejano singer] Selena when she was 2 years old," said Maggie Garcia. "We knew she was going to be talented."
At her mother's prompting, Maxine skimmed through Post-It notes on which she had written questions for her icon. Her friend Salome Watson brought a stack of construction-paper posters that classmates had made to encourage and congratulate Maxine. They thought maybe Lopez could autograph some of them.
One boy who has a crush on Maxine wrote, "Go Puerto Rican baby!" - much to her chagrin.
At 7:15, the limo pulled up at the NBC building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. As the girls shuffled out, Salome said, "I feel like a celebrity."
A "Today" show producer met them, and within a few minutes all seven were escorted to the fenced-off VIP section just feet from the outside stage. In a larger pen behind Maxine and her entourage, fans waited for Lopez. From teens in Afros to middle-age women in fur coats, the audience's makeup cut across demographics.
Finally, Lopez walked onto the stage wearing a long trench coat with a hood over her head. With her back to the crowd, she slowly removed her coat as the music began. When she finally flung it away and faced her fans, cheers erupted.
Lopez strung together a medley of hits from her five albums. Employees in neighboring buildings pressed their heads against windows. People in the audience yelled, "I love you!" and "Boricua," a Spanish word that means "Puerto Rican."
After another song and a couple of commercials, Lopez and "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer brought Maxine up on stage. Lopez gave her a hug and a kiss.
"You inspired a little Puerto Rican girl to dream big," Maxine told her, "and I want to be a singer just like you."
At Lauer's invitation, Maxine sang a snippet from Lopez's song "Love Don't Cost a Thing." The singer squealed and bounced with glee, clearly pleased with the homage. Someone in the audience yelled, "Give her a contract!"
Lopez then presented Maxine with two shopping bags filled with her designer clothes. When the cameras were turned off, Lopez told Maxine, "You sang beautiful. You're going to make it big someday." She then left the stage.
After a flurry of interviews with newspaper and Spanish-language television reporters, Maxine was escorted past a crowd of fans and into a limo. She was excited, tired - and realized she had forgotten to ask for autographs. But she was pleased.
"I said what I felt was in my heart to say," Maxine said.
Meanwhile, her mother fielded cellphone calls from family in Paterson and Puerto Rico. And during the ride, Maxine's two aunts watched the video they recorded on their camcorder, reliving the moment when Lopez reacted to the girl's singing. Maxine called her father, Wilmer Aviles, at work.
"She was standing right next to me," Maxine told him.
Sonia took the phone.
"You missed out on it, buddy," she told her husband, "and there won't be a next time."
"You never know," Wilmer replied.
"That's right," Sonia said. "You never know."