In her own twisted way, Tila Nguyen probably considers herself a great American immigrant success story. Born to Vietnamese parents in Singapore before they moved to Texas, she has channeled her outsized ambitions into fame and fortune in the Wild Wild West of the Internet and cable television with the stage name "Tila Tequila."
To chronicle her rise to "success" is to document the decadent underbelly of American popular culture. Tila first came to widespread national attention with five pictorials in Playboy magazine. Then she became the "Madonna of MySpace," one of the hot social-networking Web sites. With her talent for aggressive self-promotion, she quickly found a million "friends." Her MySpace page featured her self-published rap single, the profane, air-headed "F--- Ya Man," which Time magazine poignantly described this way: "To listen to it is to hear the soundtrack of a million parents' dreams dying." Tila then tried TV, as host of the music channel Fuse TV's strip-and-dance show "Pants-off Dance-off," which TV Guide named the dumbest show on television.
By this time, she had surpassed the milestone of two million online "friends." It's not surprising that the next step would be MTV. Viacom naturally came calling, looking for yet another sex-obsessed reality TV series; this one would be called "A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila." But "love" would hardly be the word to describe the rationale for this spectacle. MTV was aiming for another nasty show that hooks viewers with its so-bad-it's-good formula.
The twist in the series is that Miss Tequila is bisexual. As the new MTV star tells it, "They found out about my lifestyle and said, 'How would you feel about putting it on MTV?'" Viacom thought it was time for America's youth to watch a bisexual dating show. So the show's plot called for inviting 16 straight men and 16 lesbians to compete for her physical attention. Neither the men nor the women were informed of the other gender's presence so they could look shocked for the cameras.
In the predictably, painfully tawdry first episode on Oct. 9, one girl contestant announced she was a virgin, to which Tila replied, "My prayer has been answered!" The same woman soon was marching down a runway dressed as a Girl Scout, asking the show's star: "I'm sweet and innocent. Can I interest you in my cookie?"
This show seemed desperately in need of a writer's strike. Quality, however, was never necessary. The lack thereof was -- and it worked.
It scored first place on cable among MTV's desired demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds. What Viacom also knows, and had absolutely no qualms about, is that this sex-obsessed show would also play well with junior-high and high-school kids, and grade-school children, too.