The quinceañera of Happy Nightmares
The pink-haired girl in the coffin: Houston teen gets an MTV moment — withzombie help
Editor's note: The anything-but-traditional quinceañera of Houston's Erika Lopez has turned her into something of an MTV reality TV Latin star. Lopez's recently-aired episode of Quiero Mis Quinces on MTV Tr3s brought the show its highest ratings ever. Might have something to do with the zombies featured or Erika popping out of a coffin with pink hair ...
Erika and her mom are holding a viewing party for the episode at Press Box Saturday night at 8 p.m. Reporter Wilbert Chinchilla was there for every big step of Erika's reality TV foray to chronicle it for CultureMap. This is his step-by-step account of the wild journey.
This probably isn't something that's too typical for MTV's audience. The pink-haired Erika Lopez and company have come to Diesel Dive Bar in Midtown to show off the goth-raver scene for an episode of MTV Tr3́s' Quiero Mis Quinces.
Erika's mother, Louana Gomez, is throwing her daughter a quinceañera (the celebration of a girl's 15th birthday in Hispanic/Latino culture) that is sure to make a gigantic splash with the crowd from Houston's Furr High School.
The scene is full of disco lights and booze as a flock of emo kids and adults are present for the shooting of the episode. The group must stay quiet during the staged shootings: Scenes of people coming through the door and the giving out of invitations to the guests who've already been invited in real life. Erika Lopez's invites come in Nightmare Before Christmas-themed envelopes with the location disclosed inside.
The big news is that Erika's quinceañera is taking place the same night as high school's prom and another Sweet 16, party. Oh the drama.
But Erika has been through enough of that. Erika is already a 16-year-old junior at Furr, but she's only celebrating her right of passage into womanhood at age 15 now. How is that possible? Through a series of misfortunes that have prevented Erika from getting the quinceañera she couldn't receive until a year later.
The Quinceañera that almost wasn't
“It was a real tough time,” Louana Gomez says. “Before I lost my job, we had already been planning to have a quinceañera. I started maybe when she was 14. Little by little, 20 bucks, 30 bucks here.”
Erika chimes in, "We were already buying props."
Louana Gomez continues, "I lost my job, then my sister gets really sick. We didn't think she would pass away. Then I was facing foreclosure. For a while, I didn't know what to do. All of that money that we had from Erika's savings for her 15th birthday, I had to put it on the house to save it. It was a battle for a year, year and half."
Erika throughout this became depressed, and her mom began having panic attacks.
"Me as a mother, I had to still be strong and hide my emotions. But those emotions had a consequence. I started getting panic attacks," Louana says.
Things have since gotten better now that Louana works as an administrative aide. After a year full of surprises, Louana decided that since things were looking up they should attempt to still throw Erika a party. Through her funds and financial help from family and friends, they were able to secure the venue. But a week before the deadline, they still owed $3,000.
"Things happen for a reason, my income tax refund came and I paid the bill off," Louana says. As far as they knew, the show would go on. What they didn't know is that it would be with cameras.
While they began thinking and planning for the party, Erika was just watching Quiero Mis Quinces (or I want my Sweet 15) on MTV Tr3́s with her friends and her mom when it dawned on them to apply.
“Me and my friends were watching it," Erika says. "And everyone was saying, 'Oh, you know you party is going to be badass, so you should e-mail them.' I wrote the essay that was pretty much my life story.
"I know I am different, like my hair. A few days later, I got a phone call. I was doing my makeup for school. I look at the house phone and it says MTV Networks. The casting director asked, 'Are you Erika Lopez?' Yeah.' 'Tell me about your party!' It was the most magical phone call I have ever received in my life."
Different must matter since Erika beat out 1,000 other girls vying to make it to the small screen.
Not only is MTV helping Erika document the event, they are also helping with some of funding, party ideas and, of course, the guest celebrity. The MTV film crew arrives two weeks before the party, even though they typically just stay for five days.
"It was a really good experience because I want to be a film director," says Erika, who is part of Furr's film program.
High School Run Amok
Her prom, another quinceañera, teachers and students that are hating everything about the party is only part of the laundry list of things happening to Erika while she is at school.
But what can you say about "Pinky," "BFF (Best Friend Forever) Whore," "Princess Bitch," "Queer Magnet" or any other nickname that has been given to her (lovingly) by her classmates?
"Once the whole Nightmare Before Christmas-themed party got out, everyone was asking me, 'How did I come up with the idea?' 'I heard you are having a badass party?' ", Erika says. "Everyone started rumors that Chris Brown, Rhianna or Beyonce was going to come.
"A lot of people who know me well would have known I wanted Morrissey."
With rumors flying and the buzz surrounding the party building, school became a bit cooler and harder at the same time.
"Even the school cops had to walk me to class and they would tell them, 'She needs to go to class.' " Erika says.
Another teacher became upset when Erika answered her phone during class because MTV was calling. According to Erika, the male teacher screamed, "I am tired of everyone talking about this party!" He threatened to send her to the principal's office.
The easy part was not inviting that teacher, but inviting everyone she calls a BFF was challenging.
Erika said the hardest part of the process was giving out invitations and making the guest list because she doesn't like confrontation. Luckily with her gay best friend (GBF) Joel (a.k.a. Nicole or Queen Bitch) there to regulate people, they were able to get over that part. For some, the party was a major inconvenience and people had to change dates for events they have been waiting a lifetime to attend.
"I had a hater because her (birthday) party was on the same day as mine," Erika says. "Sure a small party date changed isn't a big deal, but what about the date of the school prom? "(My party) was going to be the same day as the prom, and they actually had to change the day of the prom because they said only five seniors were going to go."
An administrator at Furr confirmed to CultureMap that the school did indeed move its prom to a different date. The move is played up in the MTV episode.
After handing out invitations to students and teachers alike, everyone began to fall in love with the pink-haired girl. "The principal was talking about dying her hair pink," Erika says.
Boys, girls and zombies of every age
It's May 15 and the reception hall is full of family members, friends and cameras. The place is over capacity with more than 1,000 people packed in. And the aura of Tim Burton's masterpiece is felt throughout the room.
There are zombies, clowns and a coffin that lead up to the focal point of every girl's sweet 16 or 15 TV episode, the grand entrance. Erika arises from a black coffin and goes on to the traditional portion of the quinceañera.
The dance with the "chambalanes," "damas" and the "chambalan." This is all the teenage equivalent to best men, bridesmaids and a groomsman. The entrance and the dress, of course, aren't too traditional (usually girls wear white, not black). First the zombies roamed the hall, the "chamabalanes" and "damas" danced, followed by a father-daughter dance and ultimately the rest of the party.
Later, a zombie is introduced by Gomez. No one besides Gomez and the production team know that it's Christian Chavez from RBD (Rebelde). RBD is one of most popular teen telenovela and music groups in Mexico and having Chavez there is like having Mark-Paul Gosselaar at your party in the early '90s. Chavez made headlines in Latin America when he came out of the closet as a gay man due to a paparazzi photo of him and his lover getting married in Canada.
After a couple of songs and many guests swooning over him, the night reaches a full capacity of good times, free beer (and teachers drinking them), and people. The police show up and threaten to shut down the party, but after the cops leave, it goes on until it dies.
The day after the party, Erika films a confessional for six hours reflecting on the party.
Days after, many discoveries are made during her interview with CultureMap. Gomez admits that when the time came to pick a "surprise" artist, "(MTV) gave me a choice."
It was a list of artists that would "surprise" her. "One was Cobra Starship," Erika says. "But since we are big gay supporters, they said that Christian had already seen (my) YouTube videos and he, like, totally fell in love. He was cracking up and he really wanted to come.”
Erika was shocked that Christian Chavez had seen her videos and agreed he was the better choice.
When Christian came out, “I wanted to cry, but I didn't because my fake eyelashes would fall off. I love him so much because during elementary and middle school, I was a huge Rebelde fan. People would ask, aren't you a rocker, but I am Mexican. RBD is badass. I had the outfit, I had my whole name and I saw it when I was in fifth grade. I got in trouble by my principal because my mom would pick me up early just to see the novella. My whole binder was covered with (RBD) stickers from the flea market."
Erika also finds out that she's the better choice for the network too. The director tells Erika that she was picked first before any person for the newest season. They mention making Erika's episode the season finale. The director tells the family, "I have filmed over 500 (episodes), but this is the best one ever."
Erika and her mom are preparing for their viewing party at the Press Box tonight. No one knows if zombies will be there yet.
In the meantime, Erika has already started planning her next party and taking suggestions via Facebook. "So any suggestions on where to have My Graduation/Birthday Party at? We need to start planning now, the event will take place in May 2012. [It] will be a "Club Kids Party Monster/Demented Gothic Candyland Theme."
Why start planning now? "Cause my mama said it's expensive and I'm worth it ..."
A look at Erika's episode: