Guillermo Arriaga was a kid in Mexico when he was swept up in one of the biggest pop-music crazes of all time: Menudo mania. Menudo was a boy...

Share story

LOS ANGELES — Guillermo Arriaga was a kid in Mexico when he was swept up in one of the biggest pop-music crazes of all time: Menudo mania.

Menudo was a boy band, an early ’80s Hispanic precursor to groups such as ‘NSync and Backstreet Boys, and served as the farm team for Puerto Rican superstar Ricky Martin, an original member of the teen-pop sensation.

The group sparked dreams of romance in girls and dreams of stardom in boys such as Arriaga, now 39. But the immigrant carpenter and amateur songwriter knew it was unlikely he would be discovered in his home state of Michoacan, not exactly a stop on the road to Hollywood.

Last week, Hollywood came to Arriaga’s Los Angeles County barrio looking for stars in his own backyard.

A son’s shot at stardom

Menudo is being revived by MTV, and the call went out for bilingual Hispanic teens to audition for the new band. The first casting session was held at a Hispanic shopping mall.

The man may have missed his chance the first time around, but now his 15-year-old son, also named Guillermo, had a shot at the same dream. Father and son made the short trip from their home and got in line. Guillermo wore a No. 13 and an oversize black T-shirt that draped below his knees. He gave a brief performance before a three-judge panel that included singer Frankie J and high-powered manager Johnny Wright (Backstreet Boys, ‘NSync, Janet Jackson, Justin Timberlake). Backstage, he answered questions for MTV Tr3s, the network’s new bilingual channel, which is filming the selection process for a reality series titled “Road to Menudo,” to begin airing May 12.

Guillermo was one of about 50 aspiring singers who participated in the Los Angeles-area tryouts. Auditions are continuing through the month, with stops in Miami, Dallas and New York. Once winnowed to five band members, the new Menudo will appear this fall on the main MTV network in yet another reality series.

“He might make it,” Arriaga Sr. said, putting his arm around his son. “You never know.”

As for his motivation, the teenager said, simply, “I want to become something.”

Reaching out

So is the world ready for another Menudo after a quarter-century? The world is still full of girls with the inclination to swoon, boys with the desire to be swooned over and adults with the compulsion to exploit the combustible combination of the two.

“This is like a novela,” says Lucia Ballas-Traynor, senior vice president and general manager of MTV Tr3s. “It’s the story of a kid who’s always wanted to be a star and get out of the barrio and make it big and bring all the family with him. We need more local novelas.”

The show is a piece of MTV’s overall strategy of reaching that elusive but coveted demographic — the bilingual Hispanic kid in the United States who switches between cultures but thinks Univision is for his parents, which is not cool.

“Any company in the youth business needs a Hispanic strategy to survive, because Latinos are fueling the overall growth in the youth market,” says Ballas-Traynor, a former Univision executive. “It’s a top priority.”

“Risk it,” says Ricky

Menudo was never about the music. Yet coincidentally, the original band’s most famous alumnus is enjoying a respectable revival. Martin finally has found a mature artistic voice, post-“Vida Loca,” with an excellent new Spanish album, “MTV Unplugged.” His new tour has been packing concert halls and stadiums in Latin America.

Martin has some good advice for today’s Menudo wannabes, posted on the MTV Tr3s Web site ( “Take risks,” says the singer. “Risk it, even if you think it’s ridiculous. Be yourself and don’t be afraid of what people will say. I think that’s the key to success.”

The site also includes this tip from the producers: “Be careful not to wear overbearing cologne; the casting panel does not want to smell you.”

Early standouts

Some contestants came alone. Some with friends or parents. Only one came with an entourage that included a manager and agent — J.C. Gonzalez, 17. He caught the attention of Menudo executives who noticed that girls started screaming as soon as he walked on stage.

Armando Quintanilla, a mop-topped 17-year-old, drove from Las Vegas. Although he chose a song that wasn’t on the audition list, his soulful rendition of “Amazing Grace” seemed to impress the panel.

“God has a road ahead of me,” Armando said later. “So if this doesn’t work out, I’m sure something else is in store.”