Exclusive: TV's Maria Celeste

Maria Celeste Arrarás, the 'Queen of Telemundo', is as known to Hispanics as Oprah is to the rest of us. Get to know her right now.

Maria Celeste Arrarás is the most famous person living in America you've never heard of. I mean, she's really, really famous.

Maria Celeste -- as she's universally known, no last name necessary -- is the Emmy Award-winning journalist, anchor, host and single-most recognizable face on Spanish-language television. The so-called "Queen of Telemundo" is also the most relatable presence in the Hispanic celebrity zeitgeist. Her viewers not only watch all of her network programs by the millions, they fiercely believe every word she utters because she comes across not only as a trusted journalist (though she's certainly that), but, improbably, as the viewer's closest friend.

No one else on television comes close to that connection. Need proof? During my nearly four-year run as Editor in Chief of People en Español magazine -- the nation's largest Spanish-language publication by far -- I ran no less than six covers featuring Maria Celeste. Indisputably, the Puerto Rican-born dynamo was the most reliable newsstand seller for us, easily topping the likes of Ricky Martin, Shakira and, yes, Jennifer López. Inevitably, Maria Celeste and I became (and have remained) very close friends.

Meeting the beautiful and telegenic icon is an experience one doesn't easily forget: First of all, she's stunning; secondly, she speaks a mile a minute in the most appealing manner imaginable. The woman's whip smart and as co-anchor (with José Díaz-Balart) of Noticiero Telemundo, the network's important nightly newscast, as well as hosting and executive producing her long-running daily show (and ratings juggernaut) Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste, this undeniably superwoman/mother of three is as known to Hispanics as Oprah Winfrey is to everyone else. Maria Celeste was the very first Spanish-language journalist to serve as moderator of a presidential debate; she was the first Telemundo personality to co-host parent NBC Universal's Today Show several times; is the best-selling author of Make Your Life Prime Time: How To Have It All Without Losing Your Soul and many more ethnic-busting accomplishments.

Intelligent, indefatigable, informed: Maria Celeste has certainly earned the right to be the dubbed Queen of Telemundo. Isn't it time you got to know Maria Celeste?

How do you think your closest friend would answer the question: Who is the real Maria Celeste?
I hope she'd say I'm someone who's really down to earth, unpretentious, with an incredible passion for life and a strong sense of justice -- but, mostly, a loyal friend.

You've done so much in the Spanish-language TV world, any goals left to accomplish?
There's always something left to do, Richard. The day we don't set new goals that's when it's over! I want to take two of my books to the big screen, I would like to help develop new talent, produce a couple of shows I have in mind, write a novel--do I keep going? I don't think you have enough pages in this magazine! [Laughs]

Do you want massive English-language success?
Right now I have the best of both worlds because I'm able to work in both the English-language (Anglo) and Hispanic markets. I even have a name for it: "crisscrossing over!" My show Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste is sometimes the highest-rated show in top markets such as Los Angeles and New York in its time slot regardless of language. Both Al Rojo Vivo and the internationally reknown Noticiero Telemundo which I co-host are seen in the US coast-to-coast and in some 15 Latin American countries. So it's hard to let go of programs that have such incredible reach and so many millions of viewers.

Photo by Gio Alma

What are your three best qualities?
I'm an eternal optimist; I have a logical mind; and I never lose my faith in humanity.

What are your three worst qualities?
I speak way too fast; I don't have any tolerance for superficiality; and I'm a terrible companion on airplanes. If there's turbulence, I'll claw my nails into you. Wear long-sleeved shirts when we travel together, Richard! [Laughs]

You must have some great celebrity stories.
Many times I'm asked who's the celebrity that has impressed me the most, but the honest truth is that I much rather interview regular people. Non celebrities have no entourage, no agenda --they're much more genuine and, generally speaking, reveal better, more interesting stories. There are exceptions, of course, including the smart, witty, talented and down to earth stars Shakira and Gloria Estefan. To interview either one of those true superstars is always such a delight.

What would you change form your past and why?
I wouldn't have started to smoke when I was so young. It's truly a nasty habit and I struggled with it for years on and off. Now, I don't smoke at all, I hate it, but I always worry about the long term damage that I may have done.

I'm sure you dont spend time thinking about this, but what do you want the first line of your obituary to read?
How about "Maria Celeste was a rebel with many causes and was a successful human being"?

Finish this sentence: In five years, Maria Celeste is...
...In the middle of paying for three different college degrees! [Laughs] I have three beautiful adolescent children and in exactly five years time all three of them will be away at college! Oh my goodness!

Describe the perfect moment.
The perfect moment is to be in a beautiful picnic in the mountains with my kids and dogs. Greenery soothes me. I love nature and animals. And if you throw in the company of a significant other -- yes, it'll be a perfect moment.