Ali Landry
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Stuff - October 2000

"Care for a Dip?"

She believes in ghosts. In fact, she believes that a particularly naughty one pulled down the sheets on her and her sister one night in Louisiana when they were teenagers. She also believes in psychics, which is why I find myself sitting across from a frighteningly intense young “spiritualist” named Sherry, who announces that the cards say my life is a mess. I am, in her words, “like a lost child looking for its mother.” I’m also, she says, somewhat infatuated with Ali. Like she needed to be a mind reader to figure that out. A quick Landry list: She’s hotter than reality TV. Check. As friendly as a Wal-mart greeter. Check. Smart. Check. Freewheeling and fun. Check...and mate. Oh, did I mention that she pours pretty nicely into a bikini? The two of us are knee-deep in our “special day” together - strolling along L.A.’s funky Venice boardwalk in search of psychic answers. Ali wants advice on her love life. I want proof that this whole thing isn’t just the best dream I’ve ever had.

Sherry the psychic is a highly trained professional. She won’t let me sit in on Ali’s tarot reading (I was “diluting her energy”), so I don’t get to check out her karmic road map. But when Sherry looks under my hood, she says that I have powerful, unresolved “feeling” for Ali and that I need to let her know how I feel or else my “soul will remain troubled.” She’s so convincing, I begin to rehearse my speech. For a girl who’s built a career on a single Doritos commercial, Ali as about as popular as the pope. And soon she’ll be straining necks from coast to coast. Check her out this fall on Felicity as a sexy Texas who, she says, “comes into town to stir up trouble.” She’ll also be stealing scenes from Minnie Driver on the big screen in the beauty-contest flick Beautiful (not much of a stretch for this former Miss USA). Need more? Every week, she orchestrates stirring movements as cohost of USA’s live music show, Farmclub, alongside Matt Pinfield.

Still, it all comes back to the chips. We’ve been on the boardwalk just five minutes when a pimply surf punk starts a near riot with the witty observation, “Holy shit - it’s the Doritos girl!” to a gang of dumbstruck beach bums. If you think she’s tired of being the poster child for munchies, you think wrong. “Are you kidding?” she answers. “I’m so grateful. If people thought I was cool or sexy or whatever, then that’s great. I appreciate it.” Ah, memories...

This is typical Ali. Despite a state-of-the-art chassis and a face that defies description with something as feeble as words, she’s as approachable as a drive-through window. After a full day of conversation, I can count her negative comments on one finger. She only pulls out the punches to put down a chick who had it coming - her former rival, the dreaded Miss New Jersey! “Ugh. I’ll never forget her. She was just one of those girls who was so…competitive. She used to work out naked in her room, just to intimidate other girls.” Once I regained consciousness, the conversation continued.

Miss Jersey - as well as 48 other state queens - became roadkill on Ali’s ride to the title. Being Miss USA led to her move to California and The Commercial. “I almost didn’t go on the audition. My manager made me,” she says. They told me to pretend I was catching something in my mouth and to dance around like James Bond - whatever that means. So I did all this crazy stuff - a front flip and this cartwheel split. And I got it. They ended up incorporating the gymnastics stuff into the commercial.” America scored it a perfect 10. The Ali Landry saga begins an hour outside of New Orleans in Breaux Bridge, the kind of tiny swamp town where you go to school on air boats and traffic stops for gators. It was the perfect terrain for her family’s Southern-fried version of Crocodile Dundee - her brother, Ty. Ali recalls dodging dead fish, birds and other rotting carcasses that he hung from the front door to greet her when she came home from school. “It was like living in Wild Kingdom in my house.”

Her father, a hard-as-nails oil refinery worker, made it his business to grill any and all of her potential suitors. “Oh, my God! He made all my boyfriends walk up to the door and introduce themselves. There was no driving up and honking, even though I just wanted to run out to the car and leave.” He also grounded her for having the audacity to get B’s on her report card.

Fortunately, Ali’s mom let her out of the house enough to strut her stuff on the pageant circuit in the hopes that it would help her nail a career in broadcasting. Otherwise, she might be working in public relations at the oil company - safely under the gaze of her protective pappy. Are her bayou buddies pimped by their pal’s rise to stardom? “They think it’s cool, but they can’t really relate. They can’t conceive of going to Paris or meeting with celebrities.” Funny - until a day or so ago, I could definitely relate.

Weird shit happens when you’re walking on Venice Beach - one of America’s freakiest freak shows - with a fabulous freak of nature. We bypass the rollerblading guitarist in a three-foot high hat, five dressed-up dogs and a cage of coiled pythons, advertised as “available for photo ops” and then... hello! A flabby shitless guy on rollerblades asks, “You into the rock ‘n’ roll, man?” Now there’s a conversation you don’t want to get into. “No,” I say. “Oh, that’s too bad, man. I’m gonna make a video, and I’d give you $1,000 for her to dance in it.” Right. “I don’t think you can afford her,” I say, “but thanks.” Ali smiles. “I’m sure glad he asked you for permission.” And then it becomes clear - I’m her muscle!

Cut to a few hours earlier. It’s barely one in the afternoon, and Ali wants to tank up. “Let’s have margaritas!” she says, a mischievous grin on her face. This could be going far worse, I think. Could she be a wild child? “I probably haven’t been drunk since last year,” she informs me. “And I’ve really only gotten stinking drunk maybe three times in my life! Once was when I was 15 - the first time I ever drank. I threw up in my boyfriend’s hands. The next time I was in New Orleans, and - again - I was underage. I drank two giant Hurricanes and threw up out the window of the car.” And the third time? “It was just last year. My sister was here, and we had this idea in our heads that we were gonna drink a few shots for a little kick start to the evening. Let me tell you, that turned out to be a very bad idea.”

Ali’s an old-fashioned girl. It took some serious arm-pulling just to get her to dish out her first kiss - literally. “I was at a party in high school, and people were kissing all over the yard. The guy I was dating was like, ‘Come on, let’s go walk.’ But I knew what he wanted and said no. he pulled on my arm, and I gripped this bush and again he said, ‘Let’s go for a walk,’ and pulled harder. I’m gripping so tight that my knuckles turn white, and he’s still pulling - and I’m trying to be cool about it, which is hard when you’re hanging onto a bush. Finally, my had slipped off and he had me. We kissed, and I thought, Oh, this is cool, actually. We locked lips all night.

“Ever since then, kissing has been a big deal for me,” she says shyly. “I’ve kissed maybe 10 guys in my entire life.” Is she counting swapping spit on-screen? “That’s a different story. I can just kiss guys and not feel weird about it because it’s work. No strings attached. And it’s not cheating, so it’s all good.”

Ali’s love interest (Mario Lopez, whom you may recall as the incredible lame high school stud Slater on Saved By the Bell) is also going to have to get used to the occasionally flammable photo session (like, say, this one). “Of course, no man likes to see his girlfriend posing for sexy pictures, but it’s work and you can’t get around it. And sexuality is part of a woman’s power. I fought it for a while, but I’ve accepted the fact that I am a girl and people think I’m attractive. So I don’t think that’s what you would call a bad thing.” Not in my book.

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