Charmed by Leilene from "Flavor of Love: Girls' Charm School"

June 1, 2007

yimg.jpg I admit I have been hooked on the whole VH1 Flavor of Love franchise, from the first season with the infamous spitting incident to the second season's notorious defecation act (obviously these shows are all about class). I watched every pec-laden moment of I Love New York and eagerly anticipate the (new and improved) season two. So of course I am a fan of the newest spin-off, Flavor of Love: Girls Charm School, where Flav's cast-offs are "rigorously trained in proper etiquette and manners before competing in challenges to determine their poise and grace under pressure" and overseen by task-mistress and former Showtime at the Apollo host Mo'Nique. One contestant who caught my eye on this show was 25-year-old Las Vegan Smiley (neé Leilene Ondrade), who, according to her Charm School bio, was raised by her grandfather "on a farm in the Filipinas (sic)" selling tomatoes and fishing for frogs. Aww.

Worried she was becoming too much of a tomboy, Leilene's mother enrolled her in ballet classes and she eventually attend the National Ballet School. Her years of training would later benefit her career as an exotic dancer when she dropped out of high school after tenth grade. For a brief period she was a happily married woman with three small children, until her husband left her for another woman. Now a single mother in Las Vegas, she provides for her family with the tips she's earned in strip clubs. Hoping to "quit the pole," Leilene hopes that Charm School will help her find self-confidence and emotional strength...

Wow – model minority that. Count how many Asian American stereotypes she busts in just those five sentences: 1) ballet dancer (with parent's approval!) 2) high school drop out 3) exotic dancer/stripper 4) broken marriage 5) single mother I dig Leilene because she shows us something we don't normally see on TV – a complicated, low-income, non-immigrant-success-story Asian American woman who isn't the overachieving workaholic (ahem, Christina Yang), the ditzy chatterbox (Kelly Kapoor), the ballbusting dragon lady (Lucy Liu on Ally McBeal), or the mousy nerd (Keiko Agena Gilmore Girls). She is even an anomaly among Asian American reality TV stars — more depth than Real World San Diego's Jamie Chung, more heart than Real World San Francisco's Pam, and more natural than America's Next Top Modelbot April. When she screams, "I'm a damn good mother!" after Larissa questions the example she sets for her children by stripping, those tears in her eyes are real. She knows when to sit down (when she could barely comprehend debating concepts) and when to stand up (using her sexuality to sell perfume on the street). She is not afraid to show weakness (having a meltdown when the challenge involves cooking) or strength (selling her mom's wedding ring to a thrift store during a challenge as a show of closure about her mom's death and saying something along the lines of, "If it will make one person happy, it's worth it."). She is a real Asian American woman, in all her complexities, and more than that, it seems like she has become genuinely devoted to self-improvement. Surprisingly, that’s what the show is really about. In contrast to the Flavor of Love series, which merely exploited these women for their sexuality, lack of good judgment, and tacky outfits, Charm School seems truly invested in helping them improve their self-esteem and empowering them to take control of their lives in positive, meaningful ways. Mo'Nique teaches them valuable lessons that many women could also learn from, including "Check Thyself Before Thou Wreck Thyself" and "Thou Shalt Work What Thou Art Working With." Part of me identifies with Leilene – there are times when it’s evident how hard it is for her to really speak up and assert herself. I have been there for sure, and I know many other Asian American women have as well. Yet unlike other women on the show, who claim their Blackness now and then, Leilene has never once mentioned her Asian background. Other contestants have even commented on her race, with Courtney regretting choosing to compete against Leilene for a challenge involving former Bachelor Andrew Firestone, and jokingly saying: "I shouldn't have picked her ass. Men love Asian women. S***. ‘Cause don't Leilene look like she could love him long time?" Some might fault Leilene for not addressing her heritage, but I think her silence about her race shows true authenticity — who has time to loll about mulling their identity when there are three little stomachs to fill? If she were to flaunt her race, it would seem exploitative, or a possible ploy win sympathy. You have to know when to hold the race card. She focuses on being a mother, acknowledging her faults, and learning how to improve her life. In that context, she may be one of the best Asian American role models we've got on TV. We can’t ignore those who don’t conform to the Yul Kwon/Masi Oka perfect-Asian-American-role-model-in-the-media archetype. Advancing Asian Americans’ place in society means baring ourselves as we are, warts and all. Which is exactly what Leilene is doing on the show. Expect to see her bring that $50K prize home to her kids at the end of the season.


Lisa Wong Macabasco

Former Editor in chief

Lisa Wong Macabasco joined Hyphen in 2006; she has worked as the magazine's features editor, managing editor, and editor in chief. She has written for Mother Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, AsianWeek, Audrey, Filipinas and ColorLines’ RaceWire. She graduated from U.C. Berkeley and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and co-founded the National Asian American Student Conference. She was formerly an editor at AsianWeek newspaper and an editor in the marketing department of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.



Leilene is a nice girl, but she makes stupid decisions.
i really like leilene! i think she cool.
lellene girl you did your thing and if i were you i will beat the S*** out of larissa for what she did to you and shatar. shatar did not need to go home or darra big a**. tell saaphiri that why she talking her fat a** that she need to shut up.talking about she is from 54 and crenshaw she need to gone some where wit all dat
i just have 2 say u need 2 hit them girls that be in yo face
Reirene is number 1! She so pretty, she make Kimora Ree Simmons rook rike a crack whore.
Leiline is one of my favorite people on charm school. She is going to charm school for good reasons and that's what makes her a good person. She's really sweet and i think she's going to win those 50, 000 because its for a good cause GO LEILINE!!!
Leiline is da best she's pretty and she got style she's my fave on charm school and she gon win that money
I really hate pumpkin and becky wit a passion they think they so bad i hate it when white girls think they can talk s*** and whup a** cuz personally they cant new york shouldve whupped the s*** out of pumpkin b**** a** and while becky think she buckwild and think she black all of a sudden i want to want to whup her a** i just hate both of those b****** but i really hate pumpkin w**** a** the most she gone try and get mad at leilene cuz leilene chose her for the wrost and she tried to go off on leilene and trash talk her i just wished i was there to whup her skanky a** but anyways the one i like the most is bootz she do wat she gotta do and if someone trys to stop her she trash talk them then whup they a** dats why i like dat girl and she shouldve whupped pumpkin and becky a** at the same time oh and new york u the b**** u know wat u want then u take it dats why i like u too u be letting them skanky w***** know
Bootz is da best cuz she know who she is she let no body trash talk her and she knows how to stand up fo herself i see bootz as my idol cuz she taught me how to handle haters better i know how to use tongue better and how to tell someone to back the fuck back GO BOOTZ!! pumpkin is whore ass bitch who tink she's all dat and schatar is a fucking theif with a ugly ass weave she look like shit and i don't know why da fuck she was named hottie she's not hot she's an ugly ass weird ass bitch
This chick is an ugly attention whore. Wow so she's a loser with no education so Im supposed to be proud of her Asian toughness? Wait no shes filipino so maybe she will say shes pacific islander. Could never figure that one out. Anyways holy crap she should be ashamed of herself. Shes too old to be on this kinda show.
I love me some Leilene, Keep on doin your thang with your beautiful self. You should have met me first!!! LOL
My comment is this, Lieline should have punched BOOTS in the face for taking her picture and hidding it, and I hope Hottie does the same if there is a reunited show.
I totally agree! Cheers to you for making it known how much Leilene rocks. I hope Mo'nique sees the same thing we do.
you're my favorite blogger!
I know Leilene, she is really like what she is on the show.
This is a better version of Trash Tv. Entertaining, Mo Nique takes up for her a lot.
Haha, "quit the pole." Great entry Lisa. Maybe we should write a feature on her, if she wins that is ;-).
Leilene is a nice girl, but she makes stupid decisions.