Corporate sponsors embrace Alma Awards

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The 2007 Alma Awards promise everything one has come to expect from an award ceremony known for its sexy stars, pulsating music and colorful sets: Eva Longoria is returning for a second go-round as host of the kudosfest, Mario Lopez and some buddies from ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" are performing a stylish opening number, and Beyonce is delivering a song via satellite. Even Prince sways to the Latin beat.

But what is perhaps equally impressive (albeit less sexy) is the roster of sponsors the Alma Awards has attracted this year. AT&T, Chevrolet, Bud Light, Frito-Lay, McDonald's, Pepsi, Target and Verizon are just some of the corporate American heavyweights involved.

To one of the show's executive producers, David Chavez, it proves the Alma Awards -- instituted in 1995 by the National Council of La Raza, the country's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization -- is becoming a force to be reckoned with. "I've been involved since its inception," Chavez says. "Before, it was a pure corporate community commitment. In other words, they supported this because it was important to the Hispanic community. Now, Alma is a brand, and we're getting the marketing dollars because they see it not only as a viable way to reach a target market but also the broader audience."

"This show wouldn't be possible without the support of our sponsors," NCLR president and CEO Janet Murguia agrees. "We give them a lot of credit for stepping up to help us bring this show to a national network like ABC."

Created to promote and enhance the image of Latinos in film, television and music, the ceremony has come a long away since its debut in 1995 as the NCLR Bravo Awards. Only four honors were presented during the first ceremony, which was telecast on Bravo. It was renamed the Alma Awards in 1998 and found a new home on ABC, but the event disappeared from the airwaves after the 2002 ceremony. (To blame were a lack of funding, a failure to break even and an inadequate summer time slot.) But the Almas returned to ABC last June, and the 2007 broadcast, which taped Friday at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, airs tonight from 9-11 p.m. on the network.

Chavez says the show is becoming more general-market friendly. "We're not just the Latino market -- we're Latino plus," he says, citing that the broadcast did quite well outside its target demographic in cities like Atlanta. "If you sponsor us or advertise with us, you're reaching the Hispanic market, the African-American market and everyone else."

Murguia, who shares executive producing credits with Chavez, Longoria and Michael B. Seligman, points to the eclectic range of this year's nominees, including the 2006 films "Babel" and "Bobby," among others, and an array of TV performances from such shows as NBC's "Heroes" and Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica."

"Obviously, there's a wide spectrum because we have folks like Edward James Olmos, who are known quantities, and we have America Ferrera, who's nominated for (ABC's) 'Ugly Betty,'" Murguia says. "For us, it's important to showcase emerging stars as well as those who have been making contributions for a while."

The show's ace in the hole, however, is Longoria. A longtime NCLR supporter, the ABC's "Desperate Housewives" star isn't just hosting. As one of the show's executive producers, she takes the responsibility seriously.

"She's been instrumental from the beginning," says Chavez, adding that, despite her busy schedule, Longoria hasn't missed a production meeting. "We even had a meeting at her house the same day as her wedding shower. That's some serious dedication."

Having Longoria as a front person also has considerably upped the glamour factor. She created a fashion sensation with a nonstop parade of wardrobe changes during the 2006 ceremony, taking the stage each time in an outfit from a different Latino designer.

"Our mission is to create opportunities for Hispanics in this country and open doors to the American dream," Murguia says. "We do that lots of different ways with our base here in (the District of Columbia). But when you think about how powerful the images are on the screens on TV or in the theaters, I think it's important for us to showcase the talent and contributions of the Hispanic community. We feel promoting the Alma Awards is in line with our mission."   
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