Pete Salgado’s voice is soft and weary, the sound of a man who is trying to find the silver lining in a sea of dark clouds.
It must have been what he sounded like last January when he sat down with the family of Jenni Rivera, the Latino entertainment superstar who had died tragically little more than a month earlier in a plane crash.
Salgado had worked with Rivera for nearly a decade and executive produced her TV series, the No. 1 Hispanic celebrity reality series on TV.
“I said, ‘What would you like to do?’” he recalls.
Staring back at him were Rivera’s children and her sister, Rosie, all of them featured on the series with her.
They were deciding whether to continue shooting new episodes of I Love Jenni without the show’s outspoken, charismatic star or abandon the series and grieve in private.
Although all had tears in their eyes, he already knew the answer.
“Her children said, ‘We’d like to do what we think our mom would want us to do – and she always said to finish what you start.’”
They had completed six episodes of season three, a season that Salgado says promised to be the strongest, funniest, most daring and most personal yet, as it found the 42-year-old Rivera at a crossroads: newly single, developing a crossover sitcom for ABC, releasing new music, and living life as a mother, grandmother, and inspirational icon.
“She was gung-ho about this season,” says Salgado. “She was going through some more life changes. She had filed for divorce. She was excited for her pilot. There were a lot of changes, and she was at the forefront of everything and eager to share this new phase of her life with her fans.
“She liked that Mun2 was part of the journey. She had every intention of making this a great season. And then…”
“The accident happened.”
The new season of I Love Jenni premieres Sunday, April 14, at 9 pm on Mun2. As it unfolds, says Salgado, the first half of the season seems like business as usual, with Rivera at the center of everything – her career, family, children, grandchildren, and fans. The lean-forward energy and courage that inspired so many woman is in full bloom.
“She didn’t have any boundaries when it came to the show,” he says. “When her son got into legal trouble, it was on the show because that was her life – she was dealing with it. And this season, she had just filed for divorce and she was taking people on that journey with her. You will see her at a radio station event bonding with her sister Rosie. Her daughter Jacqui, has a new husband and apartment and is planning a dinner for her mom.
“Jen was real. She wasn’t manufactured. She was as home grown and authentic as they come. That was the excitement for her – allowing her fans to be part of this journey.”
The same will be true of the episodes that were shot following Rivera’s death, says Salgado.
“There is a lot of grieving,” he says. “I mean you can’t avoid it. This is real life, and that’s what you get. Life goes on. But we don’t forget.
“The family and kids said, ‘Hey, we would like to continue what Mom started. Things shifted, obviously, because we’re dealing with the reality of not having her around. But in her place is the reflection of who she was as a mother and entertainer and a pioneer.
“She’s not on camera, and yet you always see her.”
Salgado began working with Rivera in April 2003 – “way before she was the Jen that the world knew,” he says. “Her brother was more famous at the time. She was just like the sister of this guy. But she had balls and vision – and she wasn’t going to be denied.”
Born in Long Beach, California, one of five children, Rivera released her first album in the early 90s, scored her first number one album in 2008, and I Love Jenni premiered in March 2011. Her personal life was full of drama and challenges, including a teenage pregnancy, two divorces, and a reported sex tape. Her imperfection and honesty earned her the adoration of millions.
“I remember all of a sudden it wasn’t just the Mexicans who knew her,” says Salgado. “People of all colors would come up to her and say, `Oh my God, I know you. I love your show.’ Some knew nothing about her music, and that was validating because they accepted her for who she was.
“It tickled her when fellow musicians said they were fans. Like Marco Antonio Solis. He has teenage daughters, and I remember when we saw him and he said, ‘I have to tell you. I can’t get any of my shows on TiVo because it’s filled with your show. My daughters record every episode.’ She was ecstatic.”
Even though this is being called the final season of I Love Jenni, is there any chance of a fourth season if the show does well? Maybe a renamed, re-envisioned series with Rivera’s family?
“There hasn’t been any talk of that,” says Salgado. “This season was only about finishing what mom started.”
But then his voice lightens. Could it be a silver lining?
“I think anything is possible,” he says.
mun2 ORIGINAL SERIES ‘I LOVE JENNI’ FINAL SEASON PREMIERE SUNDAY, APRIL 14 AT 9 P.M.EST