The untold truth of Jennifer Lopez

Jennifer Lopez has done just about everything. She's conquered the big screen, toplinging a variety of movies from Out of Sight to The Wedding Planner to Hustlers to Selena to, uh, Gigli. She also enjoyed a concurrent and highly successful musical career, with massive hit singles like "If You Had My Love," "I'm Real," "Jenny from the Block," and "On the Floor." As a Latino woman of Puerto Rican descent, she's broken down barriers in the entertainment industry, while also overseeing a clothing line, a home goods collection, and a perfume empire. 2020 marked another milestone when, not long after scoring her second Golden Globe nomination, Lopez teamed up with Shakira for the Super Bowl LIV halftime show. So yeah, Lopez has done pretty well for herself.

But Lopez is also a celebrity, an unflappable icon of fame, gracing celebrity news outlets regularly due to her jet-setting lifestyle, career endeavors, and multiple marriages. Lopez lives her life in public, but that's not her whole life or whole self. Here are some things you may not have known about the one we call JLo.

Jennifer Lopez believed she could Fly

While it's common knowledge that Jim Carrey got his first big taste of fame as a cast member on Fox's edgy 1989-1994 sketch comedy show In Living Color, it's less known that Jennifer Lopez got her big break there, too. No, Lopez didn't play any wacky characters or imitate celebrities in sketches — she was among the Fly Girls, the show's in-house troupe of hip-hop dancers who busted out moves during interstitial moments and over the credits. 

In 2004, Inside Edition uncovered a November 1990 tape of dancers auditioning to be Fly Girls for choreographer Rosie Perez — yes, that one. While she made it to the final round of four dancers, she lost the one open spot to a fellow dancer. Undeterred, Lopez auditioned again in 1991. That time, she made the cut, staying with In Living Color through 1993. She kept busy with other dance gigs, too, appearing in videos for Janet Jackson, Samantha Fox, and others. In 2015, Lopez opened the American Music Awards by leading a couple dozen dancers as they grooved their way through some of the year's biggest hits. That was full circle for JLo, who at the 1991 AMA ceremony, danced in support of New Kids on the Block.

The movie roles that could have been JLo's

Before she became a pop diva, but after she made a name for herself as a dancer, Jennifer Lopez was an actress of some renown. In the late '90s, she made a big splash with roles in Money Train, Out of Sight, and Selena, for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination. She's starred in some major movies since (Hustlers, Maid in Manhattan), while alternate universe Jennifer Lopez has built up quite a resume, too. This is to say that she's turned down a lot of films that went on to be hits, like the 2002 erotic thriller Unfaithful, which netted Diane Lane an Oscar nomination.

"Diane Lane was so perfect for it, and it was obviously meant to be her, but when I think about that," Lopez told Vanity Fair, "I want to literally, like, shoot my toe off." J-No! According to Contact Music, Lopez's agents decided the role of Dorothy in Jerry Maguire was "not for [her]," leaving it open for directer Cameron Crowe to show Renee Zelwegger the money instead. Lopez also told Movieline in 1998 that Columbia Pictures gave her a choice of two movies: Anaconda, which Variety dubbed "a silly and plodding Jaws ripoff," or the rom-com Fools Rush In. She chose Anaconda, "the fun B-movie because the Fools script wasn't strong enough." Well, she'll always have Gigli.

The one-two punch of Gigli and Bennifer's end

It's safe to say that 2003 was not one of Jennifer Lopez's best years. Her extremely high-profile, tabloid-and-gossip-column-filling relationship with fellow big-time movie star Ben Affleck fizzled out after two years and a wedding proposal. They met on the set of Gigli, which, upon its release in 2003, became one of the most gleefully savaged movies of all time, its title a synonym for "really bad movie." (Gigli, in which Ben Affleck plays a mobster who successfully romances Lopez's character, a homosexual federal agent, earned a 6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes thanks to critics who found it "jaw-droppingly bad" (Bowling Green Daily News) and "unwatchable" (the Associated Press).

The combination of falling in and then out of love in the public eye against the backdrop of a huge flop (Gigli made just $6 million at the American box office on a reported $54 budget — ouch!) nearly broke Lopez. "I was eviscerated. I lost my sense of self, questioned if I belonged in this business, thought maybe I did suck at everything," Lopez told Vanity Fair in 2017. "And my relationship self-destructed in front of the entire world. It was a two-year thing for me until I picked myself up again."

JLo had to repeatedly sue her first husband

Jennifer Lopez has been half of a number of high-profile romances. In addition to tabloid-baiting relationships with Puff Daddy and Ben Affleck, she's been married four times. According to Popsugar, her first husband, for nine months from 1997 to 1998, was a waiter named Ojani Noa (shown above). After their split, she got more wealthy and more famous...and he seemed more determined to capitalize on his connection to the superstar.

In 2006, Noa planned to publish The Unknown Truth: A Passionate Portrait of a Serial Thriller, a tell-all, warts-and-all, exposé of a book about life with JLo. Per People, each chapter was named after a different Lopez movie. According to the Associated Press (via MTV News) Lopez and her lawyers sued in Los Angeles Superior Court sued to prevent the book's release, as publishing it would violate an agreement Ona allegedly made with Lopez in 2005. It prevented him from revealing any information about his marriage to Lopez that would result in financial gain, and he signed it in conjunction with another lawsuit he'd brought against his ex-wife, alleging that he'd been unfairly fired from Madre's, a Southern California restaurant owned by Lopez. While a judge blocked the book and awarded Lopez $545,000, she once again had to take Noa to court. In 2009, she sued him for $10 million after he tried to market the couple's — ahem — honeymoon video.

Wow, tell us how you really feel, JLo

Hollywood stars are usually very guarded and diplomatic and don't want to say anything to a reporter that would rock the boat or cast themselves in a bad light. That's what makes Jennifer Lopez's 1998 interview with Movieline so refreshing, but no less shocking. When asked her honest opinion of a number of A-list actresses and rising stars of the era, she didn't hold back in the least.

In the tea-spilling-before-tea-spilling-was-a-thing rant, Lopez, who famously starred in Selena, said that the notion that the film was first offered to Salma Hayek was "an outright lie," and, "if that's what she does to get herself publicity, then that's her thing." As for Cameron Diaz, Lopez called her "a lucky model who's been given a lot of opportunities I just wish she would have done more with." She observed that Winona Ryder "gets nominated for Oscars, but I've never heard anyone in the public or among my friends say, 'Oh, I love her.'" She didn't think too much of Madonna's non-musical pursuits: "Do I think she's a great actress? No." But Gwyneth Paltrow may have gotten the worst of it. "I swear to God," Lopez said, "I don't remember anything she was in." Ouch.

Mariah Carey doesn't know Jennifer Lopez

There's no feud like a diva feud — and Jennifer Lopez has spawned more than a few celebrity catfights — but this one has to be the biggest, because it involves none other than MiMi herself. At some point in the early 2000s, Mariah Carey gave an interview with a German-language news outlet and gave her opinions on her contemporaries. "I love Beyoncé, Beyoncé is fabulous," Carey said. When asked about Lopez, Carey replied, with a fiendish grin, "I don't know her." She wasn't saying she didn't know Lopez personally, she meant that she had never even heard of this upstart vocalist. 

Those four words became a meme, recreated in both GIF and T-shirt, forcing Lopez to respond on multiple occasions. "I've read things that she's said about me that were not the greatest, but we have never met," Lopez said on Watch What Happens Live in 2014, having apparently taken Carey's shade literally. In a 2016 spot on The Wendy Williams Show, Lopez changed course, stating that she and Carey had "met many times." Carey remained unwavering when she hit Watch What Happens Live later that year, stating, "I don't know her. What am I supposed to say?""

Gossip columnist Roger Friedman points to an early 2000s inciting incident between Lopez and Carey. The feud may have something to do with Lopez's alleged theft of elements of "If We" and "Loverboy," two songs Carey recorded for the soundtrack of her Gigli-esque bomb, Glitter, and used them on the album version and remix of her song "I'm Real." 

Just say no to saying hello to JLo

If Jennifer Lopez is, as she claims in a preemptively defensive 2002 single, still Jenny from the block, then she must have been rude to service industry workers as a teenager. "She doesn't speak to salespeople, restaurant or hotel staff — or flight attendants," a person close to Lopez told Star (via RadarOnline). "She only talks through her assistants." To wit, during an alleged United Airlines excursion, a flight attendant supposedly asked Lopez (in the first class section, naturally), if he could fetch her a beverage. "But Jennifer refused to acknowledge me. She turned her head away and told her personal assistant, 'Please tell him I'd like a Diet Coke and lime,'" the flight attendant related to Star.

In 2012, Pray Dodaj, a maid working at the Melia Dusseldorf hotel in Germany, claimed that she asked Lopez for her autograph when the star was there for a stay. "I am an incredibly big fan so I took all my courage and rang the bell to get an autograph," Dodaj told Bild (via US Weekly). Two assistants rejected the request, and then it got worse. "A day later the cleaning company that employed me at the hotel called and said that Ms. Lopez had complained. I was fired right there on the phone," Dodaj said. Lopez dismissed the entire notion out of hand with a tweet: "C'mon thought you knew me better than this.. Would never get anyone fired over an autograph."

Jennier Lopez is trying to make a dollar out of 25 (s)cents

A signature fragrance means different things to a civilian and a celebrity. To a non-famous-person, it's a favorite perfume or scent worn with regularity. To a celebrity, it's a relatively affordable bottle of perfume with their name on it available in department and drug stores across the land. It's an integral part of a portfolio and branding strategy for any driven celebrityLady Gaga has one, Rihanna has a few...and Jennifer Lopez has released an unbelievable 25 different perfumes and scents since 2002. Women's Wear Daily estimates that the latest one, Promise, which hit stores in September 2019, could boost the profits of Lopez's empire of smells by 30 percent. That's a lot, considering that the line is already worth around $2 billion.

Speaking of huge sums of money, it's a quip from billionaire commodities-trading genius Warren Buffett that inspired the name of fragrance number 25. "He told me something that really resonated with me. He said, 'a brand is a promise,'" Lopez revealed at a Promise-themed event (via Allure). "I just thought it was a perfect time in my life to name a fragrance Promise, because every time that we create something new, it's a promise to give you something of quality, something that will make your life better, something that will make you feel sexy, something that will make you feel beautiful." Way to go, Warren Buffett! (Or maybe it's WaBu?")

JLo didn't want to do a TV show (at first)

Like a lot of major actor and actress in Hollywood, Jennifer Lopez has her own production company, Nuyorican Productions, which she uses to develop film and TV projects for herself and other performers. In 2014, Lopez pitched Shades of Blue, a gritty drama about a single mother and NYPD detective who gets involved with a cabal of dirty cops, to NBC. She was wearing her producer hat only, and had no intention of starring in the series, but those plans quickly changed.

"They were like, 'Why are you not playing this role?'" Lopez told Stuff. "And I thought to myself, 'I don't know, maybe...maybe I should.'" And so she did, taking on the lead role of the conflicted Harlee Santos (opposite Ray Liotta), and NBC ordered up a first season. As Lopez was still quite busy with her movie and music careers, Shades of Blue's production schedule was quite accommodating, what with its first two seasons consisting of a relatively low 13 episodes each. Still, when the show was renewed for a third season, Lopez was already eyeballing the end. "We always knew this would have a finite run," she told IndieWire. "When we got to the third season, I was like, 'I think we're done with this.' And the way the season ends, I think this is it. ... It seemed perfect to move on to the next chapter for me."

She gave the triathlon a try

Jennifer Lopez dances almost nonstop for two hours during the typical concert, and all-day long on her music video shoots, and it was her job for a while as a Fly Girl on In Living Color in the early 1990s. So it should come as little surprise that Lopez has the physical stamina required to endure all that, but she applies those physical gifts to other, and more competitive athletic pursuits, too.

In her 2015 memoir True Love, Lopez discussed (and justifiably kind of bragged about) finishing a triathlon seven years earlier. The triathlon is a grueling contest that combines a long swim, a long bike ride, and a long run. "Now, understand, I had never done a triathlon before," Lopez wrote. "I had run a 10K when I was 12, but never anything close to a triathlon." Talk about a humblebrag, J-Lo. Oh, and her time at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon, which comprises a half-mile swim, 18-mile bike portion, and four-mile run: 2 hours, 23 minutes, and 28 seconds, which is just slightly longer than the amount of time it takes to watch Gigli.

Hello, Turkmenistan!

According to The Guardian, Jennifer Lopez was the headlining act at the star-studded, Caspian Sea resort-set birthday party of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the president of the former Soviet nation-state of Turkmenistan. Lopez wore her usual barely-there stage costumes during the 2013 show, while performing some of her songs before switching to traditional, more modest Turken clothing to sing "Happy Birthday" to the man of the hour. What's so wrong about that? According to groups like Human Rights Watch, which keeps tabs on authoritarian regimes and oppression around the world, Berdymukhamedov may not be the most compassionate leader. The organization says it's among "the world's most isolated and oppressively governed countries" and that "all aspects of public life are controlled by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his associates." Berdymukhamedov's regime has also allegedly kept political prisoners "in full isolation from family, lawyers, and the outside world... and denied their families information about their whereabouts and fate."

Lopez was reportedly unaware of Berdymukhamedov's reputation when she agreed to perform at his birthday party. Amidst criticism, Lopez's team released a statement to E! News, which read, in part, "The event was vetted by her representatives, had there been knowledge of human rights issues of any kind, Jennifer would not have attended."