Michael A. Lipton
April 28, 1997 12:00 PM

CARMEN ELECTRA, THE SAUCY NEW COHOST of MTV’s Singled Out, giggles as she recalls her weird tryout to replace sitcom-bound Jenny McCarthy. The show, a hip gen-X update of The Dating Game, features two players of the opposite sex who must winnow down a raucous horde of 100 potential sweethearts by getting answers to important questions such as: “I like massages because they’re relaxing or because they’re sensual?”

As Electra, a 24-year-old singer, dancer and former protégée of the artist formerly known as Prince, recalls it, her audition involved a scripted etiquette test. “The contestant had to tell me to stop eating so badly,” she explains. “I really got into it. I had my foot up on the table, and I was shoving food in my mouth and letting it fall out. I also had this line that was like, ‘Are you ready to shake some booty?’ and I was totally shaking my butt.”

Okay, so Meryl Streep doesn’t have to burn her SAG card. But Electra’s uninhibited performance—enhanced by what MTV programming vice president Lisa Berger calls her “street-smart hipness”—did pay off. Since February, Electra, egged on by cohost Chris Hardwick, has been shaking her booty and wrapping her lithe, 5’4” body around gaga male guests. She’s doing something right: Singled Out remains MTV’s top-rated daily show.

Still, following in McCarthy’s high-profile wake “is a hard thing,” Electra says. “I had been afraid everyone was going to say, ‘We want Jenny back.’ ” No way, say her Singled Out colleagues. “Carmen is much warmer than Jenny,” says Randal Malone, one of the show’s skit performers. “When she starts calling the contestants ‘honey’ or ‘baby,’ they just go mad for her.”

Sorry, guys, she’s taken. Since 1994, Electra has been involved with B Real, lead vocalist of the Latino hip-hop band Cypress Hill. For a while they shared a house in Sherman Oaks, Calif. But the relationship cooled last winter and Electra moved into her own digs, a two-bedroom apartment in Studio City. She and B Real, 27, are “kind of back together now,” she reports. “It’s like it was between us at the beginning.”

Electra—born Tara Patrick—began preparing for showbiz at 5, when she took dance classes in her native Cincinnati. “I wanted to dance on Broadway,” she says. The youngest of five children, she received encouragement from parents Harry, 54, a guitarist, and Patricia, 57, a former singer, who enrolled her in the local School for Creative and Performing Arts. After graduating from Cincinnati’s Princeton High School in 1990, she took off for Los Angeles. “My mom begged me not to go,” says Electra. “I was a little bit afraid for her,” Patricia admits. “I told her she couldn’t go alone, so she went with one of her girlfriends.”

Electra was hanging out at Spice, a Hollywood club, when a talent scout saw her and set up an audition with the Artist, who was putting together an all-girl rap group. “I did this jazz and hip-hop routine, and he told me he liked it,” she says. “But he wouldn’t give me an answer that night.” Two months later she phoned him asking for help on a demo album she was doing for Columbia. To her surprise he offered to write the woman still formally known as Ms. Patrick a song, “Carmen on Top.” “You look like a Carmen,” he told her. Acting on his instincts, she changed her name—later, at his suggestion, adding Electra. “I think it means the goddess of sex, but I’m not sure,” she says, laughing. For the next two years she performed and cowrote songs with her mentor (who produced her 1992 debut album, Carmen Electra) and lived in his hometown of Minneapolis. “We had a very strong attraction to each other,” she says coyly, “but I wouldn’t say we had a relationship.”

In 1994, Electra decided to go on her own and returned to L.A. Branching out into acting, she landed a guest spot on Baywatch Nights. More exposure followed with a nude pictorial in Playboy. (“I said, ‘Go for it, girl!’ ” her mother recalls.) This fall, Electra will start as the new lifeguard on Bay-watch, replacing the departed Pamela Lee. Electra’s audition last winter was more nerve-racking than the one for Singled Out. The producers asked her and two other swimsuit-clad candidates to dive into a pool-size tank. “I have this thing that when I’m diving, I have to hold my nose,” she recalls. “But I thought that would lessen my chances. So I just closed my eyes and jumped.”

Taking the plunge seems to be in Electra’s nature. Playfully pondering her next career move, she muses, “I’m a little short to be a runway model.” But, upon reflection, she adds, “Actually, Madonna did it—so why can’t I?”

MICHAEL A. LIPTON

ANNA DAVID in Los Angeles

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