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Uh-Huh, Girls

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CALL IT A THIRST FOR RECOGNITION—or maybe just a ease of promotional savvy. After all, Diet Pepsi’s Uh-Huh Girls—Darlene Dillinger, 26, Gretchen Palmer, 28, and Meilani Paul, 25—surely knew what to expect when they zipped into their epidermal Lycra dresses and sashayed through Manhattan. “Everyone kept shouting at us, ‘Hey! It’s the Uh-Huh Girls!’ ” says Dillinger. “People hollered out of their cars at us, ‘Uh-Huh! Uh-Huh!’ We were, like, ‘Oh, my God! This is bizarre!’ ”

The fact is, of course, the trio didn’t have to leave home to prove they were starring in an ad campaign with legs: their own. Ever since Super Bowl Sunday 1991, when they played Ray Charles’s backup singers in a Diet Pepsi TV ad (actually, they lip-synched—and still do—the two syllables that gave them their name), the Uh-Huh Girls haven’t had lime for much else. So far they’ve done another dozen Diet Pepsi ads and made hundreds of public appearances, including one at last year’s NCAA Final Four basketball championships in Minneapolis, where they uncorked enough promotional fizz to prompt the event’s sponsor, Coca-Cola, to have them removed from the premises. Says Palmer: “We caused a lot of stir.”

Through it all, the three have become, says Palmer, “like sisters.” Paul, daughter of an airline pilot and a real-estate agent—grew up a tomboy in Valencia, Calif. At 14, she took up modeling, mostly for Seventeen magazine, and she has been married since 1990 to TV’s hunky Highlander, Adrian Paul. Dillinger, one of four-sisters reared by her divorced mother, a nurse, majored in journalism at Long Beach State before dropping out for a dancing job her sophomore year. And Palmer, daughter of an Air Force chief master sergeant and a teacher turned housewife, is a 1986 graduate of the Boston Conservatory, where she studied dance. After finishing school, she landed several small film roles, including one as Meg Ryan’s aerobics classmate in When Harry Met Sally….

The fates said uh-huh to the girls in December 1990, when they were culled by Pepsi from among 400 auditioning dancers, models and singers. Now their ads appear throughout the world, they have bought beepers and car phones to field new job offers, and Ray Charles has begun offering them encouragement and career guidance. “We just love Ray,” says Darlene.

So far, the only downer is a pesky identity problem. It seems the Uh-Huh Girls are sometimes mistaken for Charles’s real backup singers, the Raylettes, and even for the R & B quartet En Vogue. But that problem may end soon. Hoping to move from soda sales to song royalties, the trio began singing together in earnest last year and is now shopping around a demo of their own. Do we think the girls should change their professional name? Uh-uh.