07/17/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT
When her son Shel Joseph was 5, Charo realized that she had to retire from nearly two decades on the road. "He needed to stay in one school and have the same friends," she says. "Otherwise he'd grow up and write a book called Cuchi-Cuchi Dearest." With a salsa-soaked accent, a fiery Latin musical routine, a sexagenarian husband (bandleader Xavier Cugat) and a seemingly permanent place on Johnny Carson's couch, the 5'2" Spanish-born singer was a saucy fixture of '70s TV. She and Cugat divorced in 1978 (he died in 1990), and she later packed 'em in with her traveling Latin revue. But in 1987, Charo, 44, and her second husband and manager, Kjell Rasten, settled in Hawaii. "It's a hell of a move from Beverly Hills to the island of Kauai," she says. But Shel Joseph, now 14, is blossoming in school, and tourists pay up to $45 to see Charo's show in a Waikiki club. Meanwhile, at the family Mexican restaurant, aptly named Charo's, the star doesn't take center stage. "I tried to hostess once, and it was like I Love Lucy," she says. "I seated everyone whether they had a reservation or not." An accomplished musician, Charo recorded a successful 1994 New Age CD, Guitar Passion, and she's working on a sitcom idea, The Cuchi-Cuchi Diner. She's not worried about losing that accent. "My English is actually getting worse," she says. "We talk Spanish at home and switch to English only when we need it. Like when we go to the bank to get some money."