Saturday, March 30, 2024

Diva Starz by Mattel

I'm excited to be sitting down to write this review for the second time!  As you might remember, last time around I realized I'd forgotten some important versions of the doll, and felt like I had to start over with a new approach.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't be concerned about creating such a thorough review of a brand, but these particular dolls hold an interesting place in the evolution of icons like Bratz and My Scene, so I felt like they warranted a more careful look.

So, who are the dolls?  They're Mattel's Diva Starz, a varied range of electronic-themed dolls that were first released in the fall of 2000.  The original dolls were designed to fit into a market that was obsessed with electronic pets.  For example, Furby, an interactive fuzzy creature made by Tiger Electronics, was at the peak of its popularity in the late 1990s, with more than 40 million units sold between 1998 and 2000.  The early Diva Starz had more in common with Furby than they did with most fashion dolls, but by the time they were discontinued in 2005, the dolls had gone through two major transformations and looked significantly different. 

In today's review, I'll look at all three main iterations of the Diva Starz, which means it's gonna be a long one!  So, settle in with your favorite beverage and take a trip down memory lane with me.

Fashion Diva Starz Nikki by Mattel, 2002.

The doll in that cover shot, Nikki, is actually from 2002 and showcases the most recent design of the doll, called Fashion Diva Starz.  The Fashion Diva Starz have fabric clothing and can speak a few phrases if you push a button on the top of their head.  Nikki was the first doll I bought, and the only one I'd originally planned to review.

But then, as I was hunting around for old promotional photos, to see what the variety in characters and themes looked like, I found this commercial:

That's definitely not a commercial for the doll I just showed you!  Nikki doesn't have snap-on clothing or know what I'm talking about (who does?).  Turns out that I'd found a commercial for the original 2000 Diva Starz--the dolls who were designed to compete with Furby.

There are four characters in the original Diva Starz lineup: Nikki, Alexa, Summer, and Tia:

From left: Nikki, Alexa, Summer, and Tia.
The slogan for the line was "we know what's up!" which puts the focus on the intelligence of the dolls above all else.

Intrigued, I went to eBay to search out a doll from that commercial.  I was hoping to find the redheaded Summer, as you can imagine, but there weren't any good Summer auctions at the time--at least not any that I could afford: original Diva Starz dolls, new in box, can cost up to $150.  Oof.  

Fortunately, I found a good used Alexa bundle on eBay for closer to $60, but without the box.  For reference, here's a photo of Alexa's box from an older eBay auction: 

Alexa comes with four snap-on outfits and several small accessories.  She's also totally smart! and can move! talk! and respond! and even share her feelings!

And, at least according to the box, Alexa's feelings include declaring things to be glam-a-licious or diva-licious:

That's weird-a-licious.
I don't remember the beginning of the millennium well enough to know if that's how teens talked back then.  Maybe.  It's possib-a-licious.

The back of the box is very colorful, with a few photographs of the dolls and a lot of text:

The text boxes on the right side describe the things that Alexa can do.  For instance, her lips light up when she talks, her head moves, and her eyes can blink.  She can also recognize her outfits, tell you what time it is, and share her secret feelings and dreams!

Also, apparently if you have multiple dolls, they can talk to each other, and even recognize when they're wearing somebody else's outfit:

Now I wish I'd bought two dolls.
When this doll came out in 2000, Amazon's virtual assistant Alexa didn't exist, but it's funny to see an electronic doll with the name Alexa in this day and age.

From what I can tell, my eBay bundle came with all of Alexa's original accessories, plus two complete Fashionz packs, still in their original plastic shells:

That's a good pile of loot!
I wish I could say with authority when the substitution of "z" for "s" become so popular in doll branding, but it might have started with these Divaz and their Fashionz.  It's certainly a trait that Bratz took over with great enthusiazm.

I was delighted to see that Alexa's instruction pamphlet was also included in the mix:

Also, while the dolls apparently didn't come with batteries back in 2000, my doll came with working batteries!  The bundle was a very good deal and I feel lucky to have found it.

The instructions are quite detailed, and I'll admit that I didn't read all of them:

I mean, look at how complicated it is to simply set the clock to the correct time:

That all takes forever, by the way, and notice where it says at the bottom that you have to re-set the clock every time you turn the doll off and then on again.  That's cruel.

I focused my attention mainly on the diagram that shows where all of the sensors are:

Alexa has multiple clothing and accessory sensors, "yes" and "no" buttons on her feet, and infrared sensors to identify the other Diva Starz dolls.

She also apparently has a microphone to hear responses to her questions.  She can't decipher words, of course, but she's supposed to be able to detect when I talk.  I was never able to get her to react to my voice.

The accessories that come with Alexa include a diary, a handheld game device, a cell phone, and a purse:

The game system looks sort-of like Nintendo's Game Boy, which would be about right for the year 2000:

If you peek inside the handle of the game device, you can see that there's a metallic microchip area that interacts with the sensor on Alexa's hand:

All of the accessories have sections like that.

Alexa's largest accessory is her pet cat, Fluffy:

I'm a huge fan of cats, but Fluffy is really weird-looking.  Especially her eyes.  She has reverse alien eyes...and looks a bit like a bear.

And she's nestled in what looks like a fur-covered basket:

Cruella deVil wants her basket back.
That cat is strange.  For sure.  But I was eager to see what Alexa herself had to offer.

Alexa is about 9 inches tall and came wearing what I presume are her pajamas:

My doll is used and 24 years old, so her hair is a little messy.  The fiber doesn't feel very good, either, but it's hard to tell how much of that is due to age and tangles.  All I can say is that while I was shopping for Alexa, I saw used Diva Starz dolls with hair that was way worse:

Other than the hair, Alexa is in pretty good shape, with her eyelashes intact and no scuffs or marks on her face:

Her big, shiny plastic head reminds me of a Blythe doll!
Alexa has a huge head, a small body, and absolutely enormous feet:

I can't think of another doll with feet that are this big in proportion to the rest of their body.  I mean, the feet are almost as big as the head.  And they're really heavy, too, so Alexa has excellent balance.

Here's Alexa from the side, where you can see her odd facial profile:

Her profile is even more bizarre when her hair is lifted away!

She has an egg-shaped head with oversized eyes, protruding cheeks, and a flat jawline.  And she has no ears whatsoever.  Because, as you know, she hears through her gigantic feet.

The other funny thing is that because Alexa's clothes snap into place, they're open in the back, so this poor girl really needs her long hair to stay covered up!

A truly backless dress.
Alexa has a big speaker on the back of her head, and several screws that hold the two sides of her body together:

I guess that explains the high hairline.
Alexa's large eyes are partially covered with purple eyelids that have rooted black lashes:

From the commercial, we know that the eyes can open and close electronically.  Both in function and in appearance, these eyes definitely remind me a lot of the Furbies!

The iris pattern in Alexa's blue eyes is interesting.  There are three painted reflective dots, and the iris lines are bendy and asymmetrical, with some of the lines very close together and others more widely spaced:

Alexa's lips are pink with infused glitter.  They're made out of a separate piece of plastic, and so you can see a small seam line all around the mouth:

Alexa is certainly unusual-looking, but she was marketed primarily on her electronic features, so let's explore some of those!

I know what's up!
The first thing that happened when I turned Alexa on, using a power switch on the bottom of her foot, was that she introduced herself and asked me to set her clock (groan):

I didn't bother to try and get the time correct to the minute, but I did manage to get the hour programmed in, by pressing the "no" button until she said the right time.  It was a little tedious, but not too bad.  The times aren't consistent in all of my clips because I didn't always bother to re-set the clock accurately after I turned Alexa off and on again.

The whole time I was interacting with Alexa, she was turning her head and opening and closing her eyes.  Her lips even flash in synch with what she's saying!

After the time is set, Alexa will declare a Word of the Day and then make a statement or propose an activity:

Judging from my experience, Alexa's Word of the Day is always something ending in -a-licious.  Like "fab-a-licious" from the previous clip.

Here's another example:

"Fab-a-licious" is pretty bad, but "hot-a-licious" is worse.  Part of me is curious to test out all of Alexa's Words of the Day to see what else she can come up with, but the other part of me is happy not knowing.

You might have heard in a previous clip that Alexa called me Giggle Head.  That's the nickname she picked for me.  Here's the moment when she bestows that moniker:

Notice how she comes up with the name and then stalls out, trying to think of what to say next.  She defaults to telling me the time (again) and scolding me for putting her pajamas on too early.  Pfft.  I think ten in the morning is a great time to be wearing pajamas.

I took some still photos of Alexa when she was talking, too, so that anyone who can't see the videos or doesn't want to see the videos can still appreciate the closed eyes:  

And the flashing pink lips:

A big part of the interaction with Alexa revolves around clothing, so let's see how that works.

Under her snap-on clothes, Alexa has a plastic body with a molded pink cami top and a black mini skirt.  Her top, skirt, and left hand all have metal sensors that stick out a little:

Here's a better look:

Each piece of clothing is made primarily out of plastic, and has painted details:

The back of each piece of clothing has a 1999 copyright date and a tab that connects with one of the body sensors:

Here's a small assortment of clothing so that you can see the various locations of the sensor tabs:

The thing about Alexa is that she is not easy to please when it comes to her wardrobe:

So, I tried again:


And then, even when she likes an outfit, she'll come up with some lame reason why it isn't good enough:

I got her to admit that an outfit was perfect for school (is it, though?) and that she was sooo happy!  Yay!  But then she asked me to try another outfit anyway.  Facepalm.

I finally found a dress that she liked and didn't immediately ask me to swap out.  It's fab-a-licious!

Here are some still shots of the various outfits I tried:

One of the Fashionz sets has a pink faux fur boa!

The clothes are very easy to snap on, and they seem to stay in place well, too.

The ease of clothing play here reminds me a bit of the Style Bae dolls.

Another key component to interacting with Alexa is her accessories.

Random events happen during which Alexa asks for one of her accessories.  For example, in this next clip, a phone starts to ring while she's holding her electronic game.  After an uncomfortable number of rings, Alexa says that she needs her phone:

When I put the phone into her hand, she answers the call and chats for a minute:

Apparently, Fluffy the cat has a perfect bill of health!  That's great news.  But immediately after hanging up, Alexa asks for a new hairstyle.  She's pretty high maintenance.

The interactions don't always go smoothly, though.  One time Alexa asked me for her electronic game:

So I put it in her hand...

And she just kept on asking for it.

I tried the electronic game a little later on, and it finally worked.  But the result is a bit confusing.  Apparently the game is to ask her a question, and she'll give me an answer because she's "practically a professional fortune teller."  I pushed the "yes" button on her foot, indicating that I wanted to play, but she immediately launched into a song about winning:

I mean, the song is good for my ego, I guess, but I never got to ask my question.

After playing with Alexa for thirty minutes or so, I encountered an impasse:

She introduced herself about fifty times and I had to turn her off.  When I turned her back on, she got stuck in a clock-setting rut and I finally gave up.

I was disappointed, but after 24 years of chatting and playing games, I guess I should feel lucky that Alexa had a few more minutes to share with all of us.

Her are some final portraits of Alexa with various outfits and accessories:

I never got to experiment with her diary, which is too bad.  I wonder what she wrote in there?

I do know one of her secrets, though, from a different interaction:

Her tone is a little ominous at the end there, I gotta say.  

I don't think I like secrets as much as Alexa, but I like this outfit with the fuzzy black trim on the vest and skirt:

I also like the purse with the fancy blue dress, although Alexa's arm position here makes it look like she's ordering me around...again:

Set my freakin' clock, Giggle Head.
I was completely fascinated by toys like Furby and (admitting my age) Teddy Ruxpin when I was younger, and so it takes no guesswork to say that I would have loved Alexa when I was a kid.  Her fixation on fashion and hair probably wouldn't have appealed to my animal-oriented, unfashionable self, but I would have secretly enjoyed feeling trendy as I added -a-licious to every adjective I knew.  My scientifically-minded self also would have played with Alexa until I was sure that I had listened to all of her possible actions and interactions.  I would have done that now, too, if she hadn't glitched out on me.

I find Alexa's appearance to be quite unusual, although I suspect she looked even more unique back in 2000, before big-headed dolls were everywhere.  Certainly Blythe must have had some influence on her design.  And I can definitely see elements of Alexa reflected in Bratz dolls, too.  The large feet with attached shoes, in particular, make me think of Bratz.  And there's something in the facial features that feels familiar, too.  As I understand it, a lot of the controversy around MGA copying the Diva Starz comes from the similar coloring and styling that the Bratz and Diva Starz characters had.  During my research, I found several auctions and sale listings that described a Diva Starz doll as a "vintage Bratz," so it's clear that the resemblance is real.  And there's the whole "z" instead of "s" thing, too.

So Alexa is a cool doll, not just for her entertaining electronic features, easy-to-use snap-on wardrobe, and planet-sized head, but also because she seems to have forged the way for the Bratz line, which was insanely popular in 2005 and 2006, and is still enjoying success today.  In addition to all of that, Alexa has the distinction of sporting, at least proportionally, the largest doll feet I have ever seen.

Mattel was surprised by the success of the original Diva Starz crew, and so they released a second wave of electronic dolls in 2001, and added miniature versions of the characters to the lineup.  Here are the mini dolls:

From left: Tia, Alexa, Nikki, and Summer.
The miniatures lasted through two more editions in 2002.  I love miniature versions of things, so I was excited to get my hands on one of these.  The doll I found, new in box, is from the second wave in 2002.

Here are all of the second wave dolls:

Tia, Alexa, Nikki, and...Miranda?
For this wave, Mattel ditched the redheaded Summer character and replaced her with another blond doll, Miranda.  I'm not a fan of that choice, but let's enjoy the commercial for this group of dolls anyway:

The commercial is short, but it reveals that the dolls can sing, and have styles that rock.  And there's a music theme to the whole group.  Honestly, though, that cruizin' car is the most fascinating item in the commercial.

I found Nikki on eBay for around $40:

Mini Diva Starz Nikki, 2002.
Nikki occupies about a third of her cardboard window box, while her accessories and the backdrop design take up the rest of the space.

In the left hand corner of the box, there's a coupon for saving $3 off the Diva Cruizer, that cool car from the commercial:

$3 wouldn't help me much these days.
The other side of the box has cartoons of the four original characters, so Miranda doesn't appear:

The back of the box has more cartoon drawings of the girls, with little descriptions of what type of music each one enjoys:

It's hard to read the text, so I zoomed in for you.  Miranda likes pop music and Nikki digs rock music:

Alexa is into dance music, and Tia, predictably, is the hip hop fan:

Nobody enjoys classical music or jazz?
Another thing that's advertised on the box is that if you collect all four of the dolls, they can get together to sing a song.  Darn it.  This type of thing is always so tempting to me!  I want to hear the whole song, but I don't want to buy all of the dolls.  It's like those silly L.O.L. boomboxes.

The sides of Nikki's box have a few more cartoons of her character with speech bubbles.  Instead of cool-a-licious, she says "hyper-cool:"

I like that better.
The other side boasts how she can really sing, and has a microphone, stickers, and sunglasses:

The backdrop pulled out of the main box pretty easily, and this allowed me to get a better look at all of the accessories:

The backdrop design makes it look like the box is full of stuff, but the actual accessories are a brush, glasses, stickers, two barrettes, and some dried-up glitter gel in a small container.

There's also an instruction pamphlet with some helpful hints.  The first three hints are basically different ways of saying "do not get this doll wet:"

Another hint involves the glitter gel:

Don't burn your kid.
So the dried-up glitter gel is not for Nikki (especially not for her hair!) it's for a child:

They really don't want the doll to get wet.
And the last hint seems more like a public service announcement where "replace the batteries" is code for "help them rethink their life choices:"

The right side of the pamphlet shows how you can press Nikki's head to get her to speak four different phrases.  The last phrase is part of a song:

There's also a description of how to get the girls to sing together.  In short, they don't interact; you have to do everything yourself. 

You basically line the dolls up in order and cue up their verse of the song, then press their heads one at a time.  Thankfully, the pamphlet also reveals the song's lyrics, so I don't have to buy any more dolls:

"Not for use with other Diva Starz dolls."
It's sad that there has to be a message at the bottom of the page saying that these mini dolls do not interact with the other Diva Starz dolls.  I mean, they don't even interact with each other.

In photographs, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the regular Diva Starz dolls from the Minis.  There's definitely a strong resemblance between the two.  But in person, the mini dolls are much smaller, look cheaper, and have less gigantic feet:

Those are really looking like Bratz feet to me now, though!  I'm not sure exactly when in 2001 the Mini Diva Starz first came out, but Bratz were released in May of that year.  So I'm not sure who was influencing whom at this point.

Nikki came tied to the backdrop with a few wires that were very easy to remove:

Her accessories were all sealed behind plastic, so they were more of a pain to extract.

Here's everything that was in the box:

I found the brush, barrettes, dried-up glitter, and stickers somewhat dismissible:

But the purple shades are fun:

Nikki herself looked ragged right out of the box.  Her hair was a big mess, with uneven bangs and scruffy flyaways.  It was also a struggle to get her to balance on her own, even with those big feet.

Nikki needs to rethink some life choices.
Some of Nikki's hair is gathered back into a small ponytail on top of her head.  This was an unfortunate choice of hairstyle because of how it exposes her bizarrely earless, egg-shaped profile:

It's kind-of like a mohawk?
The hair was a disaster from the back:

I have no words.
And this hair fiber feels awful.  It's not at all silky or smooth and just feels gross to me.  It's also hard to comb and manage, which you can probably appreciate from the pictures.  I have no idea what kind of hair fiber it is.

Like the larger Diva Starz, Nikki's hair is only rooted at the very top of her head, so there's a lot of scalp showing:

And there's a little battery compartment and some screws on the back of the head:

Her body has a serious tilting problem.
I had a heck of a time getting Nikki to stand up.  Her body is minimally articulated and very unbalanced.  In desperation, I thought maybe removing the microphone from her right hand would help, but it did not.

Here's the microphone on its own: 

Looks more like a thermos to me.
I clipped Nikki's unruly bangs out of the way so that we could get a better look at her face:

Her eyes imitate the style of the larger Diva Starz really well, right down to the stylized iris lines.  But these eyes don't open and close; they're permanently in this quarter-closed position:

Nikki's mouth is similar to the larger dolls, too, in that it is made from a separate piece of glitter-infused plastic.

Nikki's electronic function is extremely limited when compared to the original dolls.  As we saw in the instruction pamphlet, she has a button on the top of her head that, when pressed, elicits four different phrases.  Her lips also light up and flash roughly in time to what she's saying.

I found it easiest to record Nikki's phrases with her upside-down, so that I could press the head button while also holding the camera.  Sorry for the indignity, Nikki:

Not very impressive, is it?

Nikki's articulation isn't very impressive, either.  She has four simple joints.  Her head can spin around:

Her arms spin at the shoulder...but her head gets in the way of their movement:

And she has a spinning torso joint, too, but there's absolutely no way she can balance on her own if that joint is moved.

I've got her suspended by a few of her hairs here.
Her legs attach to her permanent dress and have no mobility:

She has a 1999 copyright date on the bottom of her shoe, which is strange since the mini dolls weren't released until 2001:

The clothing play was so appealing with Alexa that it's sad to see Mattel ditch all of that entirely with these mini dolls.

Nikki's only interesting accessory is her glasses:

And they fit her face well, but without ears, it's really hard to keep them in place:

At around 6.5 inches tall, Nikki is just over half Alexa's height...and nowhere near as appealing:

Mini Diva Starz Nikki (left) and original Diva Starz Alexa (right).
I was entertained by Alexa, but Mini Nikki leaves me feeling flat.  Her hair is terrible, her balance is poor, her articulation is limited, and her electronic feature is an unsatisfying gimmick.  There's pretty much nothing good that I can say about this doll, except that her face captures the same unique look as the older dolls.  In a child's imaginary game, she might make a fun little sister for the larger dolls but, as the pamphlet proclaims, she's not for use with other Diva Starz dolls.

The popularity of the Diva Starz brand began to decline in 2002, and I have to believe that this was in part due to the underwhelming nature of the mini dolls, and maybe some fatigue for interactive electronic toys as a whole.  The rising popularity of Bratz dolls surely had something to do with it, too. 

Mattel clearly took notice of MGA's success with Bratz, and responded by ditching the original Diva Starz completely, and phasing out the Minis in favor of a more conventional fashion doll line called the Fashion Diva Starz.

Here's a peek at the advertising for the Fashion Divas:

From that sneak peek, the Fashion Divas look like they have the heads of the original Diva Starz on top of regular fashion doll bodies with fabric clothing.  And the electronic functionality looks similar to what we saw with the Minis.  The hair looked pretty nice, though, didn't it?  So that might be an improvement.  We'll see.

The best new-in-box deal that I could find for these dolls was first wave Nikki, who cost just under $40 about two years ago.  I can't believe it takes me such a long time between purchasing a doll and actually reviewing her!  Sheesh.  I would have sworn I bought her just a few months ago.

Anyway, Nikki comes in a bright, appealing window box that displays her extra outfit and accessories nicely:

Fashion Diva Starz Nikki, 2002.
The Fashion Divas never even bothered to include the redheaded Summer character, it was always just Tia, Miranda, Nikki, and Alexa.  But Nikki's hair is kind-of red, so I guess that's something:

The slogan also appears to have changed from "we know what's up" to "we know what's stylin'."  The shift in focus from electronic interaction to clothing and fashion could have been influenced by the "girls with a passion for fashion" (Bratz), but who can say for sure.

I was excited to see that Nikki comes with a little magazine.  I love doll books and long as they're not blank:

Nikki's box has some decoration on the sides as well:

And the back looks a bit like a comic book, with Nikki communicating in speech bubbles as she navigates through a few paneled scenes:

Unfortunately, Nikki isn't telling a story with her speech bubbles, she's just running through what I assume are her pre-recorded phrases:

I'm stoked for straight, streaked hair!
Wanna fresh look?  Jeans and jewels work every time (left) and Ain't nothin' but a shoe sensation (right).
The bottom of the box advertises some kind of shoe-stacking feature that involves secret messages.  I'm a bit confused by all of this, but I like the idea of secret messages!

Looks promising.
The bottom of the box also shows the other three dolls in this wave, and four of the Fashionz.  Here's a closer look at the Fashionz:

Nikki and all of her accessories came attached to a bright yellow cardboard backdrop that pulled out of the  main box:

The instruction pamphlet was taped to the back:

Let's take a look at the instructions first:

Line drawings of Nikki and all of her accessories are on the front of the pamphlet, and drawings of all four characters are on the back:

This was helpful because I had Miranda and Alexa mixed up in my head.

The inside of the pamphlet looks pretty complicated:

There's more information about how the secret message shoes work, which is nice.  It looks like the treads of the shoes come off, and little messages can be placed in between the bottom of the shoe and the tread.  That's a pretty unique feature!  The shoes can even be used as key chains:

The other side of the pamphlet shows how there's a button on Nikki's head that activates her sound feature, and how you can put stickers on her face:

And there's still some hysteria about getting these dolls wet (or drunk):

Nikki and her accessories were attached to the backdrop with a combination of wires, plastic shells, and white thread.  I miss the days when thread was used instead of plastic ties.  Thread doesn't leave behind holes or snags:

Here's everything that was in the box:

That's a lot of stuff.
I was dying to get my hands on that magazine!

I could tell right away that the magazine was just a folded piece of cardboard, and I had a sinking feeling that the inside would be blank...

But it's not!
Each character has written a short article on the topic of her choice.

Alexa talks about how opposites attract, like big pants paired with a tiny tee:

And yet, she's not sporting any contrasts herself.
Tia wants everyone to have naughty nails:

And yet, she's not wearing any nail polish herself.
Miranda's article is basically an ad for lip gloss:

At least she's wearing some.
And Nikki's piece feels a bit like a warning that the doll's hair is going to be messy:

I sense more bad hair in my future. 
Next month's issue sounds promising, with articles on how to catch your crush's eye, and a quiz about being a shop-a-holic:

I should probably take that quiz.
Nikki might be a shop-a-holic, too, because she has a lot of little accessories:

There's a vinyl purse, some barrettes, a brush, and some little makeup or perfume bottles.  The bottles have both molded and painted detail:

The vinyl purse has moveable straps, and can hold small items:

The stickers work on the purse, too, not just on Nikki's face:

My favorite accessory is this little black flip phone:

It has a handle on the back:

And opens up to reveal a green keypad and screen:

The most intriguing accessory is the shoes, though, with all of their extra treads and secret messages:

But I'll come back to those later.  For now, let's look at Nikki:

Keep in mind that because of how this review evolved, the first time I laid eyes on Nikki, I hadn't seen the earlier Diva Starz yet.  So I found her appearance really strange.  Her head, in particular, was confounding to me.  I mean, look at that profile!

Her hair came sewn into one of those plastic strips that I struggle with:

I removed the strip and brushed the hair, and sure enough: it's the same frizzy, synthetic-feeling hair fiber that we saw on Mini Nikki.  The hair feels nice and soft when it's brushed, at least.

And the color is pretty, too.  Most of the hair is a rich auburn, but there are pink, orange, and red streaks that look nice:

Just like the original Diva Starz and Minis, Nikki's hair is only rooted at the very top of her scalp, so she has the same bizarrely earless, egg-like head:

With a battery compartment in the back:

The rooting density at the top of the head is good, anyway!

Nikki's features are very similar to the original Diva Starz, but, like the Minis, her brightly-lidded eyes do not open and close:

She has more definition in her eyes than her predecessors, though.  The pupils are larger, and there are three different colors in the irises:

I gave her a green heart sticker to match her eyes.
The mouth is made from a separate piece of glitter-infused plastic, so I assume it will light up when Nikki talks:

Underneath her thick bangs, Nikki has light brown eyebrows with some hair detail on the inner edge:

None of the earlier dolls have detail like this in their brows:

Another thing I didn't notice in the earlier dolls is that Nikki's eyes are sunken in.  Notice how deeply-set  they are compared to the bridge of her nose:

Here's a GIF to compare Alexa's face to Nikki's:

I find Alexa's features more appealing overall.  I think it's because her head is slightly more rounded, without the dramatically sunken eyes.  And her eyes are more focused, too.  Nikki's pupils are huge.  She might need to re-think some life choices. 

I wonder if Mattel would have been better off if they'd leaned into the large head and scaled Nikki's noggin up a few sizes?  More like a Blythe doll?  But I suppose they had to be careful not to step too much into Blythe's turf.  They also could have made the head more conventional, to fit the new fashion body.

I wasn't very excited about Nikki's talking feature, since I'd already seen three of her phrases quoted on the packaging, but there was still one mystery phrase left!

We know that Nikki is stoked for straight, streaked hair:

And that jeans and jewels work every time:

Don't forget the shoe sensation, either!

But what's the last phrase?  Here you go:

That's very modest of you, Nikki.

This "Fashion 10" is wearing a groovy printed shirt paired with a long cranberry-colored corduroy skirt:

10 for the top, maybe, but not the skirt.
Both pieces close in back with velcro:

I love the bright print on the shirt, and it's well-made, too.  The black trim on the collar is very carefully sewn:

Inside, all of the seams are neat, and there's even a Diva Starz tag:

The best part of the skirt is the faux leather belt, with its sequin-filled buckle decoration:

The construction of the skirt also looks careful and durable:

Under the skirt, Nikki is wearing huge purple space boots!

They're so big!  But, unlike the earlier Diva Starz shoes, these boots are actually removable, which is cool.  The entire back of the shoe hinges down to release the leg--almost like a ski boot:

I've never seen doll shoes like this before!

The treads on these boots have holes that make me think they'll be compatible with the whole secret message shoe gimmick:

Underneath those ginormous boots, Nikki's feet are actually tiny:

And covered with red fuzz from the skirt.
Nikki can't stand on her own without the boots, so I had to put them back on while I examined her articulation:

Nikki has a plastic torso and bendable vinyl legs.  She has a total of seven points of articulation, which is a significant improvement from all of the earlier Diva Starz dolls.

She also has really pretty printed floral underwear:

Nikki's neck joint has simple rotation, so she can only spin her head around:

Her shoulders are rotating hinges, so she can lift them away from her body:

And spin them around:

Her legs have some bend in them, because of the soft vinyl, but her hip joints don't allow for much in the way of side-to-side splits:

She can do front-to-back splits, though:

She has internal click knees that can't quite bend to 90 degrees:

But she can sit in a chair reasonably well:

Nikki's articulation has its limits, but she's such a remarkable improvement from the Mini Diva Starz, I find it hard to complain.

Nikki is about 11 inches tall without her shoes, and a good inch taller with them.  So she's approximately the same height as Lena, but her head is about four times as big:

What's up, Biggle Head.
Just from eyeballing the two girls together, it seems possible that some items of clothing could be shared between the Fashion Divas and modern Barbie dolls.

A more relevant comparison, though, is probably between Nikki and a Barbie from 2002.  The closest I have to this is the Barbie from the 2005 Tanner set:

I was discontinued the year you came out.
These two are pretty close in size as well, and can share some items of clothing...although that flower shirt is pretty tight on Barbie:

What was Alexa saying about big pants and a tiny tee??
Those big pants are part of Nikki's extra outfit, which we have yet to look at:

The outfit includes a red corduroy vest with a sparkling denim collar:

The construction is similar to the other items of clothing that we've seen, but the vest is unlined, so the inside looks a bit messy

The vest coordinates well with Nikki's long-sleeved tee and skirt:

The wide-legged jeans are made entirely out of the same glittery denim that is on the collar of the vest.  For contrast, all of the stitching is bright pink, and there are some little pink metallic dots adorning the (non-functional) hip pockets:

There's also a cargo-style leg pocket on the right side that opens and can hold small things like Nikki's phone:

I think the jeans look great, but because of the friction in Nikki's soft vinyl legs, they're really hard to get on:

I'm getting Unique Eyes flashbacks.
As I struggled to pull the jeans on over her feet, I noticed that there's a blue net lining:

I'm not sure what the purpose of that lining is.  It's not going to help much with staining since it's the same dark blue as the denim, and it certainly doesn't make the jeans easy to get on.

I finally got the jeans in place, and they look really good:

I prefer the jeans to the corduroy skirt, so I took a few more portraits of Nikki like this:

If you look at the box photos, though, it seems like the vest should have the option to be worn without a shirt underneath:

It also looks like the pants should have a cargo pocket on the left side.
There's no front closure on the vest, though, so it's fine if Nikki stands perfectly still:

And less fine if she moves around:

The last thing left to explore is Nikki's message-carrying shoes.  I have to admit that I was pretty excited about these:

Each shoe comes with two different treads, a thick opaque purple tread and a smaller transparent red tread.  The secret messages are in the form of little cardboard squares with blue messages obscured by red text:

Like the game Password.
The treads have white t-shaped pegs that slot into either a hole on another tread, or one of two holes on the shoe itself:

The two holes on the bottom of the shoe.
The white pegs are connected to switches that are visible on the bottom side of the tread.  These switches can be moved, which will rotate the peg and cause everything to lock in place.  Here's the locking switch on a purple tread:

So, anyway, to reveal a secret message, you put the cardboard square text side down into the red tread:

Then the white tab slots into the bottom of the shoe's heel:

I found aligning the tread with the shoe to be a bit tricky, since the tab on the tread didn't easily slot into the hole in the shoe.  I got it done, though, and locked everything in place:

Now, when I turn over the shoe...

Ta da!
I can see the secret message!  It's not much of a secret, though, rather a suggestion.

There are two strips of secrets, but they're both the same.  I guess the idea was to put matching messages into the left and right shoes.  Twelve unique secrets would have been more fun, if you ask me.

I used one of the red treads to see what all of the messages are.  Here's the first one:

Pink brings puppy love!
I like puppies!

Here's the second one:

Long skirts are you!
I do like long skirts.  Thanks!

How about the next one:

Gloss lips in pink!
Is that a suggestion or an order?  Hm.

What's next?

Boys love you in blue!
So puppies love me in pink, and boys love me in blue?  Tough decision.

The last command piece of advice is:

Style your hair curly!
That's also good advice for me!  Not bad.  This is a cute trick, but it'd be more fun if there was a way to make your own secret messages and fit them into the shoes.

In addition to hiding messages, you can also just stack the shoe treads up as high as they can go:

The treads work with Nikki's purple boots, too, so there are a lot of different combinations:

And, using the pink hook that came with Nikki, you can make your favorite shoe combination into a zipper pull or keychain holder:

I wish it was slightly easier to fit the treads together, because this is a fun concept.  It's not often that I spend so much time playing with and enjoying doll shoes.

The sneakers open down the back the same way as the purple boots:

And they coordinate nicely with some of the colors in Nikki's shirt:

I tested out some of Nikki's other accessories, too, like her cool flip phone:

She holds the phone well, but because her elbows can't bend, it's hard for her to have a conversation.

The purse fits over her shoulder, but is a little short:

And the little plastic barrettes work well and look pretty:

The smaller accessories are fine, especially that flip phone, but it's hard to beat the shoes with all of their special features.

The Fashion Divas tower over both the original dolls:

Fashion Diva Starz Nikki (left) and original Diva Starz Alexa (right).
And the Minis:

Mini Diva Starz Nikki (left) and Fashion Diva Starz Nikki (right).
I was also curious to take some photos with dolls that either influenced or were influenced by the Diva Starz.

I see hints of Blythe in the original Diva Starz design, so this is a fun comparison:

Original Diva Starz Alexa (left) and Blythe Plaid Parade (right).
And there's good evidence that the Diva Starz inspired parts of the Bratz design:

Original Diva Starz Alexa (left) and Create-A-Bratz Sadie (right).
And then Bratz turned around and influenced the evolution of the Fashion Divaz!

Fashion Diva Starz Nikki (left) and Create-A-Bratz Sadie (right).
Bratz went on to inspire other Mattel brands like My Scene, too, and maybe even MGA's Rainbow High?

So, are Rainbow High dolls like the great grandchildren of the Diva Starz?  That might be a bit of a stretch, but it's fun to think about:

Fashion Diva Starz Nikki (left) and Rainbow High Jett Dawson (right).
I should be wrapping things up right about now, I know, but I have to share one more little thing that I did with Nikki.

You can't really give me a doll with screws in the back of her head and expect me not to unscrew them, can you?

Those screws reminded me too much of a customizable Blythe-style doll.

I removed the hair first, which allows us to see Nikki's sound activation button:

The scalp is made out of soft vinyl and was glued in place.  So it was easy to remove and easy to glue back together.  It's neat to see the rooting from this side!

The removable pate would make it pretty easy to re-root this doll, which I think would be an excellent upgrade.

Next, I took out the screws and got a little peek at Nikki's inner workings:

The back of the head shows how the button activates the little chip board.  And all of those wires connect to the voice generator:

In front, you can see the shape of the eye plate, and the wires that allow the lips to flash:

So swapping eyes between Fashion Diva Starz is possible, and customizing the eyes would be easy, too, since they can be removed:

I could do a few easy customizations here myself, but I wonder what tech-savvy people could do with the electronics?  Like with an Arduino, perhaps?  Interesting.

Okay, now I'll wrap things up!

Here are a few last portraits of Nikki by herself:

And with the other Diva Starz girls:

And here are all three Divas together:

Bottom line?  The rise and fall of the Diva Starz brand makes sense to me after looking at this trio.  Interactive Alexa is unlike any other doll I've reviewed, and I can see how she captured people's attention so thoroughly back in 2000.  Even now, when electronic dolls and toys have gotten quite sophisticated, I am still impressed by Alexa's design and functionality.  I'll even admit that I ordered a few more used dolls so that I could see how they interact with each other.

I'm also not surprised that the introduction of the Mini Diva Starz spelled bad news for the brand.  The smaller dolls are completely unimpressive to me.  Other than replicating the unusual facial features of the original dolls, the smaller characters offer nothing new, creative, or innovative.  And they have really bad hair.  They're like Happy Meal toy versions of the originals (Diva Starz Happy Meal toys actually exist, but I won't get into that).

The Fashion Divas are a lot more appealing than the Minis.  The hair fiber is still pretty bad, but the body has decent articulation, the fashions are detailed and well-constructed, and the secret message shoes, while gimmicky, are fun to play with.  I have some little complaints about Nikki, like the fact that her jeans are really hard to get on and her vest has no closure in the front, but I think the biggest problem with her, and with the Fashion Divas in general, is that the designers re-used the same stylized head mold from the previous versions of the doll.  When I first saw Nikki, without the context that I have now, I thought her head and body combination was laughably bizarre.  I literally could not understand the head shape, with those enormous, strangely sunken eyes, the complete absence of ears, and that super-high hairline.  I feel like if the head had been tweaked to be more conventional, Mattel might have been better able to compete with Bratz.

Regardless of the popularity of these dolls over time, they sit on an important branch of the doll family tree.  They have hints of both Furby and Blythe in their design, which is a fascinating mix.  The competition that these dolls inspired with MGA is also important.  Whether the Diva Starz were influencing Bratz dolls, being influenced by Bratz dolls, or shaping the way for other brands like My Scene and Rainbow High, I cherish them for the pivotal role that they played in doll history.


  1. I love the way Isla is side-eyeing Alexa while that latter smirks smugly, confident that she is indeed fab-a-licious.

    Despite having more extreme proportions, Alexa looks more "normal" than Nikki to me because she has a clear, consistent aesthetic (even if "mutant offspring of a Furby and a fashion doll" isn't a particularly appealing aesthetic to me personally). Comparing Nikki to Jett is even more interesting, because they share a lot of individual traits, but Jett combines them into a cohesive whole, while Nikki looks like someone stuck a mini Blythe head on a Barbie body. Maybe it's less that Nikki needed a more conventional appearance, and more that she needed to have her own design rather than just being a combo of other things.

    1. Reading your comment, I realized that Nikki reminds me a bit of the LOL Surprise OMG line. I know they're quite popular, but I can never really un-see them just being a baby doll's head slapped on an adult doll's body! I do think the OMG dolls look a bit more cohesive than Nikki does, at least.

  2. I remember these dolls from the dawn of my teenage years. Summer and Miranda were my favorites, but I didn't ask for any of 'em because I never liked dolls with batteries. Looks like I dodged a bullet with that second wave; Miranda's hair was styled so cute, so she nearly won me over.

    Regarding the Fashion Divaz and their clothes, I never tried mine on Barbie, but I know for a fact that they'll fit Takara's Jenny. In my doll's case the shoes even fit. LOL, thanks for this stroll down memory lane!

  3. Wow, I had the computer game but never the dolls. This was exciting to see, can't wait to read!

  4. Wow, what a throwback! Full transparency here: I always thought Diva Starz were some of the ugliest dolls to have ever graced the toy shelves. But like you emphasized in the review, they're definitely an important part of early 2000s doll history, as well as the history of electronic toys. I wouldn't be surprised if Carter Bryant was inspired by Diva Starz when coming up with Bratz. It's funny to think that the huge heads were probably needed for all the electronics, while Bratz simple has them as an aesthetic choice.

    Anyway, the short clips showcasing Alexa's abilities were really fun (it must've been so much work to capture all of that! Too bad she broke in the end). I'm all too familiar with Furby's electronic yapping, but I never really looked into everything the Diva Starz can do. It honestly surprised me how much the first Diva Starz were capable of, even if they might've been a bit demanding at times, and not all interactions went smoothly. All the possible interactions with the clothing and accessories were a smart move on Mattel's part. Who wouldn't want to unlock new ones by buying more and more fashion packs? On the other hand, losing accesories like Alexa's game and phone would've probably been a huge bummer and an immediate loss of play value.

    I think you're right that the mini dolls could've also been a perfect opportunity to expand upon the play features of the older dolls by making them interact somehow. I'm not sure how that would have worked technologically, but it definitely would've helped make the minis more popular (by the way, your technique of filming Nikki's phrases was simple ingenious, that got a good laugh out of me!).

    Fashion Nikki is a lot closer to my usual taste in dolls. Even though the electronic options were scaled back for these, I think the fabric fashions (which really remind me of Barbie Generation Girl fashions) were a nice addition, as was the message-shoes gimmick (something Mattel was probably reinspired by later on... Jane Boolittle, anyone?) I'm not surprised to see that you scalped her ;) The customization possibilities seem endless. I wonder if there's a doll customizer out there that could make me fall in love with the Diva Starz head mold... Google pulled up one somewhat cute result, but I'm not too hopeful overall, haha.

    Anyway, I'm off to rethink my life choices. Have a great-a-licious day, Giggle Head!

  5. Wow, thanks for the doll history. I remember Furby but these were totally off my radar. I always learn something interesting on your blog.

  6. You did it again, Emily--you picked a doll brand I personally think is creepy-looking and would never buy, and wrote such an entertaining review that I enjoyed reading! Your reviews are so much fun. The one feature I like is the secret messages-shoe thing. Even though the messages aren't great secrets and are pretty lame lol. I probably would have written my own, even though they wouldn't work with the red/blue thing. When I was a kid, I would hide little secret messages inside my school supplies like my ball point pens. Of course, being a homeschooled only child, the messages were all to myself lol, and sometimes I couldn't put the pens back together after I took them apart, but even so.... Fun times!: -D

    1. Oh, forgot to sign my name!

  7. These toys are definitely 2000s-era camp, with all of the regrettable outrageous traits of the era. The manufactured attitude, the bizarre visual aesthetic, the electronic interactive's a fascinating, hilarious time capsule and I have to appreciate that despite the dolls doing absolutely zero for my aesthetic tastes. I was only aware of the big dolls first, so seeing other facets of the brand was fascinating.

  8. So, I had the Alexa Diva Starz when I was a kid and I had her Fashion Divaz equivalent later on that I thrifted. The hair fiber is Kanekalon and on a non electronic doll that you can actually wash, a boil wash will make it super silky and beautiful with almost no effort. It's not the fiber I would have suggested for a doll that can't get wet, because fixing it once it's frizzed (or even right out of the box) requires boiling water.
    I didn't like the original Divas much because of the lack of articulation and the snap on clothes of it all, I just have always preferred dolls that move, so discovering as an adult that there were Fashion Divaz was both brilliant and massively annoying. They did make dolls I would have loved! ...But I never knew about it until I was an adult and they were discontinued and annoying to find complete.

  9. What would be more irritating: the nonsensical jabbering of a Furby or Alexa's vapid bossiness and self-absorption?
    I sort of remember Teddy Ruxpin; do you have XM-Sirius radio? On their eighties channel, they have some liners using Teddy Ruxpin's voice (or one meant to sound like him.) A kid asks a question like "Hey, Teddy. When you really really gotta go, what do you do?" And Teddy comes back wih a smart-aleck answer, in this case "I head for the woods!" to which the kid reacts: "SO it is true, I knew it!"
    As for the little articles written by the Divaz? "How to Catch the Eye of Your Crush" should not involve your naughty nails. Youch!

  10. It's always a good day for me when there's a new review here, and I especially am happy for a trip down memory lane like this!!

    I was in around first grade when these dolls came out, and I wanted one sooo badly, but my mom never let me (we had so many other chatty electronic toys, I'm sure she was tired of them!) But I *did* get to play with all of the online games they had on their website. I remember Diva Starz's site being super fun, as well as the old Barbie games, and another doll-oriented game site for a line called "What's her face", I believe? (We actually had those dolls! They were quite fun, the gimmick was using washable markers to decorate and stamp on their faces)

    I sometimes miss all the old toy-tie-in websites there used to be, I hope someone somewhere has an archive of the games and such! I'm sure it's just nostalgia making me think they were *that* fun, but I do love me a little time capsule of fun (which is part of why I love your reviews so much!)

  11. As someone who thrifted the og DivaStarz Nikki last year, this review was so much fun to read! I have no idea if my thrifted Nikki still works, but maybe I should give her a whirl! I also really like what what I see here from the fashion diva starz too so I guess I might be looking at ebay later,,,haha,,,,

  12. I'm a Diva Starz collector and as much as Mattel advises you to not wash their hair, since their hair is known to get frizzy (they have kanekalon hair), I feel like it's for the best to wash their hair with soap and conditioner, but be extremely careful when washing them, cover up all of the speakers and cover the doll up in a towel. If you're able to take the doll's scalp off, that would be a good thing to do as well.

    I love the review Emily! All of the points you stated are similar to my critiques with them. They're so niche but so charming!! ^^

    1. Please always always always take the batteries out before you wash any doll with electronic components. That way if you do get the speakers or electronics wet, you have a chance of drying it out before putting any electrical current through the components.
      Electronics and water mix fine - electricity and water do not. :)

  13. This doll review sent me on a goose chase for a doll I had as a child! They reminded me so much of a Disney Ariel doll I had. Upon digging, I found them. They were called Disney Pop Dreamers. I think the factors that reminded me so much of them are that the Disney dolls have very similar snap on clothing and electronic features. I can’t remember exactly what they did; I know it was music themed and I remember my Ariel talking as well. It looks like they made Belle, Ariel, and Cinderella. At first, I confused them for the same line and kept wondering when you’d talk about the “Disney spinoff” 😂 Loved the review as always, it’s so interesting to see bits of doll history! -SarahKoala

  14. I remember the adds for these, and the fashion line, vaguely, but did not know about the minis. I never understood as a kid the tie to the furby craze, but looking at it now, oh yeah, that makes sense. Interesting too, to see the Divas influence over time. They weren't around long, but man, they reached far!

    Giggle Head though. Rude, Alexa.

  15. Mn Girl here: as soon as I saw the head screws I knew what was going to happen. Emily, you just can’t waste an opportunity to deconstruct a head! …or knee come to think of it!

  16. My cousin had the original iteration of these dolls in the christmas they first came out and even then I found them so strange but also really interesting and futuristic. The website was also really fun to play on. Strange as they look the girls were fully in a lane all to themselves conceptually and original in a way that still stands out now. I'm glad they made a mark, however briefly, in doll history.

  17. Great throughout review as always, while i think their aesthetic definitively influenced other dolls their interactive gimmick was a lost potential that only fewer dolls used.

    There was only two doll line at my knowledge that used that interactive talking gimmick after diva starz, first the N-Style Girls a line of pop star, singing and talking dolls from 2001 that recognize the fabric clothes they are wearing, i think they were mostly release in Europe under different brand and language as Sindy and Tanya.

    The other more "recent" from 2015 was the Chatsters, closer to diva starz in proportion and feature minus the snap on fashion, they instead have two big led screen in their eyeglasses that are animated, unfortunately they're only two characters and the black one was exclusive to Walmart while another popstar version of the main one was exclusive to toys r'us. I think they were the closest to diva starz even if they didn't use the fashion feature that was the biggest selling point.

    Also idk if you remember me but i was the one who told you about the bratz secret date back then.

  18. In the year 2000, I was in high school, and no, me and my friends never went around saying anything was blank-a-licious.

    That sounds like what old ppl in the marketing department at Mattel *thought* teenagers said.

    Come the next year, tho, the term 'Bootylicious' became prevalent for a bit.

    Anyway, I remember when these dolls first appeared. I always thought they looked like potheads.

    The next time yours tells you to set the freakin' clock, set it to 4:20, and see if she's glad. 😉

  19. Thank you for another entertaining review! What bizarre dolls these are.
    Looking at them side by side, I'm 99% sure Mattel just repurposed the mini dolls' heads for the fashion line. The mold is identical!

  20. I love Diva Starz. I have been collecting them for several years, both interactive and fashion dolls. They are fun, cool and kitsch and they remind me of Blythe!

  21. I was absolutely in love with these dolls as a kid and am surprised by their recent popularity. I had an Amazing Ally too which I think speaks to my dad's love of new tech. We always had the latest video games or talking toys or remote controlled cars. He'd play with them just as much as us!