It’s hard to believe it’s been over 10 years since Erika Girardi unleashed her alter ego, the no-fucks-giving singer and performer Erika Jayne, to have her way with our collective pop consciousness. Since then, she’s made the most of her time living among us mere mortals by piling up nine No. 1 hits on the Billboard Dance Chart, playing shows around the world and instructing her fans on the finer points of approaching life with unapologetic self-love ― not to mention how to properly “pat the puss.”
Fresh off her New York Times best-selling memoir, Pretty Mess, and the release of her new single “Cars,” the “Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills” star recently chatted with HuffPost about the musical moments that have had the biggest effect on her life and made her the fearless performer she is today.
When I reach back in search of my earliest musical memory, I see myself at 3 or 4 years old dancing on top of the coffee table in my family’s living room while the theme song to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” or “Romper Room” played.
Music was always playing in my house as a child, thanks to my mom — she was truly my first musical influence. She was a classical pianist who taught piano, and I learned to love all kinds of different music from her, from Barbara Streisand and Nat King Cole to the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and Rod Stewart.
The first song I remember being truly obsessed with was Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” when I was 7. My mom used to wear Daisy Dukes and Dr. Scholl’s and when we would go driving in her red 442 Cutlass, I would bounce in the passenger seat while we sang that song back and forth to each other as she drove.
I didn’t know what that song was really about then — or what it meant to be “sexy” — but from the time I was little, I’ve always had a big personality. I was really friendly and I would walk up to just about anyone and engage them. “Flirty” isn’t the right word to describe it — I was just a completely open kid who loved to smile and put on a show.
My life as a performer in the more traditional sense began at an early age. I started dance class when I was 5 years old, and then I started doing children’s theater and musicals soon after that. It was really my dance teachers who deserve a lot of the credit for my taste in music because that’s where I first heard the kind of music that was being played in the clubs. I remember being 10 years old and listening to Sylvester’s “Do You Want To Funk” while doing stretches in class.
Madonna came to Atlanta with her Virgin Tour when I was 13, and my friend Kim’s older sister had an extra ticket, so my mom let me go to the show. It was the first time I saw the marriage of what I was learning in my dance classes with pop music and musical theater — truly telling a story on stage through music — with incredible fashion and her incredible personality and I just thought, “My God! That’s it!”
I knew right there and then that that was what I wanted to do. It was everything I loved — or was starting to understand that I loved — combined into one unbelievable performance. I got to see her right when she was really breaking through into the music industry and I’ll never forget that. It’s like when I saw Prince perform in the ’80s — I was just like, “Get the fuck out of here!” You can’t compare anyone or anything to the kind of moments those artists created, and it inspired me and changed the way I thought about what I wanted to do with my career — and my life!
By the time I was attending Northside School of Performing Arts in Atlanta, a whole new world of culture and music had opened up around me. After I graduated, I moved to New York City and found myself auditioning for these girl groups that were popular at the time. It wasn’t long before I fell in love and had a baby and then got a divorce and moved to Los Angeles.
I know it’s a little unusual to rediscover your creative self at 35, and it’s definitely even more unusual to still be doing it at 46, but that also makes the success I’ve had that much sweeter. Erika Jayne
I was still working and auditioning when I got married again to my second husband, Tom Girardi, who is a very well-known and very successful attorney. Almost instantly, I assumed his life and was suddenly living the life of a very prominent lawyer’s wife. It was very comfortable and really great and I was experiencing the best of everything, but at the same time, I was in a kind of a coma because I wasn’t creating anything. I was learning a lot from Tom about the law at its highest level — he’s an incredible teacher and a scholar — but it was a totally new kind of education and a totally new life for me.
One day, I got an invitation to a show from a woman I knew who was also married to a lawyer and I thought it was interesting that we were in such similar situations, but even more interesting to me was that at the bottom of the invitation was the name of the show’s director and he happened to be a friend of mine from high school. So I called him up and I said, “What are you doing?” and he said, “No, more importantly, what are you doing?” I said, “Nothing — except shopping and going to dinner.” And he said, “I think it’s about time you started creating again,” and that’s how Erika Jayne was born. From there, it was just about me putting one foot in front of the other, and it’s taken me where I am today.
From the beginning, I knew if I was going to create, I was going to do it with no limits and no rules and no regulations. I wanted to create from the heart. The three words I was using when I first started my career as Erika Jayne were “fantasy,” “love” and “escape,” and that’s what the “Pretty Mess” album was all about. Later I added “glitz,” “glamour” and “fun.” Those are the six words I use to describe Erika Jayne.
Obviously, when you start out on a project, you’re finding your way — it’s the beginning of something. As you go further and further along, you start to develop as an artist and you feel more in touch with everything that you’re doing and it explodes from there.
Before we go any further, let’s be clear about something: Erika Jayne is 100 percent me. She’s obviously a stage persona — a larger-than-life, over-the-top stage persona — but she’s still, at her heart, me. I think there’s a little bit of a showman in all of us, and it’s just a matter of whether or not you bring that out of yourself — or allow it to show itself. We’re all creative in our own ways, and either that part of you gets nurtured or you ignore it. I know it’s a little unusual to rediscover your creative self at 35, and it’s definitely even more unusual to still be doing it at 46, but that also makes the success I’ve had that much sweeter.
The sexual, sex-positive side of Erika Jayne is really who I am at my core. Erika Jayne is an act of rebellion — so when people tell me, “No,” I push back a little harder. I love a challenge, because it makes me want to take it even further. When people criticize me for being sexual and say, “You’re too old” or “You should act your age” or “You shouldn’t be wearing that,” then I look at those people and think, “Uh huh. Sure. Of course YOU would say something like that.” [Laughs.]
It’s very easy to stand on the sidelines and talk about people who are doing things and creating things. It’s much harder to actually go out there and do something or make something and risk something — whether that’s your livelihood or your reputation. So, I’ve decided I’ll live my life this way and you can live your life whatever way you want. When people are coming for you, you just have focus on the positive things that are happening in your own life. Let people be miserable without you — they can handle their misery all by themselves. You don’t need to have any part of that poisonous nonsense.
But you do need people who will support you and offer you advice and sometimes call you on your shit. I learned a lot from my mom. Tom has been an incredible mentor in many ways, but he doesn’t ask me my opinion on his legal cases, so I certainly don’t ask him how he feels about Erika Jayne’s creative choices. Maybe that sounds a little harsh, but we’re very supportive of each other and he trusts that I can handle my creative life — just like I trust that he can handle his legal life.
When people criticize me for being sexual and say, 'You’re too old' or 'You should act your age' or 'You shouldn’t be wearing that,' then I look at those people and think, Uh huh. Sure. Of course YOU would say something like that.
And, truth be told, a lot of my mentors were gay. I grew up around a lot of gay people, and they were the ones who were responsible for introducing me to club music, which obviously changed my life forever. I feel less judged around gay men than many of the women I know and associate with. My gay friends accept me for who I am. They understand where I’m coming from and what I’m trying to do and they’re able to separate the showgirl from the reality. They give me total acceptance, which, believe me, is not something you come by every day. I have these outrageous parts of my personality and they celebrate me for them. Other people in my life have told me or — worse — told others about me, “Well, you know, I don’t really approve…” It’s like, really? You don’t approve? Well, guess what? Fuck you! But I don’t have to worry about that with my gay friends.
Gay people have really had to fight hard to be accepted, and there’s a sense of understanding in that community and they have no interest in judging me for being anything other than myself. I’m thankful for that and thankful for the courage they’ve given me. As easy as it may seem to be me when you’re looking in at my life from the outside, the courage to be totally and unapologetically myself doesn’t come easy. Here I am, a 46-year-old woman who will not apologize for who she is or what she does, and that can make people uncomfortable. But I refuse to alter Erika Jayne in any way to make anyone else feel comfortable. That’s just never going to happen. So having these men in my life who have inspired me by taking the same stand and saying the same things about themselves — “This is who I am and that’s not going to change for you or anyone else” — makes me feel incredibly grateful.
As far as the future goes, there are so many things I still want to do, but it all comes back to performing. That’s my true love. There’s absolutely no feeling in the world like when the house lights go down and you pop up on stage and everyone goes fucking berserk. In those seconds before the show starts, I’m like a racehorse in the starting gate. Everything is electric. I still get nervous — if you don’t have a little bit of nerves, then you’ve quit caring about your job. Nerves are a sign that I still care about what I’m doing. But there’s really nothing that compares to that rush of adrenaline that crashes over you the second you hit the stage. You could maybe compare it to a billion dollars or a really good game of craps or the best sex of your life — those four things are pretty hard to beat.
But for me, for now, it’s about the performance. It’s always about the performance. I feel like I’ve been given such an unusual opportunity at this point in my life, so as long as I’m here, I’m going to grab it and live it and make it the most it can be.
This piece has been edited for clarity and length.