Naughty But Nice
“Pretty busy” is how Erika Girardi — known to most of the world as her alter ego, Erika Jayne — would describe her life, but the 46-year-old would also say she is living a dream that she doesn’t take for granted.
“I always grew up in the arts, but I never thought I’d be on reality television and I didn’t think it was possible for a woman of 46 years to gain this level of success in an industry that’s very youth driven,” Girardi explains to me. “So to be identified as ‘pop culture’ now, which is what Housewives is ... no, I never thought it was the way it would come about. I could not have foreseen it.”
Housewives, of course, is the Bravo reality show, The Real Housewives, a franchise that documents the lives of several wealthy housewives living throughout the United States. In 2015, the show’s sixth season, Girardi joined the Beverly Hills edition and quickly became a household name, thanks to her boisterous, eccentric and over-the-top personality. And like most reality shows, being thrust into the spotlight so quickly was a learning curve.
“I always say that the most important thing you need to do when you’re on a Housewives show is remember everything you said, because you’ll be called on it,” says Girardi. “Whether it’s on-camera, off- camera ... it’s always going to get back to whoever, so you need to be very clear about the conversations you’re having and the words you’re using. I think that Housewives has taught me a lot about myself.”
Erika goes on to explain that being on the show has revealed a new level of strength and tenacity in herself. “It’s not for everyone,” she tells me. “The reality about reality television is that you’re seeing a certain part of people’s lives, but there’s also part of the cast members' lives that you don’t see ... there’s just not enough time.”
And as Girardi tells it, though the average viewer only sees part of their lives, there’s a behind-the-scenes connection between the cast members. “All of the cast members are bonded by this unique experience of sharing our lives on television, so it is something that brings us all together. We all speak a certain language only we understand. In some ways, we all look out for each other and help each other. We share a special bond.”
Onscreen, she’s Erika Jayne: loud, boisterous and fun. Off-screen, however, she’s Erika Girardi: grounded mom to son, Tommy, and wife to husband, Tom Girardi, who she met while she was a cocktail waitress.
“Erika Jayne is just that: a performance persona,” Girardi explains. “I go to work as Erika Jayne and have a great time. My work is a lot of fun, but it’s also a lot of stress, physically and creatively. You have to work double hard to keep it going. But here’s the thing: I don’t think doctors come home as doctors. And I’m not walking around as my on-stage persona in my hair and in my makeup; I’m definitely leaving Erika Jayne in her space that she lives in.”
That space is everywhere the camera is, but as Girardi points out, “I don’t need to be her 24 hours a day. I love being able to embody that persona, and I also love putting her to bed because that’s a lot of energy. I don’t want to work that hard all the time. I want to be with my family, with my friends, with those who love me. Reality is talking with my son, walking my dog, being with my friends and being with people that I love and care about.”
While Girardi coyly tells me that “Erika Jayne is a fantasy come to life,” that term could be used to describe the trajectory of her own life. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she attended a performing arts high school and left home at 18, moving to New York with the hope of making it as a singer and actress.
Life didn’t quite work out the way she hoped in her 20s, and after two years of marriage, a divorce and a son, she moved to Los Angeles, where she met her current husband, Tom—32 years older, and a famed client attorney. Celebrity soon followed in the form of music (she made her Billboard debut in 2007 with her single, “Rollercoaster”) and, of course, reality television. It’s not the way she would have planned out her life, but she likes it that way.
“I think that we have to relieve ourselves of age,” she says. “People have individual journeys. It’s very easy to go to school, get a job and do the right thing, and that’s a path maybe most people take. But just because yours is different doesn’t mean you’re not going to end up in the same place, and you’re not going to be richer for it. And I wouldn’t change anything about my journey. It’s definitely different than others, but I’d much rather enjoy this level of success now than ... in my 20s.”
When I press her about how being older has played a role in adapting to fame, she responds with both confidence and pride. “I’m much more appreciative, I understand it and I know how to take advantage of it,” she says. “So I think for me, everything has turned out beautifully. And who’s to say that you blossom in your 20s? I feel really f***ing fabulous at 46, and I think people have a lot of worth, a lot of strength, a lot of knowledge and a lot to give in their 40s.”
Erika’s positive attitude is a big piece of this. She tells me that she believes that if you don’t wake up each day, grateful and looking forward to what you have going on, your future is going to look “bleak.”
“I don’t care how old I am, I have a lot of experience and I have a lot to offer. But that’s me, and that’s how I live my life,” she adds.
“You’re supposed to have a good time with it,” Girardi explains of her music. “I’m not making political statements. That’s really what my music is about. I can only talk, sing and write about what I am, and those are the things that are personal to me—the people in my life and the personal experiences I have,” she says. “And it’s my job to reflect that back out, and also make it entertaining and on a level that everyone can identify with.”
Never one to sit on the sidelines, she’s currently writing new music and she tells me an EP will be out next year. And in January of 2018, she’ll release a book under her alter ego’s name, called Pretty Mess, the same title as her 2009 debut album. The book is a tell-all memoir that recounts her beginnings as a performer and details her journey to stardom and fame.
Despite Girardi telling me “it’s very busy over here,” it’s safe to say that neither she or Erika Jayne are going anywhere anytime soon.
“One can’t exist without the other,” she explains. “They kind of go hand in hand, and that’s why I say there’s a little Erika Jayne in everyone; she’s just trying to get out. Whatever you are, there’s always the polar opposite living inside. We’re not all the same. It’s like a social chameleon in a way ... it’s just mine is on steroids.”
Erika recounts a story about meeting soap star, Susan Lucci, who played Erica Kane on the long-running ABC soap opera, All My Children, and how Lucci told her, “there’s a bit of Erica Kane in every woman.” It’s exactly the mindset that Girardi takes when she thinks about her two different personas.
Erika Jayne never quite appeared during our conversation, but it was easy to find hints of her in Girardi’s responses. So it’s no surprise that when I asked who Erika is (Jayne or Girardi) “in five words or less,” Girardi had no problem describing herself. “I’m fun, I’m loud, I’m snappy, I’m compassionate and I’m tenacious,” she answers.
Asked about her ride to success, she becomes more somber and reflective. “I don’t think anyone in any business can succeed alone,” she tells me. “A team is most important, and fortunately for me, my team is the closest people to me besides my family, besides my mother, my husband and my son. I can’t do it without them. They know that and I tell them every day.”
It’s clear that Erika doesn’t take the success she is enjoying for granted, either, and that she recognizes that she’ll look back at this part of her life as “an incredible journey.”
“What’s happening right now is once in a lifetime, and it would be stupid of me not to acknowledge how special it is,” she tells me. “This is what it’s all about.”
Or, in the words of Erika Jayne: “Next year’s going to be utter, fabulous chaos.” So far, Girardi is living up to her own mantra, and not just as a reality television star. Other projects include an appearance on Dancing with the Stars, as well as a musical career, which has garnered its own attention for its extravagant videos and titles.
Features Editor Andrea Towers
Photographer Jim Jordan with White Cross Productions
Stylist Dani Michelle, assisted by Rum Brady
Makeup Etienne Ortega Hair Castillon