‘Real Housewives’ star Erika Jayne lives out loud

Jessi Roti
Chicago Tribune

In cable network Bravo’s arsenal of binge-worthy television, no franchise is quite as captivating as “Real Housewives.” And on its Beverly Hills edition, there’s never been anyone like Erika Girardi aka Erika Jayne, the no-nonsense, full glam, electro-pop mistress she unleashed just over a decade ago who has since had her way with popular culture’s collective consciousness.

After joining the cast in 2015, Girardi/Jayne has become one of top reasons to tune in every week. Not just for the drama, but for the authenticity she added to the high gloss of the show with her fast-and-hard truths and keen self-awareness, and to catch a glimpse at what’s next for the performer, who was already established in the world of dance music. Jayne had eight No. 1 singles on Billboard’s club charts between 2007 and 2015 before being introduced to the world of “Bravolebrity” (her ninth, the biting “How Many F _ _ ?,” came in 2016).

Since September, Jayne has been on the “Pretty Mess” tour, traveling from Jersey City to the West Coast and back again through December. While she says she’s enjoying every minute of it, she remains focused on executing her vision and sharing her message with whoever’s on the dance floor.

Defined by six words (fantasy, love, escape, glitz, glamour and fun), Erika Jayne is less of an alter ego and more of a breathing, strutting state of mind: the belief that women — everyone — should live out loud, and not let others dictate when your best days are or when you’re too old to express and explore yourself.

Admittedly, it’s escapist idealism wrapped in latex and glitter, fishnets and platforms, hair extensions and faux eyelashes — but when the world is heavy, it’s exactly what you need to be reminded of to set yourself free, even if just for two hours or so.

It seems trite — dipped in privilege, since living and creating (and doing so without bounds) in Beverly Hills comes with a hefty price tag (about $40,000 a month, by her calculations) — but Erika Jayne is Erika Girardi at her core, just magnified by a thousand and found in the club, not the living room. Rest assured she’s in on the joke, but the pop artifice she projects is as real as it gets; it’s her journey, her business, and she’s not holding back.

“I started this as an art project when I was 35 and I didn’t know where this was gonna go,” she says via telephone from Los Angeles. “Yes, it’s an industry where your pop career is over by the time you’re 25, but that’s not what I was trying to have. It wasn’t about reclaiming, or a return to your early 20s — which, by the way, are not the best time in your life anyway. They are not. But I feel like, the attitude of ‘when your time is up,’ as a woman, as a performer, as a person of value, has also changed a lot. You don’t have to be held down by those old, stupid rules of, you know, if you’re not massive by the time you’re 21 you should forget it. That’s just not true.”

Girardi has been open about her road to Erika Jayne on “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” and in her best-selling memoir “Pretty Mess” (also the name of her lone LP), released in March. She recalls dancing on coffee tables at the age of 3 or 4, her mom shuffling her around to lessons, auditions or rehearsals, ultimately leading to Northside School of Performing Arts in Atlanta — and the inevitable move to New York City.

After a series of small television and film roles, marriage, a baby and divorce, she moved to Los Angeles and continued to act while working as a waitress. She then married attorney Thomas Girardi, known for cases against Pacific Gas and Electric that inspired the film “Erin Brockovich,” and began living what she refers to as “a lawyer’s wife’s life,” with him all the time and not meeting her own needs creatively or professionally.

After a chance run-in with a friend from high school and a phone call that led to a push in the right direction, the self-proclaimed “blonde bombshell” was born. But she still needed to win over an audience.

“The early shows were just like every artist’s early shows,” she says. “They’re small, nobody’s paying attention, there’s barely a stage cobbled together with terrible sound — but that wasn’t the point. The point was I was expressing myself and people gave me that opportunity and now it’s at the place where it is now.”

“Now” is a cult-like following on social media, appearances on “The View” on Tuesday, “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Young and the Restless,” performing at Christina Aguilera’s birthday party, her massive LGBTQ following dubbing her a “gay icon,” and hosting the recent American Music Awards’ red carpet on YouTube. But, Girardi said, there’s no resume to serve. She’s not out to prove anything; she’s here to entertain.

Songs like “Xxpen$ive” and “Cars” are fueled by pulsating rhythms, blaring with dizzying vocal effects and earworm hooks designed specifically to turn up to — and others, like “Painkillr,” to turn you on. It’s not any deeper than that.

“It’s always with a wink and a nod,” Girardi explains. “I know exactly what I’m doing and I feel like some people think I take myself really seriously. They don’t understand that the show, ‘Real Housewives,’ is entertainment. Erika Jayne is entertainment and that’s why way it should be digested.

“Kitsch, escape, there’s room for all of it,” she continues. “Everything has a place in this world and they’re all important. When times are dark, people want to forget. ‘Forget your troubles, come on get happy.’ Forget it, have a good time, worry about it tomorrow — it’s OK.”

Still, many fans and viewers take very real inspiration from her persona and performances; identifying with her sex-positive uber confidence and emphasis on the joy of feeling good, feeling present at any age, in any body — something Girardi didn’t realize she needed to be reminded of herself.

Recently, she discussed her journey in a TEDx Talk in Pasadena, California, centered around the theme of “transformation.”

“I said you know what, I thought my transformation was that I needed to transform into Erika Jayne, but my true transformation took place when Erika Jayne showed me that Erika Girardi was just fine the whole time,” she explains. “It was just a truer, shinier version of myself. And you can be fluent in both of your personas, both your personalities. We all have them, whether you’re on a reality television show or not, whether you’re 47 years old and you’re out there singing and dancing. You’re not the same person at home as you are at work, or with other people, so there are performance personas whether you acknowledge them or not.

And transformation is individual. This is my story, my experiences, doing this stuff. Maybe yours is something different, but they’re equally important.”

Erika Jayne (Erika Girardi)

Born: July 10, 1971, Atlanta, Georgia

Occupation: Singer-songwriter, dancer, TV personality, actress, author

Spouse: Tom Girardi (1999-present)

Children: Tommy Zizzo (23)

Website: ErikaJayne.com