The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Erika Jayne has the bluest eyes I have ever seen. They are the eyes of a Siberian husky times fifty, a kind of blue that laughs at the unspoiled waters of a tropical paradise. And for the hour that we sit in Café Luxembourg on the Upper West Side, each of us nursing a single margarita, those eyes are fixed on mine.
Erika Jayne’s real name is Erika Girardi—Erika Jayne is what she calls her alter-ego, a pop star, and that’s also how fans refer to her. As Erika Jayne, Girardi has released nine number-one hits on the Billboard Dance Charts, with the obvious highlight being a track called “How Many Fucks?” (For the record, Jayne gives no fucks, specifically “none, not one, zero, zero, zero, done”). Her debut album, Pretty Mess, gave a name to an entire Erika Jayne philosophy, described as a mix of “fantasy, love, escape, glitz, glamour, and fun.” Her upcoming memoir, out March 20th, bears the same title.
The release of said memoir—coupled with the return of RHOBH for its eighth season—is the reason we’ve met to drink the one margarita. Jayne is a favorite housewife who loves and is beloved by LGBT fans, and she’s known for clever one-liners and a refusal to take herself too seriously. Case in point, her collaborator on the memoir is Brian Moylan, who recaps Housewives for Vulture. He is someone who is paid to make fun of her, accurately describing one of her looks as “Harajuku hoochie starring as the leader of a color guard for the first high school on Mars.” Jayne not only forgives these jabs—she embraces them. This genuine self-awareness, plus a lack of tolerance for bullshit, makes her a unique reality star. It’s bracingly refreshing for fans. “All I can be is myself,” she says. “I feel comfortable in my own skin, which I think is maybe what translates.”
Girardi created the Erika Jayne persona in 2007, when she was in her mid-thirties. The Atlanta native spent her entire childhood and adolescence performing, and she wanted to give it another shot. Had it not worked out, the world would have been deprived of stuff including “pat the puss,” a dance move that is exactly what it sounds like.
Jayne has been married to famed “Erin Brokovich” lawyer Tom Girardi since 1999, and they also live with her 25-year-old son, Tommy, who serves as an LAPD officer. “The day that he went on the street for the first time, I said to him, ‘You know what, I remember always having big dreams and never really achieving them. You’ve achieved one of your biggest goals tonight,’” she tells me. “So you won’t ever walk around with that ‘What if?’” The creation of Erika Jayne is the embodiment of taking on the “What if?” a longtime dream made real later in life.
But it doesn’t faze Jayne to be a sexy pop star at the age of 46 in a notoriously ageist industry. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” she says. “I think all that’s bullshit.”
“There are no rules anymore,” she continues. “And if you believe that there are, then you’ll be left out.”
But a lot of people still believe in outmoded rules. For example, on RHOBH last season, Jayne was involved in an overblown controversy-cum-plotline dubbed “pantygate.” She didn’t wear underwear one night, fellow housewife Dorit Kemsley’s odious husband saw and gawped, and slut-shaming ensued for the next several episodes. When I ask her about it, Jayne is quick to say that Kemsley recently sent her a nice text and that she respects all the housewives. But also, it sucked. “I didn’t do it on purpose, and [no one should] ever insinuate that I did,” Jayne says. “Because I’m the type of bitch who’ll tell you if I did it on purpose, I really would. I’d have been like, ‘Yeah, so what?’”
“We’re all adults,” she continues. “You saw up my skirt, but please don’t say that I did it on purpose, please don’t insinuate that I was sitting there with my legs open, please don’t insinuate that I may be for sale. That was the only thing that bothered me.”
“It takes a special breed of woman to go out there and open themselves up, and that’s really what we do,” she says. “The court of public opinion should not matter, but we’re all human. And sometimes things sting. But I think you have to be willing to shake it off, and to not fall in love with the applause either.”
Jayne is clear-eyed about the franchise as a whole, especially for someone who never even watched before joining the cast. “I did know who the women were, though,” she laughs. “It’s impossible to escape.”
She’s also frank about how good the Housewives exposure has been for her music career, but she also understands that it obviously won’t last forever. “You want to walk out without a scar,” she explains. “Because one day, your run will come to an end.”
After we’d been at Café Luxembourg for about an hour, Jayne says I’ve asked her a lot of questions and that it’s her turn. “I always ask this,” she says. “Why do you watch The Real Housewives? Is it escapism? Do you feel like you’re looking in on something? Do you identify?”
Why do I watch The Real Housewives? Why does anyone? There are lines that are pure gold, and there’s the whole wine-throwing, extreme camp factor; it fills a basic need for melodrama, and I want to know what the hell is up with everybody’s wigs.
But Jayne and I both agree that there is a positive to The Real Housewives franchise as a whole: it’s a rare show that embraces groups of women over 40. Fans are obsessed with women who are dealing with the complications that one accrues the longer one goes on living, women who are handling concerns like children and illness and divorce, problems that would blow the very tiny minds of the cast of Vanderpump Rules.
Jayne thinks that Housewives has, to a certain degree, given validation and visibility to middle-aged women—though she rightfully hates that term. “Imagine being told that the best years are behind you, that’s it, you’ve peaked, forget it,” she says. “Are you fucking kidding me?! I die at what, 85, 90? So what, I’m supposed to spend the next 50 years of my fucking life wishing I was younger again?”
“Housewives has shone a light on women of middle age, that you’re not out of the game, you’re not old, you’re not put out to pasture … You’re lively, you’re doing things, you’re aggressive, you’re making money, you’re recreating yourself,” she says. “That’s what I think you can take away from the Housewives. That’s the positive side of Housewives.”
“And that’s why,” she says, margarita glass empty and blue eyes violently flashing. “You put up with the bullshit.”
PRETTY MESS (SIMON AND SCHUSTER) IS AVAILABLE ON MARCH 20, 2018.