“I’m Really Fucking Resilient”: Erika Jayne’s Next Act
The showgirl turned star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills is here to promote her upcoming all-singing, all-dancing Las Vegas residency, and our editor-in-chief has questions. High points of the discussion include: boob tape, Fosse moves, falling down, and letting go. To quote Erika, “Fuck everybody.”
THURSDAY 10:45 AM JUNE 8,2023 LA
MEL OTTENBERG: Okay, so wait, what were you saying?
ERIKA JAYNE: The first concert I ever went to—I had to be in seventh or eighth grade—was The Virgin Tour.
JAYNE: Madonna. And the Beastie Boys opened up for her.
OTTENBERG: Yes they did.
JAYNE: I was a musical theater kid, and the thing I loved most was seeing a woman marrying musical theater concepts with pop music. That’s when I fell in love with Madonna.
JAYNE: And then I saw Blond Ambition [Madonna’s 1990 world tour].
OTTENBERG: The best thing my parents ever did was take me and my siblings to Blond Ambition. They said it was really controversial, but they felt like we needed to go. And my god—
JAYNE: Your parents are awesome.
OTTENBERG: Yeah. I was 14 and my siblings were like 10 and 11.
JAYNE: Are you Catholic?
JAYNE:There was so much Catholic controversy around Blond Ambition.
OTTENBERG: The burning crosses.
JAYNE: And masturbation, and singing in the church.
JAYNE: I have always been influenced by her. There was no one like her.
OTTENBERG: Is there one particular gag that stays with you forever?
JAYNE: Yeah. She sat on a boombox on The Virgin Tour and said, “This is my box.” I didn’t put it together until later that she was talking about her vagina. [Laughs]
JAYNE: What’s yours?
OTTENBERG: Okay. It’s summer 1986 and I’m at the beach in Nantucket and they have no cable there.
OTTENBERG: Entertainment Tonight comes on this really fuzzy little TV and they’re talking about the “Papa Don’t Preach” video. I remember the thrill of seeing the blonde hair, the bustier, no jewelry. That really changed my life. I wasn’t even watching the video, I was watching Entertainment Tonight, but I got it. I was like, “Oh, she just reinvented her shit to stay winning.” That stayed with me.
JAYNE: I loved her. She had that “Italians do it better” t-shirt on. With her belt and her high-waisted pants. Flats, maybe?
OTTENBERG: Ballet flats, I believe.
JAYNE: And Danny Aiello played her dad?
OTTENBERG: Yes he did.
JAYNE: The other video that really sticks out to me is “Open Your Heart.”
JAYNE: That was a moment in time. It was the fishnets, it was the peep show. I felt like I was at Show World [Center] on 42nd Street.
OTTENBERG: It was incredible. There’s an unauthorized 800-page biography of her that’s coming out and we’re doing something on it in this issue. What’s interesting—speaking of that video—is how queer it was. The little kid really wants to be her.
JAYNE: He idolizes her.
OTTENBERG: He’s doing all the moves, and they’re twins at the end.
JAYNE: It’s the journey of a showgirl. Inside, she’s super sexy. But then when she comes out, she looks like a boy.
OTTENBERG: Yes. That today is you coming in pink sweatpants and then taking it all off and only putting on bangles.
JAYNE: Hello! Why not? If you’re going to make art safely, you’re not making art. You’re supposed to be a little rebellious, a little over the line. I’m at a place in my life where I’m like, “Fuck everybody.” I’m very confident in my own skin. And I’ve struggled hard, especially these last couple years, to get to that good place.
OTTENBERG: What’s the funnest thing about doing something like this Vegas show? Doing it for the fans, or getting ready?
JAYNE: The process is always good, but there’s nothing like an audience because that’s when all of that rehearsal, the preparation, costumes, hair, makeup, all come together. And when the lights go down and the music starts and they see you, there’s nothing like it. I wish everybody could feel that exchange between performer and audience because it’s very powerful. It’s the only time I’m 100 percent present. I’m not thinking of something else, my mind doesn’t drift. Even sometimes during sex, I’ll drift off, but being onstage I’m present.
JAYNE: That’s why everybody likes to perform for an audience.
OTTENBERG: Getting costumes together for a tour is such hell. But then when you see them onstage, even if it’s not perfect, the people and the energy make you realize the perfection.
JAYNE: The perfection is the imperfection.
JAYNE: I learned this on Broadway. It is what it is. You’re out there singing over an orchestra with no help. Some nights you’re hitting all your steps, and some nights you’re tired. Eight shows a week, one day off. I mean, that’s a lot of work. But that’s where I learned to be present in the imperfection, and what you’re talking about is the humanity of it all. It’s not rote, it’s living and breathing.
OTTENBERG: When you were doing Chicago, did you learn the [Bob] Fosse moves from a master?
JAYNE: Yes. There is a school of thought on Fosse, and this show comes directly from the mind of [choreographer] Ann Reinking. She taught everyone, even down to how you hold your hands—like holding a soft egg. It’s very specific the way you move your wrists, the way you place your hands, the timing of it all. It’s subtle. And I used to ask my coach Greg Butler, “Why are these movements so small? They’re not going to see them in the back row.” And he’s like, “Honey, that’s the point. It’s subtle. It’s internal.”
JAYNE: But the Fosse philosophy all makes sense when you’re out there. They’re very serious about his legacy and the way that his choreography is carried out.
OTTENBERG: And what are you wearing in Vegas?
JAYNE: I have no idea. Want to help?
OTTENBERG: You’re in deep—wait, are you rehearsing yet?
JAYNE: We start in July, so I have two months. I’m super excited.
OTTENBERG: You should be. Do you have an ultimate Vegas diva icon inspo?
JAYNE: Cher. There are a lot of Vegas divas, but for me it’s Cher because Vegas is about showmanship. It’s as much costume as it is hair, makeup, the vibe, the music, the feeling. What do I want people to leave that theater feeling like after the Bet It All on Blonde show? I want them to feel good. I don’t know why they feel good, I don’t care. But I want them to say, “That was a fucking fun show.”
OTTENBERG: Right. Do you gamble?
JAYNE: I do. I like to play dice.
OTTENBERG: What’s the secret?
JAYNE: There really isn’t one. When you’re hot, you’re hot. I’ll tell you a good thing: Don’t be afraid to walk away from cold dice.
OTTENBERG: What’s the best cocktail to enjoy while playing craps?
JAYNE: Hold on. You can’t get too drunk playing craps because then you’ll give the casino all your money. You’ll chase something. You need to be feeling good, but not too good where you start making bad decisions. And when you’re not having fun, you have to leave the table immediately. Because it’s supposed to be a good time. It’s not supposed to feel like, “Oh my god, I need to make the rent on this next roll.”
OTTENBERG: Absolutely. Casino or Showgirls?
JAYNE: Ooh. Both, but Casino over Showgirls. It’s all about Sharon Stone as Ginger, the best female role ever written. Why? Because she was complicated, and women are complicated. And she was allowed to be horrible and loving at the same time. And I love Nomi Malone [Elizabeth Berkley’s character in Showgirls] because she was a fighter. And I love Cristal Connors [Gina Gershon’s character in Showgirls] because she was a cunt. I want a volcano onstage, just like Nomi Malone.
OTTENBERG: Yes. You deserve one. I like this hair.
JAYNE: Thank you.
SPEAKER 5: Do we pull this out more or do you want it more sleek?
JAYNE: That’s up to Mel.
OTTENBERG: What kind of shoe do you perform in?
JAYNE: You have to be in heels. You have to sell it. If you’re going to get out there and be sexy, you can’t be wearing no kitten pump. Nothing low. You can’t be talking about all this cunty shit and then wear flats. That’s just not a look.
SPEAKER 3: Do we need to tape your boobs?
JAYNE: Yeah, let’s tape them up.
OTTENBERG: Oh yeah. Taping, taping, taping the boobs.
JAYNE: There’s real art to taping boobs. I don’t think a lot of young women realize boobs do not elevate naturally. You have to pull them up.
OTTENBERG: Right. Even if the boob has been altered in some way—
JAYNE: It’s still—
OTTENBERG: It’s a case-by-case basis, like boob tape for this Michael Kors outfit we’re about to put on.
JAYNE: Exactly. We have to get the right shape and the right lift. [Long pause]
OTTENBERG: Okay, I’m watching the great taping of Erika Jayne. You deserve a volcano. I really see it. Oh my god. She’s doing the Cristal Connors moves. She’s erupting.
JAYNE: I don’t know many women that are fully symmetrical, and I’m not either. So, like, this girl, the right side likes to jump out a little.
JAYNE: I mean, look, they’re implants. But I’ll never forget when I went to the plastic surgeon for the very first time. I hated my boobs, and I was the only one in my family that did not have great boobs. I took my shirt off and he goes, “Oh, I see why you’re here.”
SPEAKER 5: Shady.
JAYNE: So shady. But he went on to become one of my good friends.
SPEAKER 6: I’m going to help you, alright? [The stylist lifts a bra over Erika’s head]
SPEAKER 3: Oh, that looks so much better.
OTTENBERG: Fantastic. Your boobs are too good for jewelry. Wait, I’m going to try on two things. I’m going to try on those silver—that’s kind of cool. I like that.
JAYNE: Oh, that’s very chic, don’t you think?
OTTENBERG: So wait, where were we?
JAYNE: We were talking about Casino.
OTTENBERG: Ginger versus volcanoes.
SPEAKER 4: Have you always been a blonde?
JAYNE: Yeah, a dirty blonde. Everyone in my family has naturally blonde hair and big blue eyes. So I’ve always been a blonde, but I’ve been this platinum for about a decade now.
OTTENBERG: How do you keep it from—
JAYNE: Falling off? You have to find one person and stick with that person.
JAYNE: And you also have to care for your hair. Get a wig if you want to be red for a week.
JAYNE: There are a lot of people that’ll burn your fucking hair off. They’ll take you from black to brown to red in one week. Bitch, you’re bald. They have no problem doing that in this town.
OTTENBERG: Have you ever had a wardrobe malfunction that was terrible at the time, that you can laugh about now?
JAYNE: One of my heels fell off in Vegas, literally the whole thing. And I thought, “Why is this shoe so comfortable?” Because my foot was on the ground.
OTTENBERG: Oh wow.
JAYNE: You just thug it out. When I was doing a lot of club work, I would perform at these parties, and the audience would be naked. I’m in this costume and I’d be like, “Oh wow, y’all have no clothes on.”
OTTENBERG: As I’m putting these earrings in you, I’m remembering that during my first-ever live performance with Rihanna, her earring fell out. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m never going to work with her ever again.”
JAYNE: Yeah, it happens. Listen, every performer has fucked up. If you haven’t fallen down onstage, if you haven’t sung a bad note, you’re not really performing. You cannot play it safe. When you’re out there and you’re in the moment, shit happens, man. You lose an earring. You split your tights. Your sparkles come off. Whatever the fuck it is.
SPEAKER 3: I feel like there’s been more music production fuck-ups than costume.
JAYNE: Yes. I have taken a tumble.
SPEAKER 3: Or the whole room with no power.
JAYNE: Yeah. You’re like, what the fuck is this? Then you can start telling jokes. You keep it going because if you don’t—
OTTENBERG: You lose them. I wanted to talk to you about testimonial looks because I think yours are possibly the most memorable to me. There was that full Jeremy Scott Moschino look. But the one that I really liked was in the season where you were having—
JAYNE: The latex?
OTTENBERG: The devil outfit. The blazer. Who makes it?
OTTENBERG: That is definitely my favorite testimonial look of anyone’s of all time, because it was speaking to the story and it was fun.
JAYNE: That’s what I said!
MIKEY MINDEN: We were like, “Divorced Barbie.”
OTTENBERG: It’s giving villain, it’s giving Cruella de Vil. It’s like, “I’m exploring the characters I’m giving you. I’m not a damsel. I’m not a hapless victim. I’m just me.” Is Erika Jayne more of a Nomi Malone or Cristal Connors?
JAYNE: She’s a hybrid. She’s a bitch when she has to be and totally a dreamer and a survivor.
OTTENBERG: What have the last couple years taught you?
JAYNE: That I’m really fucking resilient.
OTTENBERG: And when you’re on television—
JAYNE: It’s worse.
OTTENBERG: What’s that like?
JAYNE: It’s terrible when you see yourself struggling on television and you’ve made poor choices, like drinking too much or crying. But those are self-destructive choices that I made. And it lives forever and ever. And then you step outside and there’s paparazzi and you look like shit. You feel like shit. At some point you quit. You just say, “You know what? It is what it is.” You can’t fight it.
OTTENBERG: You mean you quit caring?
JAYNE: Yeah. It’s alright to be human. And it’s alright to not feel good. And it’s alright not to look good on certain days. And that’s just the way it goes. If you don’t accept that, you will fail. I didn’t want to become a reality TV show casualty.
OTTENBERG: So perhaps instead of quitting you just let go more?
JAYNE: Yeah. You fight for things that are necessary. You let go of other things. One thing about this whole process is that you become comfortable in your own skin. You know who you are and what you’re capable of doing and not doing. And there are days that just suck really bad and there’s nothing you can do except go to bed and wake up and try it again.
OTTENBERG: Do you have any advice for getting out of a funk?
JAYNE: Don’t do what I do. Don’t drink. Go to therapy. Get a psychiatrist if you need one. I did. I know medication doesn’t work for everybody, but it worked for me. You need to keep a close circle of friends that you really trust and the rest is on you. You have to want to get better. And you have to want to live and rebuild and re-discover. Otherwise you lose. And I just didn’t want to lose at the end of day.
OTTENBERG: You ain’t a loser, Erika Jayne. And this story is absolutely not over.
JAYNE: You also can’t let other people define your ending. I wasn’t going to allow a television show, or people that I worked with, or press outlets, tell me who I was and how my life ends. And I really didn’t care how cold I looked at the moment. It was so ruthless, I just knew that I had to put one foot in front of the other.
OTTENBERG: Are there stars DMing you being like, “Go off, blah, blah, blah.” Because I talk to people about Housewives.
JAYNE: Yes. They message me.
OTTENBERG: Rihanna. She’s a fan.
JAYNE: She’s very sweet, and I’m very grateful for her support.
OTTENBERG: Yes. Well, thanks, Erika.
JAYNE: Thank you.
OTTENBERG: It was so fun.
JAYNE: I had the best time and I hope to do this again.
OTTENBERG: It was a real honor, Erika Jayne.
Hair: Rikki Gash using Unite and GHD at The Wall Group.
Makeup: Adam Burrell using MAC Cosmetic at A-Frame Agency.
Photography Assistant: Brandon Noriega.
Fashion Assistant: Noah Chantos.
Tailor: Shirlee Idzakovich.
Location: DFLA Studio.