By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Wednesday, February 16, 2016
Erika Girardi is a natural addition to the glamorous world of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills."
She lives in a huge mansion and carries herself in a sophisticated way. But she has an alter ego, too: risqué dance-club singer Erika Jayne.
Ans surprise! She grew up in Atlanta her entire childhood in the 1970s and '80s until she graduated North Atlanta High School, the same school that RuPaul, David Cross and Jasmine Guy attended.
Girardi, 44, said in an interview this week that she was part of the high school's performing arts program. "I loved growing up in Atlanta," she said. "It was an incredibly great place to come of age. I wish I could come home more often. I get there maybe three times a year."
What she misses most? The food. "I want fried chicken and mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. I want Southern cooking," she said. "It's hard to find here." She even misses the Varsity. "I could use an Orange Frosted in my life!"
After graduating high school, Erika pursued acting, singing and acting in New York City for six years (including time in various girl groups), then moved to Los Angeles, where she has been for the past two decades. She met her wealthy attorney husband Tom and they married in 1999.
She created the Erika Jayne character and began landing on the dance club charts in 2007. She has had several huge hits (the list is here.). She became friends with David Foster's wife Yolanda about nine years ago. When Yolanda suggested Erika join "Real Housewives" for its sixth season, she was intrigued.
On the show, she is opinionated and feisty but grounded and protective of her friend Yolanda. She gets peeved when some of the housewives question Yolanda's Lyme Disease as if she might be making it up. That has been a major drama point this season so far.
Suggesting her Southern roots, during this week's episode, she holds what she called a "Beverly Hillbillies" thematic for a party. It ends up being more like a carnival with shirtless hot guys as eye candy.
During the party, Yolanda, after hearing Lisa Rinna had spread rumors she was faking an illness for sympathy, gets super angry. Lisa apologizes, saying she was merely passing on somebody else's supposition.
"Sorry doesn't sometimes work," she says to Lisa at Erika's party. "You put it out in the universe and that sucks." Erika finally inserts herself in and defends her friend, demanding Lisa say who originally spread the rumor.
Erika's relationship with her husband appears strong. Fellow cast member Lisa Vanderpump on the show said they look like an unusual couple given the age difference but she said if it works, why question it? "I see why they're together," Lisa said. "He has a sparkle in his eye."
Erika's home features a chapel with very pricey religious artifacts. She said she's very spiritual.
Reality TV is a good fit for Erika. She said she's been performing since she was three years old in her grandma's living room: "I demanded to be introduced to come out and I'd jump on the coffee table and sing and dance. I was creating at an early age."
Her grandparents and her single mom (a mortgage banker) raised her.
"They were very supportive" of her entertainment desires, Erika said. "They encouraged me to do children's theater and sing and dance and teach ballet, to do what I love. My earliest memory was five years old, kindergarten. We had a dance recital. I then remember a kindergarten Christmas play. I was the lead character Mrs. Jingle Bee."
At Northside, she performed in several classic musicals such as "Pippin" and "A Chorus Line."
Two decades later, she created Erika Jayne. She designed a big show and has toured all over the country. ("Real Housewives" has featured her performances.)
"The show is over the top," she said. "It's loud. A lot of hair and costumes and heels."
So far, Erika said the show has been a major plus for her, expanding her audience and name recognition beyond the club scene.
"Erika Jayne has come out of the club and into the living rooms," Erika said. "I have so many more people I could not have ever reached before coming up to me telling me they love my music. They send their love via Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. They love 'Painkillr. They bought 'Crazy.' I love working out to your songs.' "
She had never watched "Real Housewives" when she joined the show.
"It's a great opportunity," she said. "It's a great platform for anyone. How bad could it be? "
And she doesn't hate any of the cast members in particular as of yet.
"There are great parts of each of these women," Erika said. "These women are smart. They're dynamic. They're successful. Not everyone is going to get along 100 percent of the time."
The show "is a lot of work. But it's a lot of fun. It's interesting. The most interesting part of it is how invested fans are in each of the women. That's definitely something I didn't expect."
Erika has no regrets so far of what she's done on the show. "I feel comfortable about my 'quote' performance," she said. "It is what it is."
Would she come back for another season? "They have to ask me first," she said coyly. "When asked, I'll give an answer."
"The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills," 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Bravo