"I'm an enigma wrapped in a riddle... and cash," says Erika Girardi during the opening credits to season 6 of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
It's her first season, but Girardi—whose alter ego is dance pop performer Erika Jayne— looks like a natural: She poses with her hands on her hips while wearing an expensive, skin-tight gown. The camera cuts to a scene of her singing on stage as Erika Jayne, in a similarly barely-there bodysuit amidst a shower of glittery confetti, before finally showing a shot of her hugging a (much older) man at a restaurant table.
Within the first few episodes on which she's been featured, Girardi has flown cross-country on her private jet and casually worn a nearly $200,000 Cartier ring to drinks. Fellow cast members have been quick to throw shade at Girardi for both the age difference in her marriage and for her wildly provocative music video for her song "PAINKILLR." (Think Madonna's "Erotica" meets Britney Spears' "Stronger," on a bed with a giant fan.) But despite this outrageous behavior, Girardi has already emerged—at least in my eyes—as the most obviously genuine of the Beverly Hills batch. She's earnestly shared the story of how she met her husband—the famous class-action lawyer Tom Girardi, who, at 76, is 32 years Erika's senior—while she was working as a cocktail waitress; they at least appear to be truly happy together. In another episode, Girardi used the previously mentioned private plane to pick up fellow cast member and friend Yolanda Foster from the Cleveland Clinic after Foster had to have her leaking breast implants removed.
Plus—whether you love her or hate her for it—Girardi is honest. "Being poor sucks, and being rich is a lot better," she says unabashedly during one on-camera interview. You have to admit: She has a point.
In a phone interview, Girardi told me she'd never watched any of The Real Housewives franchise before joining Beverly Hills cast, though she knew who the major players were. When Foster, her longtime friend, suggested she come on the show, Girardi took the call from producers and decided to sign on.
Erika Jayne is all woman, all the time. She's heels, hair, glitz, glamour, and, most importantly, she's fun.
She's handled the unique difficulties the show has brought into her life in stride. When Real Housewives of New York City cast member Bethenny Frankel made a guest appearance on Beverly Hills, she took the gossiping to another level by comparing Girardi to a hooker. Girardi responded to Frankel's criticisms in a confessional interview. "Is she being a bitch?" Girardi looks coyly off to the side as she asks. "Or is she just being..." Girardi turns to face the camera as a smirk creeps across her face, "jealous?"
Girardi coolly brushed off Frankel's derogatory remarks in a special blog post on Bravotv.com as well. "I am not ashamed of who I am or the ideas and lifestyle I represent," she said. "I will not be fearful of what others may think or say, because at the end of the day they do not have the courage to be themselves. They live in fear of being judged by those who are of little consequence."
While much of the criticism focuses on her music career, Girardi says Erika Jayne is an exaggerated character who is meant to represent the "inner bad girl" that lives within every woman. "Erika Jayne is all woman, all the time," Girardi told me over the phone. "She's class and ass; she's fast. She's heels, hair, glitz, glamour, and, most importantly, she's fun."
The development of this alter ego felt natural. Girardi grew up in musical theater, and as soon as she graduated from North Atlanta High School's performing arts program, she moved to New York to pursue her love of performance. "I started going to night clubs, and I was always the one dancing and jumping around by the DJ booth," she said. "I fell in love with what is now known as dance music."
As Erika Jayne, Girardi has racked up eight number one singles on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart. As Erika Girardi, she has already delivered several one-liners that have gone viral in the few episodes that have aired so far.
Sometimes, the two personalities converge. In one scene, Girardi offers a sultry stare into a mirror while trying on a new body suit and says, "Eat a dick." She then goes on to describe the outfit as "snatchy"—and she's not talking about the synonym for "grab." For six years, Girardi has worked with the creative director and choreographer Mikey Minden, who has also made appearances on The Real Housewives. On a recent episode, while going over her choreography, Minden tells Girardi to "pat the puss." It's clearly a dance move they'd used before—and audiences loved it.
"'Pat the puss'," Girardi said over the phone, laughing. "We're editing my music video right now, and Mikey was like, 'Who knew "pat the puss" would be such a thing?' We've been saying it for so long, it flew right over our heads."
I think the reason they cast the women that they do is that there is something else going on besides home or family.
Promoting her music career was a crucial part of Girardi's decision to join the Real Housewives cast. "Everyone on our show is in business, whether it's clothing or acting or restaurants," Girardi said. "I think the reason they cast the women that they do is that there is something else going on besides home or family. Each of us has our own story separate and apart from that."
Ultimately, despite the resistance she's seen from other cast members, Girardi believes the show has exposed her, and her music, to a whole new audience around the world. Before becoming a "Bravolebrity," Girardi said her fan base had mostly been "the LGBT community ranging from ages 14 to 45."
"Listen, the LGBT community has always been on the forefront," she told me. "They're the tastemakers."
"My music is fun," she continued. "It's meant to get you to really get out there and dance and just have a good time."
Although I had initially imagined Erika Girardi and Erika Jayne as two distinct personas, as we wrapped up our conversation, I was starting to understand how they were two sides of the same coin. "Bye, sweetie," she told me as we were hanging up. "And you remember to pat the puss, alright?"