Do you think you know everything about Little Women: LA star Terra Jolé? Well, think again!
It might seem like the reality star shared all the details of her life with the public over the last 15 years – first appearing on MTV’s True Life in 2002 -- but she’s revealing new secrets in her memoir, Fierce at Four Foot Two.
“Surprisingly, I couldn't believe how many stories I had to tell. In fact, we left a lot of stories out,” Jolé shares with ET in an exclusive interview about the book, joking that she thought fans knew everything about her too. “There are tons and tons of stories that I have not shared with anyone.”
While she is used to being very open about her life on television, there’s a big difference with sharing her story in print. “There’s no editing. It's you. It's not like what a producer may interpret as you,” she explains. “[A book] is one hundred percent your thoughts and it's just there.”
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The Dancing With the Stars alum began work on the book while competing on the dancing show. She spent at least three hours a day writing and reminiscing about her journey, from growing up as a little person (or LP, as she writes in the book) in Texas to living out her dream of becoming a Hollywood star.
“Finding the time was definitely super difficult, but I feel like telling the stories was even harder,” Jolé says of juggling DWTS, motherhood and writing the book. Sharing these stories – which include being one of the only LPs in her hometown, the discrimination she faced and her struggles to fit in because of her dwarfism, losing her father after a long battle with alcoholism and revealing her own DUI – was very emotional and sometimes embarrassing for the 37-year-old. “I get into the moments that I feel like really changed me as a person,” she reveals.
Jolé tells ET that her primary focus is on inspiring others with her story. “I didn't really want to mirror my book after anyone else. And I feel like the one thing I didn't want to do was make my book corny. I'm not going to do a book called I May Be Little, But I Am Fierce,” she says with a laugh.
To make sure the book fully reflected her vision, the reality star had to fight to make it happen. “I actually had a lot of arguments with a lot of people regarding that because they felt like the book wasn't going to sell with this title [Fierce at Four Foot Two]. And not just the title, but the image that I put on it,” she explains, saying that the original concept for the cover was too generic for her taste and she wanted the look reflect her personality. In a word, she wanted it to be fierce.
ET read through the star’s memoir and here are seven things we learned about Terra Jolé's real reality.
1. Her first step into reality TV was on MTV's True Life.
Jolé appeared on the third season of the hit docu-series after seeing a post on a Little People of America listserv that said the show was casting. “They were looking for little people with unusual jobs, or who were considering limb-lengthening surgery, or who worked in the entertainment industry. I contacted the producer and told her that I was moving out to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of becoming a singer. She must have liked my story because right away she wanted to send a film crew out to San Antonio to film my journey,” she writes. In August 2001, Jolé packed her belongings into her car and drove the 1,200 miles to LA with only $200 in savings. “They followed me out to LA, where they filmed my early struggles to find work; to this day, people still recognize me from that episode.”
Another fun fact about her time on True Life – that’s how Jolé met former Little Women: LA cast member Traci Harrison Tsou.
2. She is proud to be four-foot-two now, but she used to lie about her height – and say she was shorter.
Growing up as a little person was never easy for Jolé, who reveals that she was once excluded from a high school show choir group because of her short stature. In fact, her struggles with discrimination based on her size didn’t end once she reached adulthood or Hollywood.
“Turns out that there’s not a lot of mainstream work in Hollywood for four-foot-two blondes with dwarfism, no matter how talented you are,” she writes.
“Funnily enough, I’m actually too tall for a little person in the entertainment industry. I was always so proud of my two inches, but ironically, when I got to Los Angeles, I learned that casting calls for little people are always capped at four feet,” she continues. “I ended up having to list myself as 4’ 0” on IMBD so I wouldn’t keep getting shut out of auditions.”
3. She reveals her DUI arrest and opens up about spending a night in jail.
Jolé writes that she was arrested for a DUI after drinking too much champagne at the wrap party for Jackass 3D. Jolé confessed that this was the story that she was most nervous to share and does not specify exactly when the arrest occurred. “I mean, it's not something that I'm very proud of,” she acknowledges to ET. “There are actually quite a few moments in [the book] that I'm very embarrassed about. But I feel like they're growing experiences and I feel like, if you share these moments with other people, they'll know how you overcame them and, hopefully, if they experience them as well, they’ll have a solution.”
She writes of the arrest, “The last thing I remember clearly is being at the wrap party feeling fun and carefree as I danced the night away with the cast and crew. Then nothing, until I came to in my car somewhere around 3:00 am. I was parked at a meter, puking my guts out, and a cop was asking me if I was okay.”
After spending a memorable night in jail, Jolé says her license was suspended, she was ordered to pay $10,000 in fines, she attended mandatory AA meetings and sobriety classes and she had to complete 30 hours of community service.
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4. She talks dating as a LP and why she and husband Joe got engaged twice.
Jolé opens up about her first love and first major heartbreak at 18, falling for an average-height boy named Sam. The two had been friends for years, but after their first kiss, everything changed.
“The truth is, once we kissed he could never quite make the leap to the two of us going out on our own together in public,” she writes. “He insisted he wanted us to be together, but then he would backpedal and say things like, “I feel like I’d be holding my daughter’s hand instead of my girlfriend’s,' which made me feel insecure, like he didn’t think I was good enough.”
Jolé reveals that she even considered limb-lengthening surgery because the rejection she felt was so painful, but eventually she made the decision to walk away from the relationship. Over the years, Jolé says she dated other average-height men (some who were more comfortable with her height than others) and fellow little people. But her love story with now-husband Joe Gnoffo occupied the most of her time and heart.
Jole and Gnoffo met at a party in 2000 and immediately connected, though both were in relationships with other people at the time. That first meeting set off nearly 15 years of ups and downs for the couple. They performed onstage together, lived together and Jolé says the romance was “very intense” and “stressful”.
Gnoffo proposed to Jolé on the way to a Smashing Pumpkins concert while they were working together in Las Vegas several years later. “On the way to the venue, he pulled over and put on ‘1979.’ When he got out of the car and asked me to dance, I was like, ‘Are you crazy?’ But then he looked at me and out of the blue asked me to marry him. It was the most romantic moment of my life,” she shares.
Unfortunately, the romance didn’t last. After countless arguments and both parties being unfaithful, Jolé decided to leave, breaking up with Gnoffo at a diner and moving out of their apartment. A year and a half went by before they eventually rekindled their friendship. In the meantime, she shares that they both dated other people, joking that she “was getting out and dating like a hooker, [but] deep down I wasn’t happy without Joe in my life.” Jolé says that the couple found their way back together for good because “he never gave up on us.”
“We were never really planning on getting married. It was like a Kurt Russell, kind of Goldie Hawn thing. We were never really wanting it,” Jolé explains to ET about their relationship. But about a month before their daughter, Penny, was born in 2015, Gnoffo proposed to Jolé again. She writes of the surprising change of heart, “I knew I was ready to spend forever with this man. Joe was, and still is, the love of my life.”
5. Jolé made a living reselling thrift store goods and once earned $1,200 from reselling Louis Vuitton luggage.
Jolé’s Hollywood journey was as varied as the jobs she took to support it. Aside from her work as a touring performer for Radio City (in New York, Denver, Detroit – where she met future Little Women co-star Tonya Renee Banks and Gnoffo) or as a "Mini" performer in Las Vegas, Jolé took a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet. At one point, Jolé moved back home to San Antonio and worked as a dog groomer. She also worked as a medical insurance underwriter.
“I was a total thrift shop junkie, so when I wasn’t doing Mini Britney my biggest income came from hunting for designer purses and then reselling them on eBay,” she writes about her talent to tell the real bags from the knockoffs. Her most popular items were signature pieces by Louis Vuitton. Jolé explains that if you know what you’re doing, you can double or quadruple the money a thrift store would make by selling the pieces online (earning between $500 and $900). Her biggest sale ever came from a two-piece set of Louis Vuitton luggage. “They were totally beat up; the linings were ripped and the big piece had a huge stain. I thought maybe I could make a hundred bucks resale because the shipping alone was a hundred, but I ended up making a little over $1,200 in all. That was a great week.”
She adds, “I still have my eBay store and it costs $80 a month to keep it, but I always feel like anything can change at any moment and it’s something I can always go back to if the entertainment work dries up.”
6. How she missed her big chance to perform as Mini Britney with Britney Spears herself.
Jolé’s road to fame and fortune really took off when she began performing as Mini Britney Spears. She came up with the idea in 2007 after touring for two years as Mini Paulina (Stanley) in a band called Mini Kiss. After taking $300 portraits at a J.C. Penney studio in San Antonio, Texas, dressed in a schoolgirl outfit and pigtails, Jolé began to be paid to perform her Mini Britney act, making upwards of $8,000 to perform overseas. Jolé eventually built a repertoire of mini characters including Mini Katy Perry, Mini Madonna and, her personal favorite, Mini Lady Gaga. In December 2009, she got the call that rapper T-Pain wanted her to join his arena tour for his circus-themed show. She’d work as a “special guest performer” faking out the audience to make them think Britney was coming onstage.
“A couple of weeks into the tour, I got a call from my manager that Britney’s people had reached out to say she was interested in bringing me on her upcoming Circus Tour as Mini Britney,” she writes. “I was beyond excited, but once they found out I was touring as Mini Britney with T-Pain the offer vanished. It was such a disappointment to lose that opportunity. As much as I was enjoying touring with T-Pain, it would have been amazing to perform as Mini Britney alongside the pop princess herself.”
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7. Behind the scenes of Little Women LA and why she’d already registered a title for the reality show.
Long before the networks came calling, Jolé began to work on the concept for an online series about a group of LP women. She brought the idea to her best friend and former Radio City castmate, Banks, asking her to join the series, proposing a specific title.
“’It has to be Little Ladies: LA,’ I insisted.” she writes, saying she was already thinking about spinoff shows. “I could already see the hashtags: #LLLA, #LLATL, #LLNY. I wanted to secure my idea, so I registered Little Ladies: LA with the Writers Guild of America.”
From there, it was about rounding out the cast with LP ladies Jolé had encountered over the years, with Jolé detailing how and why each woman was chosen for the show. In fact, the group was already planning to film their first episode when the networks came calling. Since the show debuted in 2014, the franchise has expanded to include several spinoffs including Little Women: NY, Little Women: Atlanta and Little Women: Dallas and a spinoff focusing on Jolé and her growing family. Jolé had imagined it and the rest is history.
The success of the show (which was retitled Little Women: LA by the production) was no surprise to Jole, but it was still difficult adjusting to the new reality. She admits, “One of the hardest things about watching the show that first season was how driven it was by our fights. Going in, we thought it was going to be a show about six friends, but at times it can seem more like a show about six frenemies. I don’t think any of us had any idea that the friction between us would become such a feature of the show.”
However, the one thing Jolé does not do in the book is bash her co-stars. She’s saving the drama and catfights for the cameras; it's better for ratings.
To find out even more about Jolé – how she felt “underestimated” on Dancing With the Stars, her journey to motherhood and her Hollywood stories with Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus and fellow LP Verne Troyer - Fierce at Four Foot Two is available in stores now.