Erika Jayne’s ‘Pretty Mess’: 7 Revelations From ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ Star’s Memoir
By Brice Sander
Simon & Schuster / Matthias Vriens McGrath
She’s an enigma, wrapped in a riddle and cash, but now the riddle is a little less complicated to solve.
Erika Girardi wipes away the sequins and spray tan of Erika Jayne to get raw and real in her new memoir, Pretty Mess, out now. The book gives fans an intimate look at chapters of Erika’s life she’s never really shared before, from her upbringing in Atlanta, to her journeys through entertainment and motherhood.
Erika described the book as “How to Survive Being Erika Jayne” to ET back in December, explaining, “I think that you get to know a little bit more about me, my personal story, and you get to hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Now, fans of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills won’t get any dirt on her co-stars or behind-the-scenes secrets about the show, nor will they find a chapter on what plastic surgeries Erika has and hasn’t had done (for the record, nose job and boob job). But, what they will get is a better understanding of the woman they let into their living rooms for an hour each week. Here are seven things we learned from Pretty Mess.
1. She once paid the bills as a sort-of stripper.
When Erika turned 18, she moved to New York City with her mother, Renee, to pursue a career in entertainment. She had just graduated from performing arts school and was ready for her big break. That “break” never really came in NYC, though she did make guest appearances on shows like Law & Order -- she was actually the first person to ever “die” on that show!
To make ends meet, Erika took up the less-than-glamorous job of go-go dancing in New Jersey, where alcohol sales are banned at full-nude bars.
“To get around this law, there are many go-go clubs and bikini bars,” Erika shares. “It was creepy and sad. This was not the glamorous life that I had imagined for myself. I thought, This is so gross. Why am I here? … it was depressing as hell.”
Erika eventually quit “shaking it at Shakers” when she landed a steady cocktail waitressing job in Manhattan.
2. Her son was raised in New York City, even though Erika lived in Los Angeles.
Erika has been pretty tight-lipped about her life as a mom, rarely speaking of her son on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, other than the occasional information drop, like the fact that he’s a Los Angeles police officer who lives with her and her husband, Tom Girardi, in Pasadena. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a close bond. In fact, it seems safe to say it's the complete opposite for the pair.
Erika was only 20 years old when she welcomed her son, also named Tom, into the world with then-husband Thomas ‘Tommy’ Zizzo (Yes, there are three Toms in her life). She and Tommy split when little Tom was only about 18 months old, and Erika moved back in with her mother. Single mom life in the city proved to be stressful for Erika, so she decided to move to Los Angeles -- but leave her son back in New York.
“I was always very responsible with our son and put his needs first,” she writes. “Putting my son first was what moving was all about. If I was going to take care of him and provide the future for him that I wanted, I knew that I had to get away and find a better life and a more sustainable existence for myself.”
Erika’s son spent summers, spring break and alternate Christmases and Thanksgivings with her in California, and the school year in New York, a choice she let him make for himself when he was six years old. But Erika made sure never to miss an important moment in his life.
“I would fly back to New York every seven to ten days,” she notes. “Even though his school was back east, I was at every teacher conference, school play, graduation and any other event I thought I should attend.”
Eventually, Erika’s son moved to L.A. to be with her, and pursue his dream of becoming a cop.
3. She and her husband do not have a prenup.
Erika met her husband, power lawyer Tom Girardi, while working as a cocktail waitress at the now-defunct Chasen’s. After a year of waiting on him, Tom finally asked Erika out, and she says they’ve pretty much been inseparable since. She moved into the home they now share after just a few months in the relationship, and the rest is history.
Erika is quick to shut down idle gossip that she’s with her husband for money, or married an older man because of long-dormant “daddy issues.” Instead, she writes at length about the connection she and Tom share, how they really, truly are best friends and connect on a different level than anyone else she’s ever dated. If you need more proof of how real their romance is, look no further than the fact that they don’t have a prenup.
“It never came up,” she says. “Let’s be serious, Mr. Girardi knows the law so well that a prenup is not going to do s**t. As any lawyer will tell you, there is always a way around a prenup, even if you think it is ironclad.”
The couple also doesn’t wear wedding rings. Erika has one, but rotates it in and out of her jewelry box just like any other bauble. Tom never had one.
“Listen, a wedding ring does not have magical powers,” she offers. “It is not going to stop anyone from doing something.”
4. “The Erika Jayne Project” was “an act of rebellion” born out of complacency.
After marrying Tom -- in just a civil ceremony in 2000 at the couple’s country club, no big wedding -- Erika put her own professional endeavors on hold to make a home. But, as her son got older and she had less to do at the house, Erika was ready to work that creativity muscle again. Or, as Erika puts it, "reawaken the dragon inside.”
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The “Erika Jayne Project,” as she calls it,” came to life after Erika received a postcard in the mail promoting a concert directed by her old high school pal, Travis Payne. After they graduated, Travis went on to become a major dancer and choreographer, working with everyone from Madonna to Michael Jackson. Erika took the postcard as a sign, called up Travis and they got to work. The pair, along with music producer Peter Rafelson, created a full, self-funded plan to make Erika’s alter ego a reality, with no one anticipating that Erika Jayne would eventually top the Billboard charts with nearly a dozen dance hits.
As for how Erika Jayne was named Erika Jayne -- contrary to what some might think, “Jayne” is not Erika Girardi’s middle name -- the story is pretty simple. Peter simply said to Erika that the only name that flows with “Erika” is “Jayne,” so she ran with it, even though she admits she kind of hated it at first.
5. She was ready to retire “Erika Jayne” just before she joined Real Housewives.
After a few years of doing everything she could think of as Erika Jayne, Erika Girardi felt a little burnt out with her onstage persona and her future prospects. She took a meeting with a music executive to see what her next step should be, if anything, and he told her it was time to “pivot.”
“He explained that I could get back on the treadmill and do what I had been doing all over again, but I probably wouldn’t get more spectacular results,” she recalls. “It’s like I had reached the ceiling with what I could do by creating and releasing my own music. He was confirming to me what I was already thinking: I was running out of possibilities of advancement.”
Erika left that meeting thinking, “All good things must come to an end.” But then, Housewives came into her life.
6. She never read her contract for The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
Erika joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills for season six after Yolanda Hadid gave her name to producers. She was hired for the show just two weeks after Yolanda recommended her -- and she was offered “the full contract,” meaning she would get to hold a diamond in the opening credits, something Erika didn’t even understand at the time. She had never watched an episode of the series.
Erika showed up for her first day of filming and blindly signed the contract, something her husband, Tom, actually advised her to do.
“They’re doing more for you than you’re doing for them at this point,” he told her. “Just sign the paper and hand it back.”
“To this day, I don’t think I’ve ever read [the contract],” she says. “I might have signed my soul away and had no clue at all. Oh well, who needs a soul anyway?”
Erika calls joining Real Housewives “the smartest pivot I ever made.”
7. Dancing With the Stars was kind of a nightmare for Erika.
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Another opportunity that came Erika’s way -- and came fast -- was Dancing With the Stars. She competed on season 24 of the ABC series, despite her creative director, Mikey Minden, and assistant, Laia, warning her against the experience.
“I’ll support you no matter what,” Mikey told her at the time. “But I’m not sure you’ll like it.”
Well, Mikey was right.
“Dance has always been an escape for me,” Erika writes. “Now, I couldn’t escape it. It was like everything I loved and that people love about me -- being sassy, bold, out there, myself -- was now being criticized again.”
“Week after week, I could just feel the noose tightening,” she adds. “I told Tom not to come to the ballroom to see me dance. I had a bad vibe about what was happening and I didn’t want him to see me like that.”
Erika wound up in fifth place on the show and walked away with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Still, she does not regret the experience, admitting she would sign up for an “all-stars season” in a heartbeat.