Erika Girardi became an instant favorite when she made her debut on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Introducing herself as “an enigma wrapping in a riddle — and cash,” the star offered viewers not just one Housewife to love, but two.
There was Girardi herself — the down-to-earth, loving wife of top-trial lawyer Tom Girardi who rises above the drama and always has an understanding ear for her fellow Housewives to seek for advice. And then there was her musical alter-ego Erika Jayne — the bold, sexpot singer with nine No. 1 singles, legions of dedicated fans and an unapologetic attitude.
The two personas couldn’t be more different. But somehow, the 45-year-old flawlessly manages each — even though Erika Jayne’s provocative image was an initial shock to her fellow Beverly Hills Housewives.
“I’ve become rather desensitized to how much sexy I put out,” Girardi tells PEOPLE. “So when people are shocked about it, I’m like, ‘Really, why? I thought it was great!’ “
“It’s all relative,” she continues. “Living a more quiet conservative life, you come across one of my music videos and you probably are aghast, wondering, ‘Who is this woman and how is she possibly fitting in with these other women?’ But at the end of the day, I have much more in common with them than one might believe. We’re all performers at heart on that show.”
Growing up around musical theater, Girardi decided to create Erika Jayne in the mid 2000s. She was on a break at the time, focusing on life with her husband, whom she married in 1999. “I lived Tom Girardi’s legal life with him first 10 years of our relationship,” she says. “I went to every legal organization, every event — all of those groups he belonged to and those speeches he gave.”
The triple threat in the making still vividly remembers the moment she and her husband, now 77, first discussed her desire to start creating again. “He said, ‘I think that would be wonderful — go,’ ” Girardi recalls. “I think that’s what makes marriage work — when you allow each other to be strong in their chosen profession; when you support each other and love each other.”
“They broke the mold when they made Tom for sure,” she adds. “Tom is an incredibly special human being. He’s not only a great husband — he’s also a great father, a great friend, a great mentor, and a hell of a f—ing lawyer. He’s so good.”
Girardi released her first single as Erika Jayne in 2007. Titled “Roller Coaster,” it would become her first Billboard No. 1 hit on the Hot Dance Club Play chart. Pretty Mess her 2009 debut album,— and 10 club-ready singles — would follow suit.
At the same time, Girardi was balancing family life — including raising her 24-year-old son, Tommy Zizzo, as a single mom. Now a cop, Zizzo lives with Girardi in California. “My ex husband and I are very close, and we have a great relationship,” Girardi says. “Everybody’s very supportive — my mother, my ex husband, Tom, my son — we’re all very close.”
If she knows the struggles of being a single mom, it’s because Girardi was raised by one herself. Her mom, Renee Chahoy, has already appeared on RHOBH and will return later this season.
“My mother taught me to dream big,” Girardi explains of Chahoy, who raised her in Atlanta. “My mother taught me that anything was possible. She really inspired me in a lot of ways and continues to inspire me. She just finished her degree, graduating on the President’s list, Dean’s list … she’s great. She’s amazing.”
And while Girardi has no plans to go back to school herself, balancing her music career and RHOBH is keeping her busy enough. With the show, she tries to remain above the drama on the show as best she can — no matter how much people keep talking about whether she is or isn’t wearing underwear.
“It’s my goal to have a good time and be kind to everyone,” she said. “I always want to have fun and smile and laugh — I feel so fortunate to do what I do that I try to avoid all the petty drama for as long as possible. I don’t like it.”
“I don’t enjoy fighting with people, she added. “I don’t enjoy having conflict. I do enjoy getting out there and living my life and performing and creating and having fun and being with friends and making connections that are true and lasting and inspiring. If I’ve ever inspired one person, then I feel like I’m on top of the world.”
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Even if she gets tangled up in in drama (she promises “PantyGate” will rear its ugly head again), the exposure has given her one thing — a new crowd of unexpected fans at Erika Jayne’s shows.
“Straight women are coming to my shows!” she says. “College women, women my age — it’s totally blowing me away! I did a meet and greet in Denver after a show and there was a lot of women my age there. They had come out for the night — some with their husbands, some with girlfriends, others with their best gay friends. It wasn’t like that before Housewives.”
“Now I’ve got real housewives!,” she joked. “Legit housewives and their husbands. It’s really cool. They all have a great time — it just makes me really happy.”
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills airs Tuesdays (9 p.m. ET) on Bravo.