La Toya Jackson has never been one to shy away from exposure. There were the Playboy spreads, the bestselling controversial tell-alls about her family, her stint as a spokesperson for the Psychic Friends Network, the countless television interviews and recent forays into sort-of-ludricous celeb reality competitions. But her latest venture, Life With La Toya -- a show that trails the musician and businesswoman as she looks for love, a baby, her new dance single, and a "mediocre" new home with a dual staircase -- makes a strong case for her official cult-gay-icon status (not that her fans -- and I'm one of them -- need much convincing).
Take last week's episode, for example, which went something like this: In an effort to get closer to her father, Joseph Jackson, La Toya, her business partner Jeffré, her Pomeranian Prince, and her bodyguard join him and Majestik Magnificent -- a family friend and "magician extraordinaire" -- for a camping trip. When Majestik rings her up with the idea, La Toya cringes and replies, "Can't we camp at the Four Seasons hotel or something like that?" (she's currently living in a hotel). Still, she complies, showing up in heeled camouflage boots, skin-tight sequined camo pants, a fur-trimmed leather coat, and a big-brimmed, To Wong Foo-style sun hat, demanding that her Louis Vuitton bag not be put on the ground.
Majestik informs La Toya that she has a bee on her shoulder, which sends her recoiling in horror and screaming like a maniac, before realizing it was a joke and settling into her trademark titmouse giggle ("Tee hee-hee."). Later, a couple of wasted, bedraggled interlopers show up bearing ginormous, frilly, straight-from-the-Ruby-Tuesday-happy-hour-menu cocktails. "What are you cooking?!" one of the gravelly-voiced drunk ladies asks, stumbling toward La Toya's table of barbecued fare, to which La Toya mumbles, "You can light a match and she'll blow up." (Tee hee-hee.) Camp, indeed.
But then comes the episode's -- and arguably the whole season's -- best moment yet, a scene that dimensionalizes both La Toya, who's long been the butt of the joke, and her elusive, stonefaced father. Seated together beside the campfire at night, La Toya (wearing a blindlyly white fur-trimmed dressing gown and fur hat, of course) confesses her love to Joseph, talks about their hearts speaking to one another, and asks if, after all these years, she can call him "Dad," adding, "I care about you so much, you have no clue." Joseph, visibly touched, says he doesn't mind one bit. It's a raw, vulnerable, bittersweet turning point for La Toya, one that outshines even the brightest, loudest sequin. "I wish everyone loved you like I do," Joseph says as the closing credits appear. After this, maybe everyone will. (Watch the clip below)
La Toya spoke to Out about guest judging on RuPaul's Drag Race, her Celebrity Apprentice feud with Omarosa, Bubbles the chimp stealing her toothbrush, and her brother Michael's tap-dancing ghost.
Life With La Toya starts out with you house-hunting while temporarily living at a hotel. What's hotel life like?
You know what? It's a lot of fun. I’ve done it for so many years. When I lived in Europe, I lived in a hotel. I lived in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée for a really long time before I actually moved into a permanent residence in Paris. I know a lot of people who live in hotels because it’s such a comfort zone for them.
What’s your room-service guilty pleasure?
A caramel sundae. A scoop of strawberry ice cream, a scoop of vanilla, and caramel sauce.
You've expressed certain criteria while looking for your next house. For example, a dual staircase.
That’s a must, and it’s so difficult to find. I like a dual staircases because it's romantic and elegant. The minute you walk in the door it captivates you, and that’s what's important.
You’ve had one in the past then?
No, I’ve had a single staircase, but not a dual staircase.
Where do you think that fixation comes from?
Watching Turner Classic Movies. I love old movies, the elegance of the long gowns the women wear. I love Louis XIV, XV, XVI -- anything in that period. I’ve also loved British history since I was around 16 or 17. When I used to fly, we'd go to Paris and London to pick up all these big antique clocks that we put in our home [the Jackson estate] in Hayvenhurst.
And then you had a cabaret show in Paris in the '90s.
Yes, at the Moulin Rouge. It’s an incredible show. Josephine Baker did it many years ago. There was glitz and glamor and feathers everywhere. Gowns that were, like, 30 pounds. We had a harness on our backs with big feathers as tall as the ceiling. We'd strut around, and some of the girls were topless, because in Europe being topless means absolutely nothing. You could always tell when the Americans were there because they’d be pointing at the girls' breasts. For Europeans it’s nothing. It's like looking at a pair of lips or eyeballs.
Very big eyeballs.
It’s a very sophisticated, elegant show. I had to sing in French. I wanted to learn French badly, but I wasn’t allowed to because of the person I was with, my manager and husband at the time, Jack Gordon. My days were basically spent learning the songs. Half the time I didn't even know what I was saying.
Speaking of singing, you've collaborated on a new single with RuPaul called "I Feel Like Dancing." Why weren't you a fan of the first single your music exec pitched you? To me it sounded a lot like a Rihanna song.
You're right, it did sound like a song for Rihanna. And that’s what I said when I first heard it: "This sounds like something for Rihanna, not me.” However, I don’t like to be forced to do something. When people push you into something of that nature, I think they start to feel like they have the upper hand, and it keeps growing and growing and growing. That was my problem.
Your dad really liked the first song.
Here’s the thing: My father had nothing to choose from. He only heard that one. [My producer] Courtney didn’t have another.
Ivy Winters. I have lots of them, I really do. My favorites are usually the ones where you can’t really tell, where their legs are long and skinny and their face is very smooth, where they just have a tiny, tiny body. I loved the way Raja put his clothes together, walking out with the long gowns, and he’d wrap his head. Raja is gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous.
Have you ever met a drag queen impersonating you?
Yes, I have. I think it was in New York, years and years ago. I saw it in Europe as well. It’s so funny because you look at yourself and you’re like, “I’m like that?” or “I move like that?" You see yourself so differently.
Your Wikipedia page says you've become a gay icon partly because of your “underdog status.” Do you consider yourself an underdog?
Well, no, not really. I think people are hard on people; they say things and get away with it. I don’t like when people discriminate against other people and what they want in life. When I look at certain people and see the expressions on their faces when they see a gay person -- how they’re being nice, but their actions are showing something quite different -- that disturbs me greatly. I want to walk up to them and say, “I know what you’re thinking. I see what you’re thinking. It’s wrong. You cannot discriminate this way.”
Well, you've dealt with some nasties in your time. A certain Omarosa comes to mind.
You never know who’s gonna be on Celebrity Apprentice, who your competition is gonna be. They throw these villains in there, these negative people, and they just become wild. We have bullies on the show, and I don’t like that because it’s very difficult to work together in a negative environment. I like to keep things as positive as possible, but when you have someone constantly trying to sabotage what you’re doing, it makes it quite difficult.
I noticed. So how vile is Omarosa? And how much does she play it up for the cameras?
What I saw, and what you guys did not see, is so much worse.
Yes, so much worse. It was just nonstop, and I don’t know how anybody could be that unhappy with themselves and their lives to treat other people that way.
Do you have regrets about not bringing Omarosa into the boardroom the week you were fired?
In all fairness, I really believed Donald Trump would not get rid of her. I think he bought her crying. At the same time, it’s a show, and you have to remember in the show she’s the villain. He’s not gonna get rid of the evil one who’s after everybody, because he wants those ratings. I was thinking like a producer, that he couldn't get rid of her.
But Trump said if you'd brought her into the boardrom with you that he would have fired Omarosa.
I know he said afterwards he would have, but none of us truly know. When she started crying, I thought, Oh god, he’s buying it.
In Life With La Toya you claim you’re a germophobe, so I was surprised when I went back to watch that famous deleted scene with you from Brüno  in which you eat sushi off a random guy’s chest. How did that all come about?
You know what? When I think about that I’m like, What were you thinking? It was all a lie. They had lied. They wouldn’t allow any of my people in [that room] with me. I went in alone, and they locked the door and I was thinking What’s going on here? It's the weirdest thing because you kind of believe it’s real, but the other part of you is thinking, Is this, like, a trap? Is this a game?
What were you told going into it?
I wasn’t eating, for one, because I don’t eat rice. I was trying to call my business partner and couldn’t. I was nervous, thinking, Where’s the front door? Can I open it and run out? We were misled. [My business partner] Jeffré was highly, highly embarrassed. He said, "I promise they told me I was coming to talk to someone about accepting an award." They did the same thing with Paula Abdul. I don’t know what happened. It was like a bad dream.
In one episode of Life With La Toya, your mother, Katherine, talks about your perfectionism, recalling how your brother Michael used to go into your room and jump on your pristine white bed in your perfect white room. What's one of your fondest memories of growing up with Michael?
You have no idea, because we did a lot of things together. We used to go on long drives. We use to enjoy playing and joking. There are tons of memories. I can’t even point any out. But yes, he used to do that. He’d also bring Bubbles with him, and Bubbles would use my bed as a trampoline. And not only that. I used to start screaming because Bubbles would go into my restroom and grab my toothbrush and start brushing his teeth. I’d go, “Noooooo! You can’t do that!”
You were on Chelsea Lately a few weeks ago discussing how people can hear your brother's ghost tap dancing in your childhood home.
It was security telling me they hear someone tap dancing above, and I said, “Well, Michael used to tap dance over there for two hours straight.” And they said, “You’re kidding. He did?” Security had no clue. He said, “When we go up there it stops, but when we come back down it starts all over again.” And I said, “That’s exactly where he would do it, for two hours every Sunday.”
Do you really think it's Michael's ghost...or something else?
No, it’s definitely him, because someone else that was there, staying in one of the guestrooms underneath that room, said they heard it too, and they would not have made that up. I absolutely believe it. I’m still far from going over there, but I was like, “Next time you hear it, let me know. I wanna come."
That’s crazy. I also have to ask you, where has Janet been? Any chance you two would collaborate on a song?
We used to write together years ago. I’m up for anything I feel would work. She does her own thing, and I do my own. But no, I’m open to it.
What's been most challenging about filming a reality show of your life?
There are times when I’m not expecting certain things. Like, someone asks me a question I’m not expecting and, boom, there it goes. But other than that, it’s been a lot of fun. It’s just everyday life.
Life With La Toya airs Saturday nights at 10:30 p.m. EST on OWN.