Catching Up With La Toya Jackson
By Jason Lamphier
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.