In the first part of our interview with Taya, we talked love and Bret. Below, we tackle the other issues that arose as a result of her time on the show: accusations of superiority, the difference between her work and stripping, the Penthouse issue, her tumultuous dealings with the other girls on the buses and her portrayal in general. Most surprisingly, Taya isn’t sure if she’d like Taya just based on what she saw on TV…
You were often accused of acting superior to your peers. What do you say to that?
I’m not saying that there weren’t situations that I didn’t think I was above. If someone’s throwing themselves on the ground, drunk and stupid, I would never do that. I’m above that situation. It doesn’t mean I think I’m better than anyone. I’ve been down my own path, and I’ve made good and bad decisions. I have no right to judge anyone’s path. I’m not Mother Teresa. I think I have a different coping mechanism than some people.
Did your frequent distinguishing between what you do as a burlesque feature entertainer and what strippers do arise because you actually care about your craft? That’s how I interpreted it, anyway, after reading your blog.
I used to be a stripper. Not knocking strippers, but it’s not a part of my past that I’m particularly proud of because I never felt comfortable doing it. I hate using the word “stripper.” I have a lot of friends that are dancers and the term “stripper” seems a little derogatory. When I say “stripper,” I cringe a little bit. Maybe that’s what people are picking up. I’m not cringing about strippers; I’m cringing about the terminology. I know a lot of great women who’ve put themselves through college, supported their children. It’s kept people off welfare. I’ve seen girls get doctors degrees being dancers. So there’s no shame in it. But for me, I’m a professionally trained dancer. I was given a college scholarship for performing arts. There was always that entertainment value to burlesque dancing that appealed to me. If I have to do this, I want to do something that doesn’t make me feel like I’m not being entertaining. When I was at a strip club, I always got the feeling of being looked at as an object or having someone lust after me. When I’m onstage, I have more people compliment my theatrics, my show, my music, my lighting, my choreography, and my props. The total entertainment value of my show as a whole. When I take offense to that terminology, it’s because I’ve progressed past that. I’ve tried to take the skills that I’ve learned as a stripper and that industry and move it over. I do a lot of mainstream venues that are burlesque. Burlesque is in the eye of the beholder. Nudity isn’t really what my show is about. In a four-song set, I’ll be naked for one song. I’m not doing lap dances. I’m not doing the things that define a stripper’s income. If a stripper goes to work and just does her stage performance, she starves. Because of Penthouse and the other things I’ve accomplished in my career, I’ve been able to build a brand so that venues go, “We want to bring her in because we know she’s a draw.”
I think maybe your peers gathered that your position is a matter of status and responded negatively to that.
There are different levels in any field. Here’s a good analogy: Robert Schimmel is a very established comedian. Good friend of mine. Nobody would go up to Robert Schimmel and ask him to do an amateur open mic night. Is being a burlesque feature entertainer better? Not necessarily. It’s just different. I have little girls, 18 years old that are just getting started coming up to me and saying, “How do I get to be a feature?” I tell them it’s not for everyone. I talk a lot of girls out of it because for some girls, it’s not financially and economically feasible. It’s a big investment in costumes, props, promo. It’s like starting a small business, and not everyone can make money doing it. If stripping is a short-term thing for these girls, it’s better if they stick with it so that they don’t have a lot of overhead and so they can make their money and go home.
Did the girls beat you down at all? You strike me as particularly sensitive.
In my real life, I bounce back and forth between working and my son. I don’t have a lot of close friends. In this situation, I liked a lot of the girls, actually. Even the ones that annoyed me: I got it. I got that they added value to the show. Obviously, I didn’t run in Ashley and Farrah’s circle, but there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t laugh at something they said or did. I still can’t stop saying, “Lame,” which makes me crazy. There’s something about their personalities that’s very entertaining. I had no beef with any specific girl. So, finding out after in everyone’s exit interviews that people had a big problem with me…I almost hate saying this because there is a cocky connotation to it, but I felt like it was almost because of a jealousy/threat issue. If you notice, a lot of the condemning of me came when it was clear that I had a connection with Bret.
How do you look back on your falling out with Mindy?
Mindy wasn’t at a happy place when she came on the show, and she shared a lot of that with me. I offered to open my home to her. I was a very, very good friend to Mindy. It’s especially hurtful watching the show, because I didn’t realize the magnitude of how badly she was rolling me under the bus, stabbing me in the back. I don’t think Mindy went in there with the intentions of hurting anybody. I’d like to think that she’s a good person. I think that she got caught up in the game of love. I think she had true feelings for Bret, but got to a point where she started strategizing. And that’s where she took a bad turn. That’s were she started sabotaging herself. It inadvertently started making her look bad, and that makes me sad. Mindy, in my opinion, is a good, sweet girl. I think I could have had a friend for life with her, had she not done what she did. Now I don’t know that I could ever trust her as a friend because of what she was willing to do.
Your job as a Penthouse Pet was controversial in the most basic sense of the word. Any regrets on putting that out there like you did?
No. There had to be an agreement between Penthouse and 51 Minds for me to be allowed on the show, since I was already under contract. Penthouse basically said, “We’ll let her do it, but she has to be able to say that she is who she is. We don’t want to have her on there as a face with no name.” There’s Laurie and there’s Taya, and on this show, for the first time ever, I blurred that edge. It was a decision I didn’t have a choice in making.
Is that part of the reason why you wore the Penthouse shirt in your interviews?
I didn’t intend for that to be my interview outfit. They brought us down to do interviews and then told us we had to wear the same thing in every interview after that. So, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it’s kind of funny. My bosses obviously love it but I took a lot of crap for it. And basically, that’s all the agreement was between Penthouse and 51 Minds: product placement. Like, we’ll let her come on but you have to let her say that she’s with us. You have to let us get something out of it because we’re potentially losing her for two months. I knew I’d take heat for it. As far as promoting, I was already Pet of the Year. There was nothing for me to gain personally by promoting Penthouse.
I thought you explained that well on the show – that it was ultimately an inconvenience to your bosses.
I pursued the show on my own. I was going to go on as Laurie, as myself. As it turned out, I went on as Laurie under my alias “Taya.” It’s funny that it became such an issue, because I thought that the “perfect” references were ridiculous. How could being a Penthouse model make me perfect? Definitely not for a senator, but maybe OK in the life of a rock star. There would only be a certain genre of person that might be accepting of that status. Bret was able to accept it and he understood that I was there for him. That’s all that ultimately mattered to me in the end.
Beverly told me a story about showing up at your 30th birthday party/show, drinking your booze and then basically telling you off. What was your take on that situation?
I know people saw my altercations with Beverly, but I still saw great things in Beverly. She was extremely passionate about her kids. There was a lot of good in her. The thing that hurts me the most was reading her interview, when she talked about coming to see me at my show. None of how she depicted that was how it happened. First of all, she came to see me the day before my birthday. My birthday party was covered in Penthouse magazine. The club paid tons of money for that coverage. The place was packed. If she had come that night, I probably wouldn’t have been able to find her a seat. So she came in, she gave me a hug, we talked. We basically swept everything under the rug. She even apologized for the way she treated me on the show her last day. I was hospitable. I wasn’t kissing her ass, I was just like, hey, the show’s over, your relationship with Bret had nothing to do with me, there shouldn’t be any hard feelings between us. I paid for their entire bar tab, and she had brought a bunch of people with her. I took care of them and treated her very well. At that point, only one episode had aired. Nobody knew who she was. I brought her up on stage, the MC announced her as Beverly from Rock of Love, everyone went crazy. If I am “holier than thou” and “Miss Perfect,” I sure wasn’t that night. I focused my energy on making her feel special because she came out to see me. I thought it was a friendly gesture.
There were no negative words exchanged?
She told me, “I came here to throw a drink in your face, but now we’re cool,” as she was walking out the door. She didn’t say it aggressively. It seemed like a joke. Maybe those were her intentions, but the way I interacted with her made her not do that. It was very friendly and drama free. You know, I don’t care if Beverly doesn’t like me, but she doesn’t have to lie. I don’t hold any animosity or grudges. I think if I saw her in the street, I’d still say, “High-five! Rock of Love!” I don’t wish her harm, but I thought that was very ungracious and disrespectful. She came into my house that night.
When we were chatting before the interview, you mentioned that you didn’t know if you would like Taya, the reality show character, if you weren’t actually her.
I’ve tried to watch the show very objectively. There have been times that I’ve screamed at my television, “It didn’t happen like that!” or “I didn’t say that like that!” The editing process is really unique and they’re obviously good at it and it’s why these shows are so popular. But I’ve had to look at it objectively, just like when I read your blogs. I laugh at myself in a good way. You kinda beat me up sometimes, but I can laugh at myself. There were a few episodes that made me take a deep breath and say, “God, I don’t even really like me right now.” Just how it all broke down. There were times that I knew that if I didn’t know me, I wouldn’t be on Team Taya. But I know who I am, I know what I bring to the table, I know I’m a good person and I know that I have a lot of love to give. So, I’m frustrated by the criticism just because 99 percent of it is not accurate. You only saw a small glimpse of the real me on this show.
By saying that, though, you’re acknowledging the fact that when people respond to you, they’re more responding to a representation of you, rather than your core.
Right. There is a un-reality aspect to reality TV. I’m a very complex person. I’ve got a family persona, and I’ve got a “work face” I can pop on. You have to have a hard shell to work with people in the adult industry. You don’t want to just expose your weaknesses. So, when you see me being emotional on the show, I think you see the realest parts of who I am. I think a lot of that stemmed from me being emotionally invested in the experience. I bonded with Mindy. I bonded with Bret. I had a lot of emotions invested and you see at the end, I kind of broke down. A lot of the stuff that you didn’t see, as far as Bret’s critiques at the eliminations, the problem that he may have been having with me seemed to revolve around this one-percent thing: “I’m not sure if you’re acting through it, I’m not sure if you’re too good to be true.” When you see me getting emotional, it’s because I’m so tired of being misunderstood. Sometimes I’d have a moment with Bret where I really felt connected, and when he’d mention the problem again at elimination, I’d think, “I thought we got past that. Maybe we didn’t.” So it was very much an emotional roller coaster. And you can never understand it until you’re in the situation. Bret saw the real me. And most of those interactions were not shown on TV, for whatever reason. Good conversation and a true building connection will always take a back seat to drama and trauma on reality TV.