Touch My Backstage Pass…And Take A Shot Out Of It: Behind The Scenes At The Rock Of Love Bus Reunion

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At this point, I’ve been to more VH1 reunion show tapings than I can readily count (although, maybe that has something to do with the legal stuff I’ve been taking). One thing that I can say with ease that I’ve never had more fun on set than I did a week and a half ago at the Rock of Love Bus reunion. Despite it being the third time around for this show, it was a genuinely exciting experience. I think the best way to explain it was that I had a party connection with this particular event, and without so much as a sip of alcohol. There isn’t a hell of a lot of drinking backstage of the reunions these days, anyway, and so this was like O’Douls’ answer to a kegger.

It was a rager of communication, and I chalk that up to the brilliant casting of this season. You know you’re as close to a natural habitat as possible when you wonder, “How is it that it took you this long to make it to reality TV?” after virtually every other conversation. Over the course of my day, Lady Tribe confused me with three different people, Brittaney Starr told me she wanted to hit one of the girls in the face, Brittanya made me define “philosophy,” Farrah schooled me on the dilemma of having “big t**s” after losing weight (“It doesn’t look like you lost weight because your t**s are still the same size”) and so much more! I’ve called things “insanely awesome” before, but this time I really, really mean it.

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Almost as soon as I arrived, I conducted my interview with Mindy, so there isn’t too much about our exchange that I haven’t already shared. She was nice, that’s for sure. She didn’t seem to take anything to heart (not even the salsa!). I thought that was big of her. Mark Cronin, one of the Mindless geniuses responsible for this fine …Of Love universe, stopped by Mindy’s room while I was there, so I snatched the picture of them posted above. “That can’t appear anywhere,” he said while laughing. “Oh yeah, I’ll keep for my private collection,” I chortled back. I was kidding; I hope he was, too.

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Beverly on seeing Bret: “Meh.”

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Some might wince if their calling card were branded as Patrón and Doritos. Marcia embraces it. (In fact, it was her idea to pose with the Dorito…initially, I only saw the Patrón she obviously travels with, and asked for a picture with just that.) Kinda crazy that one of the series’ most defining characters lasted only four episodes. Marcia mused on this: “Why did Bret eliminate me? I guess ’cause I tried to pull his hair off.” Ya think?

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Gia, resplendent in new ink, pronounced Taya’s name like “Tie-Uh.” That’s how much she doesn’t care about her.

In the hair/makeup room, I found the Blondourage (that spelling, by the way, is per Farrah’s T-shirt, so blame her) and honorary member, Brittanya. I asked Ashley if I could take a picture of her getting made up but she wouldn’t let me since her lack of bangs exposed a “big forehead going on.” “I look like a Monsters vs Aliens right now,” is how she put it. “And in 3-D!” I enthused. “Thanks for adding that part!” she concluded.

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I walked with Brittanya to her dressing room, so we could talk a little more intimately. On the way, she complained about her hair. When we got to her room, I told her that it was a status symbol that she had one all to herself. She responded, “I hate being alone!” At least she stays grounded! This blog never ran an interview with Brittanya, since she stopped responding to my emails attempting to set one up. I hold no resentment (surely, not talking to someone who doesn’t want to talk is better than talking to them), but I asked her about it and she told me, “There’s so many f***ing haters on there that I didn’t even want to do an interview for them.” OK, fair enough. I wasn’t going to start interrogating her then and there, but I did manage to get some general questions in beyond, “How do you feel to be here?” (that’s generally what I ask after saying, “How are you?” as a matter of course at these things).

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Once she started talking, though, I realized just how unfortunate my missed opportunity was. The one shred of insight I found in Diablo Cody’s ode to Rock of Love in a March issue of Entertainment Weekly, was her description of Brittanya as “a woman who pierced her dimples as if violently rejecting her own undeniable cuteness.” I tried to convey this to Brittanya, but I think my recreation was too convoluted, so I threw her off. Simplifying, I asked, “Was there any particular philosophy behind your piercings?” “I don’t even understand what ‘philosophy’ means.” I explained it to her as best I could and from that she elaborated with: “People are always copying me around my city, where I’m always trying to do something that they don’t have the balls to do. They’re not gonna copy [the cheek piercings]. It’s just something like you’re gonna look and then they’re gonna make you want to look again. So, mainly to grab attention, ’cause I like attention.”

So that’s Brittanya on that. Here’s Brittanya on a few other things:

Brittanya on being characterized as quiet: “There’s always good and bad things about every single thing you know? It kinda sucked because I didn’t talk at all, like, you know? But then again it was good because it left people wanting to know more about me. Now everyone’s just dying to see me. It’s crazy how many people, like, like me and, like, want to talk to me so bad because they’re trying to figure me out because they don’t know what to think. So, it’s bad and it’s good.”

Brittanya on spitting and throwing a punch at Heather: “In a way, I regret even doing it. I wish I would have just went all the way and did it, instead of stopping, or not have done it at all. So my regret would be not actually hitting her or just starting it. Like, you know? But whatever, I didn’t really care.”

Brittanya on Bret: “I actually did like him. I’m not an actress, so my crying wasn’t fake. I do think he’s hot. Seeing him now, a lot of time’s gone by, you know whatever. I don’t care now. But he’ll be nice to look at.”

Brittanya on being at the reunion: “I don’t think anything about it. I’m just pissed ’cause I want to look hot! That girl f***ed up my hair!”

Look, when she’s on, she’s on, OK?

Next up were Kami and Maria, who shared a dressing room.

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I pointed out that it was funny they were grouped together since neither was technically eliminated and both left on somewhat mysterious circumstances. Kami, who seemed to have left after watching Ashley do…something with Bret, clarified the terms of her departure: “There was a lot that led up to me wanting to leave. I was told I’d be able to talk to my kid everyday, and it was a big deal to me to not be able to use the phone. My daughter’s only three-years-old. She needs to hear my voice. The Ashley thing was the icing on the cake. It wasn’t the reason I wanted to leave. I was like, you know…no. This isn’t for me. He’s not for me.”

Maria wasn’t so conclusive. In fact she told me up front, “I’m here to get my man.” You’ll remember that Maria left the show after falling prey to an unspecified condition that left her hospitalized. It turns out that a literal matter of the heart is what made her forgo the chance at a figurative one. Maria said that she has a seizures as a result of a heart condition, and that’s what happened during an off-day. She elaborated: “I lost feeling in my left leg for days and they were doing shock treatment. They thought that through the seizure I had a stroke. I was like, ‘I can’t feel my leg, but I still want to go on.’” That sense of devotion followed her there today, as I saw much later. This sort of thing isn’t your typical Rock of Love-brand spectacle, but it is amazing all the same.

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And then there were Sam and Jenny. Sam provided a situation that is increasingly common in my dealings with people that I write about: the announcement that she has, in fact, read me. She immediately referenced my description of a pose that she struck as recalling a “sophisticated Kimmy Gibbler” in my recap of the premiere. The girl has a memory! She has a sense of humor on top of that, as she followed the recollection up with, “It was so true!” These situations can be uncomfortable, because try as I might to keep my humor observational and stay away from really digging at innate characteristics, human emotions are unpredictable. Who knows how thick sensitivity runs? That is especially when you’re dealing with people whose temp job requires them to offer themselves up to the public for approval. I admire someone who can take the jokes for what they are, or at least, appreciate being written about to the extent of not being fazed by jabs.

Besides, it’s not like Sam was around that long to provide soooo much material (though I did particularly enjoy her on the show). “I didn’t see it coming,” said Sam on her elimination. “We made out so much, but they didn’t even show me kissing him once. I got to leave with my dignity, though. I’m glad now.”

Jenny, who left after two episodes (albeit, two episodes in the middle of the season) also expressed relief over her short stay. The responsible ones only get their feet wet. It’s just like my imaginary grandmother always said!

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“It was an experience. It was short,” said Heather, providing about as many words to me as she did to the cameras on her first and only episode.

And then, there was Brittaney Starr…

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This is the fourth photo she made me take of her. The first three were taken without flash, as my digital camera as only an auto-flash option and if it reads that there is too much light (as there is in these highly fluorescent dressing rooms), it will not go off under any circumstances. Brittaney, being one of several girls who requested photo approval (a courtesy I’m happy to provide — I know the Internet is a mean place), was not happy with her flash-less shots. She’s so light that I think she felt that she looked washed-out. The only way I could achieve the desired effect was to turn the lights out and then snap the picture as I did above. Because if there’s one thing Brittaney Star is invested in, it’s accuracy.

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Note that I do not have proof that she made those corrections, but come on, who else would?

Brittaney told me that she was “nervous-excited,” and got all kinds of cathartic on me: “This time, because I’m not worried about trying to stay on a television show, if somebody steps up to me, I will knock a bitch out. If she steps to me, I will hit her. I’m not going to take s*** from anyone anymore. F*** that. It’s on. I’ll box a bitch. I wanna hit Farrah in the face right now, that bitch, and I wanna f***ing kill Beverly. Not literally kill her and put her in the grave, but, like you know, I wanna beat her down till she’s knocked out and bloody in the ring with real boxing gloves on. The right way.” I felt like I had momentarily wandered into a changing room backstage at a G.L.O.W. match…and I liked it!

Anyway, Brittaney implied that her anger came from feeling ostracized. She compared herself to a “poor, little picked-on kid” and this entire ordeal as an “elementary school situation.” I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a counter-argument.

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Those shoes belong to Nikki aka DJ Lady Tribe. I think it’s important that you understand her foundation before I let you know about her.

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Most of the time when I meet these girls in person, one of the first things I say is, “We talked on the phone,” in reference to our post-show interview. When I said that to Nikki, here’s the dialogue that ensued:

Tribe: Oh I remember you from the show!
Me: From the show?
Tribe: Oh, today?
Me: No.
Tribe: On the email.

Uh, what? I finally explained to her in detail that I interviewed her on the phone about her time on the show. She recalled “talking [her] butt away.”

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I told her I prefer interview subjects who talk a lot to those who don’t, lest my job feel like pulling teeth. She apparently found this dental imagery hilarious.

“I went to rehab, and I got myself better,” she told me. “I just got out five days ago. That’s why I’m so hyper, because I was on [legal medication] for a year. I was all ehhhhh, falling over Taya. Did you see that?” Yeah, I made a gif of it, I told her. Two, actually. “Oh yeah, I saw that. It was cool…” she said trailing off and looking away with enough despondency to make things feel all of a sudden awkward.

Lady Tribe’s hair reminded me of a doll’s. I snapped a picture of it and let her know it was really something.

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“Do you think it’s too much?” she asked me. The resulting realization that DJ Lady Tribe is familiar with the concept of restraint (however vaguely) left me speechless.

Then, I spent a lot of time with Farrah and Ashley. So much that I’m devoting a separate post to my observations. You can read about their antics in this post: Hanging With the Blondourage. Here is a preview:

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I kinda just observed them and their interactions with each other and the other girls…

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I can attest to the fact that they are as amusing in person as they are on TV. Ashley likes to say that she didn’t play anything up for the camera, that she merely existed and what you saw on TV is what you get, period. After spending some face time (to quote fake Peyton), I can attest to that.

Oh, and Farrah was the most invested in photo approval. She told me in her joking-but-it’s-still-probably-best-not-to-tempt-fate manner, “I’m gonna kick your ass if you put any ugly pictures of me on there.” “You’re checking all the pictures!” I yelled back. I love that Farrah parties hard, lives hard, rocks hard and, on top of it all, photo-approves hard. It’s just simple consistency, people.

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You know, I reviewed my recording and the weird thing is that Jamie and I talked nothing about the show or the reunion or whatever. We chit-chatted about our flights and stuff. Part of the reason has to be that I had just interviewed her days before. We also both live in New York. And I don’t know, most of these girls have a special place in my heart just as a matter of fact, but there’s something about Jamie that made me feel bonded to her in an ineffable way. Maybe it’s just because she seems as normal as they come. Maybe it’s because she’s always reminded me slightly of Tina Yothers, so there’s this circuit-crossed sense of me having grown up watching her. Points to ponder.

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Regardless, her new weave makes for a total upgrade, y/y?

After this, I kinda wandered around craft services. There were a few girls that I regrettably did not get to talk to (Natasha, Constandina) because they weren’t available when I was. Sucks, but at least there’s some mystique as yet preserved. I like to think that the third-eye having Constandina would want it that way.

Outside, I ran into Big John.

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He told me this third season on the road was his favorite: “I was in this season a little more because of my influence and job responsibilities on the road. It gave people an idea of what I do from day to day. As opposed to just being a goon, people see that I do have a job.” He suggested that he’d like for people to see more of it, as well. When I asked about whether he’d step up to the plate and head his own …Of Love show given the chance, he told me, “I’d do it in a heartbeat. I’d want more normal girls, but I know having the drama out there is good for TV. Not to sound cocky, but I do have a following and I’d love to give them just a taste of what we already have given them in the past three seasons. If Daisy and Megan and I can do it, I don’t know why I can’t.”

His final thoughts on the girls went something like: “I wanna hope they’re not here just to up their stripper antes. But I wish them all the success in the world.” That’s Big John for you: ever the sensitive diplomat.

While eating lunch in a room reminiscent of a teacher’s lounge in a public school, I saw a top-heavy whisp of a woman wearing giant black wrap-around shades bounce past the doorway. This woman, I would come to find, was Taya.

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I didn’t realize that she was as short as she is. At 6’1, I found myself about a head and neck taller than her, and she was wearing heels. She explained to me that she has long legs for a short girl. Good to know!

But it wasn’t just in the area of aesthetics that Taya surprised me: I came to find that she is a sweet, savvy person. I understand why she chafes people (hell, she understands why her televised persona chafes people — “There were times that I knew that if I didn’t know me, I wouldn’t be on Team Taya,” she told me), and I’m not sure I’d ever want to compete with her for anything, because confidence and cockiness and fodder for infuriation have dubious boundaries. But you know, she’s kind. She gives compliments to people that would never do the same (she called Ashley and Farrah personalities “addictive”) and she even made multiple references to having read stuff that I wrote about her that wasn’t always flattering, but being able to laugh at herself ultimately.

And look: that’s the right thing to say. The higher ground rarely is less than a clear path. However, given all the disrespect Taya has withstood, even if she’s going through the motions and just saying the right thing, it still takes a lot to suppress resentment or smack-talk. This is, after all, VH1, a place where wildly differing personalities converge on one common trait: a lack of tact.

Key to her endearment is Taya’s open dorkiness. Almost as soon as I met her, she told me that she talks “incessantly,” and then proceeded to do so. To me, she’s something like the Celine Dion of the burlesque feature entertainer world. She’s wacky and warm-hearted and effusive and sentimental you understand why she drives people crazy, but if you can get past that, she seems pretty amazing.

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“I told him put an extra stitch in this thing, in case some girl tries to rip my clothes off! I need these babies to stay put. People have seen enough of them!” she told me, explaining her tailoring philosophy. This shot was taken a while after the one above: after I said hi to Taya, she had to run off to be interviewed by Extra, and it wasn’t until the girls were on stage that I got to really sit down with her.

Taya’s call time was later than the other girls. This made sense, as she wasn’t required to be on stage until the final act (as you probably know, the rock of love never sits amongst the dust…of love). But also, I think there was a safety consideration, as hinted at above and made blatantly clear by the gigantic bodyguard Taya brought with her. The dude looked like he ate linebackers as part of his Hungry Man Breakfast. Taya should be happy to be aligned with him as he could easily have used her as a toothpick after his meal. You can see him lingering in the background of this shot:

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Here’s what Taya said about her security: “I’ve hired him many times before. My company uses him, he’s great. He usually works with major, mainstream celebrities. I’m lucky to get him. He’s taking a break from Justin Timberlake to be here today. I’m his pity client. He just likes me, that’s why he hangs out with me. I got some news and feedback from the wonderful world wide web that there were some girls intending to maybe not be so nice to me today. It’s better to have a security guard and not need one than to not have one and wish he was there.” I cannot say I blame her. And of course, girls who got wind of this remarked openly that it was just another way of Taya asserting her supposed superiority. I’m sure she considered it might have that effect, and I’d be willing to be that it pleased her. Sometimes the best offense is passive aggression.

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And then the girls lined up and took the stage for the five-hour reunion shoot. You can see a lot of shots of them on stage here. I’ve taken enough of your time, so I just have a few additional observations from the taping:

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- During Jamie’s intro taping, she did what Taya would call “rock hand.” The note she got back was, “Jamie, don’t do that. Just wave.” Uh, what show is this again? Because I coulda swore it was Rock Hand of Love.

- Farrah, too, got a note back from the first intro she taped: “Farrah, if you could, please don’t handle your breasts.” Her response?

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“Sorry. It’s a natural reaction.”

- The Marica/Gia/Nikki segment (Drinking Thinking?) included discourse about the shot. Gia informed the audience that people dubbed her their hero as a result. “I think it’s awesome that they think it’s awesome,” she said. Yep, that sounds about right.

- The Natasha/Kelsey altercation was fast and brutal. It was definitely cleaned up for TV via the cut-away shot, but the entire ordeal didn’t last much longer in real time.

- Brittanya’s unaired segment included a discussion on her intelligence. She conceded, “I can’t spell that good. Whatever.” Ashley called out from her post, “Who cares if she’s smart? She’s hot as f***!” Bret agreed: “Intelligence is nice if it’s important to what you’re doing in life.” I’d call this wise, but I wonder if wisdom is important to what Bret is doing in life.

- When it was time for the Blondourage segment, security was brought up:

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Like, a lot of security. Ashley found this hilarious because, duh, it is. She had sworn up and down that she didn’t intend on getting physical with anyone (at least, not in the negative way) and neither she nor Farrah even came close.

- Beverly took part in yet another unaired segment, in which her ex who never showed up during the regular season, took the stage. He was nebbish but attractive, and waaaaaay too normal and softspoken for reality TV. It’s no surprise that he ended up on the cutting-room floor.

- When Taya came out, Ashley and Farrah turned their chairs in silent protest. Brilliant restraint! Seriously! Things were just slightly less dignified in real time as Ashley yelled, “Take your eyebrows back to McDonalds!” as Taya was taking the stage. Still, restraint is a relative concept.

- As Riki was wrapping up the Taya act, and thus the show, Maria started calling out and crying, explaining that she never got a chance to say her peace. In between Riki’s iterations of, “They’re telling me I have to wrap up,” Maria explained that she felt like she would have gone all the way to the end, were it not for her condition. You can see part of this in the extras. But what you won’t see is Maria quietly weeping on a stool for a long time after the girls had cleared out and Bret had shaken hands and posed for pictures with much of the reunion’s audience. Her sadness seemed too…real. I thought it would be disrespectful to photograph it, as well as Bret’s resulting comforting. He talked to her for at least 15 minutes. I saw them start and then I went off, talking to some producers and talent and whatever. When I happened to walk back by the stage, I saw Bret writing on Maria’s body with a marker. I don’t know what. I don’t know why.

- A few post-taping shots:

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I thought it was cute that Kami and Ashley seemed to have a cordial conversation. In retrospect, I wonder if the brown lip gloss Kami rocked at the reunion was an act of defiance. I could see Ashley admiring something like that.

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There is absolutely no limit to what these two possibly could be talking about. In the second shot, it looks like Lady Tribe is running an idea past Gia. I wonder if it involves getting her test tubes tied.

- Since Brittaney’s act was preempted by Natasha hitting Kelsey and Kelsey hitting the floor, I offered to share in this space what she didn’t get to on air: what she says is proof that she does have a black grandfather (remember that claim?):

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I am legitimately thrilled to be of service.

After the stage cleared and talent had moved out, I hung around the studio waiting to speak with Bret for our interview. I waited outside of his trailer for a while, since he was in there with none other than Taya. When they finally came out, I asked for a picture and they decided to pose next to (Bret’s?) Bentley. Again: I’m thrilled to be of service.

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And, like I said, no one was around at this point, and I highly doubt that they were meeting so that it could make an anecdote on the VH1 Blog. For all intents and purposes, it seemed that Bret and Taya were open to talking, maybe figuring out their next steps. At least for a little while after the cameras stopped rolling, they all lived happily ever after.

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[Special thanks to Michelle Llorens, who never fails to hook me up entirely.]

Related content
Rock of Love Bus show page
Rock of Love full episodes and bonus clips
Rock of Love Bus Reunion Gallery
The Celebreality Interview – Bret Michaels
Hanging With the Blondourage

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