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La Toya Jackson has always been ready for her close-up. Now, with the debut of OWN’s Life With La Toya, the world is finally ready for hers.
The fifth child born to Joseph and Katherine Jackson, La Toya has long lurked in the shadows of some of her superstar siblings, despite the best efforts of her famously demanding stage dad to nudge her into their ranks.
A series of low-charting solo records was followed by a disastrous marriage to Jack Gordon, a manager hired by her father to guide her career. Instead, Jackson says, Gordon married her against her will, sequestering her from her family and subjecting her to years of brutal beatings while overseeing a series of suicidal career moves — from Playboy spreads to psychic hotline infomercials to the 1993 press conference in which she turned on her brother Michael Jackson, then facing a first round of allegations that he’d molested children.
But following Gordon’s 2005 death, La Toya was determined to make it, and on her own terms. Now 56, the impish entertainer with the “hee-hee-hee”-lium laugh has forged an unlikely career renaissance in reality TV. It began in 2007 with CBS’ Armed & Famous, which saw her training alongside Erik Estrada and Jack Osbourne to become a reserve police officer in the town of Muncie, Ind. Though the show was pulled after just four episodes, it was enough for Jackson to have been bitten by the reality bug. Appearances on U.K.’s Celebrity Big Brother, RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Celebrity Apprentice — in which Jackson made history, if you can call it that, for being fired and then rehired by Donald Trump — followed.
Trump has fired Jackson a third time now, from the current All-Stars edition of the NBC reality show, after she clashed with legendary reality villainess Omarosa Manigault, who says she’s suing Jackson for saying Manigault “probably pulled the plug” on her late fiance, Michael Clark Duncan. And while she regrets not bringing Manigault — whose name, like Voldemort’s, she refuses to utter — into the boardroom with her to face elimination, Jackson tells The Hollywood Reporter that she has nothing but positive thoughts about Trump, who she says is simply misunderstood.
“Donald is a very nice man,” Jackson says. “He’s very sweet, he’s very kind. I know there are people out there who think he’s prejudiced. Donald is not prejudiced whatsoever. Republican, that’s different. However, I will say that there’s a lot of misconceptions about him that people don’t really realize. His heart is good. He will put out a fire in two seconds. He speaks what’s really on his mind, what he’s thinking at the moment.“
And now there’s Life With La Toya, a 10-episode biographical series that debuted April 13 on OWN to a very respectable 1.18 million viewers. Unlike Living With Michael Jackson — Martin Bashir‘s disturbing 2003 documentary that paved the way for the singer’s second child sex abuse investigation — this attempt to pop the bubble of Jackson-level mega-fame manages to keep things light.
Yes, references are made to the family infighting over Michael’s estate and custody of his children, but La Toya is depicted here as a sibling peacemaker, a storyline consistent with what you read in the gossip pages. Even a tearful bus journey with her mother to hometown Gary, Ind., for an annual Michael Jackson “candlelight visual,” as La Toya calls it, is perked up by a visit to a local candy emporium. Mrs. Jackson, apparently, has an incurable sweet tooth. Meanwhile, a visit from lifelong family friend Kathy Hilton reveals a three-way childhood pact to name their first daughters Paris. (Only Michael and Kathy had daughters, however, so La Toya gave the name to her Pomeranian.)
“Everybody thinks they know you, everybody thinks they know our family, everybody thinks they know who we are, what we’re like, what we’re do. And they have no idea. We are so different from what people think we are,” La Toya tells THR.
The show has fun documenting La Toya’s attempts at maneuvering the Los Angeles dating pool. How, after all, do you get to know someone over a quiet, candlelit dinner when half the restaurant is gawking at your table? And Jackson says she has no experience dating, insisting a roller boogie rendezvous with Prince in the San Fernando Valley in the early 1980s was just an innocent group activity — with three of the world’s biggest pop stars.
“Prince did like me, yes, but I didn’t date him,” Jackson says. “We’ve gone roller skating, but not just with me — I think Kathy Hilton was there, my brother Michael was there, my sister [Janet] was there. So it was like a group.”
Yes, La Toya knows you think she is a little weird. But she’s always been the first to embrace her eccentricities, beginning with her crippling fear of cats, a phobia which proved a bit of a hurdle when she was attempting to intimidate perps on Armed & Famous.
“I am terrified, and I do mean terrified of cats. I know that it stemmed from my childhood and I saw this cat attack this lady. Jumped off the roof grabbed her here and just [grabs her throat]. That memory has never left. I’ve never trusted them ever since,” she says.
So what’s next for La Toya? She says she’s a big fan of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, but don’t expect to catch her on it anytime soon, despite repeated offers: “I think I would be very good at it,” she says. “I think I would be if not the winner, the runner-up. That’s what I believe, but it’s something that I would not do.”
More up her alley: a revival of Solid Gold, the cheesetastic ’80s disco variety show, on which she appeared many times.
“Wouldn’t that be great today?” La Toya says. “That would work! We need something like that today, don’t we?”
Life With La Toya airs next on Saturday, April 20, at 10:30 p.m. on OWN.
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