This sort of thing would never happen with the cast of “The Sopranos.”
Most entertainment reporters end up talking to film and television talent in suites at nice hotels. But if you do this long enough, you’ll mix up the environments a little bit. Sometimes you’ll chat with Roland Emmerich next to a towering fireplace at a Wyoming ski resort, or with David Spade next to a spring training baseball facility or with Steve Guttenberg when you’re at a Hollywood party and his mind seems to be in another galaxy entirely.
So February 26 shouldn’t have been that unusual, but it was the first time I ever found myself conversing with the talent from a TV show as they attempted to serve me a drink at 30,000 feet.
Actually, Farrah, one of the stars of The CW’s new “Fly Girls,” wasn’t trying to serve me a drink at all. She was apologizing. The Virgin America flight transporting row-after-row of journalists, sponsors and semi-celebrities — Gilles Marini! Two people from “Real Housewives of Orange County”! That guy from “Melrose Place”! Roxy Olin? — to Las Vegas for a “Fly Girls” premiere party ran out of booze, which is a bit like going to In-n-Out and being told they ran out of beef, or maybe arriving at Disney Land and being told it’s Mickey Mouse’s day off.
But this isn’t a story about not getting booze — specifically a Viva La Fly Girls cocktail — on a 40 minute flight. No, it’s more about the fact that all of the stars of The CW’s “Fly Girls” were all doing their regular flight attendant jobs on a jaunt to Sin City to toast their own new show and the fact that they continued to be smiling and gracious the whole way, which isn’t the sort of thing that would have happened on a press flight to Newark for a “Sopranos”-themed party if James Gandolfini and Edie Falco were walking the aisles.
[More after the break, including words from Manderlay and Nikole, two of the Fly Girls…]
The February party celebrating the “Fly Girls” launch was a quick turnaround. Two hours at LAX. Roughly 40 minutes in the air. Nearly 45 minutes in Las Vegas traffic getting to The Palazzo. Almost 90 minutes at Lagasse’s Stadium at The Palazzo and then back to the Vegas airport, back to LAX and home.
It’s not the kind of life this journalist normally lives, especially with my absence of regular sponsorship consideration courtesy of Banana Republic and VeeV. But it felt like an amusing simulation of the life lived by the Fly Girls themselves, who zip around the country servicing flights and doing promotional events for the airline, though most of their flights probably don’t include Virgin America CEO David Cush and Virgin America VP of Marking Porter Gale, who both addressed the flight before we took off from LAX.
“It’s really all about what our airline is about,” Gale told us, adding, “It’s really a lifestyle.”
Not to get all shill-y, but I don’t disagree.
Then again, most Virgin America flights don’t have camera crews stumbling up and down the aisle, pursuing the flight attendants. And most Virgin America flights don’t override the in-flight entertainment for special screenings of the “Fly Girls” premiere, giving reporters the ability to watch poor girl-next-door Manderlay get stabbed in the back by vicious mean girl Nikole, while at the same time watching Manderlay watch herself getting stabbed in the back, while Nikole smiled [insincerely] and brought water — Like I said, cocktails ran out after the front and the back of the plane — to passengers.
[Note: The Virgin America route between LAX and Las Vegas doesn’t even actually exist. In order to get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas via Virgin America, you have to fly through San Francisco. Yep. We were special.]
My row called Mandy aside after the screening and offered to kneecap Nikole, Nancy Kerrigan-style, at the first opportunity. She diplomatically demurred and reassured us that everybody should have a good time at the party.
The Fly Girls may have been the toast of the upcoming “Fly Girls” party, but they piled into a single black SUV, while the other presumptive and alleged celebrities received limo treatment. They still got their star moment before squishing into their sub-star transportation, disembarking the plane and falling effortlessly into a line, five abreast, each one dragging their rolling luggage behind them and strutting in-synch, practically in slow motion, down the concourse, with every moment being filmed.
The party itself? An aviation themed hoot, with bartenders serving up cocktails — sample names “Palazzopolitan,” “Fly Girls Flirtini,” “Mile High Mojito,” Fizzy Pallizzy” and the “Virgintini” — dressed as pilots and with servers walking through what would normally be a classy sportsbook presenting food as flight attendants. Leaving aside whether there’s something concerning about the image of airline pilots mixing drinks, the booze didn’t run out at the party and, as one would expect from a joint with Lagasse’s name attached, the food was terrific as well. Special recognition to the beef roulade, the crab cakes and the smoked mushroom with goat cheese dumplings, which made my vegetarian colleagues happy and didn’t offend me with their lack of meat.
But what of work? Well, a journalistic partner and I caught up with Many and Nikole and took the time to discuss their on-air feud and their seemingly chummy off-air relationship.
What was the experience of watching themselves on the mini-screens as they did their work on the flight out?
“Surreal…” Mandy said. “Super-surreal.”
Added Nikole, “I loved every minute of it. I just think that all of the hard work that we put into [it] and how it came out, the producers, The CW and everyone did an amazing job.”
On “Fly Girls,” Nikole goes out of her way to sabotage both professional and romantic opportunities for Mandy. But is the drama real or staged for the cameras?
“We’ve known each other for a couple years. We used to live together, but what you see on the screen is all real,” insisted Mandy.
Chipped in Nikole, “We’re both Libras and I’m a little older than her, so I see a lot of her in me, the things I used to do and say at that age and she sees different things in me. So it really is a journey. We’re two completely different personalities and we don’t alway get along…”
“But we’ve got love for each other,” interjected Mandy.
Continued Nikole, “I feel like she’s my little sister, so I feel like I have tough love on her sometimes and sometimes she just wants me to shut up.”
It should be pointed out here that although “Fly Girls” makes no reference to the ages of any of its stars, it’s hard to imagine Nikole being much older than 26 or 27.
The show hints at a drama that tore these two “sisters” apart in their former living situation, but like true ladies, they refuse to share all of their dark secrets.
“You know how it is, girls,” Mandy said, staying very much on-message. “There’s always the ups and downs of friendship. We’ve stuck it through everything. There’s gonna be bumps, because there’s always bumps in life.”
And Nikole points out that although the premiere focuses on her disagreements with Mandy, she found a way to get on everybody’s nerves.
“I think collectively, I irritate everybody on my own,” Nikole said. “So you get to see me fight with everyone, not just Mandy.”
But don’t make the mistake I made and assume that Nikole is the villain. No, darnit. She’s a feminist icon.
“I don’t think that I’m the villain. I just think I speak my mind,” Nikole declared. “And I would encourage any woman to do that. That’s how you have to get ahead. If your voice is not heard, then you’re silent and you’re sitting somewhere.”
Does Mandy view Nikole as the villain? Nope!
“Villain is the wrong word,” Mandy said. “She’s the spicy one.”
“Fly Girls” sells the Virgin America lifestyle, but it also sells a new image of flight attendants.
“There are stereotypes and fantasies,” Mandy said on people’s perceptions of flight attendants. But you can’t help that. It’s still your job and it’s still safety. The prime concern for us on the plane is to make sure that all of the guest are safe. Anything beyond that is just fun.”
Added Nikole, “Initially when people come on-board, they treat us as the way we’ve been treated over the last 10 years in the industry. They’re very demanding. They order you around cuz they assume you’re not going to listen to what they have to say, not going to care. But after about 30 seconds, they see this genuine smile on our face and they just kinda relax and it’s a shock to them what Virgin America has done to their company, because we all have fun at our job.”
One thing mentioned multiple times in just the opening credits of “Fly Girls is the idea of control, the sense that for these flight attendants, they view their job as an extension of empowerment. Not surprisingly, Mandy and Nikole agree with that editing choice.
“It’s a really independent lifestyle,” Mandy said. “We are in control of our schedules. We are in control of where we go in life. As a guest, you forfeit all of your control to us, getting on a plane. I’ve always been told I’m a little controlling. Maybe that’s why I went into this job. I never even thought about it like that.”
Then it was back to the party for five minutes, off to the casino floor for 10 minutes and then back to the airport (nearly leaving one Fancast reporter behind, save for a heroic sprint to the bus) and back to Los Angeles. I felt empowered already.
“Fly Girls” premieres on The CW at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday (March 24) night.