Jessica Sierra on Celebrity Rehab: Unresolved Grief From Death of Addict Mom Emerges
Here's the tough question regarding VH1's bold new reality series Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew:
Is it puncturing the nation's fascination with big names dying from addiction, or wallowing in it?
That question kept surfacing while I watched the first two episodes of the show, mailed to TV critics today from the cable channel. And nowhere do those questions loom larger than in the section dealing with 22-year-old Tampa native and former American Idol Top 10 contender Jessica Sierra.
The show's first episode shows each celebrity arriving at the Pasadena Recovery Center, picking a room, surrendering their possessions for examination and meeting host Drew Pinsky -- a physician and self-described "addictionologist" -- for an entrance examination.
Sierra's moment comes halfway through the show, as she relates her struggles with addiction over footage taken of her partying in a club, drinking with a friend and vomiting into a toilet, presumably before she enters the facility.
"The assault happened because the guy spit on me," Sierra tells the camera, explaining her arrest in April for throwing a glass at a patron's head at the Hyde Park Cafe (she has also told police she wasn't sure if the man spit on her and the victim said Sierra told him she mistook him for someone else).
TMZ.com is also reporting that Sierra -- who is reportedly the subject of a sex tape due for release early next year -- is pregnant in jail.
"The possession happened cause…I had drugs on me," she said on camera. "I lost all my money. Some of it, I partied away. My drug of choice was cocaine. It was just seven or eight months ago that I started doing drugs. I would go on binges for four or five days straight and crash for a couple of days..i woke up, roll over and go on for four or five days straight. I just had an operation, you’re not supposed to have an alcohol, but I did – got sick, threw up all night. I think everyone makes their own decisions. The reason I do it is to kind of get away from everything. When I come down from it is when I kind of realize and know that I’ve got to kind of face things."
During the show, a bedraggled Sierra is shown arriving at the California facility in a pink top and white skirt, a contrast to clips shown of her singing in the studio. Before long, she is telling Pinsky how her mother died of a drug overdose while she was auditioning for American Idol.
"“She left when I was three. My dad took us from her. She was prostituting and drugs and stuff like that – in and out of jail....That was the hard thing because the last thing I said to her was that I hated her. And then she died during the auditions for American idol. She was dead for five hours in the backyard of someone, some random person’s apartment before they found her."
Pinsky deduces that unresolved grief over her mother's death may be her biggest problem. In a later episode, she's shown dealing with a group therapy talk about mother issues by calling a friend and wishing for a drink, saying she'd even suck on an alcohol swab.
As it turns out, Sierra's appearance is one of the show's tamer introductions: porn star Mary Carey, who comes to the facility drunk, is asked by the staff to relinquish a number of sex toys and porn videos she brought to the facility (See her talk about it here. Bad sign: Carey says she still drinks wine). Crazy Town vocalist Seth "Shifty" Binzer shows up to the rehab facility with two beers in his backpack and former Taxi star Jeff Conaway is wheeled into the facility in a stupor -- eventually taken to a hospital by paramedics after he has a seizure.
Former wrestler Joanie "Chyna" Laurer, ex-Mrs. Sylvester Stallone Brigette Nielsen, Family Matters star turned porn actress Jaimee Foxworth and actor Daniel Baldwin round out the cast. And almost every participant has appeared on a previous reality show -- many of which have showcased their bad behavior while intoxicated.
Excepting Baldwin, every other participant is shown partying before they enter the rehab, with Conaway drinking wine and snorting a white powder he calls "pablum," Binzer appearing to freebase cocaine and Foxworth smoking several marijuana blunts. Pinsky said on CNN that the stars are actually using, taking cameras to show their partying as a lesson to viewers.
Since participating in the show, Sierra was arrested in Tampa Dec. 1 on misdemeanor charges of disorderly intoxication and obstructing an officer without violence, spewing racial epithets and offering to perform oral sex on an officer to avoid arrest. Rumors swirl that Pinsky himself may come to Tampa to help Sierra's recovery in early 2008.
But her arrest -- and subsequent drunken public appearances by other stars such as Carey -- have raised questions about how effective Pinsky's series really is. The first episode doesn't do much to answer that question. The show debuts at 10 p.m. on Jan. 10 on VH1.