The former Pussycat Doll gets her Pride on at the Dallas Red Party
Truth: One of J Sutta’s big career breaks involved her donning a tuxedo leotard and putting out fires with her top hat.
It was 2002, and Sutta — best known as a member of the now defunct R&B/dance group the Pussycat Dolls — had landed a gig as dancer in a Smokey the Bear PSA. She and her co-stars danced through the forest, extinguishing fires in the name of safety.
“Fortunately, that part got cut,” Sutta says. “But that’s how I met Robin Antin, who started the Pussycat Dolls. She said, ‘Cut your bangs — I want you to join my group.’”
The Dolls started as a burlesque troupe with a popular established residency at L.A.’s Viper Room, but soon grew into one of the most successful pop groups of the 2000s, having sold about 54 million records worldwide, buoyed by their infectious Billboard No. 2 hit “Don’t Cha.” But the glamorous life didn’t come naturally to young Jessica.
“I’m a girl from a small-town part of Miami,” Sutta says. “And it literally changed my life overnight. I left the country for the first time, there were fans standing outside our hotels, taking pictures. I danced in front of the pyramids at Giza.”
“My whole life, I thought I was going to New York City to be a ballerina,” she says about the injury. “But everything happens for a reason. It was actually the beginning of my journey into different forms of art.”
One of those forms was singing. “I wanted to be Debbie Gibson and Janet Jackson,” Sutta now says with a laugh. And she actually ended up meeting one of those idols, when Gibson was playing at the Viper Room during the Pussycat Dolls’ residency.
“I was like, ‘Debbie! I love your music,’ and she was like, ‘It’s Deborah.’”
Both Gibson and Jackson have something in common with Sutta, besides music itself: All three enjoy a big LGBTQ following, something Sutta holds dear to her heart.
“Growing up, all my friends were gay,” she says. “I always felt like an outcast and they felt like an outcast, so we had that in common. It used to break my heart — a lot of my friends’ parents tried to beat the gay out of them, literally. They would come to school black and blue.”
That history is one reason why Sutta continues to have a deep connection with the community — and why she jumped at the chance to perform at the fundraising Red Party on Sept. 16. It’s hardly her first gay gig; in fact, eerily enough, Sutta was slated to perform at a fundraiser for The LGBT Center in Orlando this summer — as luck would have it, the same week following the Pulse nightclub shooting.
“It was awful,” she says about the moment she heard the news. “I couldn’t stop crying. I felt numb for so many weeks after. It was just too real.” (The fundraiser was rescheduled for Feb, 4, and Sutta says she can’t wait to return.)
“I feel like the community has been through so much,” she says. “We need to heal the community. We have to remember, it may sound corny, but love is truly the only thing that matters in this world.”
And that’s where Pride comes in. With their focus on dancing and celebration, the annual festivities are the perfect forum for healing. Sutta plans on doing her part.
“I’m bringing all my dancers to Dallas Pride,” she says, her voice lifting. “It will be the best show ever! My stage show is where my heart and soul is. It’s all about making the audience feel good.”
She’s even not above a little flirting … a signature of being a Pussycat Doll, no doubt.
“Maybe I’ll pull you onstage,” she continues. “And I might even kiss you — you never know!”
— Jonanna Widner
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2016.