By all rights, Star Jones Reynolds shouldn’t be a beleaguered punch line—she should be a chick-lit heroine. Once, she was fat and manless. Then, being a spunky ethnic go-getter, she Lost the Weight, Found Her Man, Got a Makeover, and had a Big Stinky Dream Wedding (complete with swag and goody bags). You’d think she would be everyone’s darling, or at least Us Weekly’s. Instead, she has morphed into an allegorical figure in a feminine Pilgrim’s Progress: Call her Shamelessness. Beware! She will drag you down into sin!
There was a time, though, not long ago, when Star Jones was a strangely appealing TV figure. A former prosecutor with an overactive showbiz gene, she covered the William Kennedy Smith trial and got the O.J. interview. She landed her own short-lived show, Jones & Jury. She was brassy and self-promoting and impossible to ignore: round as a planet, with spiky stilettos sticking out down below. She wasn’t likable, exactly. But she had gumption.
And then she started to shrink, in every sense. On Barbara Walters’s girl-talk roundtable The View, which should have been a step up in her career, Jones Reynolds became increasingly thin and increasingly fatuous—a cartoon of high self-esteem. She played coy about her plastic surgery while dispensing exercise tips. She shilled her nuptials to the highest corporate bidder. And she cast herself as a self-help guru, the life coach that no one had hired, producing the unpleasantly titled book Shine . . . A Physical, Emotional & Spiritual Journey to Finding Love.
But when Jones Reynolds became the latest diva to head straight down the chute in our ongoing game of celebrity Chutes and Ladders—ousted from The View to make way for Rosie O’Donnell and called a liar by her boss for not lying about getting fired—you had to feel something for the woman. Maybe it was the way Barbara Walters glared down at Jones Reynolds’s twitching corpse to complain that she was gurgling too loudly. Maybe it’s that unsettling strain in pop culture right now affecting black women who aren’t Oprah: the “black bitch” reality-show Omarosa slot that Jones Reynolds seemed to have unwittingly stepped into.
But most of all, there’s something creepily apt about the way this particular girlie transformation has gone awry. Jones Reynolds originally cast herself as the jolly, yearning fat-girl neighbor and mouthy best friend. When she tried to remake herself—literally—as the heroine, she seemed to get it all wrong. She wasn’t faux humble and self-mocking and unthreatening, like Bridget Jones. Instead, she practically thrust her fists in the air and did a victory dance on the goal line. And she seemed to have forgotten that when you adopt the princess standard, you’re going to have to live by it. In the pages of Us Weekly, you’ll be eternally too fat or too thin, but never just right.
Still, Jones Reynolds can take solace from the recent comeback of another former daytime talk-show host who seemed like everyone’s sassy best friend, then underwent a very public transformation and became a little too mouthy for people’s tastes: Rosie O’Donnell, the very woman who supposedly engineered the putsch of Jones Reynolds. O’Donnell started her comeback with a personal blog, which, while apparently insane, had something bracingly original at its heart: an honest embrace of all her contradictions (albeit in haiku form). Minus the poetry, that’s a next-step solution Star Jones Reynolds might try on for size.