OMG, Meet Legally Blonde's Bailey Hanks!

Riding the Elle train with the perky Broadway star; tall tales from Philippe Petit

Upset about the trend of TV reality shows letting the mass audience pick Broadway stars? Well, the mass audience picks Broadway stars anyway! Did you actually think the current slew of jukebox musicals, stunt-casting extravaganzas, and safe revivals was chosen by academicians and sprung out of their gnawing concern to elevate the culture? No, it was mainly determined by what the panting throng has decided it's willing to put their cells on vibrate for to fill two hours worth texting Iowa about.

So give in to the power of the mob and welcome the fact that at least on MTV's Legally Blonde the Musical: The Search for Elle Woods, it wasn't the home audience, but a panel of experts (and the director), that picked the new star of the pinkest musical since La Cage aux Folles. The winner taking the Elle train to stardom is Bailey Hanks, a 20-year-old daughter of a preacher man from South Carolina, who fielded the press at Sardi's the day before she was set to prance onstage. (Things happen very quickly here.)

The former Miss Liberty Teen sported feathered blond hair (presumably for the show) and a scalloped purple outfit (I think for herself) and spoke in the perky, eager-to-please style of a tiara-scarred beauty-pageant winner fresh off the runway. In bouncy tones, she told me she'd never really studied acting much—and there were some other nevers too. "I'd never seen a Broadway show," she said, smiling. "This was my first time coming to New York. My parents put me on an airplane and sent me by myself, but I had people from the show waiting for me. It was the first time I'd ever gotten on an airplane—it was a big step." Especially since they charge extra for carry-ons.

A star is born: Bailey Hanks (left) holding Elle Woods co-star Chico.
Caitlin Ragione

A star is born: Bailey Hanks (left) holding Elle Woods co-star Chico.

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But the young hopeful wasn't even mildly intimidated. In fact, like Elle Woods, she seems to be made of steely determination: "I love the fact that Elle's very strong, and she doesn't give up," Hanks informed me, still smiling. "If something falls through, she has a new plan." Hmm, might that not sound a bit like Bailey Hanks? "I wanted this role so bad, and I wasn't going to give up," she confessed. "I was going to do what I can to get to this point." Like poison the other contestants? "No, us girls are actually really close," she swore, "despite what the show may have showed. The show exaggerated some things—it's definitely reality TV."

The real reality is that Hanks loves all beings. Like Elle, she's even close with the Chihuahua. "Bruiser is like Elle's best friend," said the new walker in the Woods. "It's the only person that's there for her. Chico, who plays Bruiser, is amazing. He's taken on to me so well. I come in the room, and he jumps on me and licks me." Well, let's hope that's the last time that happens with a co-star!

Wire You Looking at Me?

The original steely out-of-towner, Philippe Petit, is the guy who—way before foreigners destroyed the World Trade Center—invaded it to teach us a lesson in beauty, appreciation, and self-promotion. In 1974, Petit scaled a tightrope between the towers, an act that's lovingly remembered in the documentary Man on Wire (as opposed to Man on The Wire, about the guy on that HBO police show who I hear frequents gay video places and . . . oh, never mind.)

The feisty Frenchman makes the Legally Blonde girl look legally blah by comparison. After a screening last week, he balked when someone in the crowd suggested the WTC stunt was both his pinnacle and his swan song. ("You're putting words in my mouth!" he admonished.) What's more, when another audience member said she'd interviewed Petit back in '74, the aerialist interrupted: "I remember! I fought with you because I wanted to impose my own title on the article!" "And you were very upset that I didn't wear a watch!" said the woman. God—talk about holding a grudge.

Meanwhile, my $10 watch from Canal Street says it's time to admit that the club scene may be showing some tiny signs of life. The reopened Mr. Black is a big hit, Beatrice Inn is still doing well enough to have nasty doorpeople, and Country Club is benefiting from Meat Market spillover and the fact that swingin' songbird Katy Perry hosted a bash there the other night. I cornered Perry on the way in to banally ask how she celebrated "I Kissed a Girl" hitting No. 1. "I've been on the Warped tour forever," she said, "and I can't believe I'm still standing, but I celebrate it every day when I wake up, and all these kids are excited to see me and come to the show." Could they actually get excited to hear her other song, "Ur So Gay," which uses "gay" as a negative? "It's not a negative," she swore. "It's about a boy that might be gay in another lifetime, and I happened to catch him in this lifetime." Ugh, happens to me all the time.

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