Courtesy Troy Jensen
Tuesday, June 30, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
You wouldn’t know it by the bedazzled costumes, the car painted with “I (heart) PCD!” in the Palms parking lot or the fans gathered at the Pearl on June 27, but the pop girl group the Pussycat Dolls started out very modestly – with a single dancer in Christina Applegate’s basement.
PCD choreographer and founder Robin Antin was living with Applegate in Los Angeles in 1995 when she began exploring the idea of a modern burlesque troupe. Inspired by dancers like Gene Kelly and musical theater director Bob Fosse, Antin, a professional dancer herself, began spending her nights in Applegate’s home studio, developing what would eventually become the first Pussycat Dolls number.
Unlike most evolving choreographers, however, Antin debuted her new concept in front of an audience that included one very important guest: actor and Viper Room nightclub co-owner Johnny Depp.
“He just flipped out,” Antin remembers of showing her choreography to Depp inside the hipper-than-hip L.A. club. “I remember where he was standing, smoking, looking all hot.”
Soon, Antin was the Viper Room’s newest act, and along with a troupe of dancers that would become the Pussycat Dolls, the L.A. native was bringing back burlesque one weekly gig at a time.
“It was a new time of burlesque, a new fresh take on it. I was at the forefront of bringing it back,” she says.
Performing at the famous venue had its benefits. A regular night at the club saw celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio in the crowd, along with record industry heavyweights, and before long, A-list names like Carmen Electra and Gwen Stefani were volunteering for guest performances in the popular striptease show.
Today, the Pussycat Dolls are better known for hit songs like “Don’t Cha” and “Buttons” than slowly teasing off layers of satin and lace, but at the time Antin had a vision for where her troupe would go that had nothing to do with MTV.
“My idea was to take it to Broadway,” explains Antin, who lights up to this day with the idea of it. “I didn’t have it in my mind to start a band.”
However, a meeting with Jimmy Iovine of Interscope Records changed all that.
While neither Antin nor Iovine knew exactly how to take the burlesque troupe from the nightclub stage to household name, she recalls his reaction to the Pussycat Dolls: “This is massive,” he told her.
Iovine’s assessment has proved true: Today, the Pussycat Dolls phenomenon has moved heavily into the realm of music. The five-some lead by Nicole Scherzinger scored a No. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Don’t Cha” and saw “Buttons” peak at No. 3, and with its popularity has come opportunities for expansion – a PCD lingerie line called Shhh, a reality TV show and a branded lounge in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace.
In fact, the first time Antin heard the group’s “Don’t Cha” on the radio she was in Las Vegas on her way to Pure for a hardhat tour of the under-construction Dolls-affiliated lounge.
Antin talks about the moment with genuine excitement, a smile spreading across her well-tanned face.
“It hasn’t changed,” she adds, recalling a stop earlier in the evening before the Dolls’ recent Vegas show. “I was at MAC getting makeup and our song came on…” Antin does a little victory dance in her chair, the smile returning.
Today, Antin does most of her dancing behind the scenes. Once, the choreographer was the obvious leader of the group on stage and off, but as the Pussycat Dolls have expanded in so many directions, Antin has had to take herself off the stage and somewhat out of the spotlight.
“(I had to) be the businesswoman,” she explains. “That was hard for me, because I’m a true performer.”
But being the businesswoman has also opened up new avenues for Antin. She’s become a talent manager for British singer/songwriter Matt Goss, and come August she’ll begin rehearsing with Goss for his September debut at the Lounge at the Palms.
“He’s literally one of the best male vocalists I’ve ever heard,” Antin says of the 40-year-old Goss, comparing him to the likes of Sting and Bono.
“Matt’s so undeniable. He doesn’t warm up like regular singers; he just starts singing. I’m telling you,” she laughs, “he’ll have women in the audience just crying.”
Between the Pussycat Dolls Lounge and Goss’ upcoming residency, Las Vegas has become a regular stop for Antin, who owns a condo in town and calls the city her “second home.”
“Vegas just felt like the perfect fit,” she says of her decision to open the Pussycat Dolls Lounge at Pure in 2005. Then, like a tourist visiting for the first time, she gushes for a brief second. “It’s so glamorous to me.”