Last year, millions of filmgoers watched actress Ashley Judd strip down to her bra and panties in the opening moments of the otherwise dreadful film Eye of the Beholder. Last week, exotic dancer Christopher Pearce casually stripped to his shorts in front of fewer than 15 cheering people, and yet that somehow managed to offend the sensibilities of none other than Ashley Judd’s mother, Naomi.
Naomi Judd’s charged encounter with a stripper who was dancing for a young woman’s surprise birthday party made news across the country last week. It’s either the story of a well-meaning country singer trying to stop an inappropriate striptease or the story of a prudish, self-righteous diva sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong. In any case, nobody comes out looking very good.
Emily Westermeier was celebrating her 18th birthday with friends and family at the Amerigo restaurant in CoolSprings last Wednesday when Pearce, hired by the birthday girl’s family and dressedfor a little while anywayas a police officer, began removing his clothes in rhythm to a song whose lyrics repeated the words “freak me” over and over again. Pearce, whose stage name is “Cutting Edge,” flexed his abdominal muscles and handcuffed himself to the blushing birthday girl. At no point was he naked, the family says, and there were no plans for him to be naked.
Naomi Judd, the conservative matriarch of the Judd’s mother/daughter country music duo, was dining with her husband. According to the police report, Judd left her table for the bathroom when she heard “strange, loud music.” She looked to see what all the commotion was about and saw a man who she thought was naked straddling a young girl. According to her account, Judd touched the man on the back and, doing her best Lynne Cheney, said, “Stop! What on earth are you doing in this public placethere are families and kids here!” At that point, Judd says that the stripper turned to see who was touching him and lost his balance.
Naomi Judd’s lawyer, Rose Palermo, says that her client was merely being a “good Samaritan.”
But that’s not what the birthday girl thinks. An honor student at Franklin High School, Westermeier says that Judd grabbed the stripper by the back of his head and pulled him to the ground. Because she was handcuffed to the stripper, Westermeier says she also fell, hitting her head on the table on the way down. (She says she has a big bump on her head to show for it.)
“I was shocked to look up from the table and see Naomi Judd say, ‘son, that’s really inappropriate,’ and then storm off,” she recalls.
After the two fell, the, um, pasta hit the proverbial fan. Emily’s mother, Marie Jo, remembers a friend of the stripper chasing down the offending Judd and yelling, “You bitch, I don’t care who you are, but this is your fault.”
Moments later, Naomi Judd and Emily and her friends began arguing in the parking lot. Emily remembers Judd telling her friends, “they were spoiled rich kids.”
At one point, one of Emily’s friends broached the possibility of a lawsuit. Then, she says Judd told her, “I’ve got the best lawyers in the mid-South.” Emily then replied, “Good, you’re going to need them.”
The Brentwood police later were called to the scene, and they interviewed various eyewitnesses. Some corroborate Emily’s story, saying that Judd yanked the stripper in the middle of his performance. Others, however, say that Judd merely tapped him on the back.
Eyewitness Heather Payne, who sings in the award-winning Christian music group Point of Grace, says that Judd did “nothing inappropriate.” She simply touched the stripper on the back, she says.
Given the backdrop of StrippergateWilliamson County, where residents affix Jesus fishes to the bumpers of their Range Roversthe Westermeiers have endured a good deal of self-righteous criticism over their decision to hire a stripper for their daughter’s birthday party. And at a public restaurant, no less. However, Marie Jo Westermeier says that the whole incident has been blown out of proportion. “He was not naked,” she says. “He was shirtless, but he was wearing shorts.”
The dance “was just a rite of passage,” she says. “I’m French too. Maybe it’s just different.”
Even in this litigious age, the Westermeiers say they don’t plan to sue Judd for their daughter’s fall. However, the dancer’s boss, Kirk Yates, owner of Pro Entertainment, says that Pearce should consider a legal remedy, even though Brentwood police say they saw no evidence of injuries. “I advised him to file charges against her for assault,” he says.
The dancer told the Scene he would not grant an interview unless he was financially compensated. Having been interviewed by the National Enquirerand probably paid for itPearce is clearly enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. However, his best friend, Jesse Rigsby, who witnessed the incident, says that Pearce does have good reason to feel aggrieved.
“I always liked the Judds, but I won’t listen to them no more,” Rigsby says. “That was very unprofessional. Would she want someone grabbing her while she was onstage performing because she was singing a song someone didn’t like?”
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