'Bad Girls Club: Chicago' to focus on self-improvement, producer says

Bad Girls Club: Chicago

(L to R) "Bad Girls Club: Chicago" cast members Aysia, Jonica "Blu", Jada, Loren, Alexandria, Britt, Alyssa "Redd." (Oxygen / Michael Lavine/Oxygen)

The first episode of Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club: Chicago” — which airs at 7 p.m. Tuesday and features seven troubled young women living together under one roof in a mansion in Highland Park — kicks off with an exchange between cast member Linsey Jade and one of the show’s producers that will either make you a laugh or shake your head in disgust. So in other words, it’ll get the same reaction the long-running guilty pleasure series has been getting for years.

Producer: Do you want me to tell you where this season is going to be? … It’s going to be in Chicago.

Jade: Boston?

Producer: Chicago, not Boston. Did you think Chicago was in Boston?

Jade: Yes. That’s why I said that — wait, is it?

The first four seasons of “Bad Girls Club” were filmed in Los Angeles, but the show now changes locations every season. Producer Troy VanderHeyden worked on MTV’s “Real World: Chicago” and said he’s been meaning to bring “Bad Girls Club” to the city for some time.

“We have a strong following in Chicago,” VanderHeyden said by the phone. As for why the mansion is in the North Shore rather than in the city, VanderHeyden said the producers wanted a spacious home with a long driveway and an interior that they could redesign. He said the show received very little resistance from the city of Highland Park and its residents, other than one neighbor who eventually realized the cast and crew don’t leave really much of a footprint.

Still, there were frequent trips to the city. The first episode features a night out at Lumen nightclub.

It appears that Jade’s stay in Boston, I mean Chicago, didn’t last long. The Brooklyn native is the cause of most of the drama in the first episode and is noticeably missing from the show’s cast page. In her place is a cast member who did not appear in the first episode. But that doesn’t mean the show is free of drama once the female version of Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino leaves. Judging from the trailer, other cast members take part in the shouting matches and fistfights the show has become known for.

“We had the harshest fights,” cast member Jonica Booth said by phone. “They were real fights. Whoever got into the fight really was trying to hurt the other person. ... But we made progress.”

VanderHeyden said there was more of an effort to help the young women work through their issues this season than in recent seasons.

“We wanted to go back to the roots of the show, which was more about helping these girls who come from bad situations,” VanderHeyden said. “It’s more about the betterment as opposed to just being a reality show. We had them see a life coach once a week. ... When you put a group of people together for a long period of time and put cameras on them, there’s going to be conflict. But once you get deeper into the show, you see there’s more to it. A lot of the girls made some big changes.”

Model Alex Rice said the opportunity for self-improvement was the main reason she agreed to appear on the show. Rice is the daughter of Chicago resident and former University of Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice — who helped lead the Fighting Irish to the 1988 national championship. She revealed in the show’s trailer that she is tired of living in her dad’s shadow.

“They said they were going back to the basics of what the show used to be,” Rice said by phone. “That’s what drew me to it. The first few seasons were about helping young women grow. ... Other seasons, I don’t know, it felt like it wasn’t like that. It became a ‘Bad Girls’ party house. (The cast members) weren’t focused on coming in and doing anything for themselves. It was about ‘Who can I be upset with and then get in this person’s face?’ ”

Booth admitted she wasn’t too familiar with the show, other than its reputation for drama and fistfights. So why did she want to take part?

“It looked like a different and exciting thing to be a part of,” said Booth, who once tried out for “Real World.” “It was fun. I’m glad they chose me. I learned that I can in fact live with six females. If you can get through this house, you can get through a lot of things. And I learned about different cultures and how people are brought up in different cities. I feel like everyone who watches will have someone they can relate to.”

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis

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