New Jersey: Reality TV's Perfect Muse?

"Jersey Shore's" Snooki has inspired a pop culture obsession with New Jersey.

April 16, 2010 — -- Tony Soprano would be proud.

Actually, probably not, considering Carmela never deigned to don a bump-it or struggle into a spandex criss-cross halter top.

But the mob boss might take heart in the fact that New Jersey has finally emerged from the shadow of New York City and shown that it doesn't need skyscrapers, stick-thin socialites and a stock exchange to stand out.

It just needs Snooki. And a host of other characters that have emerged as a pop culture force to be reckoned with.

In the wake of the success of "Jersey Shore," the MTV series about young men and women not necessarily from the state who somehow manage to embody the in-your-face aesthetic of Seaside Heights, more New Jersey-centric shows are popping up on cable, Jersey-themed specials are invading bars and hotels and Jersey-esque hair is taking over the heads of everyone from runway models to the secretary of state.

New Jersey's having a moment. And the women promoting the state to the masses couldn't be happier.

"It's about time already," said Teresa Giudice of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," which begins its second season May 3. "California and New York are totally played out. Jersey is fun and new. Jersey is where it's at. It's untapped."

Last week, The New York Times observed that the signature pouf of hair worn by "Jersey Shore's" Nicole (Snooki) Polizzi had found an unlikely sibling in Hillary Clinton, whose bob fell in voluminous layers at a March meeting in Moscow.

Earlier this year, Atlantic City's Tropicana Casino and Resort introduced a "Jersey Shore Package," in which participants can get a Jersey makeover and enjoy the same "high-energy nightlife fun" that the cast experienced when they visited the Tropicana and Sammi punched "The Situation" for calling Snooki fat. OK maybe it wasn't exactly the same...

Flashy? Yes. Over-the-top? Sure. But, according to the state's reality TV elite, underneath the mousse and makeup, beneath the state's machismo and minis, lies something more substantial: values.

"I know a couple things about manners," Snooki said in an interview appearing in May's Harper's Bazaar. "I just don't use them."

Tracy DiMarco, a budding hairstylist featured on the Style Network's "Jerseylicious," which chronicles the goings-on inside the Jersey-based Gatsby Salon, explained that her on-screen rivalry with makeup artist Olivia Blois falls apart when push comes to shove.

"What people don't see is me and Olivia getting ready for work in the morning and I'm like, 'Oh my God I left my teasing comb at home' and she's like, 'Here, use mine,'" DiMarco said. "If somebody were to attack her, she's somebody I know and somebody from my state and I'd defend her."

The ancient Greeks had the olive branch, today's Jersey residents have the teasing comb. Pretense, in this state, evaporates like fumes on the Turnpike.

"I think people love us because people can relate to us," Giudice said of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey's" following (3.5 million viewers tuned in to watch her flip a dining table over her nemesis during year's season finale, a record rating for the "Housewives" franchise). "We're really real."

But while Giudice, DiMarco and their co-horts champion Jersey style and Jersey attitude, as decreed in the state's bylaws, not every Jersey resident need latch on to every Jersey trend. (This Jersey born-and-bred reporter has never wielded a teasing comb or entered a tanning both in her life.) Giudice may be part of the cocktail that is Jersey reality TV, but she's not about to chug the whole thing down like a Jagerbomb.

"I saw 'Jersey Shore,' and I was like, 'Oh my God,'" she said. "I would not let my kids watch that. That was crazy."