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To the Hills and Back Again



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About The Book

From the star of MTV’s The Hills and The Hills: New Beginnings, a candid and insightful reflection on aughts tabloid fame, the powerlessness and loss of self in toxic situations, and the life-changing power of even our smallest choices.

If you know Audrina Patridge from one of the most successful reality shows ever, MTV’s The Hills, you know that she doesn’t pull punches. For years, she hid the challenges she faced, but now, she’s finally sharing her full story for the first time—and it’s not a neat little story, tied with a bow. This is the unvarnished truth about being young and carefree in Los Angeles, filming The Hills, and getting access to the most exclusive parties, decadent restaurants, and VIP clubs. It’s also the unvarnished truth about darker days, when she lost her confidence, her voice, and even her self-worth as she was pushed to the brink of losing almost everything.

Audrina’s baring it all: the nearly soul-crushing struggles, the beauty of finally reclaiming her power, and the incredible experiences and behind-the-scenes details of The Hills. This is the story of an eighteen-year-old girl who took a chance and had the experience of a lifetime on a reality TV phenomenon that made her a household name and tabloid regular. But it’s also the story of a thirty-six-year-old woman and mother who regained her voice after years in a series of unfulfilling and even toxic relationships. Deeply insightful and wonderfully entertaining, Choices is a story of redemption, renewed strength, and reckoning with the choices we make.


Chapter One: From Orange County to ‘The Hills’ • Chapter One • From Orange County to The Hills
Reality television would come to shape my entire life—for better or worse—and bring me some of the greatest opportunities I could ever dream of. And yet, I didn’t grow up watching reality television. When I was a teenager, my favorite shows were Dawson’s Creek (team Pacey, for the record!) and Felicity. I watched TRL every day after school, and I watched hours and hours of MTV music videos.

When I look back on my simple, family-oriented childhood in Orange County, it’s sort of surprising that I would come to find myself on reality TV for most of my adult life. I grew up in Yorba Linda, a very laid-back suburban community twenty minutes from the beach. My mom was a stay-at-home mom and my dad is an engineer for our family business, which makes mechanical parts for big companies to use on anything from airplanes to rides at Disneyland, from huge oil rigs to huge factory machinery for Coca-Cola.

My mom was not the PTA, baking cookies kind of mom. She was the outgoing, funny one that all of my friends love. She was fun and open, and my house was the hangout for most of my friends and my siblings’ friends too. It was often a full house with me and my three younger siblings: my sisters, Casey and Samantha, and my brother, Mark. My mom also let us kids decorate our rooms however we wanted, so at one point, I had all four walls of my room painted different bright colors like a giant Rubik’s cube. I love that she let us express ourselves like that. Geographically, my hometown’s not that far from LA, but spiritually, it’s a whole different planet. I loved growing up in a such a quiet, tight-knit town. A few years ago, I moved back to Orange County with my daughter because I want her to be raised in that same slower-paced, family-friendly environment.

My mom went over-the-top when it came to celebrations and threw us all these elaborate, themed parties. My favorites were my thirteenth-birthday “luau” with real fire dancers, and my eighteenth Vegas-themed party with craps and poker tables set up around our backyard to look like a real casino. I’ve started doing the same thing for Kirra, staging big, fun-themed birthday parties, which she seems to love—especially her mermaid-themed third birthday, complete with a sequined mermaid tail and an appearance by a “real” mermaid.

We went to church most Sundays as a family, all dressed in our Sunday best, my sisters and I with our hair done and dresses on. I liked going to church as a kid. I felt like it gave me the basis for my values and taught me where to turn when it feels like I have no one, which is to God. I tried the church’s theater group too, and it was great place to explore my love of performing. Ever since I was little, I’ve always been intrigued by acting and performing. I remember being five or six and watching The Mickey Mouse Club, and I would always tell my mom that I was going to be on that TV one day. I knew at a young age that’s what I wanted to do. So in high school, I started going to acting classes, and my mom really supported me with that. I was kind of shy growing up, but I broke out of it and pushed myself out of my comfort zone to pursue acting.

I honestly never liked high school. I went there to learn and I worked hard to do my homework during my lunch break so I could leave school at school. I looked forward to coming home and spending time with my family, or doing other activities like dance and theater. I even loaded up on my classes during my first three years of high school, so by senior year, I was at school only three hours a day and I could work afterward.

Don’t get me wrong: I had a lot of friends in high school. I was friendly with everyone, and didn’t get caught up in the drama or gossip. My mom told me that I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend or wear makeup until I was sixteen years old, so for much of high school, I was skinny, underdeveloped, and fresh-faced, looking much younger than I was. I would definitely call it an awkward phase. I was fine with her rules, though, and I didn’t rebel. I wasn’t really interested in having a boyfriend at that age. I had crushes growing up, but I was mostly focused on other things, like dance and the swim team, where I swam the 400-yard freestyle.

My favorite classes in high school were science (especially biology) and art (drawing and painting). At the time, I thought about going to school to become a psychologist. I was always listening to my friends share their problems, giving advice and trying to help. People came to me, so it felt natural to think about ways to turn that into a career. I couldn’t always take my own advice, but my friends appreciated my insightful, nonjudgmental words of wisdom. I’ve always been interested in why people are the way they are. I still think about that sometimes, especially when I’m in the waiting room at an audition looking at all the other girls there. Everyone has their own story and brings something unique to the role. You can take the same script, and ten different women are going to read it ten different ways. That’s always fascinated me.

As soon as we got our driver’s licenses, my friends and I went to shows every chance we got. I had always loved music, and during high school I got into the punk music scene. I even wanted to look the part, with my hair dyed purple and my nose pierced. Almost every weekend, my friends and I would go to the best venues in the area—The Glass House, Observatory, and Chain Reaction—to hear our favorite bands, including Thrice, Finch, Rufio, and Yellowcard. We would dance and sing our hearts out and then rush home before our 10 p.m. curfew. I also worked at a small recording studio in Newport Beach during my senior year of high school, an experience that would serve me well when I got to LA.

After high school graduation, I started taking classes at Orange County Community College at night, and in the daytime I would go to LA to audition for commercials, music videos, and modeling gigs. Starting at sixteen years old, I took acting classes once a week in LA with a well-known acting coach named Fawn Irish. I also met with a modeling agent who often knew about commercial and acting gigs. I was soon going on lots of auditions—most actors spend more time auditioning for jobs than actually filming!—but it was in my acting classes more than anywhere else that I saw the real artistry behind the career. The other actors in my class were passionate and intense. They put everything they had into a scene, and I so admired their dedication to constant improvement. It was just incredible to watch them, and then to be able to get up there and act with them myself. It was so different from the church theater experience growing up!

As much as I loved it, there were parts of the process that took a bit of getting used to. For example, when I went out for roles, the other young women in the waiting room all looked exactly like me, with straight brown hair, the same thin frame, and about the same age. It was disheartening to see how many women were vying for the same roles in commercials or music videos. I landed roles in a few music videos for rock bands, none of which you’ve heard of. I loved music, so it was fun, and it certainly provided the opportunity to exercise my dramatic muscle. Plus, I got paid a hundred bucks for each, which was great at the time.

It was hectic running around LA all day from audition to audition, and the traffic was so unpredictable driving the forty miles back to Orange County for school. I was late to class so often that a couple of professors threatened to fail me. So I had to make a decision: stay in school and focus on my studies to try to become a psychologist, or move to LA and pursue acting and modeling full-time. I figured I could always reenroll in school and get back to my studies, but this was the time to give my dreams a shot, so I took the leap.

Thankfully, my parents were supportive of me leaving school and giving myself a real chance with the auditions. They knew I was serious from the acting classes I had taken in high school, but more than anything, they knew I had to get it out of my system—whether I found work or not. They understood the importance of not living a life with regrets and what-ifs.

I packed up my childhood bedroom, withdrew from my classes, and moved to LA to see what would happen. You know how some things are just meant to be? I think that I had to be in just the right place, at just the right time, for everything to work out as it did.

I was in LA with my dad looking for apartments in the Villas apartment complex, but unfortunately they didn’t have a one-bedroom unit available. We were on our way out when I started chatting with two sweet girls in the elevator. They were both from Kansas, best friends, living in a three-bedroom and looking for a roommate. They overheard us talking about not finding a place, and offered me the room on the spot! It was a great apartment, and they seemed so normal and nice. My room would be very private, with its own bathroom. I couldn’t believe how everything was already just clicking into place. I looked around and said, “When can I move in?” Just like that, I had my first apartment in LA.

Unfortunately, it wouldn’t turn into a lifelong friendship. Once I got cast on The Hills, the girls turned a little sour toward me, and I moved into the next one-bedroom that became available in the building. But still—I was in LA and ready for anything!

I started my new life, mostly by enjoying the pool at my new apartment complex. There was nothing better than lying poolside and learning my lines for an upcoming audition. Believe it or not, that’s where I met MTV producer Adam DiVello, who was there to scout the apartment complex for Lauren Conrad and Heidi Montag because they were moving from San Francisco where they both had attended the Academy of Art University for one semester. Lauren was getting a Laguna Beach spin-off show that was still in development. At the time, I had never watched Lauren on TV, but I knew who she was from magazines and interviews.

At first, when Adam approached me and introduced himself, I thought he was just another cheesy producer trying to hit on me or invite me to an “exclusive club” that night. But he talked about the shows he worked on, and I began to think he could be legit. He asked why I’d moved to LA, where I was from, and where I was working. I told him I’d recently started a job as a receptionist at Quixote Studios, a photo, video, and event studio in town that was the location of magazine and commercial shoots, music videos, fashion events… you name it. I needed to work and make money for rent and acting classes, and it seemed like a great place to get insight into some elements of the business. I could see the wheels turning in Adam’s head as I told him that I’d already met some cool new people, including some amazing photographers and casting directors, through this job. I had been going out in LA for a few years already, and I knew the hottest spots to go each night of the week. Adam liked that I was in the know and could bring Lauren and Heidi out with me.

Adam told me he was moving quickly to put together this spin-off show, and just a few days later, I was in the MTV offices to meet the rest of the showrunners and producers. I shared the basics about myself and learned more about the show. They told me that, based on my background and the time they spent getting to know me, they thought I would be a great fit with the group of girls. I was in LA to pursue modeling and acting, and I quickly realized that this could be good practice for me to get comfortable in front of the camera. I didn’t have a lot of expectations beyond that and really didn’t know what I was in for, at all. Within a week or two, I signed the papers, and we started filming within two to three weeks.

I really credit my two bosses at Quixote Studios, Monica MacDonald and Jordan Kitaen, for being so supportive and encouraging when their new receptionist got offered a reality show. Not only did they encourage me from day one, but they also looked through my new contract to make sure it was sound and reasonable. Monica went even further, saying that MTV could film there, which would allow my two jobs to coexist so much more easily. Of course, she also warned me not to let this interrupt my real job. I would, after all, be a receptionist whenever I was working, not a “reality TV star.” The job still needed to get done, and the filming couldn’t undermine my performance at work. That all sounded fair to me.

I didn’t know if the show would last or what would become of my reality television debut, so I wasn’t rushing to leave my exciting job at Quixote. I was gaining insights into the business, just like Lauren, Whitney Port, and Heidi were forging their ways in fashion magazines and publicity, respectively.

The show followed the personal and professional lives of four young women living in LA—Lauren, Heidi, Whitney, and me. Lauren was very much the star of the show, and we were her friends and supporting cast. Coming off the buzz of Laguna Beach, The Hills premiered to a fan base eager to find out what Lauren was up to next. And we were thrilled to see the following only grow from there as the real-world issues of us trying to figure out our careers and love lives resonated with viewers so strongly. As we kept shooting, Heidi and I each got to film more of our own lives and see our journeys captured more. It never bothered me that the spotlight was on Lauren; it was her spin-off from Laguna Beach.

When the show started, Lauren was interning at Teen Vogue in the fashion closet, alongside Whitney Port, who was in college at the time. Lauren and Heidi were taking classes together at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, after both transferring from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. After a few weeks of classes, Heidi dropped out and got a job as an assistant at Bolthouse Productions, where she learned the ropes of event planning.

We all filmed our professional lives as well as our personal lives, showing the office dynamics, work challenges, and boss interactions we were grappling with. After we wrapped the first season of the show, I decided to move on from my job at Quixote Studios. As I thought about what I wanted to do next, I was eager to dive into my passions, so I looked for a new opportunity in the music industry. I landed a job as an A&R assistant at Epic Records, where I worked for a few years during the filming of the second through fifth seasons of the show. I got to meet great bands, go to shows regularly like my high school days, and use my knowledge of the music scene. Part of my job was listening to demo tapes sent in by bands all over the world. I sorted them into “yes,” “no,” and “maybe” piles as I identified the acts with the most talent and potential. It was also great for The Hills to film me going to shows and hanging out with bands, like Good Charlotte, Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, and The Script. This was the beginning of factoring the good of the show into my own life decisions.

The Hills became a reality TV and pop culture phenomenon that landed us on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, among many others, and in the zeitgeist for most of my twenties. We were covered regularly by every tabloid magazine and drew some of MTV’s highest-ever ratings. Lauren went from interning at Teen Vogue to being on the cover.

Once I signed on to the show, I wasn’t allowed to go to the pool for two weeks, until we officially started filming, because the producers wanted me to meet Heidi and Lauren “organically” on-camera. I don’t know how natural our first meeting actually was, considering the producers scheduled it during my lunch break at work, but I gamely raced home from Quixote Studios, threw on a bathing suit, and headed out to the pool where Heidi was already lying out. Then we just struck up a conversation. Heidi seemed immediately easy to talk to, but Lauren was a little harder to read.

In the very beginning, Lauren didn’t seem very open to getting to know us. She seemed a little quiet and withdrawn, and now, with years of reality TV experience under my belt, I understand why she was so apprehensive to let people in right away. I’ve come to learn that you never know who is using you or who will turn on you to get their fifteen minutes in the spotlight—a lesson Lauren had probably already learned while filming Laguna Beach. Heidi was the total opposite. She was super friendly and outgoing, immediately jumping into sharing and making plans. Heidi and I began to hang out off-camera too. When we first started filming, she would come to my apartment for a drink and we would talk for hours, or we would go out dancing for the night. We definitely hit it off right off the bat! We hung out a lot when Lauren was dating her longtime boyfriend Jason Wahler (the one she chose over Paris, for you megafans!) because she was around less.

And that was the beginning: starting in 2006, I spent five years discovering myself, surviving bad dates, gaining and losing friendships, and exploring new ambitions—all while filming The Hills.

When we started filming, it was definitely a learning curve for me. I wasn’t used to people watching and listening to every conversation and every dinner or coffee date with friends. But there is nothing more awkward and strange than filming a date with a new guy. It completely changes the evening. We can’t just show up at a restaurant and find a table; it’s much more involved than that. Typically, when my date and I would arrive, the production crew would mic us, and then we’d each get filmed walking into the restaurant, sometimes multiple times if they needed different angles or lighting changes. When we finally sat at our table and could actually talk to each other, we were often interrupted to change the lighting or adjust a camera, and we might be asked to repeat something. It was a little nerve-racking at first, because you’re already nervous going on a date with someone. Can you imagine how awkward it is to be on a first date with bright lights in your face and cameras everywhere? Sometimes we would start talking about how awkward it was, and that part is always cut out of the show, obviously. Once Heidi and Lauren had boyfriends, I was the one who always went on dates, and I started to learn how to be in my own little bubble, ignore the cameras and lights, and just focus on what’s in front of me.

Don’t forget that while we were filming in a restaurant, there were people all around us just trying to have dinner. Once they saw the lights and multiple cameras, they would start staring at us. And then eventually, when The Hills became more widely known, if we were out filming, fans would stand behind the camera and film us or take pictures. Production always got so annoyed!

As the show gained viewers and popularity, it became a cultural conversation, part of the trend at the time toward reality television. MTV even created an aftershow to rehash the episodes for fans, hosted by Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy. We could feel that it was catching on very quickly. When I was out running errands or with friends, fans started coming up to me at stores or restaurants to say hello. Women in their teens or twenties would tell me they watched the show and really felt like they could relate to me with my situation with Justin Bobby or my rocky friendship with Lauren. Once a girl came up to me at the airport and started screaming and crying, asking if she could give me a hug. I found myself hugging a stranger, who was crying at the chance to meet me. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. It was so surreal. These women who related to me in some way made me feel so good about doing the show and sharing so much of my life. I would try to tell them: just learn from my mistakes.

The first couple interactions like this made me realize that even though they watched me through the TV, the show’s viewers truly felt like they knew me. Sometimes I could get down on myself for how the Justin situation was being portrayed on the show. I would start to question myself and my place on the show and feel incredibly stupid—I mean, how would you feel if all of your greatest dating regrets were broadcast for everyone to see? But then I would meet a fan who would say that I was actually inspiring them as they were going through the same thing. It made me feel like I was helping people realize they weren’t alone. It’s funny to think that in a weird, roundabout way, this is kind of what I wanted to accomplish by being a psychologist too.

We were also invited to so many awards shows, and even asked to present a few times. I’ll never forget the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards, in particular. Lauren, Whitney, and I were onstage to present the award for Male Artist of the Year. Lauren and Whitney were beyond excited when Justin Timberlake won, because they were superfans. His wasn’t my kind of music, so I couldn’t have cared less, but I was excited for them. And then Justin wouldn’t even come up to us and accept the award in front of a packed house! Chris Brown came up onstage with him, took the award from us himself, and then presented it to Justin as we backed off to the side. The girls were devastated, and I was annoyed at his rude, diva behavior. And then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, Justin took center stage and said to the crowd: “MTV, play more damn videos. We don’t want to see The Simpsons or reality television.” It was such a personal attack on us! Lauren’s jaw just dropped. We were humiliated.

Fortunately, not everyone was as rude. Our table was right next to this up-and-coming artist and her mom. Maybe you recognize the name Rihanna? I spent a while chatting with her and her mom that night, and she couldn’t have been nicer. She was probably one of my favorite people I’ve ever met at an awards show.

Another year at the Teen Choice Awards, The Hills won an award for Celebrity Reality TV, and Lauren and I accepted the award. When we won, I think the two of us sat there in shock until they called our names again before we realized we had to go up onstage and accept this giant surfboard. That one was really meaningful to win, because it was decided by the fans.

I eventually got used to presenting at awards shows. After hosting red carpets and working on live TV, I finally learned how to set my nerves aside and jump into performance mode as I made my way onto the stage. At the very last minute, right before going up onstage to present, I tended to get butterflies. I would get super quiet and in my head, but I’d always remember to take a deep breath. Somehow, it always made all of those feelings fade into the background. I would just do the best I could to have fun with it. As soon as I walked out onstage, I was able to focus and calm down.

The funny thing is, I didn’t know about stylists at the time, so either I always dressed myself, or I worked with a designer’s showroom to borrow a dress. I started making friends with a lot of the showroom people, so that anytime there was an event, they would help dress me. Thankfully, at a photo shoot, I met my good friend Joey, who was the stylist on-set. We hit it off immediately, and ever since then she’s dressed me for red carpets. She knows my style, which is a little bit edgy, a little rock-and-roll, and a little sexy.

By the end of the third season, The Hills was the highest-rated cable show of 2008. We were up to twenty-eight episodes per season, and the pressure was mounting to create more storylines and amp up the drama. We were becoming experts at the club confrontation, cocktail in hand, or the quiet one-on-one, often accompanied by a few tears. The show continued to shift and change shape as our relationships changed. During the fourth season, Whitney moved to New York to work at Diane von Furstenberg and got her own spin-off, The City. We were starting to feel rumblings that other cast changes could happen too, but for a while still, we were just enjoying the ride.

About The Author

Audrina Patridge is one of the original stars of the MTV series The Hills, a reality show and pop culture phenomenon that lasted from 2006 to 2010. In 2019, Audrina and the show returned to MTV with the highly anticipated reboot The Hills: New Beginnings. In the intervening decade, she launched the luxury swimwear label Prey Swim, traveled the world as the host of NBC’s travel and lifestyle show 1st Look, and got married and divorced. She and her daughter currently reside in Southern California.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (July 26, 2022)
  • Length: 224 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982183813

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“Audrina owns her life and her choices, hence the memoir’s title, and her hope that this book will help other young people navigating tough relationships leaps off every page…an honest portrait.” –Booklist

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