#RHONY, Bravo TV, Reality TV, Uncategorized

#RHONY: Bethenny’s Got Your Back!

Several weeks ago, I was privately given the heads-up that Luann De Lesseps of Real Housewives of New York was drinking again. Anyone remotely connected to Bravo franchises and their cast and crew will hear something second, third or fourth-hand. In many cases, we (bloggers, writers, podcast hosts) dismiss the gossip as speculative. If it comes from a malicious place, as I suspected with this particular rumor, many of us refrain from exploring a rather obscure “tip” further and back away, fearing a sordid backstory.

I watched as this tidbit made the rounds of Facebook postings and Instagram comments, all the while cheering Luann on for her celebrated sobriety on TV. I hoped that these nasty rumors contradicting the RHONY footage were untrue. I wanted the recently humbled (after her infamous Palm Beach arrest) Countess to thrive.

Yesterday, in a bizarre turn, former Lu frenemy Bethenny Frankel was quoted by Dave Quinn of People, as she provided the update that Lu had entered rehab for a relapse on the heels of family-related stress. Furthermore, Luann would not be at the reunion taping, which, according to Tamara Tattles is actually happening as I write this.

The People article conveys that Lu, who is not currently working with a personal publicist (where is Darren Bettencourt? Or Matthew David Byers? Or Lizzie Grubman?!!!!) had appointed Bethenny as her unofficial spokeswoman. This development attests to the authenticity of the fresh bond we see between the two costars on screen this season. Considering the fact that Luann is, allegedly, only close to two of her cast mates at present, this was a sound selection.

While Sonja Morgan would have been the only other candidate, her loose lips could sink battleships, and after the “boat ride from hell” in Colombia, the Countess likely deemed it best to avoid anything that even metaphorically has to do with sea vessels.

Bethenny’s no-nonsense, articulate and expertly crafted statements on Lu’s behalf surely has Bravo’s VP of Communications cowering about his potential replacement.

Where was Bethenny when we were all waiting for Peggy Sulahian to address the horrific homophobia rumors during last season of RHOC? Perhaps Bethenny could provide counsel to Southern Charm‘s most embattled duo? Maybe she could salvage Your Husband is Cheating on Us? Or recast Southern Charm Savannah?

Lu’s absence at the upcoming reunion has likely put a wrench in the “receipt” amassment activity of her cast mates. Dorinda Medley reportedly had axes to grind with her costar (including Luann’s harsh critique of her drinking) and now Dorinda will be forced to take the high road rather than get to say “I told you so” or underscore any hypocrisy.

Some viewers are speculating that there will be a videotaped message from Luann as the other women air grievances with one another.

Like it or not, I’m envisioning a separate unshaven Andy-Luann sit down in Sag Harbor — like the one we were treated to last year after the reunion.

Reports are now circulating that because of Lu’s absence, Ramona will be seated on a different couch than what was initially designated for her. I predict that Dorinda will go hard at Bethenny, with Carole and Tinsley as cheerleaders. Carole will also complain about Bethenny’s treatment of her. Without Luann, Bethenny will only have Sonja in her corner, and Sonja will have to deal with the other ladies’ complaints about her – particularly from Dorinda.

While the playing field seems uneven, – Bethenny and Sonja versus everybody else – we know that Bethenny is a sharp shooter and the queen of one-liners. As annoyingly predictable as this sounds, she’ll smack her attackers down and defend Sonja successfully against Dorinda, Ramona, Carole and Tinsley.

Yes, Luann may have temporarily lost control over her sobriety, but she has not lost her mind. Not. At. All. Having Bethenny be her mouthpiece is a brilliant move. At the reunion, Lu will have the authoritative and commanding voice – the one that Andy listens to most – representing her and issuing a positive message to the world.

Bravo TV, Reality TV

#SouthernCharmSavannah: Haymaker Havoc and What’s Ahead

Southern Charm Savannah returns tomorrow, Monday at 10 PM EST, and a number of its fans from last season are skeptical.

The show didn’t do spectacularly well in the ratings last season – with many complaining it lacked luster compared to the original Southern Charm.

Fans took to Twitter to say that Ashley Borders, who dealt with major life changes and adversity (especially from stodgier members of the more conservative cast), was the most interesting character on the show (definitely the bohemian and most liberal of the group) only to discover that this season she’ll appear in a few scenes. She’s an estranged “friend of” rather than a full time cast member.

According to Savannian sources, one of the other cast members had Haymaker Productions’ ear, made a big stink about Ashley’s potential return, and didn’t want to film with her. There was a bit of a tug of war behind the scenes as a fierce female Bravo executive advocated for Ashley, but ultimately was not triumphant due to the stubborn cast member.

Ashley Borders

In Ashley’s place, Haymaker cast a Brooklyn Decker lookalike named Hagood Coxe and made interior decorator Brandon Branch, who appeared last season, a full time cast member. Some fans regarded Brandon warily, the mean gossip who pettily maligned Ashley Borders to his good friend Catherine Cooper. We’ll get to know more about his personal life and greater insight into his character this season. I just hope he’s a tad more endearing because I wasn’t charmed by him in Season 1.

Last year, viewers saw Lyle Mackenzie propose to Catherine and she turned that down. One source says she also turned down an off-camera proposal!

In the Season 2 trailer, we see another cast member, Daniel Eichholz, plea to Lyle to rethink his relationship and question Catherine’s fidelity.

The very young Hagood, in her 20s compared to her decade-older cast mates, is said to struggle with some identity issues and is concerned about what others think. My sources say that Ashley Borders briefly spoke with Hagood during filming about being proud of who she is and not worrying so much about the rest of the cast’s judgement – which Ashley herself dealt with last season.

The offending Nelson Lewis (who threw out a Yiddish word that didn’t meet with positive response from Jews like myself and Daniel Eichholz, or black viewers) is not back at all for Season 2. Some fans regarded his faux pas of last season as falling under the Hanlon’s Razor principle – Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

That said, Nelson is a smart man, but didn’t possess enough of the “Woke” World Smarts to help him outside of his select Southern circles. Daniel Eichholz was certainly offended, and he felt like the odd man out being a Jewish Savannian in this group in general. I am interested to see how that storyline plays out for Daniel sans Nelson.

I’ll be tuning in, but mainly to rage that Ashley Borders isn’t back – since she was my personal favorite – and to tune in for her select scenes.

Bravo TV, Reality TV

#BelowDeckMed: Catching Up With Captain Sandy

Captain Sandra Yawn is back on the bridge this season of Below Deck Mediterranean and the seas are rougher this time around. So are some of the interactions between crew members, which includes: navigating romantic feelings as coworkers, terse kitchen talks with Chef Adam, and a seasick third stew named Kacey whose resume touts far greater experience than she’s amassed.

Captain Sandy is ultimately responsible for smooth sailing and all the people on board (some we don’t see on TV!), but last season and this one, we observe the many challenges she has faces and how her experiences with the crew differ from those of Captain Lee, the male captain from the original Below Deck franchise.

I caught up with Captain Sandy to discuss the current season:

 SHW: When I interviewed you last season about Below Deck Med, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/interview-with-the-first-female-captain-of-bravos_us_594ac786e4b07cdb1933bf50, we discussed the concept of the “chauvinist edit”. I had really noticed last time – and I feel it again this year – that when you issue a command, we see a discussion amongst crew members questioning it. Do you personally feel this has to do with being a female captain? It still seems to me that whatever Captain Lee says goes, while you are constantly second-guessed and scrutinized.

CSY: Yes. Absolutely! You’d have to be living under a rock and blind to not realize.

And I’m being scrutinized by women which is shocking. If you look at Twitter – which is less than 3 percent of Bravo’s viewership – you can see how vile, vulgar and venomous people are towards me. I discovered that most of those tweets are from individuals with very few followers. I think they are probably people who never had the opportunity in their life to try to do something or never believed in themselves that they could…

I find that when people feel down, they put other people down to feel superior. That’s never been my way of living. I don’t put other people down to have a voice.

From what I’ve heard, women in general in the workplace can be extremely catty. There are other businesses where women are supportive of each other. Some of the comments you see are pure hatred from women, but much less often from men. I worked incredibly hard to make it in a men’s world to be a super yacht captain – it’s really not easy! It’s already a challenge being a woman, but then add that you have to navigate a ship to keep everyone safe at sea.

So, my management style with the crew is how I want to be treated. If someone screws up, I know it’s not intentional. I talk to the crew like human beings and not subordinates. I realize I do not have a typical boss-like management style. My style reflects how I would want to be treated if I made a mistake. You don’t have to beat their souls down or take their breath away. You just have to talk to them like human beings.

Now I see where that can backfire and you get to observe that as a viewer, when they get confused and think they’re equal with me in my position. We ARE equal as human beings, but it’s important to listen to the captain so everything runs smoothly.

When we are at sea, there’s no bias, no race, no gender for me. There sometimes are life-threatening situations and it’s essential to be able to rely on others for their positions.  If I don’t treat each of the crew like human beings, then there’s going to be a breakdown. This is about survival. The ultimate goal is to charter, to create the ambiance and a resort-style feeling that is far superior to a 5 star resort.

There’s that challenge for a captain in this environment of: How do I get there with this young hormonal crew that likes to drink a lot? I talk to them like people and rally them together.  I always ask at the beginning “What are your goals?”

With Conrad, he responded that he wants to make money to do what his dad does. That tells me this kid could care less about yachting. He’s here to make money to go buy houses. But that was not my issue with him, and you see things are tense – the audience doesn’t see all of the behavior. My biggest issue with Conrad was that he was constantly on the bow while others were working. He was following Hannah around like a lost little puppy and lying on the dock when a boat was being tied up next to us.

You don’t see everything as a viewer. Conrad was constantly on the bow smoking while everyone else was working. Hannah still did her job! I don’t care who hooks up…I’m not a camp counselor or their mother. I am the super yacht captain who has to deliver a type of service. If you can’t be present in your position and can’t lead your deck team, that’s when I start getting upset.

Conrad comes across as a know-it-all. Are you going to listen to me and learn or are you going to tell me how to do it?  You need to be present in your position and lead your deck team. If you can’t, that’s when I get frustrated. I sat Conrad down many times on the bridge and he was very strategic. When things would backfire, I said to Conrad ‘you are your own demise, you don’t even see that. You are the reason you feel I’m being mean to you. You have to look at where your head is.’ He admitted I was right, but then went back and did the same things.

With Joao, I didn’t know he drank like that until watching the show. I said ‘you might want to address that. I never want to meet Jezebob!’ He explained that ‘When I drink, Jezebob comes out and I don’t remember anything.’ Well, you better keep Jezebob away from me.

During the charter, Hannah never came to me and said he was belligerent, nor did anyone else so I was in the dark about that. When they come on the boat at 2 am after a night out, I am in bed. I don’t go downstairs. I live with these people and I have to run the boat and be up early. The crew are never going to act that way in front of me, none of them.

SHW: Soly Mar, who is a fan of the show, asks: What do you do when the crew goes out?

CSY: I go have dinner in a nice restaurant with a friend. I am always back at a decent hour because I have to work the next day. I’m never out til 2 am!

SHW: I was curious and some fans reiterated my thoughts: With Malia and Adam, you seemed cool, but find Conrad’s interest in Hannah to be distracting. What is different about those dynamics?

CSY: Oh, major difference! Malia and Adam, that was never in front of me. I never witnessed it…but Malia and Wes, yes! There’s an episode in which I say to Wes: ‘I don’t want you working with Malia anymore, you put her with someone else.’

I separated her and Wes because his head wasn’t in the game anymore. It’s about what distracts you from the job and that’s what I was seeing with Conrad. I didn’t get to where I am by strictly what you see on television and if people ever think that’s a super yacht captain’s full time job, they are sadly mistaken.

There are so many details we deal with that you don’t see. There is a certain pressure we’re under.  We’re budgeting the charter and the client’s money, the owner’s money, and reporting to a management company, reporting to an insurance company, managing dockets, agents and fees. In the meanwhile, you have a crew that you just want to do their jobs so you don’t have to worry about the things to satisfy the client. I am a team leader and I like rallying people. I got your back and I expect you to have mine. When I ask you to do something, it’s non-negotiable. Asking is a polite way of saying to do it. That’s why at some point you hear me say to Adam ‘Just say yes, Sandy.’

That’s another thing this season: I said to call me ‘Sandy’ so they feel more relaxed, but you know what? You bet your ass next season they don’t get to call me “Sandy” anymore. I’ve learned that doesn’t work. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing or exactly what it has to do with. I REALLY don’t like the idea of leading with intimidation at all and that’s not what I do, but some distinction needs to be made to establish guidelines. This is not just a TV show, this is a super yacht in the middle of the Med. I think that for some, being on a TV show can get to their heads. I need the crew to remember that I’m responsible for every soul on board. If something happens, it’s my responsibility and not the show’s responsibility. So next season, it’s “Captain.”

SHW: That brings me to a question from another viewer, Siobhan Murphy: How many other crew members are there on the boat who aren’t on camera?

CSY: There are the two engineers and the first officer. So essentially, I personally am responsible for 37 people on board (counting in guests and the camera crew).

SHW: Have any of the crew expressed a desire to be a captain of a super yacht like you are?

CSY: Yes, Malia (from last season) now has her captain certification because of a discussion she and I had. When it comes to some of the junior crew like Conrad, when you’re not wanting a career in yachting, you’re taking someone else’s position that actually wants a career in yachting.

When I had Malia on board, she told me her goals and about her interest in diving. I said she’d make a great captain because she has a great sense of humor, she’s smart and really knows how to diffuse situations. The day after our discussion, I opened up the log book and she had signed up for captain courses. She’s now a captain because I inspired her.

SHW: I wondered, and so did other viewers, what it’s like having both Hannah and Adam back after some issues with them last season. Adam had a problem following the preference sheet, told Hannah she had ‘resting bitch face’ and was attitudinal. Gil Morelli is a viewer who also noted your terse dynamic with Hannah. Did your experience with her last season affect your judgement of her going into this season?

CSY: Absolutely! Watching the show back, I realize I’m really hard on Hannah and it is a lot because of last season. I do demand excellence and communication, and I actually have had a conversation with Hannah and apologized.

I can truly reflect now and own up to how hard I was on her.When we spoke, I said I was blown away that I didn’t pay her any compliments. She seems so tough that I probably didn’t think she needed any compliments at the time, but she’s a human being and she needs compliments. Off camera, we have had conversations. There were moments during the season that we sat on the bridge and had talks.

Candidly, I’m not there to make friends. I have a life outside of yachting, including friends and relationships with people who are in my peer group. This is a very young crew and the dynamics are generally different. When I have a conversation with them, it’s all about them because I’m listening.

When Adam made that ‘resting bitch face’ comment to Hannah in the galley…you don’t fire people over a comment, you reprimand them. If you fired over a comment, you’d have an empty boat. They all get mad and say regrettable things to each other. I sat him down and said ‘Adam, that’s unacceptable.’ I actually said ‘Who are you? You’re not the person I talk to every day’ after watching him. This season watching the show, I can see when he was a dick and not nice.

Hannah can’t control the clients, but she could’ve said (to the guest who was interfering by cleaning up the plates) ‘You clear the plates, you’ll be sitting here for 20 minutes before you get your dessert.’ Adam is thin-skinned and temperamental – most chefs are. But he’s too hard on Hannah. She’s dealing with the guests.

Now the Preference Sheet is a much bigger deal. I didn’t know he was not following it initially, and that’s terms to get fired. He followed them this season!

Typically, boats don’t do what you see with Adam, the menu and the food on this show. On super yachts, there’s a set menu and you cannot request 5 different meals.

What Adam – with help from Hannah – needs to do is draw the line and when it gets out of control, that’s when they need to involve me. Those meals don’t get made in 5 minutes. They require an all-day prep. Hannah’s responsibility is to say to the guests ‘I’m so sorry. These are the options and the chef doesn’t have the other ingredients.’ She needs to convey that there’s only so much room for provisions on the boat. When you explain that in a professional way, they understand.

SHW: I keep thinking of those first charter guests and I was personally appalled at how rude they were. Stephanie Coultas Corley asks: How did you avoid getting super angry with them this season?

CSY: The initial difficulties that you see – so many of them! – were actually never communicated to me. I didn’t realize the guest had made that comment about ‘dog food.’ On a typical charter, the chef would have communicated all of this to me. I would have spoken to the primary about the fact that the guests are bringing down the crew. That’s where I come in as a captain.

I can intervene and communicate this to the guests. That’s why I’m there, to manage the guests. Very often for the crew, it’s about seeing an issue and knowing they need to come to the captain because if they try to handle it with the guests, it’s not going to go anywhere.

There are times when you need to have the captain intervene so the guests are no longer blaming the crew. This takes the pressure off the crew and that’s my job.

SHW: When the ship is anchored, what are you as a captain typically doing most of that time?

CSY: I’m on watch during the day while the crew is working, I will support the deck crew, or help Adam. Other times, I’m filling out paper work. I’m constantly busy, but I’m always on the bridge because I’m on watch.

SHW: A viewer named Lisa Hanlon wanted to know if you split the tips with the crew. She was also curious about the crew members we don’t get to see on the show.

CSY: Yes, evenly. On that particular vessel we had 12 crew members. At the beginning of the show, you see the 2 engineers and the first officer. They know to stay out of the way of the cameras!

SHW: Several fans wondered about your personal life and asked if you are single or taken.

CSY: I’m single and…I’m happy. I’ve been in relationships, but I certainly would NEVER hook up with anyone on a boat. It never lasts. You need that separation. I would never want to work with the person I’m in love with because then it’s disastrous.

SHW: Heather Vezner wanted to know what your workout routine is and how do you stay in shape?

CSY: I’m addicted to Soul Cycle, not just for the exercise but also for the way they speak to you and the mental stimulation. You have 45 minutes and this amazing workout. It feels like a meditation workout, exercise for the soul. On the boat, I do pushups in my cabin. You’re moving all the time up and down the stairs. There are also weights on the boat. I also go for a run if there’s time and we’re on the dock. I can also get up early in the morning and have the crew pull me on a water ski which is a fun workout.

SHW: That would have been fun to see. I wish they had shown that!  We see that Kacey is getting sea sick and the last charter there were people who did as well. Is there something about the seas this season? I’m also curious why you didn’t fire Kacey after it was discovered she lied on her resume.

CSY: The Mediterranean seasons are always changing and it’s very unpredictable weather. There are always a few days when you’re not able to leave the dock and that’s typical on the Med. We experienced some really bad winds. But you see that Kacey got better.

When people ask why I didn’t let her go, there’s a lot they need to understand. I have to deal with the deck I’m dealt. If you’re dealt a deck of cards, that’s what you are playing. I don’t get to change my cards.

SHW: Since we mentioned Captain Lee at the top of the interview and I always see him commenting on Twitter, I was curious – as were fans Aja Robinson, Victoria Gibbs and Cassie Townsend – if you know him personally.

CSY: Yes, I’ve met Captain Lee and we get along. He’s great!

Below Deck Mediterranean airs on Bravo Tuesday nights at 9 PM ET.

Bravo TV, Reality TV

Catching Up with Lea Black on Life After “Real Housewives of Miami”

(The following article was originally published here.)

When Real Housewives of Miami failed to return for a fourth season, there was never an official “cancellation” announcement from Bravo. Some viewers speculated that the series was on hiatus and could magically return.

However, enough time has passed with enough Housewives (of other cities) to entertain, that most fans are not counting on it. Despite the absence of Miami on Bravo, the name of one of the cast members, Lea Black, has recently become synonymous with “gay icon” and “informed liberal” — though when I share the former with Lea herself, she tells me it’s the first she’s hearing of it.

This surprises me because she was known for introducing a famous Miami drag queen to her former cast mates and she has always seemed much beloved by gay members of her community.

Today Lea is only friendly with a few of the Housewives including Joanna Krupka, a stunning model who is connected to a mortifying and grotesque debacle that made for tabloid fodder and brought about a notorious lawsuit against another “Real Housewife” http://people.com/tv/joanna-krupa-sues-brandi-glanville-for-slander/.

“I advised Joanna to drop the lawsuit to make this (gossip and entire ordeal) go away,” Lea relates, “but you have to know Joanna, particularly when she is angry! This is something she needs to see through to justice and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.”

With outspoken friends like comedians Julie Goldman, Brandy Howard and Ronnie Karam (who are all based in Los Angeles where Lea now also keeps a residence) as her unofficial cheerleaders, Lea – whose political leanings were already well-known in Miami where she held events to raise money for democratic politicians – has been able to share her convictions with a larger audience.

Although she refers to herself as a “centrist” in our conversation, she champions causes that resonate with liberals. She has always been a supporter of gay rights and shows a keen awareness and clear empathy for the average American who isn’t part of “the 1 percent.”

As Julie Goldman said on her podcast with Brandy Howard Dumb Gay Politics: “Lea is really rich, like really really really rich and she is an avid democrat, so suck it, they exist!”

Lea is witty but not at all condescending, quirky with a lilting Texan cadence and she lacks both self-consciousness and pretense. She is extremely well-read and knowledgeable (she’s also married to successful civil and criminal defense trial attorney Roy Black and familiarizes herself with the law) and is staunch in her political affirmations, while remaining respectful of those on the right. After all, despite purchasing a house in Los Angeles, she spends a large portion of her time in her red state residence in Florida.

“If you are against abortion, then don’t have an abortion!” she says logically when we discuss a population of those who voted for Donald Trump. She enforces the notion that women are responsible for their own bodies and single issue voting is not the way to go nor does it bode well: “One issue voting certainly didn’t make sense for this administration.”

She told Julie and Brandy in her interview on Dumb Gay Politics: “The rich may get richer while the poor get poorer, but everybody will be in the emergency room instead of having healthcare.” Lea reiterates this sentiment on the phone with me: “Quality of life is more important than the extra amount of money you have.”

On Twitter (@LeaBlackMiami), Lea frequently muses about this mess we’re in (AKA The Trump Presidency) and it’s clear that she’s not really spending her days watching Bravo as much as she is paying attention to Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Chris Hayes — although she did love the network’s drama Imposters starring Inbar Lavi.

I tell Lea that she sounds more liberal to me than she does “centrist,” her self-descriptor, and she explains her thinking as follows: “I feel that Hillary always governed from the center and so did Obama. He was always willing to work with and compromise with congress. Logically, I’m a centrist because I think the only way to get things done is through a certain balanced level of compromise. Personally in my heart, I’m more of a liberal democrat. I don’t mind having to pay more taxes so people can have better lives and be empowered. Before Donald Trump’s campaign, I thought he came from a place of having been a democrat – that’s certainly how he was once known.”

“I thought that perhaps things wouldn’t actually be so bad, but then he opened his mouth and horrific things came out. There was this condescension and arrogance and outrageousness like when he said he was going to fix ISIS in 30 days. That was propaganda and more followed. The bullying that he did was such a turn off and I can’t understand people who voted for him. Those who admit now that it was a mistake, that’s OK, but those who still support him…I can’t comprehend it when they clearly see he is not going to do what they thought he was going to do – their reasoning for voting for him – what he said he was going to do!”

Lea has so much more to share about politics and it pays to listen to her opine on Dumb Gay Politics, but I realize that there’s so much more I want to know about Lea today.

So I wrap up our political discussion with Andy Cohen-style questions from a fan: “Candyce from Scottsdale, Arizona asks: If you ran into Ramona Singer from Real Housewives of New York who appears to be a Trump supporter, what would you say to her? Also, were you surprised to see the Watch What Happens Live polls before Election Day that had Trump win the election?”

Lea responds that the polls were not shocking because she is aware that Bravo has a conservative viewership, that there are people who went with the negative talking points about Hillary and with the narrative that Trump was the better candidate to “make America great again.”

Lea says she cannot even get her head around the latter sentiment. She thinks that Obama did a great job in light of budgetary overhead from the prior administration, and that he made healthcare something that was finally affordable and available to so many who would have been denied coverage.

“As for Ramona,” she responds, “I do know her (personally) and like her. I’ve had the opportunity to spend time with her. If I ran into her now, I don’t see myself having this discussion because I don’t think she’s interested in having one. I just don’t see her as one of those people who follows the issues closely.”

I have to agree with Lea because Ramona does seem to be more focused on her social life and spending time with her adult daughter Avery. The day after Trump’s win, she was reportedly out shopping wearing a fur with a glass of wine in hand.

Lea’s non-political philanthropic endeavors include, but are not limited to, an annual Miami gala that raises millions for troubled teens http://www.theblacksannualgala.com/.

Currently, each Wednesday at 12 EST she opines on different sorts of funny things and modern issues in a Facebook Live segment titled Lunch with Lea.

“Lunch With Lea was something I started because I got so many Bravo viewers asking me about the show (RHOM) or what I’m up to and it just grew automatically,” she explains, “I love staying in touch with all the people that watched RHOM and enjoy the freedom of just being completely open and honest. Listeners seem to love the gossip and my unfiltered opinions. I plan to do it as long as people are tuning in. It’s laughs, giggles, fun and controversial.

She cackles in her signature way while she says “As you can tell, I haven’t slowed down since the Miami show wasn’t renewed!” That is a literal understatement if I have ever heard one because just looking at her website (www.leablack.com) makes me wonder how many hours are in her day.

The site offers her handbags, jewelry, a skincare line and details about her writing. She is committed to publishing more novels since the success of her 2015 book Red Carpets & White Lies which just happens to be about a salacious tome about a Miami socialite…Bravo, if you are reading, this sounds like the makings of a scripted series.

As the girl who came from Texas in the 1980s and rose to become well-respected in Miami society for her moxie as well as her charity and political activism, Lea is admirably accessible to fans. She engages with them through social media and via her website. Lea sees herself first and foremost as mom to teenage son RJ with her husband Roy, and as someone who supports her friends and their endeavors, wanting them to get the recognition and visibility she feels they deserve.

She recently was spotted seated in the audience of Julie and Brandy’s live show. She attended it with Ronnie Karam, co-host of the popular podcast “Watch What Crappens.” It pays to note that Julie, Brandy and Ronnie all began as adoring fans of Lea’s when she starred on Real Housewives of Miami and she responded to them in a way that fans only dream about.

We often hear the phrase “don’t meet your idols, you’ll be disappointed,” but Lea proves time and again to be the exception to this rule, restoring faith about the humility and humanity of highly successful people.

Bravo TV, Reality TV

#PumpRules: Is Billie Lee Trying to Make Fetch Happen?

(Photo source: ItsMeBillieLee.com) Billie Lee may have made the inevitable move of Vanderpump Rules cast mates past initiation, stirring the pot to make something into something much bigger. Or, she may have made a legitimate point about insensitive cast mates. Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait until the drama (currently being filmed) unfolds next season to find out and decide for ourselves.

In the interim, fans of the show took to social media to call out the newest cast addition for creating drama where perhaps there needn’t have been any… ? I deliberately put that question mark there since I personally don’t know what to make of this most recent Vanderpump brouhaha.

Billie Lee’s recent tweets seem to indicate she wasn’t invited to a girls’ night with coworkers, and she suggests it’s because she is transgender. However, viewers saw Billie Lee embraced wholeheartedly by all her costars this past season.

Fans are now speculating online that this most recent debacle might have something to do with Billie Lee’s character…or the cast’s general cliquish ways, and nothing at all to do with being transgender.

Vanderpump Rules cast member Tom Schwartz suggests Billie Lee is making a mountain out of a mole hill

Others pointed to an Instagram post where Billie Lee is “tagged” about the upcoming girls’ night and even responds positively, citing that exchange as the “invitation”.

It is impossible to determine at this point what is truly going on behind the scenes. Billie Lee may have some legit gripes about her cast mates, and this very likely will feed in to a greater storyline when Vanderpump Rules returns.

Her tweets about not being invited remind me of Dorinda Medley yelling at Sonja Morganon Real Housewives of New York about using her ex’s family crest for her shoe line (#ItsNotAboutTheCrest):

I suspect there’s a lot more to this argument than meets the eye.

We’ll have to wait until next season of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules to find out.

Bravo TV, Reality TV, Uncategorized

#RHOD Returns 8/15: Some of the Drama Ahead…

I had just learned that Brandi Redmond was quite upset about my interview with her cast mate.

Following a post-Season Two Q&A conducted by phone with LeeAnne Locken for Huffington Post (My HuffPo Interview with Leeanne Locken), I was feeling good.

It had been a really fun interview with a polarizing, unfiltered Real Housewife who I found to be delightfully candid about her many on-camera faux pas and faults. Locken also knocked the loyalty of her wishy-washy castmate Brandi Redmond who had her back at the start of the season, then turned on her, and then, surprisingly, reached out warmly after filming wrapped.

I had hit publish and within minutes, I was getting feedback on social media from those who liked Leeanne and others who lambasted her. Then I saw I had a direct message…Surprisingly, it was from Brandi Redmond herself.

Brandi wondered when I had spoken to Leeanne because she found the following words in the interview to be quite hurtful:

Since the season ended, Brandi has actually reached out to me. But it’s like the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion tells the frog ‘Why would I sting you?’ and convinces the frog to give him a ride across the pond. When the scorpion stings, the frog asks ‘Why did you do that?’ and the scorpion answers ‘Because I’m a scorpion.’

I felt somewhat caught in the middle, but let both ladies know it’s a show and we viewers have widely varying reactions – essentially, not to get worked up about the interview because everyone will have different takeaways. Easy for me to say as someone who would NEVER go on reality television…Instead, I just (hypocritically) write about the people who do.

A source close to the Real Housewives of Dallas cast members tells me that some of the interviews the ladies did with members of the media (i.e. websites, blogs, podcasts, on-air interviews) caused tension during filming. Because it’s very much “breaking the fourth wall,” I don’t expect Brandi to mention the interviewers by name, but my source says the theme of what was said in interviews may come up this season. It seems very meta, but also extremely possible: If you watched Season Two, then you know that these ladies excel at rehashing what smack was said about whom behind who’s back….

The new season of RHOD begins August 15th at 9/8c. Here’s a look at some more of the drama ahead: RHOD Season 3 Trailer

Bravo TV, Psychology, public figures, Reality TV

An Abundance of Ashleys

Between the years of 1983 and 1988, “Ashley” was a top choice for American parents naming baby girls. It was, in fact, the second most popular girl’s name in the nation in 1985, which means if you are a Millennial, there’s a good chance you know an Ashley or two…or seven as I currently have programmed in my phone.

On reality television now, there are three Ashleys – within the aforementioned cohort – who have people talking. Perhaps there is a special formula for all Ashleys to crack (one I wish I knew!) because each of the three Ashleys I’m about to discuss have either had to overcome hurdles in the maze of reality TV, perception and reality, or are still bumbling through that complicated labyrinth.

Let’s begin with Ashley Iaconetti from The Bachelor franchise. This Ashley first came to our collective attention during Chris Soules’ season of The Bachelor. She was the emotionally overwrought Kardashian lookalike who seemed to cry on a whim. She also quickly became known to us for another more notable characteristic: being the virgin and was rapidly embraced by Bachelor Nation, the dysfunctional franchise-family that feverishly recycles favorites in spinoffs. So of course, Ashley appeared, and shed a ton of tears, on Bachelor in Paradise and later found lust on Bachelor Winter Games.

After many overly emotional scenes and plenty of loud sobs regarding being relegated to the “friend zone,” Iaconetti’s long-time pal and crush from Paradise finally started to reciprocate her feelings. She had cried over him in Paradise and had been encouraged to give up hope by their mutual friend (former Bachelor) Nick Viall. Years and too many tears later, after baring her soul to cameras ad nauseum, Ioconetti has been publicly vindicated, I guess: The object of her documented obsession, Jared Haibon, recently proposed. The perpetually pining princess will need to be recast as the fiance who turned her commitment phobic pumpkin into her prince.

Another Ashley who some of you are familiar with is Ashley Borders of Southern Charm Savannah. I wasn’t wild about the show, a sentiment not uncommon among Bravo fans, but I found this Ashley endearing even before I had the chance to meet her in person and confirm this.

A crowd of white, somewhat wealthy Savannians were introduced to us as a group of friends – except immediately, we got the sense that Borders was more of a free spirit. This was especially so when juxtaposed with the more traditional, snooty Southerner cast mates. They seemed stuck in the past and we witnessed how they were so bothered by Borders’ bathing suit-clad bod and the effect it might have on the taken men. It was clear that Borders was merely an on-camera friend to those who shunned her on the show, and we got a glimpse of the more liberal Savannians who accepted her, like the cute jewelry designer who appears in one episode.

According to one of my sources in Savannah, Ashley was demoted from a main cast member to a “friend of” for the soon to be airing Season Two. This was because the least likable, most stodgy and snobbish cast mates refused to film with her. Luckily enough, not all of them are total dicks, so although Borders will not get the redemption season she deserves after cast mates lambasted her last season, she will appear in a few scenes this time around.

Last season, while focused on her fashion career, she had a side gig with Delta airlines that afforded her travel opportunities. Her cast mates made a big deal about the side gig, calling her dishonest because she didn’t talk as much about it. In doing so, they unwittingly brought attention to their elitist and classist notions about career choices.

Ashley Borders’ liberal views and openness towards those from all walks of life, made her a breath of fresh air alongside this catty and cliquish crew. It will be interesting to see if she gets some redemption in her diminished role this season. Perhaps refraining from having to hang out too much with elitist cast mates is vindication enough for anyone.

The last of the Ashleys on my mind is the most talked about currently. Ashley Jacobs of Bravo’s Southern Charm (the original Southern Charm, as Savannah is a newer addition to the main franchise) is getting a lot of attention for her missteps on the show, as well as backfiring efforts to repair her image via social media.

Jacobs has had a really tough season and is in over her head as a reality television rookie. The hospice nurse attached herself to a paramour with a personal baggage, including the fact that he and his ex (the mother of his two kids) film together seasonally. It has not gone well for Jacobs who clashes on camera during the current season with Kathryn Dennis, mom to her beau Thomas Ravenel’s children.

While initially welcomed by the rest of the crew, they have taken several steps back from Jacobs and rallied around Dennis. The shifting allegiances, and the apparent disdain for Jacobs that has grown since cameras stopped rolling, attest to several complicated off-camera storylines.

The gossip blogs have played their own part in pitting the Charmers against one another.

While everyone loves a comeback and a redemption tale, many fans feel she is beyond reproach and that the influences behind her behavior, the motives and some of the individuals who nudged her behavior along (i.e. those bloggers), will never be revealed to the public.

To me, it would be a shame if we don’t get to see how bloggers contributed, how Jacobs’ relationship with Ravenel factored in, and whether or not Jacobs will acknowledge her bad behaviors after the upcoming reunion airs…Even more so, when ample time passes and realities (beyond reality TV) set in.

Whether Jacobs will have her opportunity to turn the tide and change the minds is something that seems more uncertain than what is likely for the other Ashleys. Her words seemed more astounding, more regrettable and her actions post-filming more shocking. However, when a person takes major initiatives to revamp their life and starts to see things differently, it’s a beginning towards healing all that has been greatly damaged. Having seen young reality stars mature and become more humbled by public reaction, who knows what could happen in the future after life changes offer new perspectives….In the United States of Amnesia, (to borrow the late Gore Vidal’s term) I’ve witnessed fans change their minds when it previously seemed impossible.

Perhaps there is some formula for all Ashleys to follow in order to become successful – especially in this arena of reality television. Or maybe you don’t believe there’s anything significant about a particular name. Rather, that the three Ashleys above coincidently had rough starts, and faced the challenge of being scrutinized by cast mates, viewers and the world of social media.

In the event that it’s not a fluke, here are Things To Know About the Name Ashley if you happen to be an Ashley yourself or know someone who is.

(The title of this post was inspired by the title of John Green’s novel, An Abundance of Katherines.)