Books, Celebrities, Psychology, public figures, Uncategorized

“Stuttering John” Melendez Wrote a Memoir and True to Form, He Doesn’t Hold Back (An Interview)

I’ve always wondered how people roasting one another truly feel when they are the butt of the joke. So the Howard Stern Show was sort of an enigma to me while I was growing up. About 20 years ago, I briefly hung out with a guy who was one of the show’s writers and on-air personalities. In my limited time in his presence, he seemed as sweet as can be. As soon as he told me he was part of Stern’s crew, I was on high alert for some shrewd, blunt and embarrassingly brash observations. I’m sensitive, but somehow he really took it easy on me. The “persona” I later heard (and saw on the E! show) was far different from the one I had gotten to know.

This was during the 1990s and one of this man’s colleagues was “Stuttering John” Melendez. All I knew about him at the time was that he was one of Howard Stern’s whacky in-studio crew – not to be confused with “the whack pack.” I knew that he began as an intern, intent on working with the legendary Howard Stern and that he went on to acquire a minimum wage salary as an employee of The Howard Stern Show. Successively, yet meagerly, his salary increased and he remained there for 15 years, becoming notorious for his oddball interviews with celebrities. In those, he asked the most impertinent, rude and outrageous questions – sometimes with a stutter. I have to say that the questions he asked would make a non-stutterer stutter.

As a child, one of Melendez’s teacher noted that he had an inclination – and the chutzpah – to ask brazen questions and a tendency to stutter when excited. As Melendez explains in his new book Easy For You To Say, he never imagined that the teacher was somewhat of a clairvoyant. When he began working for Stern, he was determined to keep the OCD that greatly challenged him a secret. Little did he know that the “King of all Media” also struggled with OCD, and to some extent, so did his boss later on at The Tonight Show, Jay Leno.

Easy For You To Say is the story of a boy scarred by the abuse in his home at the hands of his father, how he developed a stutter as a result, but was determined to never acquiesce to the mindset of “I can’t.” From an intern at The Howard Stern Show overly eager to please, to a comedian doing field segments and writing hilarious and ballsy material for show segments, to an announcer and writer for The Tonight Show, John’s story proves that with the mindset to overcome hurdles, there are incredible things one can achieve…..

(Even getting through to the president of the United States by phone – while he’s on Air Force One!)

Following is my interview with the man widely known as “Stuttering John.” If you are a Howard Stern fan, bear in mind that the opinions expressed are John Melendez’s. The perspective shared reflects anecdotes in his new memoir. The answers to my questions are in his own words:

You start out by talking about your OCD. You discuss making Howard’s “potato sandwiches,” how it was a whole complicated ritual of preparing the potatoes from the early morning and later placing slices of turkey between the two potato halves. Then you discuss how certain tasks took a lot of effort and redoing because of your OCD. The origins of your OCD can be traced to when you were a child living with an abusive father. I was curious if your father lived to witness your success.

Oh Yeah! He just passed away two years ago. He would listen to every Howard show and later on, he would tape every Tonight Show. Every time I would wave, he said he would wave back. You see, that was the problem: He could be a really nice guy, but then unpredictably fly off the handle. As a kid, that gives you no security. You don’t know which dad you’re going to get. Coincidentally, I experienced the same with Howard.

When you’re at Howard’s show, you don’t get any accolades. I remember hooking (fellow Stern writer) Benjy Bronk up with my accountant and he was scared to ask for a raise because Howard would get pissed off at him. It was the exact opposite with Jay Leno. There are so many different things about Howard and Jay that indicate they’re almost complete opposites.

I know that you began as an intern, so at what point did Howard start paying you a salary?

In 1988, I was still in NYU and didn’t finish until 1989, so I didn’t get paid for over a year. I didn’t make a dime and I came to Howard and said that I’d have to leave. I just couldn’t afford to be there anymore.  That’s when he said that there was the channel 9 show coming up, so then I worked on that show making $750 a week. Shortly after that, I got my first paycheck from K-Rock that Tom Chiusano called a ‘stipend’ and it was 10k per year. The second season of the Channel 9 show, Don the douchebag Buchwald got me 15k. Then Mel Karmazin doubled my salary to 20k. From there, there were normal raise increments. I remember standing behind Gary Dell’Abate at a ‘Best Breast’ contest where there was an appearance fee. I was thinking ‘wow, this is the producer of the biggest radio show and he’s got to do this!’

In the book, you detail some negative experiences with Gary and refer to him (he was known as ‘Baba Booey’) as ‘Baba Backstabber.’ Is there any chance of a reconciliation for the two of you?

I say in the beginning of my book that I love all the guys there. I don’t hate the guy. I don’t hate anybody, but the problem with Gary is that he’s too stupid to understand that a lot of people there, even now, are disgruntled. People would tell me not to trust Gary, that he would be nice to my face, but then bad mouth me when I had my back turned. He was two-faced and God knows, with that face you only need one!

In the book, I give an example of how we were going to do some plugs and we mutually agreed that we would email Howard together about it and say it came from both of us. Then Gary ended up saying that the email was just from me. That was wrong. I had to hear about it from KC…that they were talking about me in the studio.

In the book, it really sounds like an awfully hostile work environment over at The Howard Stern Show.

Comedian Tammy Pescatelli witnessed the dynamics between me and Artie Lange (Artie and I were together at Stern) when I did Artie’s podcast and she said it was like watching two survivors of Auschwitz. We lived through such a toxic environment that it’s like we both have PTSD. It seeps over to the rest of your life.

I’ve been enjoying your podcast (aptly titled The Stuttering John Podcast) since reading the book. I love how you had AJ Benza on because I remember that the two of you had really bad blood. He slapped you and was banned from the studio. How did you two overcome your negative history?

After that incident, he emailed me a long apology letter and I was OK with him. When I was out in LA, I thought it would be cool to have him on my podcast as a guest. He made me slap him back so we would be even.

I saw some of the cringe-worthy interviews that you did. Some made me laugh, but others made me want to hide even though I wasn’t the interview subject! I remember when you asked Raquel Welch about her sagging boobs and she punched you. You talk about that interview in the book and you discuss the interview with Liz Smith and feeling remorseful about that one. Were those questions that were written for you, or did you write those yourself?

Let me address the Liz Smith thing. I never felt so bad after conducting an interview than I did with that one. It was Andrew Dice Clay’s idea to ask “Why are you such a fat cow?” because she had given him a bad review. Howard was like ‘Yeah, ask her that.’ She played along, but I regretted it. The next time we were at an event and she was there, I asked Howard if I could apologize to her. I did and we recorded that. I look back at that and think: it wasn’t a joke, it was an insult. I don’t mind asking Chevy Chase how he picks movie scripts – Does he go ‘eenie meenie mieni moe?’ It’s clever. Or when I asked baseball great Ted Williams ‘Did you ever accidentally fart in the catcher’s face?’ That was crude, but there was a sense of humor to it, whereas the Liz Smith one was mean.

In the beginning, Jackie and Fred were writing the questions and Howard would contribute some too. Then, I started writing some and then it was a pool of a lot of people on the show – Benjy Bronk and everybody. In the beginning, it was Jackie and Fred and I really thank them because they had great questions! They wrote the question for Ringo Starr: ‘What did you do with the money?’ He responded: ‘What money?’ and I answered: ‘The money for singing lessons.’ He said ‘I bought fish and chips.’

I never had a problem asking people questions from a very young age, so this was the perfect job for me!

We learn in this book that you’re a sensitive guy at heart, so is there anyone that you would want to apologize to now for your questions?

I felt bad after asking someone how many times he had seen Haley’s Comet because that was picking on the fact that he was old. Let’s see…I went to an SNL thing that Charles Barkley was hosting. He was doing a Q and A and it was right after Michael Jordan’s dad died tragically in a car accident. There was a ‘joke’ written for me ‘Are you going to ask your dad to stay out of a car?’ I used my discretion and I did NOT ask that!  There were times when I would have to make that call.

Other than that, I didn’t ask anybody anything that I would feel bad about. To me, it was like an SNL skit. The celebrities I goofed on would suffer the same way at the hands of other comedians. I always felt it was a comedy bit.

Then after me, as you know, there was Ali G.

Yeah, I was actually thinking about how you were doing your bits before Sacha Baron Cohen came along. Did he ever acknowledge you as some sort of inspiration or talk to you? 

That actually pissed me off. He was on The Tonight Show and didn’t even acknowledge me. To be quite honest, he seemed very arrogant when he was on the show. I also feel like Triumph the insult dog is my whole gig with a puppet and I never got acknowledgement for that. I am not expecting a thank you, but it would have been nice with Sacha if he had come over to acknowledge me.

Some of the stories of what you endured at The Howard Stern Show were pretty shocking. One incident you detailed was about how coworkers brought in your bottle of Prozac from your house – Then you were grilled about it on air. The other story was about Howard saying you weren’t fit to be a father and that your (now ex) wife should abort the baby. Then later, he said it to her while she was very pregnant!

The Prozac one embarrassed the hell out of me. I was so caught off guard that I used the excuse that it helped me to play guitar better. I was too afraid to say that it was because I had OCD. Who knew Howard was also suffering from OCD at the time?!  I felt betrayed by the guys I was renting my place to, but that was the nature of the show.

Aborting the kid – That’s the definition of a bully and in any normal circumstance, I would have beaten the shit out of the person who said that. But it was Howard and he was my boss. I had to just take it unless I had another job lined up. It’s like when I was a kid – I couldn’t leave the house because of what my dad did. I was stuck there.

When I met my wife, I said ‘I have to get out of the show. I can’t relive these bad memories of my childhood.’ Who knew it would take another 10 years after that?

One of my biggest triumphs, when people ask me, is not the Crazy Cabbie fight they’re expecting me to tell, but walking into Tom Chiusano’s office and giving my 2 weeks’ notice. I told him I was going to be the announcer on The Tonight Show and with me being a stutterer, he looked at me, paused and said ‘no way.’

The exhilaration I felt is unexplainable. As you see in the book, management thought that Howard had made me and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything outside of the show. Here I was, a known stutterer, going off to become the announcer at the most popular late night show.

The impression I got from the book is that Howard is stingy, petty and against his employees having outside work projects. Do you think there is any chance of him reading your book and extending an olive branch, wanting to bury the hatchet?  

He won’t read it! He’ll have Gary read it and he might have his lawyers read it. The problem is two tiered though when it comes to legal: Everything in there is the truth and there is not one lie. I have an incredible memory that is spot on, so there’s not a chance anything is made up. The other thing is that if he sues me, there’s not much to take! What is he going to get from me?

Quite honestly, if he did, it would only promote the book because…think of all the people who would then want to read it and see what he was mad about. He’s smart enough to know that too, which is why he ignored Artie’s book and Jackie’s book. KC’s book is out now and he won’t want to inadvertently promote that either.

With mine, I didn’t hold back and that’s the thing that Jay Leno wrote in his review. I’m unfiltered, much like the old Howard. I tell it like it is. The format of Howard’s show now is totally different – I know because of the many people I’m in touch with. There’s a red flag list of things and people they cannot mention.

I just wish Howard, like Jay, would look out for his employees more. There was an engineer whose wife had cancer and Howard really could have helped out there – Jay has helped out numerous employees with health or family health expenses – and Howard really did not treat this engineer who had been his loyal servant for 30 years well. I have so many sources that I feel like Carl Bernstein. I’ve spoken about this more in depth on my podcast.

I mention in the book that when Howard walks down the hallway, no staffer is allowed to talk to him and when this engineer did and it was about his wife’s health and the expense of treatments, Howard said ‘You know you’re not allowed to talk to me.’

You used to drive to work with Jackie Martling and you had great times with him, but you also describe him as moody. Then you talk about the intense mood swings of Artie Lange.  

It was wild. I could show you some of the texts from Artie. There would be one ‘I love you. You’re like a brother.’ Then 2 days later: ‘I’m a better comedian than you.’ He would suddenly go off on me and I’d be stunned and then a week later, it was ‘Hey man, I love you. Don’t listen to the last text.’ I’ll only pray for him because he’s got a big heart, but drugs were really a big problem.

You also describe how you and your ex-wife Suzanna used to hang out with Bruce Jenner and Kris, and that it was Suzanna who suggested the family do a reality show after witnessing how they all hung out. Has she ever been credited for what is now Keeping Up With the Kardashians?  

I have to apologize to everyone out there that we came up with the idea.

My wife would drive out there and write the treatments of the shows with Kris. Then Kris wouldn’t give her a producer credit or a salary. I mean, they’re living in mansions and I’m doing the Chuckle Hut in Indiana. Suzanna finally confronted Kris, but she responded that Kim had the same idea. It’s a load of horse shit!

Despicable people are despicable. She would put down Bruce and really be abusive to him. He wanted to come out as being transgender years prior, but Kris wouldn’t let him. She’s just a horrible person and that’s what you’ll get in this book. I call people out.

You do that with Chelsea Handler as well. You mention how you first met her on a plane ride and she saw you pop a Xanax. She asked you what it was and if she could have one and you gave it to her. Then when she became famous she acted like she didn’t know you.

She had met me and my wife and ignored us at a party. She also ignored a man who had kick-started her career. She turned her back and it was really despicable behavior. I call out Jimmy Kimmel in my book because Jay was so nice to him and promoted him despite them having competing time slots. Then Jimmy Kimmel went on to stab Jay in the back.

The original title of the Chelsea Handler chapter was going to be ‘Bitch from Beyond.’ I changed it to ‘Nice is a Four Letter Word.’

People frequently ask if you regret leaving Howard. In the book it’s pretty clear that you wanted to leave for a really long time and you were offered a major salary increase and promotion from Tonight. You couldn’t have envisioned what would happen to Jay’s show at that time. What is your best answer to that question that you keep getting?

I can only say that people who say that don’t know that most of us at Howard’s show couldn’t wait to get out. I also was making a very small amount of money and Tonight quadrupled that. I went to NYU for film and television because I wanted to produce and write. To write for the number one late night talk show in the world was an honor. Jay would tell me what a good job I was doing. I had so many great opportunities there and got a chance to make Barack Obama laugh.

On top of all that, what people don’t understand is that I have two pensions because of that career move. When you write for Howard, you’re not in the writer’s guild and you’re not getting any pensions.

I’m sure that taught you what type of boss you aspire to be. I know you do the podcast and you do standup comedy, but what other things put you in a ‘boss’ position? How does your work background affect how you are as a boss and a mentor?

I was in charge of writing the Kareem Abdul Jabbar roast and I’m still friends with all of the people I managed during that time. Any time I’m given the opportunity to be a boss, like when I was an EP on the Stephanie Miller Show, I’m always nice and I say ‘thank you.’ I let people know when they’re doing a good job. I always try to be more of a Jay Leno boss than a Howard Stern boss.

I have to ask you about the epic Donald Trump prank, when you were put through to the president while he was on Air Force One. You got through by pretending to be Senator Bob Menendez. Are you experiencing any current legal or other repercussions currently from that? You write in your book that you were visited by Secret Service agents the next day. Then you add that you ended up hiring Michael Avenatti as your attorney.  I know you mentioned you were slapped with a huge IRS tax bill right after that too.

Avenatti initially told me to stop doing my shows and said ‘You don’t want to poke the bear.’ That’s how I came up with this TV show I’m shopping around called Poke the Bear.  The idea is that if you have a problem with someone, say a politician, I’ll go and confront them and ask them those questions that you have. That’s what I was actually trying to do with Trump. It may have seemed like a goof and a prank but when I got on the phone with him, I asked questions that reflected real concerns I had and that was my goal. After that call, I laid low and then the Omarosa thing happened and the press shifted their focus from that.

My call to Trump is now long forgotten. It did point out how disorganized this administration is that this stuttering idiot gets on the phone and within minutes, he’s given the location of the president. I’m surprised they didn’t give me longitude and latitude coordinates. As part of their ‘security,’ they called me back to ask how I could be calling from an 818 area code and not the New Jersey number they had. I said I was on vacation and that totally cleared me!

Then Jared Kushner called within an hour to see what I wanted to discuss with Donald, and then I get the call from Donald. He’s giving me the date he’s going to release the Supreme Court Justice information. On that call, I don’t sound senatorial. I sound janitorial.

I’m pissed because I’ve had numerous conversations with Bob Menendez’s assistant. He could at least be a guest on my podcast and he hasn’t done it. The Trump phone call, with the exception of me getting in a ‘Babooey to you all’ at the end, is completely straight questions. I really wanted answers because I want there to be an end to putting children in cages. I wanted a more moderate Supreme Court Justice pick. From the start, my goal was to have a conversation with the president about issues that mattered to me.

In your book, you talk about how kids are off limits for goofs and I totally agree with that, especially considering how far certain radio personalities can go.

Anthony Cumia (of Opie and Anthony fame) – I did his show 10 times and each time, they told me that I was the best guest and got the best critique of any guest. As soon as he hired Artie though, it got bad. It got to this point that Anthony would post pictures of my kids and goof on my kids. My oldest is transgender and Anthony wrote something about how bad of a parent I must be that my kid needs attention by cutting off boobs. Then he posted a picture of my really sweet daughter Lily, said something about her having big teeth and that Bababooey must be her father.

His followers started tweeting pictures of my kids and then changing my daughter’s picture to make her look uglier. It got to this point that my kids were getting picked on and my ex-wife called me. We had to have an attorney send Anthony a Cease and Desist letter. Even the mob knows: You don’t go after kids.

When I listened to your podcast, you mentioned that people hate when you bash Trump, but since I’m on the same side as you politically, I am cool with it.

It’s so strange to see that it seems as if 90 percent of Howard’s old listeners are white supremacists! (Laughs) Whenever I tweet about Trump, I lose about 10 followers. It’s so weird to me that Howard has such a right wing base.

I loved the story about the boy Conroy who took your advice about stuttering and grew up to be so confident. Tell me about the work you do now to help kids who stutter.

I mentored several kids. I occasionally send out a tweet to all my followers and say ‘if you have a kid who stutters, I will gladly help.’ One time, these parents sent me a bottle of Dom after I helped their kid. I also was a keynote speaker at a national convention in Chicago. I will do anything I can. I tell kids who stutter that it’s not about who you are, but what you do. Getting to be the announcer at The Tonight Show is inspirational to stutterers everywhere. That’s why it really hurt when Howard was a judge on America’s Got Talent and he told a stuttering comic ‘You’re an inspiration.’  My oldest son called me and said ‘I can’t believe that Howard just said that.’ Then Artie Lange called and said the same thing.

Instead of telling me I was an inspiration when I became an announcer, he chose to bash me. I truly believe – and therapists would agree – that Howard got so mad when I was on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here not because I missed work, but because I got critical acclaim from all the media outlets. The response was ‘hey, John is actually a nice guy!’ Even Gary emailed me because I came across so well. I think that bothered Howard who always wanted that national acceptance. I think my theory was proven correct by him doing America’s Got Talent.

Now that Howard’s show is on Sirius and we’re in the ultra PC age of 2018, the show has changed a lot. Do you ever listen?

When it switched over to Sirius, I wasn’t going to pay to hear myself bashed. I do know that now he has a list of celebrities he can’t bash – There’s Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow. That’s part of the ‘red flag list’ I talk about in my book.

There are people who are banned from the show because they went on to do other things and that’s another complete hypocrisy. Howard would always talk about how it was ridiculous that Johnny Carson banned Joan Rivers because she wanted to do another show. Howard has done the same thing.

Today, he’s gone down in listeners by becoming someone he and the listeners once hated.

I’m wondering if they will try to dispute points in your book on Howard’s show or argue about it.

Howard is going to want this book to go away. He’s not going to talk about it because that would result in people buying it. All of the stories in the book have been corroborated and there are witnesses to almost everything.

I am in touch with people from there and I was told that every staff member was instructed to create 10 fake Twitter accounts to solicit guests. A photo of that slide was sent to me. It’s so sad and so not who the old Howard was!

I will say that when I first heard Howard was mad at me, I called him and he said ‘I’m not mad. I should have made you an offer to be in the studio in Jackie’s chair.’ Then I was bashed on the air again. However, if THAT Howard – the one who said those kind words on the phone – had been the Howard I worked with for all those years, maybe I wouldn’t have left.

 

 

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Bravo TV, Podcasts, Real Housewives, Reality TV, Uncategorized

Tony’s Tea Corner: A Platform For Real Housewives To Truly Open Up

Many great minds have weighed in on a cultural phenomenon of our time, The Real Housewives. A chief example of a commentator extraordinaire is the noted historian Brian Moylan of Vulture.com and of (his self-dubbed) Real Housewives Institute. There are many other astute observers and anthropologists who could be considered Moylan’s esteemed colleagues and fellow philosophers. Dave Quinn of People is the one to obtain exclusive interviews with current “Bravolebrities” and then wax philosophical on his @NineDaves Twitter account. Then there are the podcast hosts: The Bitch Sesh ladies Casey Wilson and Danielle Schneider, Kate Casey of Reality Life, Juicy Scoop’s Heather McDonald, and (as fans affectionately refer to them) the boys: Ronnie Karam and Ben Mandelker of Watch What Crappens, Grant Rutter of Grant’s Rants, Troy Turner of Taste of Reality and last but certainly not least, there is “Uncle Tony” of Tony’s Tea Corner.

Born Anthony Lario, “Uncle Tony” is a moniker his friends granted him because he is the trusted confidant and the one to give you straight-up advice. That means he is also the perfect person to interview former Housewives, ladies who were once a part of a franchise and can now speak more freely in retrospect about their experiences. While comedian Amy Phillips refers to the “100th Housewife” Peggy Sulahian (a one and done from last season’s Real Housewives of Orange County) as “Peggy ‘No Talk’ Peggy”, Anthony was able to get Peggy to open up for over an hour.

During that time, she really spoke her mind and explained the scenes that left viewers perplexed.

Today, a new episode of Tony’s Tea Corner is out featuring another former RHOC Housewife, Meghan King Edmonds.

I spoke with Anthony Lario last week to get a sense of who he is, what Tony’s Tea Corner is all about, and specifically, why all Housewives historians, pop culture enthusiasts and knowledgeable fans should be tuning in weekly to his podcast:

Anthony Lario(Pictured: Anthony Lario, Photo Credit: Courtney Kehr & Mitch Marsico)

How long have you been hosting “Tony’s Tea Corner”? I initially became familiar with you through Instagram. Then, I heard you several times on the podcast Grant’s Rants before tuning into recent episodes of your podcast.

I started my podcast in August. I have always been a fan of pop culture and Housewives stuff. I feel like these are the topics we take in when trying to relax and unwind. These are water cooler topics and are brought up so often with my friends.

They were the ones who said ‘You should do a podcast’. I’ve always been into theater and art and not commentating as much, but I sat down one day and jotted down all my thoughts.

Thanks to Margaret Josephs from Real Housewives of New Jersey, who I met for lunch, I had some great insight and the next thing I knew, my podcast was among the top 200 for TV and film.

I call it a ‘catharsis’. You get out all your negative energy from the week by talking about these topics in their purest form.

What is your background professionally?

Before I got into podcasting, I was active in social media influencing. My Instagram following rose while I was in college because of comedy I did, and I got into brand partnerships.

In college, I studied communications and PR and since then have become more of an expert in social media. I’m constantly trying to find something that joins the right and left sides of my brain, creativity and being more intellectual and factual. Right now, what I do professionally is talent management.

Which shows are you currently obsessed with? I know you’ve had some interesting guests on including Paul Calafiore, Heather McMahan, Perez Hilton, Peggy Sulahian, Troy Hendrickson, Amber Marchese, Lizzie Rovsek, Kelly Bensimon and Meghan King Edmonds.

Right now, Real Housewives of Orange County is airing and it’s been really easy to recap. I’m obsessed with Gina Kirschenheiter and Emily Simpson as new Housewives and think they’re fantastic new additions to the franchise.

They are a breath of fresh air on the show and are delivering some drama.

I’m also discussing Real Housewives of New Jersey a lot in preparation for the new season because many of my listeners are interested in that. I also sunk my teeth into Real Housewives of New York when I interviewed Kelly Bensimon.

What is it that you really love about interviewing former Housewives?

I love giving former Real Housewives a platform because you go back and watch those old episodes and what you really take note of…is the evolution of the show from a cast and a production standpoint.

Of course, they’re not contracted with Bravo as heavily, so they can open up more. They do sort of sign their lives away and there are some things they’ll remain quiet about, but they’re allowed to do podcasts without the stipulation of having to going through a PR person.

That is how I got Peggy and I realized something fascinating: These women are on our TV screens baring their entire lives and then afterwards, the only thing we have to go by (to keep up with their lives) is social media. They have no platform through which to speak, yet they can be spoken about on the show.

When Lizzie came on my show, Tamara couldn’t stop comparing her to Gretchen Rossi and Alexis Bellino. These ladies, like Lizzie, aren’t there on the show to defend themselves. So, I like to think of it as my being a sort of Andy Cohen for former Housewives in a way.

Although that’s going to change because I will be having Leeanne Locken on and I plan to have Margaret Josephs on when RHONJ is back.

What have been some surprising discoveries from interviewing these former Housewives?

Peggy Sulahian can really talk, which might be surprising to some people. I loved interviewing Lizzie and she has become a close friend. She is going to hook me up with Gretchen so I really am looking forward to having Gretchen on.

Do you watch my favorite Bravo franchises Below Deck and Below Deck Mediterranean?

I don’t watch Below Deck, but Captain Lee was the captain of my best friend’s yacht before the show was even on the map. So I would see Captain Lee when I was with my friend and the next thing you know, he pops up on TV.

I recommend it because I think it’s one of the best reality shows imaginable. There are numerous crew members who can’t be filmed and the boat is more cramped than you realize with a camera crew trying to film around those who cannot be filmed. They’re intent on only capturing interactions between the featured members. I think it is brilliantly done.  

I think it’s cool to think of how production is sleeping on the boat with them. I want to know how it all works behind the scenes.

It’s very cramped and they have to weave around the people who didn’t sign release forms.

You also discuss pop culture topics on your podcast. Can you discuss how you incorporate that into the format of the show?

What I do is this: At the start of the show, I discuss a general cornucopia of hot topics that pertain to that week. As I’m doing this, I pivot to related topics because that’s how conversations work in real life.

Even when I’m the only one talking, I want it to be like a conversation you would have with coworkers or friends over lunch. I’m not afraid to pivot. If I’m talking about Britney Spears, I might pivot to something that happened ten years ago. I think that’s an important thing for people who do podcasts – make it like conversation you’ll have with your friends every day and let the topics flow naturally.

Then before I play the interview, I’ll start recapping Housewives’ items from the week. Because of my tendency to pivot, I might bring up an iconic moment from 5 years ago and tie it in to something that happened recently and how the guest is still relevant today.

It seems that all of our mutual acquaintances are obsessed with 90 Day Fiance. Do you cover that at all on your show, or are you kind of out of it like I am?

Well… I probably need to cover 90 Day, but like you said… I just don’t know if I’ll be able to get myself into it. I do listen to lots of podcasts that talk about it, but I’ve got to be real. I am not going to force myself to watch something if I’m not interested in it.

I’m also not a huge fan of the Kardashians, but I am familiar with them. So instead of recapping that, I’ll talk about how my biggest pop culture fantasy would be to bring North West onto Dance Moms. That’s the crossover that we need! That’s how I pivot and get around talking about a show I don’t really watch but want to touch on because my listeners do watch.

Do you ever have guest co-hosts?

Yeah. A couple of times, I had on one of my good friends from where I went to school. She is an expert on pop culture, but is knowledgeable about a lot of things I don’t typically cover. So it was great when I had her on as a guest correspondent because it was like we were learning facts from one another.

I also had a contest and the winner came on. I had comedian Heather McMahan as a guest correspondent too and that was a lot of fun.

It’s definitely a different dynamic doing it with a co-host than doing it by yourself.

Right now, I’m really looking forward to picking LeeAnne Locken’s brain because I thought she and D’Andra Simmons were two peas in a pod. I didn’t foresee the really bad fallout they’ve had.

Whose side are you on in these arguments? I’ll start with the most buzzed about one: Bethenny Frankel versus Carole Radziwill.

This one is interesting to me. I took a personality test in college and it shows you public figures whose personalities are close to your own. Bethenny came up as my personality type. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I find myself in her shoes a lot of times.

I think with this specific argument that we saw on RHONY, I’m team Bethenny. I would, however, like to talk to Carole and see her side of the story. Bethenny kind of brought Carole up to her level and then brought her down…which corresponds somewhat to the storyline in Mean Girls.

OK…Margaret versus Danielle – Reportedly they’re not friends anymore – if you watched Danielle’s Wendy Williams interview, but we’ll have to see how that plays out in Season 9.  

When I was at lunch with Margaret before filming began for Season 9, she and Danielle were super-close, so this is kind of shocking. As I mentioned earlier, I know within 20 minutes if someone is ‘my kind of people’ and with Marge, I knew in 5. I was on her side with the feud with Siggy during Season 8 and I think that with Danielle, I’m going to be on Marge’s side. She’s a good mix of fun and natural. She can be outspoken, but at her core is rationality and logic. She reminds me of myself and the people I surround myself with. As much as Danielle is an iconic reality TV personality, I’m going to have to side with Margaret.

The vibe that I’m getting is that when you reach out for help, Margaret cares and will tell it to you straight and that may include cutting the bullshit out and saying it in a way you don’t want to hear…but I appreciate when someone tells it to me straight. Maybe Danielle didn’t like that. But we’ll see in the season ahead.

What’s your hope for the future of your podcast and things you want to change about the format?

I think that my followers look forward to former Housewives each week, but it might be nice to sprinkle other guests in with them, and to have both a former and a current Housewife on at the same time.

There are always challenges getting people on, but often when they have new ventures to promote, they are more enthusiastic about doing an interview, or if they really want to express their side of the story finally – like with Peggy.

What has been most rewarding for you and most notable about your podcast?

Having on guests like Lizzie, Kelly and Peggy. Each of them, in their own ways, dropped bombs. Peggy revealed on my show that Kelly Dodd allegedly called her ISIS!  And that didn’t make it into the actual cut of the show.

Lizzie didn’t mention Tamara once in her interview, but I mentioned Tamara and then all this press comes out about Lizzie mentioning Tamara. It was crazy!

Then Kelly drops her own bombshell when she casually says “I love Carole. She and I use the same ghost writer!” She kept on talking and I was like ‘back up for a second. You’re telling me Carole did actually use a ghost writer?!’

Amber Marchese is really awesome in real life and I’d love to see her on a screen again soon.

I feel like I got really lucky with Peggy. She hadn’t done press in forever, so this was an exclusive tell-all.

I ran out of time on my call recorder app and had to record it the old fashioned way because she had so much to say and I wasn’t prepared for that!

Who is your dream guest?

This is a tough one. Should it be Real Housewives related? If not, I would say Britney Jean Spears. She does NOT do in-depth interviews anymore, but I would invite her over to have a cup of tea and just chat.

She’s an enigma in its truest form. She’s elusive and I’m a huge fan who wants to see what really is going on. Her PR people keep her from talking about 2007, and sometimes, the best place to reveal things is to podcasts with emerging talent. The interviews are less obtainable (than, say, material in a People article), but if you really want to listen, you can listen.

Lizzie was my most authentic and real guest because she was so genuine. She opened up and it became emotional – we both cried. Now she’s a good friend in real life.

Do you have a more realistic dream “get” than Britney?

Andy Cohen. We have a lot of similarities to each other and we both have similarities to Bethenny. We are strong-minded yet creative. It’s a balancing act between logic and creativity. I’d love to pick his brain and go back to before Bravo. I’d love to discuss his hanging out with Sarah Jessica Parker in NYC.

Andy Cohen may be a harder “get” than Britney Spears. OK, not harder, but as his popularity has risen, he’s definitely become more elusive in my opinion!

A few days after the above discussion, Anthony wrote me to say he had just conducted his latest interviews with Meghan King Edmonds and LeeAnne Locken:

“It’s crazy how you can perceive someone differently while watching them on TV and then speaking to them one on one. While talking to both Meghan King Edmonds and Leeanne Locken on my show, I felt like I found an immediate friend in both of them. They are both pretty notable yet controversial in the Housewives universe, which is always something that obviously is going to be at the forefront of your mind — before speaking to someone. Something that both of them had in common is that they made me forget I was speaking to ‘Housewives.’ It was like talking to old friends.

Listen to Anthony Lario’s interview with Meghan King Edmonds and then peruse the rest of the Tony’s Tea Corner archive. His interview with LeeAnne Locken will be out tomorrow.

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Big Brother CBS, Uncategorized

#BB20: Interview with JC Mounduix

After a “YATUS” from interviews with reality stars, I was really yearning to write something about the riveting show that completely usurped my summer. Make that: many past summers as well. Annually, I look forward to Big Brother to see a mix of personalities mesh together and clash in a stifling dry-aired “house”, a portion of the CBS lot in the Studio City district of Los Angeles, CA.

Even my kids cannot properly feign disinterest when it comes to the show – although they are mainly waiting for Zingbot to arrive and roast the house guests.

There is only a limited outdoor area for relaxation time between competitions, which are designed to whittle down the houseguests until two are left. Then a jury (of evicted houseguests) votes on the winner.

I never expected to enjoy this past season of the CBS hit – a monumental one in light of Les Moonves stepping down and the fate of host Julie Chen, Moonves’s wife, uncertain – as much as I did. I thought nothing could compare to the epic Season 16, my singled out “absolute favorite” featuring Zach Rance (although he did not win, he won my heart – even more so than fan fave Frankie Grande, singer Ariana’s brother).  I still use quotes from that season in my day to day vernacular. My kids go around yelling “You fruit loop dingus!”

However, the players on BB20, particularly the way they excelled at physical competitions and social manipulations, won me over….as did their dynamics as housemates that would become friends.

One houseguest who received a lot of attention from the viewing audience was JC Mounduix. Diminutive in stature, but stalwart in strength and built of sheer muscle, JC made up for his height with his dynamism, tenacity, as well as ebullient and larger than life persona.

While he was highly entertaining to watch, he was also deemed controversial. Kept away from access to all media, news outlets and electronic devices, he had no idea that some of his actions were seen as highly inappropriate and would garner headlines. TMZ ran several articles, so people who had never watched the show now knew about JC.

BB Superfans (as they are called) would also point out regularly that he had not won a single competition – that is, until the very end, securing a Head of Household spot that took him to the “Final 3.” When this long awaited win finally occurred, Mounduix notably stated to Chen that he won the competition when he needed to win most. However, in an interview with me, he insists that he was always trying hard and spent an exorbitant amount of time continually strategizing. In every competition, he gave it his all.

Following is our discussion:

Hey JC, I really enjoyed watching this season a lot. You were entertaining and you made it incredibly far – especially for someone who didn’t win most of the competitions. One particularly noteworthy scene was when you used the term “yatus” and had Tyler scratching his head until it dawned on him that you were actually saying “hiatus.”

We know that your native language is Spanish, that you are fluent in English and have an impressive vocabulary, so it was great seeing you laugh at yourself later on. You had that amazing ability to never take yourself too seriously.

Now, more importantly, are you surprised you made it to the final 3?

Well, in real life I’ve always had a good social game. So, I was convinced I was going to do well socially. In that way, I felt confident and you should know that I also felt that way about physical competitions – based on watching past seasons!

Well, oh boy. Once I got to the Big Brother house, I found out I was with an extraordinary, super-athletic and capable group of people. I was like ‘shit…how can I compete with all these people?’ I didn’t think it would be as hard as it was because I didn’t account for the lack of sleep and lack of proper nutrition. Good sleep and good food are really what fuel me and they are what I need in order to do well physically.

What you don’t realize at home is how these conditions are and how they can impact performance. The thing is that I was always very outgoing, so I had that to my advantage.

I would mentally work out every move and thought a lot about what I would say to people.

I also really did think of how I could win the physical competitions and what I could do differently. I was as strategic as you could possibly imagine, thinking of every single move and every conversation beforehand. I would run through things before I went to bed at night and I was always thinking. It pissed me off that I wasn’t winning competitions because I thought that when I got out of the game, people would call me a ‘floater’. My fear was that no one would realize how much thought and effort I had put into things.

On the positive side with that, I wasn’t picked to play a veto until Sam’s HOH on day 30. After that, I went a long time without being picked for veto competitions.

Then…I DID win something and it was a win that really counted and secured me in the top 3. But I’d really like for people to realize that when you’re barely eating and barely sleeping, it’s even more challenging than it looks on TV.

You made it pretty clear to the viewing audience that you saw Fessy as….well, you called him a ‘puppet’, but frankly, as an idiot. Watching things back now, do you see him as smarter than that?

I truly think Fessy is a very good player and initially, I wanted to work with him, but he’s not the smartest player. I backed away when I saw he was playing an emotional game because that doesn’t work with me.

Here’s the thing you have to understand: We are locked in a house with nothing to do. We are sitting around looking at each other’s faces all day long. So we said so many things just to have a conversation. We all said some things to be a little bit ‘extra’. For me, it was 99 days in the house with food that is the same over and over. It’s not healthy. I probably wouldn’t say some of those things under normal everyday conditions.

With Fessy, I think he fell in love with Hayleigh and then he had her back 100 percent. At that point, I knew I couldn’t rely on him. I didn’t think he acted wisely or strategically with Swaggy. Then later, I knew he was probably making top four alliances with Hayleigh because it was an emotional move. I was out.

You noticed Showmances – not only the one between Fessy and Hayleigh, but between Tyler and Angela – and those seemed to really bother you.

I didn’t actually know if Fessy and Hayleigh were in a technical ‘showmance’, but I did know I couldn’t trust him at all when I saw how close they were. These showmances can distract from playing strategically and with the right mindset. It didn’t make sense what Fessy did to Kaitlyn. That was my wakeup call. He used the veto on Hayleigh which led to Kaitlyn’s eviction because of his feelings for Hayleigh.

Tyler tried to act far less intelligent than he was, but you saw something special in him. What was it that made you want to align with him, and did you fall for his act at all?

Early on, I felt that Tyler was someone I wanted to work with because I wanted to work with someone quiet, who I could trust – well, as much as you can trust in this game! I recognized that quietness and I liked him and wanted to work with him from day 2. That was even before he started winning competitions.

You may have seen some things with Tyler that you thought were sneaky, but the truth is that we had lots and lots of conversations and there were things he never repeated. No matter which way his loyalty went, he never threw me under the bus. I was also trying to save him as much as I could in conversations with the other houseguests. I was busy trying to convince people he wasn’t as smart as he was when we had conversations. I knew he was smarter, but I sort of used Tyler’s strategy and how he was trying to portray himself when talking to others…to protect him.

Now I have to ask the uncomfortable question. There were numerous headlines about you while you were in the house. The articles spoke of sexual assault and mentioned that you had groped Tyler. What was your reaction when you found out about the coverage? What do you have to say about it now?

First of all, we were a family there. We were united and going through this crazy situation and I felt these were my brothers and sisters. You get frustrated while you’re in that house. All of us had bad nights of sleep with nightmares. When I was having a nightmare and slept near different people, they came over to comfort me…gave me a kiss. Rachel would play with me to make me feel better. We really had this family feel -well, except for the two couples in a showmance – and never had any tensions. That night that was written about…Tyler was moving around and I thought he was having a nightmare. I tried to give him a kiss on the shoulder and it wasn’t a big deal. I only found out after that live feeders…or others…said they saw it differently.

At the time, production just said to be careful because you’re watched all the time and people are sensitive, but it was such a NO big deal conversation. I was shocked when I heard what was going on. I was like ‘what the fuck? This is what people are going to focus on?’

Tyler was also completely surprised by it and he didn’t think anything of it in the house. Now that we’re out of the house, Tyler is literally texting me every day and we’re great friends. The other cast mates were like ‘What The Fuck?’ about that whole thing.

I feel like they (the public) were looking for something. I really do highly respect things when it comes to sexual harassment. I always have. I feel strongly about the things that are wrong being wrong and unacceptable. But, don’t go around calling this sexual harassment!

Someone opens their mouth and starts something and then it gets carried away – but that really was NOT the situation!

Knowing about the CBS (Les Moonves) news now, it feels like maybe this was more of a focus and people went looking for something.

Another subject that came up among viewers was how Kaitlyn flirted and was touchy with guys in the house. Yet, she had a serious boyfriend at home. He ended up breaking up with her as a result of the show.

We’re super close friends right now and she told me all these crazy stories of how things were blown out of proportion. We talk a lot.

You get very close locked in the house with nothing to do for most of the days. There are no movies to watch or things like that. We just have each other. I know a lot of the houseguests said a lot of things that made the news, but it wasn’t ever malicious. We were all killing time and we are all friends. I talk to everyone now except Sam, but as soon as she gets back to reality a little bit, I’m totally going to call her. The rest of us are hanging out and I know Sam is a little special…so I’m waiting for things to settle down and then I’m going to call her.

You and Bayleigh had a heated exchange when you spoke about certain words being offensive. How is your relationship with Bayleigh now?

That whole thing was rectified that day, I thought. It was taken out of control. Words can be offensive when used malicious ways, but I had no malicious intentions. It was a heated conversation and I thought that everything was resolved on that day. When I heard about the reaction and it being in the news, I thought that people are looking for anything to get angry. Bayleigh and I are good with each other. We hung out in Vegas after the show ended. I reached out to her after her miscarriage to tell her how sorry I am for what she went through. We will hopefully be getting together again soon to do something really fun, as part of a group, this winter.

You have too much time on your hands in the house and you get moody, but once we all got back to real life….Well, we love each other. Right now as I’m on the phone with you, Rachel is calling me!

I was talking with some members of the Bravo Junkies Facebook group and they mentioned that you and Kaitlyn are living together now?

We have the same agent and we get along really well. So we’re looking for an apartment to move into together as roommates. She and I have the strongest bond.

Kaitlyn says to me that everything happens for a reason and I really believe that – I think that explains how we are where we are now and why we’re close.

It was heartbreaking for viewers to hear that your family was not accepting of you being gay, and that your relationship with them was strained. Kaycee spoke about some struggles that she had with her mother’s acceptance. As two members of the LGBTQ community, viewers felt for both of you when you discussed your situations. Has your family come around at all, and have they reached out since the show ended?

Sorry, I’m not allowed to answer ANYTHING family related. I’m really sorry.

I understand. Moving on: One member of that same Facebook group, the Bravo Junkies, wanted me to ask about a minion video that you filmed, something Evel Dick shared on his Twitter feed….(pause) Oh, ok. I actually just went to watch it and I’ll refrain from getting into the details, but I guess I’ve got to ask about it.

The minion video was made when I was in college. My friends were annoying me, asking me to get ready to go to the clubs and I made the video to annoy them. We have that kind of friendship. It was never a real sexual thing. Evel Dick needed the attention and the likes, so he posted it, and I honestly think that was funny.

My readers can Google it if they want, I guess.

My friend Sara and I were talking about how it was really funny when you spoke about making the houseguests heavy foods to fatten them up. I think that was a highlight of the season. How serious were you about putting them at a disadvantage in that regard?

The cooking was a joke! It really wasn’t my strategy. I’m not that stupid (laughs).

Thank you so much for speaking with me, JC. I said I would only take 20 minutes of your time, but I’ve exceeded that. Definitely go and call Rachel back now!

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Uncategorized

#ShahsOfSunset & Other Shows: Realness Versus Reality Gold

Last year, preceding the premiere of Shahs of Sunset, cast member Mike Shouhed told me he thought the season would garner an Emmy nomination. I love this Bravo show, but over the course of watching past (and now, the current) seasons it’s become apparent that the cast acutely feels the need to drum up drama during duller moments. It is true that a lot of what we see is real and raw, and that MJ, Mike and Reza wish they didn’t have to show viewers certain things. But…what makes them great, ultimately, is that they know that “sharing everything” – no matter how excruciating some disclosures are – is exactly what they signed up to do.

Also, and especially this season, it seems to viewers that the cast is overly conscious of plot lines going stale. That’s precisely when they’ll throw Molotov cocktails into the mix. The “fake” components don’t bother me as much as they probably should – There is something about this dynamic Persian crew that has me captivated. I’m tuned in for all of their adventures.

Sometimes events can seem “extra”, but it works with this kooky ensemble of outlandish personalities (Reza’s husband Adam, who was the more easygoing “better half” last season, must have recently received a memo to be more reactive on camera. He’s dialed it up bizarrely this season, which strikes me as rather inorganic).

Asa Soltan is the former full-time Shahs cast mate who kept so much of her personal and romantic life private and was adamant about keeping various details off camera. This season, she’ll only have a few cameo appearances which suits Mercedes Javid (“MJ”) just fine after expressing her annoyance about Asa in an interview with me.

Even with the irksome intervention of several publicists on the phone line, MJ’s effortless candor with me was greatly appreciated. I could totally sympathize with and feel the frustrations she was having: Here she was discussing “dysfunctional” aspects of her life in detail, repeatedly hearing her mother painstakingly critique her on television. In the meantime, Asa was intent on keeping everything close to the vest (including her longtime romantic partnership with Jermaine Jackson II).

Mike’s comment about the show deserving an Emmy, Reza and MJ’s shenanigans designed to antagonize the irascible GG, the outing of Shervin as a deceptive womanizer…These are all things that could cause the VP of Bravo PR to quake in his suede loafers while pacing and pondering: “Will the press pan this show as being scripted?”

More realistically, I’d say he’s largely unbothered because Ryan Seacrest Productions works their magic annually to put this masterpiece together in way that hooks longtime viewers and reels newbies in. Scripted-seeming or not, as Mike Shouhed himself would tell you: “People freakin love it.”

Here’s the thing with reality television: While a lot of what is filmed is off the cuff, so much is also planned and devised with precision beforehand.

So should we believe MJ and Reza when they say that a shocking announcement at a party was merely a spur of the moment drunken move? Only partly.

Their tactic is most likely a PATT move: Plan, Ambush and Tag Team. There was no peace in mind when inviting Shalom’s other ex to the Valentines soirée. It’s unlikely that MJ and Reza didn’t have some strategic meeting of the minds beforehand.

It’s been rumored that some Bravolebrities have practiced “lines” in front of mirrors before we see their quote-worthy words uttered with impeccable delivery. One reality tv personality had a line that stood out to many, but the individual privately admitted that reality TV bloggers gave them the quote word for word, hoping to drive a certain narrative home.

Producers do make executive decisions such as: “You’re turning 50 and I know you’d like to have a party. That’s where you’ll ask ____ about her husband’s separate apartment that she’s never seen.” But the personalities on these shows will admit that after only a bit of initial nudging, once the ball is rolling it’s easy to push past formalities and go rogue. If you don’t operate at the requisite speed to freely let your freak flag fly without filter, then honey, you weren’t made for reality TV. (See: Peggy Sulahian, 100th Housewife — also referred to as “Peggy Shhh No Talk!” by comedian and Housewives impersonator Amy Phillips.)

While I can grapple with what’s not reality about reality television – and I watch The Bachelor franchise as true testament to that – I think there’s a limit to what’s acceptable. There’s an immense amount of scheming that goes on behind the scenes when you consider reports of romantic couples who are not actually items at all, but rather, have made a business arrangement to benefit both parties. There have been at least two couples that come to my mind at this very moment: They are seen as having contrived storylines. These couples have been dogged by rumors of business arrangements: You play my fiancé/boyfriend/girlfriend/on-off hookup. It will make things much spicier this season.

A seasoned reality personality knows that being sensational wears off fast. Because it’s ideal to stay perpetually fresh, the wheels are always turning.

Knowing that I know all of this about reality TV, it boggles my husband’s and my sons’ minds that I have a more difficult time getting into modern scripted shows. To that I say: Where is the fun in knowing it’s all fake, when I can enjoy wondering about what is, versus what isn’t, instead?

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Cults, Psychology, public figures, True Crime, Uncategorized

#NXIVM: Catherine Oxenberg Says Daughter “Will Be Fine…More Than Fine”

Catherine Oxenberg is many things. She’s enviably beautiful. She’s intelligent and she’s kind. She’s also “royal” – her mother is Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia – in addition to having played royalty on televisions as an actress.

But these days Catherine Oxenberg is known for more than her television roles, most notably for starring on Dynasty, and her lineage. These days she’s known as a fierce crusader and a fighter, one who took on a cult and didn’t back down until she knew her daughter was safe. It is a group that has threatened its detractors, terrorized them via bogus litigation, and maligned former members. Yes, it is the cult that is the subject of many conversations and is currently all over the media. The one that fronted as a mainly innocuous, but money-sucking, professional empowerment/self-help group and has changed names many times, but is now known by one represented by Roman numerals. The cult that – it was subsequently discovered – had a unique division devoted to the sexual slavery of women. That division, called DOS, called for fierce loyalty pledges from members, requiring the handing over of “collateral” (incriminating information/pictures that would mortify the individual should they defect from the sorority) and branding in the pubic region.

As Catherine details in her new book Captive: A Mother’s Crusade To Save Her Daughter From a Terrifying Cult, she and her daughter India went to a meeting for what appeared to be a self help group back in 2011. Catherine’s then-husband made a somewhat offhanded and jokey remark, following some creepy observations about the group’s leader Keith Raniere. He suspected aloud to her that Keith was involved sexually with the group’s women. Catherine remembers the comment (which would prove to be a confirmed truth) in hindsight, but it was stated in such an off-the-cuff manner that she didn’t focus deeply on it. She had also only briefly met the cult leader.

Following that fateful meeting, Catherine took some NXIVM courses that promised success in business and taught about the tools and skills to excel. She reflects now: “A lot of what you hear Keith say about NXIVM’s philosophy sounds like gobbledygook when you listen to him on YouTube and see how captivated (former Smallville actress) Allison Mack is by his words. He has this ability to break you down and then reel you in.”

Catherine said that she gets annoyed by how people undermine those who are susceptible to brainwashing: “Anyone is susceptible because the person doing it is clever and has a strategy. It’s about appealing to an individual’s interests and goals. India is a confident and self-assured woman. There were prominent, highly intelligent people who took NXIVM courses. It’s very insulting when people criticize and judge how one can be taken in by this group. Aside from offering community, NXIVM offers the promise of doing something and being a part of something special that will make a difference in the world.”

When they were first introduced to the group, India was committed to improving her own business skills following a failed food-related venture. Catherine describes India as someone who sees the kindness in people and who is committing to bettering humanity.

“That is something that this group looks for in individuals,” says Catherine, explaining that India was a prime recruit for the group because of her uniquely innate desire to help people and contribute to society. “They slowly convince people – there are brilliant people who have become involved! – that they are part of something that is going to make a huge difference.”

Catherine took some overly pricey NXIVM courses and despite initial interest, became more skeptical and more disenchanted over a three year period. She gave up on NXIVM, but India only became more committed. Then she moved to Albany to be with the group and surrounded by its members.

In Catherine’s book, and on a recent episode of Dateline (in which Megyn Kelly is the interviewer), Catherine speaks about the former NXIVM member who reached out furtively and fearfully to alert her that her daughter was in danger. Catherine was then provided with evidence and became invested in amassing more evidence – which she eventually turned over to the New York State General Attorney’s office.

Although the authorities had been repeatedly pointed to the unethical practices of the group (including shady financial transactions and Keith Raniere’s sexual relationships with women under the age of consent), it was Catherine’s diligently collected mountain of evidence that helped spur law enforcement to serious action.

I ask her if she thinks her status as an actress and coming from royalty helped with her being taken seriously. She laughs: “I think they were tired of being hounded by me and knew I was this mother who wasn’t going to give up!”

While all of this was happening, India had essentially estranged herself from a mother pleading for her return. Mother could not get in touch with daughter or be sure of her whereabouts for a lengthy period of time, and while India was now an adult, Catherine knew the dangers of NXIVM and saw no choice other than to speak out publicly.

This was a move that would have repercussions for Catherine, with India further evading her and ensuring more secrecy regarding her whereabouts.

Going to the media was something that pained Catherine to do, but it was a last resort and a desperate measure called for by a desperate time. Having been in the limelight many years before as an actress and as the daughter of a princess, she would much rather have avoided the media than begged them to shine a spotlight on something.

But in this case, there was a singular goal in mind: getting her daughter out of harm’s way as quickly as possible and to safety.

You will have to read Catherine’s book to see how complicated this journey was. Her daughter India has asked for privacy during this time. We do not know if and how she was culpable in NXIVM’s illicit activities, but few question that she was a victim of Raniere’s intense mind control.

I ask Catherine if India now knows she was “brainwashed.”

“She does not like that word, Catherine states adamantly, “That’s definitely not a word that gets a good reaction so I stopped bringing it up. India feels for the ordeal that I’ve been through. She feels for the ordeals of others.”

By “others”, I privately hope that in time, the empathic India Oxenberg will have little to no sympathy for Keith Raniere.

For now, mums the word, but India has told her mom that she’ll tell her story her way and specifically, in her own time.

To hear India’s carefully crafted statement to the media, you’ll have to check out the Dateline episode. Catherine was able to share with me (and with Megyn Kelly) that she recently reconnected with her daughter and India is safe. The media has reported that she’s away from NXIVM (or what’s left of it currently) now.

When questioned by Megyn Kelly about India’s future (with the allusion of possible lingering effects of NXIVM), Catherine smiled at the interviewer. It was an authentic and heartfelt smile that she hadn’t exhibited publicly in a long, long time. “She will be fine,” she replied, then paused as her smile widened a bit: “…more than fine.”

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#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.

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Gender Stereotypes, Women in the workplace, Uncategorized

#Google: Is the “Images” Platform Reinforcing Gender Stereotypes In the Workplace?

A new study indicates that Google images may be reinforcing gender stereotypes in the work place.

As you can see in the above table, images for a certain profession often align with what people perceive to be prevalent jobs for a specific gender. If you were to, say, type the word “CEO” into Google Images, you would find only 11% of female CEOs represented in the results, as opposed to an actual 28% reported in the US Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey.

The study goes on to show that if you type the word “journalist,” females are underrepresented by 28% in the search results. When it comes to “bus drivers,” our minds typically conjure up a male image and Google Images represents that in its platform results. Women are underrepresented by 29% in comparison to US Labor Force Statistics data.

AdView analyzed United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics data, along with the results of Google Image searches for a range of job roles.

Psychology dictates that we come to know and understand things based on what we are shown. It is perplexing to think that societal perceptions could be so influenced by a popular search engine – when we are not getting accurate representations from that popular search engine!

More astonishing is this fact: After the search giant’s most recent annual report was released, it was revealed that Google has had a mere 0.3% growth in the percentage of women employed since 2014.

The misrepresentation of genders within job roles on Google Images is particularly salient because between May 2017 and May 2018, Google held 87% of the search engine market share in the US.

The Most Underrepresented Roles for Females on Google images are:

Baker – females are underrepresented by 33% on Google Images

Bus Driver – females are underrepresented by 29% on Google Images

Journalist – females are underrepresented by 28% on Google Images

Hairdresser – females are underrepresented by 24% on Google Images

CEO – females are underrepresented by 17% on Google Images.

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