I have a confession. Out of all the cities in the franchise, Atlanta is the one I watch the least. If you've noticed, I haven't even covered anything RHOA-related, despite some friends' insistence that I was missing out. In fact, this is the first time I've written a recap solely dedicated to the lives of the Atlanta ladies. Season 5 was the first year I watched the majority of the season. Before then, I'd only seen bits and pieces. I watched Season 6 off and on as well, but I felt the recently-completed seventh season kind of imploded on itself and just wasn't that engaging. So, for me, the 100th episode special was equal parts walk down memory lane and education in all things ATL.
Unlike the 100th episode special for Orange County, which consisted of confessionals by the first ladies of Bravo and Andy himself (sans tie and looking fly), the Atlanta ladies all sat down for one-on-one interviews with Andy in the WWHL Clubhouse. The format was fun, and generally worked well, but I missed getting Andy's perspective on the ATL like we did in the OC. The special was divided into ten different segments, so for the sake of convenience, I'll break my recap up the same way. So, without further adieu, let's get to it, peaches.
In the Beginning
Andy kicks things off by asking NeNe, the OG of the ATL, if she expected to be making TV history when the show debuted back in 2008. As she explains that it would've been impossible to predict the phenomenon the show and franchise have become, we're treated to snippets of her and DeShawn Snow's casting tapes. These little peeks behind the curtain were some of my favorite moments of the night, like watching a long-haired NeNe describe herself as a 40-and-fabulous star yet to be discovered. Kim, rocking some bright pink lipstick and a cream-colored bandage dress, explains that she originally met NeNe at the gym when she was running around, smoking a cigarette with a trainer - as hilarious a mental image as I've ever had. NeNe convinced her to come film the pilot with her, even though the producers weren't looking for any Caucasian women at that point. NeNe describes the pilot - where we saw DeShawn moving into her 15,000 sq. ft. mansion - as "scary" to watch. Kim sees it differently however, saying that back in Season 1, everyone was simply who they were and their reality was captured before the show evolved into what it is now. The big drama in the pilot revolved around a party thrown by Shereè Whitfield in which NeNe's name was purposely left off the guest list. NeNe says now that she would never call her rival a friend, despite knowing her for more than a decade. Interestingly Shereè and fellow original 'Wife Lisa Wu both failed to appear in the special, (reports in the media claimed the two couldn't reach agreements on salary), but having never been a fan of Shereè, I personally didn't miss her.
Future Housewives also weighed in on the first season. Cynthia Bailey thought one thing that was especially great when the show premiered was seeing the lives of real, successful African-American women on TV. Kandi Burruss cited Atlanta as the black Hollywood, where everyone is trying to be something and make something happen for themselves. Phaedra Parks reflected on the debut season saying she didn't know that she'd ever seen reality TV so raw. Apparently, the first time Andy met NeNe was when she called him up and asked him to do a reunion show for the first season. The OC and NYC 'Wives had filmed reunions for their respective seasons, but the post-season specials weren't yet a given part of the Housewives formula. According to Andy, NeNe felt that Kim had been talking about her on the show and wanted to confront her. Kim, meanwhile, looks back on the first reunion - which featured NeNe's epic "close your legs to married men" line - as a horrible experience. So I guess we have NeNe Leakes to thank for keeping the much-beloved tradition of Housewives reunions alive, because a pop culture phenomenon had been born.
The Show Grows
Next, the cast's subsequent new additions were highlighted. Kandi was the first new Housewife to join the show in Season 2. In fact, the first scene the Grammy-winner shot was in Momma Joyce's house, when her mom sent her into tears about her fiancé AJ. On Kandi's very first day of shooting, she was already crying! Phaedra, who joined the show in Season 3, wanted to become a Housewife because she felt the show didn't truly reflect what Atlanta was really about. According to the Southern Belle, there were no educated or class women on the show at the time besides Kandi. Shade! Cynthia, the other third season addition and my personal favorite Atlanta Housewife, didn't really know what she would be getting herself into, and worried about how she would fit into the group of women. Her first scene was with all of the 'Wives at her house for lunch, when Phaedra claimed she didn't know when her baby was due. (Of course, the truth later came out that boughetto Phae-Phae was lying). Cynthia describes her entire first season on the show as one giant hazing ritual, from the infamous Friendship Contract to her wedding in the season finale. This, naturally, led to the question of whether NeNe, as the OG, hazes the new girls. As clips of her calling Phaedra "Fakedra" and shaking her head about Porsha thinking a year had 265 days, Miss Linnethia simply claimed she had a big personality that other women could find intimidating.
Her first impression of Kenya Moore, who would join the cast in Season 5 and arguably become the show's biggest villain and NeNe's rival, was one word: crazy. The delusion was evident in Kenya's casting tape from 2010, when she introduced herself as "Kenya Moore, you may have heard of me" and compared herself to "Michael Jackson reincarnated." Gone with the Wind fabulous indeed, Kenyoncé. The ego on this woman is unparalleled. Even down-to-earth Kandi thought she was cuckoo. Claudia Jordan, the show's most recent addition from Season 7, said she knew it would be hard joining the group of women as Kenya's friend. To this day, she feels that she would get along with most of the other ladies if they would get over their prejudgement based on her association with the show's villain.
Knowing How to Work It and Be Seen
Kandi's casting tape, where she talked about being part of the "music movement" in Atlanta and showed off her Grammy Award for Best R&B Song (for "No Scrubs" by TLC) kicked off the segment showing how the Atlanta 'Wives had used the show as a platform for their business ventures. From "Don't Be Tardy for the Party" and Bedroom Kandi to Donkey Booty vs. Stallion Booty, the way the ladies have managed to leverage their success on the show has been nothing short of incredible. As a Grammy-winning music producer, Kandi has worked an eye-popping list of A-list talent: Mariah Carey, TLC, Destiny's Child, Whitney Houston and...Kim Zolciak. In discussing "Tardy for the Party," Kandi said that she's always rooted for the underdog and decided she wanted to help Kim as a friend. Kim, whose other musical attempts include "Google Me" and "Love Me First," still marks hearing "Tardy..." for the first time as one of the best memories of her life, and said it just goes to show what you can do with the Housewives platform. Of course, fans know that controversy over the song's royalties, which Kim's lawyer talked her into not paying Kandi, ultimately ended the duo's friendship. Kim admits that a contract should've been set in stone from the beginning between the two. Let this be a lesson about why you never mix with friendship, kids.
Viewers initially met Phaedra as a lawyer to the stars, but the Southern Belle has used the show to branch out into several other areas, including dog funerals, a Donkey Booty workout video and a mortuary career. Phaedra describes herself as a jack-of-all-trades who masters most, and with a resume like that, it's hard to disagree. Cynthia, meanwhile, is grateful to the show for giving her the platform to inspire other young talent with the Bailey Agency. However, as an entrepreneur there are ups and downs, and the one regret she has is publicizing her and Peter's financial situation on the show. As a result, no matter how successful the couple becomes, people's perceptions in the world are that the Thomases are broke. Meanwhile, Kandi's line of adult toys, Bedroom Kandi, continues to thrive - Kandi remains possibly the only person to win both a Grammy Award and an AVN Award...
Let's Talk About Sex, Baby
Bedroom Kandi serves as the perfect segue into one of the Atlanta ladies' favorite topics: sex. The show's seven seasons have been full of crazy sex moments, from the Bedroom Kandi launch party to the infamous ReDICKulous performance. However, Kandi's favorite sex-related moment was the ladies' Season 7 game of hot potato on the beach in Puerto Rico using a dildo. Phaedra claims she doesn't like sex talk, only nudity as art. Coming from the Southern belle who hired ReDICKulous for Kandi's birthday party, that excuse is hard to swallow, but she claims that wasn't sex talk, just "a man with a penis." Always one to shy away from sex talk, NeNe points out that it's funny how often some of the other women talk a big game about sex, but they never seem to be able to land a man. Shade yet again! The OG also says that she's always been open about her past as an exotic dancer, and that some of these other girls should be open about their "past as a whore." Cut to Kenya. Ha!
Dresses and Tresses
When it came to the awards for best dressed and best hair, the women obviously couldn't agree. Best dressed alternated between Kenya (who nominated herself), Cynthia, Phaedra and Kim, who apparently always wore the best labels. Kim was also quick to nominate supporting queens Derek J, Lawrence and Dwight for their "off-the-chain", gender-bending looks. As NeNe agrees, Dwight brought fabulosity to the show ("a fashion show with no fashion? How dreadful!"). The award for best hair was a toss-up between Kenya, Cynthia and Porsha. Worst hair, on the other hand, went to NeNe, according to Kandi. Like Cynthia says, when NeNe gets it bad, it's really bad. For both best dressed and best hair, I would hands-down give it to Cynthia. There's a reason she was a supermodel, people, and she's a fashion risk-taker who can pull off nearly any hairstyle imaginable. After all, beauty is her business and she's the boss.
All in the Family
In Phaedra's casting tape prior to Season 3, she's asked by a producer whether she's worried about her relationship with Apollo, seeing as there had been a few divorces documented on the show. The question is sad foreshadowing for anyone with hindsight. As Andy points out to NeNe, nearly every woman on the show has been through the ringer when it comes to relationships - from NeNe's rollercoaster relationship with Gregg and Todd and Kandi's Momma Joyce drama to Porsha being blindsided by Kordell's divorce filing and of course, Kim and Big Poppa. For those who need a refresher, Big Poppa was Kim's mystery boyfriend during the first three seasons of the show who never appeared on camera. According to Kim, he lived in Atlanta, worked in real estate and chased her for a year before they started dating. At the time a legally married man, Big Poppa produced quite a bit of controversy during his relationship with Kim as he showered her with cars, jewelry, furniture and other expensive gifts. As for what made Kim break things off with her mysterious sugar daddy? NFL player and her now-husband Kroy Biermann, of course. In fact, Big Poppa dropped Kim off at the Dancing Stars of Atlanta charity event where she met Kroy, who was Shereè's dance partner. As for what happened pre-Kroy (and Kroy's perfect butt)? Kim got shy talking about her bi-curious fling with DJ Tracy Young, whom she met while remixing "Tardy for the Party." She eventually turned the question around on Andy, who remains a gold-star gay, having never swam in the lady pond, unlike Mrs. Zolciak-Biermann.
Meanwhile, NeNe and Gregg have had a tumultuous few years in their relationship, which thankfully had a happy ending following their remarriage on I Dream of NeNe. When asked, NeNe doesn't blame the show for their divorce following Season 3, but acknowledges that the cameras certainly didn't help. As one of the breakout Housewives, NeNe's star was on the rise, which was hard on Gregg. Andy comments that it was odd to see NeNe without Gregg for the duration of the fourth season, as she was showered with gifts by her business partner John Kolaj. Ultimately, NeNe said she regrets divorcing her husband and putting their whole relationship out there on the show, and wishes they would've handled the situation differently. Thankfully, love eventually brought them back together.
In other Housewives' relationship problems, Andy asks Phaedra whether she regrets Apollo's involvement on the show, seeing as the two are now separated with Apollo serving eight years in prison for fraud and identity theft. Phaedra says she doesn't live her life with regrets, so she doesn't have any about her relationship with Apollo being part of the show. However, as clips of the tense spiral of their relationship's implosion play, Phaedra admits that the show can tend to bring out the worst in people, like the time during Season 7 that Apollo went crazy in their garage before reporting to prison. Porsha also talked about her divorce from Kordell, which she found out about on Twitter, saying it was "just the worst thing ever." At the time, the two were already going through a rough patch because of the show and other ladies' opinions that Kordell was controlling. However, Porsha claims that it was a good thing in the end, as the show highlighted some things she needed to work on about herself.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking relationship saga documented on the show is Kandi's. Engaged during Season 2 to businessman AJ Jewell, the two called off their wedding shortly after filming wrapped and he was tragically killed in a drive-by shooting in October 2009. At the time, two of Kandi's ex-fiancé's daughters were still living with her, and she said there were times that going through such a tragedy in the public eye made her regret joining the show. Kandi's other regrets include her mother's smackdown with her best friend Carmon while she was shopping for a dress for her wedding (to now-husband Todd Tucker) in Season 6. Andy pointed out that Momma Joyce seems to have a history of being very threatened by people getting between their mother-daughter relationship, and Kandi admitted that her mom could be a "little" territorial, which may be the understatement of the century. However, Momma Joyce apparently treats Todd much better now, which is good considering that Kandi has vowed to never let her mom dictate who she can be with.
NeNe's biggest regret from the show is documenting her search for her biological father, after discovering that Curtis, who she thought was her dad, actually wasn't in Season 1. NeNe explained that she still considered Curtis her father, but that he might not consider her his daughter after seeing the show air. Apparently, her biological father was Curtis' friend, who admitted to sleeping with NeNe's mother. The revelation hurt Curtis deeply, for obvious reasons, and his relationship with NeNe was never the same afterwards.
In Cynthia's five years on the show, one of the most dramatic moments in her story remains her wedding to Peter during the Season 3 finale. After a season full of building tension and financial distress, Cynthia's mother and sister took it upon themselves to hide the marriage certificate so that Peter and Cynthia couldn't sign it. The former model admitted that the situation haunted the couple for a long time, as it took years for Cynthia to convince Peter that she didn't know anything about her sister and mother's actions at the time. Sometimes on a reality show, the reality bleeds into your real life, and Peter was rightfully hurt by the situation a great deal. The family meddling and marriage certificate scandal coupled with Peter's financial dire straits certainly wasn't the most positive way for the couple to start their life together.
Shade & Showdowns
Of course, the biggest reason any of us watch the Housewives is for the fights and the feuds, and the ladies of Atlanta have given us many. From NeNe vs. Kandi to Kenya vs. Porsha to Shereè vs. Marlo, the Southern smackdowns are among Bravo's most memorable. However, few compare to the wig pull heard round the world when Kim, Shereè and NeNe faced off in an epic brawl during Season 2. Giving the clash some context, Kim admitted that prior to Housewives, the dynamic between the three ladies always had a competitive undertone that was then magnified under the lens of the camera. In fact, Kim and NeNe - the dueling queens of the Atlanta 'Wives are known to have had some of the most legendary fights in Housewives history. From Season 2's "is your wig squeezing your head too tight, heifer?" to Season 3's tour bus brawl, the two centerpieces of RHOA have clashed time and again. In fact, no one can get Kim as angry as NeNe can, according to Wig herself. The constant fighting back and forth took its toll on the blonde bombshell, eventually leading to her leaving the show in the middle of Season 5, after an explosive lunch-time confrontation over the upcoming cast trip to Anguilla. As Kim put it, "of course [she] didn't want to hang out or go on vacation with any of the other ladies, they were all full of s***!" With that, Kim exited the series and never looked back. I subsequently fell in love with her on her spinoff, "Don't Be Tardy", which I started watching for Kroy's butt and quickly became converted to the antics of the Zolciak-Biermann crew.
The other major fallout for NeNe was the demise of her friendship with BFF Cynthia during the sixth and seventh seasons. According to Cynthia, theirs was a true friendship, one in which she was completely committed. However, the friendship took a turn for the worse after NeNe accused Cynthia's husband of acting like a bitch during Kenya's charity event in Season 6. Cynthia explained that she tried to get past the slight, but Peter never really got over it and she couldn't blame him. Cynthia commented that she loves her friends, but no one should ever expect her to choose a friend over her husband, which is a completely valid point. For her part, NeNe admits that she probably shouldn't have used the b-word, but subsequently threw shade by following that up by saying that Peter shouldn't have been acting like one. The BFF's spent much of Season 7 trying to mend their relationship to no avail. From her perspective, NeNe was a good friend to Cynthia, so there was nothing she would have changed between the two.
One relationship that has always been murky is NeNe and Kandi's. Out of all the new girls who have ever come on the show, the one person Miss Linnethia's never connected with is Kandi. Kandi agreed, saying that she never knows where the two stand half the time either, sometimes NeNe can be friendly and sometimes all you get is a cold shoulder. According to NeNe, Kandi isn't the type of girl she would ever hang out with in real life, due to her lack of fabulousness.
To Kandi, Andy brings up the disastrous Pillow Talk fight during Season 6, citing Kenya as the one who initiated the chaos. (For those who can't remember, Kenya got up and charged Friend of the Housewives Natalie Macklin, setting off a series of explosions and physical altercations.) Cynthia points out that amidst the mayhem, she and Kandi ended up having words with each other, which was unfortunate because the two had always been friendly. Kandi herself points to the fight as one of the lowest moments in the show's history and a horrible representation of herself.
For troublemaker Kenya's part, she chooses her fallout with Phaedra, which encompassed the majority of Seasons 5, 6 and 7, as the feud that hurt her the most. From Kenya's perspective, the two connected right away when they met, but their budding friendship went downhill over their soured business dealings regarding Phaedra's Donkey Booty workout video and Kenya's inappropriate flirting with Apollo, which started in Anguilla. Of course, the drama between her and Phaedra's husband culminated in further inappropriate text conversations and allegations of sexual offers in LA, which turned out to be a lie on Apollo's part. The two 'Wives sparred on opposite couches for two reunions, throwing barbs about sperm donors, fighting dirty and Pha-Phae's classic "you can't be a Housewife because you can't get a husband" line. Phaedra claims she was ready to "beat the devil out of" Kenya, and that it's somewhat of a miracle she didn't commit a crime. In the end, she chalks up her feud with the villain as "a plethora of foolishness".
Fans may look forward to reunion time all season long, but Phaedra calls the yearly sit-down the bane of her existence. Many other 'Wives probably feel similarly about the grueling, confrontational shoots. The darkest moment of possibly any reunion in the franchise was the physical altercation between Kenya and Porsha during Season 6. When asked by Andy, Kandi proclaims Kenya started the whole thing by waving her scepter in Porsha's face and then pulling out a bullhorn once Porsha snatched the toy and threw it on the ground. From Kenya's innocent perspective, one should never respond to a verbal attack by getting physical, which is true in principle but hard to argue in this particular situation. NeNe, naturally, feels the entire thing was Kenya's fault, because you can't taunt someone like that and not expect a reaction. Porsha, for her part, calls the experience a learning lesson, having confronted a situation where she felt she was being bullied and provoked. However, she's quick to point out that if a similar confrontation happened in the future, she would react differently. Thank goodness. The ladies can't afford to leave every reunion with assault charges.
Housewives on Holiday
Kenya tells Andy her favorite cast trip was to Anguilla during Season 5, (probably because she got to spend so much time with shirtless Apollo), but the rest of the women all agree that their Season 4 trip to South Africa was the most special, with NeNe calling it a "really good moment." Phaedra points out that the women all did things that were true to themselves while in Africa. Among the most memorable experiences, the ladies danced with African kids, went on safari and visited an orphanage, where they brought hygiene and school supplies. As Kandi said, the entire trip was a touching experience, one that bonded the women beyond any feuds and catfights that were going on at the time.
Andy closed out the milestone special by asking the women what the show had meant to them and what they hoped people would take away from it. True to form, Phaedra said she hopes she's played a part in showing viewers that Southern belles still exist. Cynthia credits the show as one of the best things to happen in her life, and says she's become a stronger person because of it. Kenya gives the answer that she's learned more about herself and the show has helped her grow as a person. In the best answer to the question, DeShawn credits the show with being groundbreaking in that it showed viewers that African-Americans were prosperous. According to Kim, Atlanta women are funny, honest and real, while NeNe predicts the show will keep going for another 100 episodes (although we know now that those episodes will go on without her at the top of the peach tree). All I know is...I'm ready for NeNe and Kim: The Road to Riches. BLOOP!