Has 'The Real Housewives of Atlanta' star NeNe Leakes become a villain?
Remember NeNe during the first season of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta"? She was the homegirl you wanted to hang out with the most -- unpretentious (unlike the other wives), silly and unapologetic. She had money just like the rest of them, but she was on the outskirts of the group because she didn't put on airs. And when on-again, off-again friend Sheree didn't invite her to the big party, those were real feelings being hurt.
But then the show blew up and became a big fat hit for Bravo. "Atlanta" is the highest-rated of the network's "Housewives" series, surpassing viewership for the ladies of Orange County, New York and New Jersey. NeNe blew up too. Her feud with Kim -- similar to the Lauren Conrad-Heidi Montag "she said, she said" war on "The Hills" -- made the pair stars, and in Season 2, NeNe couldn't stop basking in her newfound spotlight.
She understood how she became famous, and so, very blatantly, she took every opportunity to stir up trouble in the show's second season. She arranged a get-together just days after Sheree had yanked off Kim's wig on the street. She acted the diva during the alter-ego photo shoot. She got up in newcomer Kandi's face repeatedly, and for no good reason. (Picking on Kandi? The most grounded and sympathetic of the "Housewives"? Not smart.) And just watch what happens during tonight's season finale.
I had lunch with all of the "Atlanta" women -- minus Kim -- not too long ago in Westwood, and it was pretty clear that being in close confines wasn't how they prefer to be. "We're cordial," Lisa kept saying. "Cordial" being separate and apart from "friends." After one too many questions about Kim, NeNe went off: "I'm not gonna sit here and eat my lunch and talk about Kim. You want to ask me about something about myself, I'd be glad to talk to you about it. I have a book. I'm doing a lot of things. I'm not interviewing about Kim."
Well, not until she felt like it.
A few minutes after she smacked me down, she decided to let me in on a moment that didn't air on the show -- and didn't make the print version of my feature on her. "Kim was tongue-kissing a man. Tongue-kissing. And he wasn't Big Poppa," she said. It happened the night that Sheree puller her wig off, moments after that incident. Sheree jumped in: "I was telling the cameraman, 'You need to focus the camera over there where Kim is making out with that guy!' " NeNe just kept saying "Tongue-kissing."
So Kim made out with a random stranger, minutes after their quarrel? NeNe and Sheree said "Yes!" It triggered an entire discussion -- that I was left out of -- of how Kim does nothing but lie. One can only hope that footage and that story make the upcoming reunion episode, slated to air in two parts, on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5.
Read more about NeNe's transformation and why, for better or worse, making money drives all her decisions now in today's feature, "Queen bee of 'Real Housewives of Atlanta.' "
-- Denise Martin
Photo: Dwight, NeNe Leakes and Lisa Wu Hartwell during the taping of the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" reunion episode. Credit: Bravo