'Real Housewives of Orange County': Gretchen Rossi wants to 'set the record straight'
When we first met her, the blond bombshell -- more kitten than the cougar now at 32 -- was perceived by some (including fellow 'Housewife' Tamra) as just another ditzy gold-digger looking to cash in on her (much older) ailing fiance's estate. This season -- following the death of her fiance, Jeff -- viewers have seen Rossi try to clear things up, including the rumors of infidelity (claimed during last season's reunion show) and the gold-digger claims ... and even explaining those compromising images of Rossi and an electrically-charged bedroom friend that leaked on the Internet.
Despite the drama, Rossi, who grew up in La Cresenta, has had a busy social calendar. If you follow her tweets, you're aware of (most) of her exploits, including an appearance at Sundance (huh?), a live singing performance (again, huh?) and even her baking experiments. So we were lucky to snag some phone time with Rossi on a rainy Monday morning...even if it took a few tries.
It was hard to track you down. You're a busy gal. What are you working on right now?
Oh, gosh. If I told you, you’d be worn out by the time we were done.
Maybe you should tell Vicki [Gunvalson]…
That’s so true. I should call Vicki up and say, "Come spend a day with me and let’s have a little chitty-chat about what I really do."
Right now, at this given moment, the last week has just been kind of crunch time for my makeup line (Gretchen Christine Beaute) that I’m launching.
Will it be available only online? Or can "Housewives" enthusiasts go to their local department store or CVS Pharmacy?
Right now it’s only going to be available online. I’m going to take this company through a few different phases. With the way the economy is, I have to be smart with my money. The best way that I figured out would make sense for me was to do Internet sales first. If it starts doing well, and it’s doing great, and I gain enough momentum, and I build capital, I will get into phase two, which will be the retail. It’s been an extremely exciting time for me because ever since it was introduced into the show, I’ve had probably over 8,000 people sign up on my site asking to get information about it. And then I’ve had over 200 resumes sent to me saying they want to work for Gretchen Christine Beaute and I’ve had multiple magazines and multiple people asking me to give samples and information. I’m just really excited because it’s getting a lot of buzz and people seem to be really excited about it.
You mention the economy; this season we really see how it has affected your lifestyles. There's eviction, downsizing … But we still see you guys living this sort of grand lifestyle.
Honestly, I do get where people get that. The fact of the matter is, the show has always been based on a very affluent area -- Orange County … south Orange County … Newport Beach, in particular. And I get it. The perception of the area where we live in is that everybody has money growing on trees. The fact of the matter is, when we have the economy that we have; when we have real estate down; when we have every single aspect of the economy being affected, everyone gets affected. Granted, we all might not be standing in the welfare line … but at the same time, we all had to figure out a way to cut back and figure out a way to cut expenses. And, unfortunately, when you’re used to living a certain lifestyle. And when you’re used to living the high life, it’s hard to scale back. So I get why some of the women were struggling to keep up with the Jones’, if you will, all the while they’re not making the same income as before.
And we see that you're not rolling in the dough -- as some suspected -- after Jeff's death.
Everybody had this misconception that I was with Jeff for his money. And that Jeff had millions and millions of dollars and … he didn’t; meaning right now his estate is in the deficit. It really was never information that I thought was appropriate to share but, unfortunately, when his will gets released to the public and everyone is reading it and saying he left me $2.5 million -- well, he did. The problem is, is that if he doesn’t have $2.5 million to give me -- you know, his estate doesn’t have it because it’s in the deficit -- I’m not going to get it. If somebody doesn’t have the money, it really doesn’t matter. That’s where I think the misconception comes in. Everybody thinks I got left millions of dollars -- which I did -- but I have not received it. The thing, too, is that I never saw Jeff’s money as my money. It was always nice to be in a relationship with someone who was well off at the time that we were dating; I was spoiled rotten, yes. And I had a great lifestyle with him … but I also made my own money and the show really didn’t show that side of me. They didn’t show me as the entrepreneur that I was.
Right. I had no idea you sold real estate … or did anything, for that matter, until you mentioned it on the show.
Exactly. And I get it. It’s fine. My story wasn’t about my real estate because I wasn’t selling real estate at the time they were filming. My job was taking care of Jeff. But seven years prior to that, I sold real estate. That’s how I own the home I own today. And that’s how I have many of the things I have today. That’s truly part of the reason I’m able to keep a roof over my head today, is because I was smart during the time the market was great. I worked my butt off -- when I say that, I literally mean I worked 80 hours a week. And I was really proud of the fact that I was so young and doing really well for myself. I’ve never lost that entrepreneurial spirit and I honestly believe that that’s what made Jeff fall in love with me … I wasn’t that woman looking for a free ride. I was a capable woman. And I was actually fortunate at the time that I had some money behind me -- and Jeff was well off -- so I could take the time off to help him get through his illness and be there for him during his illness. But once he passed away, reality set in really quick and I was like "holy smokes." I’ve now taken a good year and a half off from a very lucrative business … and you start looking at your savings account and you say, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s no more money filling up that." It just starts depleting itself because every month you still gotta pay those bills. And it’s a very scary thing to go through when you don’t have a consistent paycheck coming in.
Let's go back to the beginning. How did you get involved with the show -- a lot of people question why you're on it considering you're not exactly a housewife?
I’m so curious to hear what people’s definition of a housewife is. It's changed so much. It’s so different nowadays. You know, part of me feels I am a housewife. I’ve always been a housewife. I was married once before; I know what being a housewife is. But the modern-day housewife is a totally different housewife. Most women today are working housewives, you know? So for me, I was engaged to Jeff to be married and I was very much in charge of the house -- cooking and decorating and doing all the things you would associate with the traditional housewife. The only thing that doesn’t make me a housewife is that I don’t have the title of being married, but I do all the things a housewife does.
Like hosting Tupperware Parties?
Yes. Like hosting that crazy Tupperware Party. Exactly.
So how did you get involved? Did you audition?
For me, it was a different scenario. I was at a girlfriend’s party down at a restaurant here in Newport. Jo [De la Rosa] and Slade [Smiley] were actually sitting across the table from me at this party and I was being my crazy, flamboyant, obnoxious self and they started whispering to each other. I was like, "Are you guys talking crap about me?" -- teasing them. They were like, "No, but you’re perfect for the show." I was like, "Perfect for what show?" Cause they hadn’t been on for a couple of years so I wasn’t really sure what they were talking about. And they said I’d be perfect for "Housewives." I was like, "You guys are smoking crack. I’m not doing that." Slade kept insisting.
The next morning, I get a phone call from the casting agent at 7 a.m.; she said, "I hear you’re perfect." It took a whole day of phone calls back and forth for them to even convince me. It really came down to me sitting down with Jeff. He was the one who convinced me to do that. I think the reason for that was that at that point, we had been in and out of the hospital for the last three or four months. We were right at a point where we thought we would get told he was going into remission. He was like, "You know, honey" -- cause I had actually been approached three other times to do reality shows; I just turned them down because it wasn’t something I wanted to do. He just said, "Honey, you keep getting these opportunities. Maybe there’s something in the universe telling you to do this. And I’m really kind of sick of everything, everyday being about cancer. This sounds like fun."
I think he saw it as an opportunity to travel and have an excuse to go do things. So he was the ultimate reason I ended up doing the show.
OK. But, now, why do you continue to do the show -- given all it has led to (Internet rumors, photo leaks, tarnished relationships)? Do you stick around simply because the show is a platform to brand yourself?
It was twofold. First of all, when I initially signed up for this, I didn’t care to be on TV. It wasn’t something I needed to do. I asked the production girl, “Tell me the reason why people do this.” I was really trying to get convinced on what would be the reason to put myself in a national light -- which sometimes means being shown in a bad light; cause when you’re showing your life, there’s going to be some bad sides. So she kind of talked to me and said there was some great business opportunities. And when I really started to think about it, it comes back to my entrepreneurial ways. I did see it as an opportunity to build a business. To build some credibility within different areas I always had interest in -- the beauty and fashion world. I saw it as a great opportunity to implement those ideas out to the public on a large level. So, yeah, that definitely had something to do with it. Ultimately, for me, personally, the second season had a lot to do with setting the record straight with a lot of the women … and with the audience because I think the audience had a lot of misconceptions about me. I was in a very sad place -- mentally and emotionally -- because of what I was going through with Jeff. So they didn’t really get to see my personality. They saw me kind of get beat up by the girls and not really fighting back. And I said, ‘You know what? I’m coming back with guns blazing. I’m going to set the record straight on a few things." I’m actually really glad I did it. I’ve gotten so many encouraging e-mails.
Moving away from the good that's come out of the show … let's talk a bit about the bad. We've seen this roller coaster relationship between you and Tamra. Things got pretty heated this season but you guys are cordial with one another for the most part. So what did you think of Alexis [Bellino] putting the spotlight on you guys at the cooking party?
You know … uh. I love Alexis. Alexis has become a very dear friend of mine. At the time, I didn’t know Alexis all that well, but what I do know about Alexis is that she just really wanted to make amends. She just thought it would be easy like, "OK. You say what you want to say. And you say what you want to say. And then make up!”
Bless her heart. It’s so sweet that she thinks it’s that simple. But unfortunately there’s too much water under the bridge. There’s too much that was said; too many things that can’t be taken back. When you say some things that you say, especially during the period of what I was going through … there’s just things I will never be able to forget. I had to forgive in order for myself to move on … but I’m not just going to be like, "OK. That was really cool. Slap me across the face eight more times and let’s see how that feels." I’m just not going to do that. So it’s OK. I get Alexis’ intentions but … now she realizes that it’s never going to be that way. She didn’t realize then.
The rift seems to now center on this blog entry you wrote. Tamra [Barney] wants you to take it down, but you refuse. Can you talk a little bit about why?
I’m not going to take it down. There were so many things that Tamra put out there to the press and the show that were contradictory or that were lies. All those things are out in cyberspace forever and ever. So as soon as she can figure out a way to get all those things taken down, then I’ll be happy to take it down. But as long as those things are out there, the blog is my only source of truth and my only source of getting what really happened out there. I was rather taken aback by her because I believed she was my friend all season, and when she attacked me at the reunion show I was like, ‘Where in the hell did this come from?" So I wanted to clear the air up.
So are you guys still somewhat friendly? I mean, we see that you do have fun when you're in a group setting. Have you reached out to her since news of her divorce?
No. Tamra and I don’t talk. We’re not girlfriends. We don’t call each other and say, “Let’s go hang out and have coffee.” I never really had problems with Tamra. I always liked Tamra; I got along with her and I thought she was funny and I thought our personalities were very similar. I liked her. But you just know when there’s poisonous people in your life and you know when people are trying to pull wool over your eyes and, for me, she’s one of those people. She might not be that way with other people, but she is with me. She is someone that I work with and someone I will be cordial with. And we’ll have a good time. The whole situation with the divorce and stuff … after the way she treated me after Jeff passed away, I don’t necessarily see myself calling her up and saying, “Hey, how ya doing?” Cause of the way she treated me. I’m a big believer in treating people the way they treat you.
We also see tension develop between you and Lynne [Curtin] after your attempt to reach out to Alexa. Some of our readers were on Lynne's side, saying you had no right to get involved. How are things between you and Lynne?
Lynne and I seem to be fine. I’ve talked to her a few times and she’s like “Oh, it was forever ago.” If you really review the footage, I never ever once gave Alexa advice. And I never ever once told Alexa -- or even Lynne -- that she was a bad parent. All I said was that her daughter is obviously reaching out and acting out; she’s saying she wants some guidance. She wants some direction. And you, as her mother, maybe needs to reevaluate that because you keep saying they’re difficult … she just kept acting like it was just cause they were teenagers. And I do believe that that’s the reason to some degree. I was a teenager. I know. But there has to be certain sense of responsibility for the parents as well. I just didn’t feel like there was a sense of responsibility.
And it angered me when she said I didn’t have kids and so I didn’t know what I was talking about. Sometimes, there are some things in life that are just common sense. I don’t have kids. But I’ve been around kids my whole life. I’ve been a nanny eight times over. I ran a children’s fitness facility. I also have a degree in psychology and a minor in family studies and child development … so I actually was trained to look out for the signs of young girls struggling. So when Lynne brings in a youthologist that doesn’t have any of that formal training, and the girl doesn’t have kids herself, why the hell is she beating me up saying, ‘You don’t have kids, you don’t know" but she’s gonna bring in some youthologist that doesn’t even have the degree I have? It’s just kind of cuckoo if you ask me.
Again, I love Lynne. I did only did it out of concern for Alexa. It had nothing to do with trying to make Lynne look bad. I went to Lynne first. Unfortunately, it went in a different direction. But Lynne and I have talked since then. I think it’s all worked out. I think in the future … I’ve learned with this group of friends -- and I shouldn’t even really call them friends -- that it’s best to keep my distance on certain things.
But I guess that's what I don't understand. You're not an actor … just a regular gal. So why, if you don't have to, would you put yourself in a situation where you face this kind of scrutiny and have to deal with the so-called lies and misunderstandings?
It comes down to the business aspect. I’ve had so many great opportunities come my way …
Like the Turbo Tax commercial!
Yeah. Some really fun stuff like that. I’ve had endorsement deals. I’ve had an opportunity to purchase a music publishing catalog that put me in the middle of the music industry, which I just love and have a passion for … which, actually allowed me to produce the song I had written about Jeff. There’s just some opportunities that, if I wasn’t on the show, I would never have. The makeup line. I have another thing called The Gretchen Project. I just have a lot of things going on that are even bigger than what the little things the women on the show say about me. At the end of the day, I know who I am as a person. And I know what’s true and what’s not. It’s just part of the gig. When you sign up for a show like this, there’s a big warning sign that says: “Beware! People are mean.”
I didn't intend to use that as a transition, but let's talk about Slade. How did you guys become involved?
I’ve known Slade for eight years. I knew him from the real estate business. He was in the title business. I was working for the top producing real estate agent at the time. He was one of the top title reps so we worked together a lot because of that. By the way, just so you know, I’m frosting cupcakes right now. If that’s not housewife enough, I don’t know what is. Frosting cupcakes for Valentine’s Day. That’s very housewifey. Anyway, Slade and I have been friends for eight years. And I really, truly, never expected to be in the relationship that we’re in right now. We just always have been great friends. It was always Jo and Slade. And I was married at the time when I had first met Jo and Slade. And then I was in a relationship with Jeff after that. It just was never an option or a thought. When I was going through what I was going through with Jeff, he was one of the only people who truly cared and stayed in contact with me.
Do you think he's been portrayed in a bad light? For the most part, people seem to either hate him … or hate him a lot.
Slade is one of the best guys I’ve ever known in my life. Truly, even during the days when I knew him as just a friend. He just truly is one of the most endearing, sweetest, loving people I know. He’ll take the shirt off his back for anybody. But if you piss him off, he’s not the best person to have against you. I do think sometime he gets a bad rap and I think it’s funny what the women don’t like is that he calls them out on their crap and he points out things that maybe they don’t want to hear. He’s outspoken like that. He’ll say what he feels. That’s why I respect and enjoy his company.
I guess because viewers weren't aware of the back story on your relationship, it just seemed as if he was riding your coattails … trying to take advantage of you.
Here’s my favorite part about that argument. I keep looking behind me for those coattails. What coattails is he riding on? I don’t have anything for him to take advantage of. Quite honestly, if there’s anybody riding on anybody’s coattails, I’m riding on Slade’s because he’s the one that has the contacts and has really, really helped propel me into getting these opportunities that I have. We all know I’m not rich. It’s not like I’m Angelina Jolie and making $8 million a movie while he’s sitting at home smoking a cigar. If it was like that, then I’d think people have a valid point. But that’s just not the scenario. Slade is one of the hardest working men I know.
Can I ask -- just out of my own curiosity -- what exactly does Slade do now?
He owns a consulting business. And he basically consults brands. He takes brands and really turns them into bigger brands. He’s been able to bring a lot of opportunities to me. He works with a lot of big companies. He’s so good at it. He is helping me out a lot with the empire I’m trying to build.
So is the next plan to put out a CD? You’ve got that single out on iTunes.
No. Not at all. The whole single thing was a crazy, last minute idea. I’ve written songs ever since I was a little girl. I love to write. I’m a writer. I have this whole book of songs that I’ve had my whole life. After Jeff passed away, it was definitely a form of how I expressed myself. And I started writing. In the process of purchasing the music publishing catalog, I had the opportunity to meet with a lot of different people within the music industry and present my ideas to them. One producer, in particular, Bryan Todd, who produced the song with me, saw the lyrics and said the song was great. We got in on a writing session. The song was actually sung by a male vocalist. When I heard the demo, I was like, "It’s lost something. The sweetness. There’s not the country twang to it that I need and want." It was one of those things where I started singing in the middle of talking to them about it and before you know it they gave me a couple of glasses of champagne and I was in front of a mic.
It always starts with the champagne.
Yeah. Exactly. That’s truly how it came about.
If you listen to it, I told Bryan that I didn't want the song overproduced. I didn't want all these special effects or for my voice to be changed or auto tuned.
I got a phone call at 6:30 on Wednesday night because Nicole Scherzinger form the Pussycat Dolls is singing at a club and they wanted me to open for her. I was like, "What? I’ve never sang live in my life." I said, “OK. This is an opportunity I can’t pass up.” I went and did it. I was shocked I could. I was scared to death. I said my prayer to Jeff and God before I walked out there. I got in front of 200 people -- one of them being Perez Hilton, which we know is the harshest critic in Hollywood, and the guy actually gave me kudos. So I was pretty surprised. I’m doing the song in memory of Jeff and donating the proceeds to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and to The Jeff Michaels Foundation that I started. There’s a method to the madness.
So … does this mean there will be no follow-up to another Housewives hit "Tardy to the Party"? No collaboration with Kim Zolciak?
That’s so funny. Yeah, we should have a sing-off. Here’s my thing. I do have a whole book of songs. If my fans really encourage me to keep doing this, I’m never going to say never. But I’m not looking to be a pop singer at my 32 years of age. If something continues, and I get the opportunity to record a great song again, we’ll see. I’d rather be on the writing side of it. I actually had one of the other member of the Pussycat Dolls come up to me and ask me to write her song; so I’m collaborating with her right now.
That should be interesting.
OK. Well, Gretchen, thanks for taking the time. I'll stay tuned for your next tweet.
-- Yvonne Villarreal
If that didn't fill your "Housewives" diet for the week, check back tomorrow for my interview with Lynne.
Photo: Gretchen Rossi. Credit: Bravo