Life according to Kenya Moore
On this season of Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kenya Moore declared she is the moment. We met to discuss the reality of being a reality TV icon and villain.
22 Sep 2022
If you watch Real Housewives of Atlanta you’ll have seen Kenya Moore go for lunch before so you’ll also know that not many of them end well. Whether she’s arguing over the etiquette of how to pay (“broke bitches split cheques, okay?”) or storming out before the food even arrives as her guest screams “bye ashy!”, setting up a harmonious chat over food and cocktails is an extreme sport with this housewife but I decided to do it anyway.
Standing at the entrance of the Ivy in Soho, Kenya stands tall in sky-high heels, her hair is full and long – like the promotional images for her haircare brand – the name of which she literally drummed into viewers’ heads. To save myself any nasty surprises, once our meals had arrived, I ask her to read me. “Girl we are in a restaurant in Soho and you look like you just came off a beach in Barbados,” she says looking my lime green dress up and down. It’s followed by a playful high-pitched chuckle. “Even lightweight shade feels mean… you’re too nice.”
It’s unusual for Kenya to be so coy, as we talk over virgin mojitos and seafood she appears reflective, endearing, and almost distant from the series like she may be imminently planning her escape route. “I’ll say this because I know the headline will say ‘Kenya is done with the housewives’. I’m not done but in my personal life I’d like to remarry, I’d like Kenya Moore haircare to be one of the top five haircare brands in the US because if I ever decide to leave housewives I want to leave on top.”
Despite her initial fame stemming from her being crowned Miss USA in 1993, and having a spate of subsequent on-screen appearances in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Waiting to Exhale, and Girlfriends, arguably her biggest role so far has earned her worldwide notoriety with a new generation has been Real Housewives of Atlanta’s most mischievous character. At the heart of the show is the tension within the group – gossip gives way to conflict and insults often. She’s been on the show since 2012 when her brusque exchanges with the other cast members, her flirtation, and her penchant for winding up her castmates ushered in a golden era. As one of the show’s most meme-able and most tumultuous voices, she’s been accused of being a slut, of living in the ghetto, and has been dragged across the floor by her hair. She sits atop the throne for the guilty pleasure realm of reality TV, untouched and unfazed by the discourse-driven corners of media, where despite its lack of political correctness and its uncomfortable viewing it still has legions of loyal fans awaiting to digest more of the drama.
Here, she reflects on her time on the show from playing the villain and having her insecurities used against her, to how its wreaked havoc with her dating life.
How did you get onto the show initially?
Kenya Moore: I’d watched a few of the episodes because of my friend Miss Lawrence, who was on the cast. He would tell me little things about the show. I remember not liking a cast member on there thinking they were ghetto and loud. I was like “ugh, no!”
Which cast member?
KM: Well you know who.
KM: Yes. But then you had a mixture, Cynthia and Phaedra and other cast members that were different. I had been in LA for almost 20 years and I owned my house there. I was producing and releasing movies which I was enjoying but my personal life was suffering. I was like, I can’t get up every day, and keep doing the same thing and think that I’m gonna get a different result. I had to do something to change my life, so I had already decided that I was going to buy some property in Atlanta which was becoming a hotspot for film and TV.
You said Nene was ghetto – there’s that meme of her saying you were in the ghetto when you were in that apartment with a white refrigerator.
KM: I was about to move into a new house but it wasn’t going to be ready for three weeks. So I moved into a four-star hotel in mid-town it was not the ghetto but the edit made it look like I was destitute.
Do you ever feel aware that the people watching the show are not necessarily rich?
KM: Marlo brought up the refrigerator this season and I could have gone into her lack of money compared to the girls who have been on the show for a long time but girl what is wrong with a white refrigerator at least I have a refrigerator.
Yeah, we’re in a recession so like why does it matter?
KM: Yeah there can be ignorance because they forget their humble beginnings.
The artistry of the insults that you guys throw at each other are hilarious though, have you discussed privately what’s off limits?
KM: I think we all agree that children are off-limits. We’ve said that many times but that doesn’t stop some people. Sheree talked about Nene’s son and his criminal past and after that, we said don’t do that. Then she was the main one who brought kids into it. For some people, nothing is off-limits.
“When you take me away from this group of evil girls, you can see that that’s not who I am, you know what I mean?”
You’ve been quite vocal about how you have real trauma and abandonment issues as your mother was absent from your life and that has been used against you.
KM: I have had to learn that when somebody shows you who they are, believe them. Marlo has shown me she can go low. She’s not rehabilitated, since she was in prison – and what she was there for – her life has not changed. She’s still trying to hurt someone whether physical or emotional she’s still trying to go for their throat. Everything is for a dollar, it’s for a cheque, and to go for the jugular and destroy. I don’t even desire to be friends with someone who can do that. I’m done.
Are you sad that she has a peach?
KM: I was one of the main people who spoke up for her. I had always said she deserved a peach. Having seen her behaviour I think it was a mistake, people who don’t have anything to lose will try to make everyone else lose everything.
Why is one of the biggest ways to insult each other on the show usually to slut shame each other? It’s not very feminist.
KM: Being directed at me that’s a joke because no one has ever said that about me. From being a working person in Hollywood to former Miss USA my name was never in the streets. As for why it’s being said in this day and age you’d have to ask them. Kandi said ‘we’ve all had a hoe moment’ but is she wrong? From someone who has been widely accused of being an actual paid escort, you need to just shut up.
Obviously, we shouldn’t be shaming sex workers.
KM: I don’t know if sex is involved, being an escort you can be paid for your company. But the amount of desperation to want to be on this show was clearly about the money. If it was just about being on TV she could have been on TV for 20 years on the show and not have to show any of her personal life. I’d love that. The only difference between being on the show and having a peach is the cheque.
Do you feel like people are messy to get airtime and higher pay?
KM: I don’t think Kandi is that messy and she’s the highest paid. This platform is great for business; it’s what launched Kenya Moore hair care. Maybe not everyone wants to be an entrepreneur but otherwise what are you there for are you there because you want to be famous?
For me, I also wanted to be able to share stories to help other people. I had so many people who contacted me after I showed the struggle to have a child and start a family.
Speaking of business, this season hasn’t really panned out that well for Drew because you can’t have a workout business when you’re not working out and when you’ve had surgery.
KM: And you’ve literally just had a whole tummy tuck. you’ve had a whole mommy makeover. It’s just like, how are you the face of working out? I’m just not understanding.
Do you ever feel that there is illegitimate business going on?
KM: Yes, yes I do. There are other people that have gone into businesses – unfortunately, one of my friends I do not understand why she was opening this business. It was not in her wheelhouse. It was not part of her brand. And I was like okay you could do whatever the hell you want to do, but why this? She said it was because someone had kind of convinced her to do it. But like I said, one of the things I do regret is embarrassing her on camera, asking about the business, which she didn’t have any clue about.
It’s Cynthia’s wine business, isn’t it? I’m putting the dots together here.
How are things with Cynthia?
KM: I think a lot of projection happened. I feel like things were changing on the show and she always had the role on the show as being someone who would take up for me. But at this moment people don’t hate me, they love me, and so I didn’t need that. She didn’t know where to go from there. She wasn’t popular. I felt blindsided by her interviews but with Cynthia, I like to think I have made a friend for life but only time will tell.
Do you feel like there are common misconceptions about you now based on your television presence?
KM: Oh yeah, 100%. When I think about when I started the show I was made to be a villain, it was hard to get out of that. And at some points, I leaned into that. Over the last couple of years, especially after doing Dancing With The Stars in the US, I’ve had such great experiences. When you take me away from this group of evil girls, you can see that that’s not who I am, you know what I mean?
Do you get any counselling from the producers and behind-the-scenes teams in the show to deal with the sudden onslaught of public opinions?
KM: The first season I did, from a producer, because I felt like I wanted to quit, I was like ‘I’m not doing this, I can’t do this’. I said this at the reunion in my first season with everyone coming after me. I had no friends, seeing the edits, seeing the reactions, I just felt like it was not what I thought it was.
Do you feel like there are enough conversations around the well-being of reality TV stars happening in the US? That’s been a big conversation in the UK, in particular, a show called Love Island has had some cast members die by suicide.
KM: See that’s interesting because I did a new show for another network and it was really mentally stressful and they counselled us before, they did a whole mental health evaluation. It was a UK show. It was interesting because I’d never had to do that. They did a whole mental evaluation and then we left the show, and we still had to do counselling. Mandatory counselling.
Was your experience on that more positive than reality TV in the US?
That’s good. That’s the only thing that Britain is doing well because otherwise, we are completely falling apart as a country. So… you’ve not twirled in a while.
KM: I would never regret that twirl because it just came from such a frustrated place listening to pure ignorance about our history as black women, on an enormous platform. We were literally the number one show on the network, we were the only show featuring all black women, and that didn’t come from nowhere. This door has been open for us because of people, like me, 20 years ago. Porsha said something like, “oh where was that 100 years ago?” like girl, are you that stupid? The reason we’re here now being on TV is that people like me, people like Halle Berry, people like Hattie McDaniel [who acted in Gone With the Wind] opened the doors. Hattie for Halle Berry because she was the first black academy award winner so that opened the door for Halle. Vanessa Williams opened the door for me.
All of those people that have appeared on stage, beautiful black women, opened those doors for us to be sitting here now on a network featuring all black women. So whether it was 50 years ago or 100 years ago, we’re always gonna be relevant. So you sound crazy, and that’s why-
And that’s why you twirl.
KM: Well that is why I referenced Gone With The Wind because of Hattie McDaniel and that’s where it all came from, it wasn’t so random.
“At this moment people don’t hate me, they love me.”
Do you think it’s fair the amount of flack that Real Housewives of Atlanta has received for its representation?
KM: No, no, no. If you’re gonna judge us by that standard, then judge everyone by that standard. It’s extremely unfair because if you look at other franchises, they’ve done worse… they’ve never fought, at least I don’t think so.
The Pillow Talk episode [S6E13] is truly one of the weirdest episodes of television ever.
KM: When you have nothing to lose you do crazy shit to stay on TV. [Apollo] had no reason to attack my brother, that was a weird night. I was so heartbroken that was really embarrassing, I brought this clean-cut kid, he’s positive, and he’s kind. He came to support me and then ended up in a fight. Also, we’re supposed to be the elite of Atlanta, we’re supposed to be affluent and here we are beating each other like apes in a hotel room. It was so bizarre and I’m so embarrassed to have even been a part of that at all. And after that, all of the violence seemed to centre around Porsha.
Do you worry about the violence?
KM: I think if there was a person there that I felt that way about I don’t think anyone there. I don’t think Marlo is that stupid because i think she knows that she’ll go straight to jail.
What’s been your favourite vacation?
The vowel renewal of Cynthia and Peter was beautiful but let’s talk about Walter [Kenya’s date for the trip that she asked to elope with her while displaying overtly flirtatious behaviour with other men].
KM: We never did it right away. We had dated–
At the point where you asked him to get married, you had never had sex?
KM: No! Do you know how many proposals I’ve had from men who I have never had sex with? At least five proposals.
What’s your secret?
KM: That’s the secret. People think that what is different is I’ve got WAP I’ve got this but to be different from everyone else. I’m so serious, put him on 90-day probation and they’re forced to get to know you. Because I’m on TV people want to put a notch on their belt. It’s different if I think someone is sexy and I want to have some fun but the key thing is that I am in control.
How is it dating while being a reality star?
KM: Relationships can take a turn for the worst because now the guy is reading stuff, he’s involved, he’s speculating stuff, it’s just crazy. You can’t stay in a relationship like that.
The show scares a lot of men away. I went out with a guy twice or maybe we went out on like five dates or something. I brought him around and then as soon as filming started, I was like, are you cool with coming in on camera and whatever? He was like sure. He came to my hair launch party with me, and maybe a week after that Radar Online had dug up his mug shots and they were doing all these articles on him. Every week it was another article and then another article. Then he started getting messages from his client – he was a car broker with a $5 million a year business – and his clients started texting him about the show and he was like, I can’t do this. They would have never known about his history, it was something stupid like he was drunk and got into a fight with a cab driver or something. But it was blasted and he’s like a respectable business person. It’s like what is the matter with you? Like why would you go and look for his mug shots? It was just crazy. So then, he went bye-bye.
Is that why there are so many nicknames like the African Prince, Big Papa?
KM: Yeah, everyone still doesn’t know who that is. So I’m happy about that. That’s why I got married in secret because well, he didn’t want to be a part of reality TV. A businessman who is very successful is rarely going to want to be on a TV show, especially one where women are fighting and acting a fool.
Like, imagine me dating Bill Gates. People would just be like, “why are you banging her?” People would just look down on me. Not me necessarily, but maybe the fact that I’m part of what people would think is controversial.
All interviews have been edited and condensed.