After months of headlines, appearances in gossip columns, teaser trailers before Top Chef, and most of all, the waiting, Real Housewives of Washington, DC premieres this Thursday on Bravo at 9pm. In advance of the first episode, Washingtonian.com caught up with some of the cast members about life in Washington, and on camera. Up today, talking with Mary Schmidt Amons, founder of Labels for Love, wife to a Washingtonian style setter, and second-generation area resident about her family's history of philanthropy, taping a show with one of her best friends, and Washington's small-town culture. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Listen to Alyssa Rosenberg discuss Real Housewives on NPR's Morning Edition.
Are you nervous about the upcoming premiere?
I’m hearing all kinds of good input. I’m excited, a little nervous. I have not seen it. My whole family is part of it. I have kids, they’re older, adults, so there’s a lot of risk, but a lot of great, great things happening because of the risk...I run Labels for Love, I started it, that’s the backstory of why I did this. I wanted to springboard my philanthropic work.
Do you think the show provides a realistic portrait of life in Washington?
I’ve never lived anywhere else in my entire life. I was born in Sibley Hospital and I’ve never left....People are more interested in the cultural aspects of the town instead of just the political aspects of the town....We’ve always had arts and culture here. There’s so much to be done in the city. We’re always a little behind the curve in terms of culture and sex appeal, but it’s here. It’s happening. I really attribute a lot of that to the administration.
One of the cast members, Catherine Ommanney, is new to Washington. What was it like getting to know her and helping her adapt to the city?
You know, Cat says it like it is. And the minute I met with Cat, I fell head over heels in love with her. She is such a burst of refreshing honesty.... It’s been a difficult transition coming from where she comes from. The UK is a very different place. To walk into this city at the time that she did and then come on our show, it was a huge risk for her, because we’re actually watching her navigate how to figure it out, which I think is one of the reasons that they cast her....If I was walking into a new setting and a new city and a new country, I would hope that there would be people who would rally around me, and bring me in, and show her the ropes. I think our group has done a really nice job of embracing her and loving her for who she is and what she brings to the table....I feel like she’s a quick study, and she gets it, she got it. It took a little adjustment, and I think there are some bumps in the road for her, and overall she gets it, and she loves the city.
To a certain extent, you're forming a social group on camera. What was that experience like?
The people who are born and raised here end up just knowing a lot of people because this town is very small....Michaele worked at Nordstroms in Tysons Corner in the 1990’s, and that’s where I bought my makeup. I wasn’t socially connected to her until the show started. Stacie and I share a close mutual friend....I think it speaks to the smallness of DC. I’m not sure the girls on the other shows in the franchise can say this. New York is a huge town and you sort of operate in your community depending on where you live and what you do. Here, everyone knows who you are and where you live. Lynda is one of my dearest friends.
You’ve been friends with Lynda for quite some time, right? How did doing the show together affect your friendship?
We’ve absolutely gotten closer. Lynda was sort of on the fence about doing the show just bcause she’s got a lot of stuff going on in her life, and she’s very busy and active. She finally decided to just go for it. We decided to stick together. It’s going to be a very strong bond, starting with us. We are very spiritually based, open, honest women. We’ve only grown closer.
I wanted to ask you a little bit about Stacie, you said you had a mutual friend, you both do some charitable work. What was it like getting to know her?
We share a very dear mutual friend, and she thinks the world of our mutual friend, and I come from a place just relationally, if you’re a friend of hers, you’re a friend of mine....I can’t say enough about Stacie and her charity work....it’s giving these girls an opportunity to experience something that they never in their wildest dreams would ever be able to experience and just bring them out of the rut that they end up getting into because of their circumstances. I’m so proud of her, I’m very excited about what she’s doing for women, for girls, for foster care. She’s a girlfriend, bottom line.
Did you guys compare notes? It seems like you two could probably learn a lot from each other.
I started Labels for Love in 2006, so I’ve been doing it for a while. And I come from a philanthropic background, my dad started a charity back in 1970, the Vincent T. Lombardi Foundation... It was just kind of part of our family routine that we would put on events all together, it would be kind of our summer project....So Stacie and I have this passion that we share that draws us together.
DC has been very historically segregated, and Stacie was the only African-American woman on the show. Did that dynamic make a difference?
It’s not a factor because, Alyssa, as I said before, people are people in my view. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, your race, religion, creed, your circumstances, people are people.
Was it an opportunity to sort of see some social worlds come together?
Your kids sort of dictate your social circle....If you're going to have kids, be ready for your social situation to change drastically because your kids are going to dictate your social plans...DC is a very transient town. It’s very international, it’s very diverse culturally, it’s very in and out. But no, race to me does not come into play here. That’s what I love about the new energy of our new administration. It sends a message that the time is come, we’re all the same.
Of course I have to ask you about the elephant, or should I say the blonde, in the room. The Salahis seem to live their lives differently than the other families on the show. What was it like working with them?
I had very little interaction with them, which, you know...is neither here nor there....I approached working with her very light-heartedly. She’s just a person. It gets down to this basic fact that people are people. And she has a brain, a heart, a soul, and a body. And how she chooses to live her life, the way she chooses to function, it’s her business. I have nothing to do with that....And I’ve been put in a situation where I have to kind of navigate around her. I wouldn’t function like that, but I’m not a judgmental person...It’s going to be interesting to see how things unfold for them. I’m a firm believer in you reap what you sow, and I think they have gotten away with a lot in their life, and I think they’re very good at it.
Are you nervous about seeing yourself on-screen?
I believe in Bravo, and I believe in the franchise, and I believe they have my back and my best interests. I know they need to create drama, but I think given my story and what I come from, it’s very solid, and safe, and entertaining. I mean, we’re funny. The Amons family is funny. We laugh a lot.