"The Real Housewives of Atlanta" have had their share of ups and downs this season, but after receiving word last weekend that Kandi Burruss's former fiancÃ© Ashley "A.J." Jewell had been killed in a fight, they are rallying around her like they've never done before. Leading the pack is Kim Zolciak, who befriended Kandi, the newest housewife, this season. Their union prompted Kim to get back in the recording studio, and with Kandi's help, create a new and improved version of her single "Tardy for the Party." In the wake of tonight's episode which centers around Kandi's engagement party to A.J., Kim tells ESSENCE.com how she and the other housewives are supporting their friend through this sad and awful time in her life, why she missed Kandi's comeback performance, and puts to bed the rumors about her engagement to Big Papa.
KIM ZOLCIAK: I spoke with her mom and texted her just to let her know I'm here. I was one of the first to find out and I called the other ladies. Everybody has been fantastic but it's unfortunate that it takes a tragedy to bring us all together. We were able to put all our stuff on the back burner and come together for Kandi. It's not something that I ever thought would happen, no matter how tragic the situation.
ESSENCE.COM: What was your interaction with A.J like?
ZOLCIAK: He actually called me last week and I never called him back, which sucks. I adored him. He was such a great guy. He was actually with Big Papa the night I got engaged. I hated that people have this bad impression of him because he had so many children. He was a great father and he was great with Riley [Kandi's 7-year-old daughter] and he loved Kandi.
ESSENCE.COM: How do you think this will change the show?
ZOLCIAK: At the end of the day, it makes you realize how precious life is. Sheree pulling my hair is so trivial and doesn't even matter at this point. The dynamics have changed us as a family, because that's really what we are even though we've fought--it has put things into perspective for all of us. I adore Kandi and I know how much she appreciates all the positive reinforcement. We'll get her through this.
ESSENCE.COM: There's been some buzz about why you didn't show up to Kandi's performance. What happened?
ZOLCIAK: My daughter Brielle was sick and that's when swine flu was going rampant. I don't have a nanny at night. I told Kandi I wasn't able to come. I'm not that kind of friend to just not show up. Kandi has been an incredible friend to me, and the way it came across was that I didn't make any effort and that's just not true.
ESSENCE.COM: How's "Tardy for the Party" doing? It sounds like a breakout hit.
ZOLCIAK: I'm so excited. We're in the top 100 on iTunes and No. 3 on the dance charts. The single is doing fantastic. The experience was worth a million dollars because Kandi got me through my biggest fear. She can turn dirt into diamonds. She definitely went out on a limb to work with me. I always said I wanted to be a one-hit wonder but I am working on another single.
ESSENCE.COM: And when is the wig line coming out?
ZOLCIAK: I've joined with a company called Pop Wigs who will manufacture and distribute the wigs. It's a lot more work than I ever anticipated. I'm working on everything from trademarking to the packaging. I'm really proud of the wigs, so by December people will be able to do pre-orders and we can send them out by January.
ESSENCE.COM: So what's the scoop? Are you or aren't you still engaged to Big Papa?
ZOLCIAK: I am not engaged to Big Papa! I got a commitment ring last year and so when I got this new ring, I was led to believe that his divorce was final. Who gives someone a massive rock and makes this commitment if he wasn't serious? I found out that I was still on the same merry-go-round. If there is one thing I have discovered about myself from doing this show it is that I'm just far too trusting. I'm actually dating someone new and I'm extremely happy. He's my age, from California and cute as a button. I gave Papa almost four years of my life, so now I'm just trying to move on.
ESSENCE.COM: What's the most important lesson you've learned from that experience?
ZOLCIAK: I need to learn not to take everything at face value. I believe everything that people tell me. I wanted to believe that he was going through the steps for us to be together. I'm not a home wrecker because my husband did it to me. I would never intentionally do that to someone. I was planning my future and so excited because he was the love of my life. But as time went on, I started to wonder, why is this taking so long? I realized that I needed to really sit down and figure this out.
ESSENCE.COM: Have you ever had any interaction with his wife?
ZOLCIAK: Never, but she knew. At the end of the day, I want someone who has the same moral values that I do. The harsh reality is when you look at your relationship after so many years and it's not what you thought, it's very devastating. But you know what, I'm happier than I've been in a long time.
ESSENCE.COM: So there's no chance you two will reconcile?
ZOLCIAK: I will never go back. When I'm done, I'm done. I have no desire to have anything further with him.