You can now add Kenya Moore to the seemingly endless list of outspoken reality TV stars. The former Miss USA, who is the latest addition to Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta, is already earning a reputation as the show’s newest firecracker, and on a few occasions, troublemaker. The beauty queen says she joined the franchise to expand her brand and get some recognition of her charity, the Kenya Moore Foundation. She spoke with ESSENCE.com about becoming a reality star and her relationship with Cynthia Bailey, and she explains why she went off when co-star Porsha Williams called her Miss America.
ESSENCE.com: There’s a lot of scrutiny that comes with appearing on a reality show. How did you prepare yourself?
Kenya Moore: I didn’t prepare myself, and that’s the problem. I thought I would come to the tapings, and [the producers] would come to my house, and we would have a couple of scenes with the girls, and we would get together, and it would be a kumbaya moment. That is not what it was. I’m just a really genuine person, and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You can always tell what I’m thinking by looking at me, and that got me in trouble, especially when something was said or done to really insult me as a person.
ESSENCE.com: Did any of your co-stars warn you about what happens when you’re on a reality show?
Moore: Ironically, I did have a conversation with Cynthia and she said, ‘You know, you’re going to get a lot of criticism. People are going to question why you wanted to do a reality show.’ I thought that was really great advice. And, on the days I ask myself if it's worth it, I look back at those words of wisdom from someone who has maintained her dignity and pride.
ESSENCE.com: Well…it’s good to know you and Cynthia were once at a good place at one point because you two didn’t seem to get off to a good start on the first episode.
Moore: [Laughs] You have to watch the show to see how things change. When I joined the show I thought: Cynthia and I are not far apart in age. She’s a model, and I used to be a model, and we’re both successful businesswomen. I thought we had a lot in common, and she would be like my best friend on the show. So when we met at her agency for the Jet magazine casting and everything went left, I was surprised.
ESSENCE.com: What caused it to go 'left' because to us, the viewers, it looked like you were just being rude?
Moore: It was two hours of taping that they edited down to two minutes. I think…we’re both bosses, and she had her idea of how the casting should have gone, and I probably had my idea. I was very assertive of what I thought would be helpful in terms of my participation because I wanted to be honest and direct and give these girls a real chance and share tips on how to dress and what they should do when they show up for an audition. And Cynthia, in my opinion, wasn’t giving them the truth that they needed at all. So when I stepped up, that’s where it started going downhill.
ESSENCE.com: So are you and Cynthia at a good place now because that episode was taped a few months?
Moore: You’ll have to watch the show to see how our relationship evolves, but I can tell you this, Cynthia is more like me than I ever would have thought. This is what I will always say: I really appreciate a working woman who wants to have something for herself. Regardless of how I feel about Cynthia as a person, I respect the fact that she is a businesswoman, and she’s using her platform in a great way. She’s helping other young Black girls, and I think that’s a beautiful thing.
ESSENCE.com: The season is only four episodes in, and you’re coming off like the person who will always speak her mind and you’re bringing lots of drama. Is that who you really are or is it the pressure of being in front of the cameras?
Moore: I am a very assertive person. I’m honest, and I try to use decorum when speaking about things that might be sensitive. I’ve been around cameras all my life so that didn’t matter much. Our show is 100 percent non-scripted. And so the situations that happened were completely organic. Some of the girls just started revealing their personhood in a way that was not very becoming, and I called them on it. I went into this situation with my mind completely open and giving each girl their own chance to make an impression on me just to see how that plays out. And some of the women that I really bonded with in the beginning turned out to be the complete opposite of that.
ESSENCE.com: One thing we learned about you is you do not like to be called Miss America.
Moore: [Laughs] The show definitely plays that whole thing up. For me, Miss America and Miss USA are great; they’re both prestigious titles. They’re both American institutions, and certainly, for a brown girl to have that title is an amazing accomplishment. The difference is when someone says it and it's disrespectful, and they mean to get it wrong and want to just poke at you a little until finally you blow up. When Portia got my title wrong, she was corrected, and then she rolled her eyes. And then the rest of the time she was insulting me, a guest. That’s when it bothers me -- when there’s ignorance mixed in with insult.
ESSENCE.com: I’m going to say your cast mates’ names, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind.
ESSENCE.com: NeNe Leakes
Moore: She’s hilarious. She is so naturally funny, and so entertaining. Just the sound of her voice makes you laugh.
ESSENCE.com: Kim Zolciak
Moore: White chocolate. She has got a really fiery personality. She has this no-holds barred way of thinking about life, and I think she’s interesting.
ESSENCE.com: Phaedra Parks
Moore: Honestly, the first word that came to mind was con artist. She can get you to believe anything she wants just by spinning a story. She knows how to spin a story.
ESSENCE.com: Cynthia Bailey
Moore: Beautiful. Not only a stunningly beautiful woman, but she also has a good spirit.
ESSENCE.com: Porsha Williams
ESSENCE.com: Kandi Burruss
Moore: Sexy. Kandi owns her sexuality, and there’s a power in that. She’s a smart girl, and I think that’s a great mixture.