NeNe Leakes makes her dancing debut on season 18 of Dancing with the Stars tonight. And she’s bringing all her rhythm and sass to the dance floor. “My dance partner Tony Dovolani is like, ‘I did not know you were going to come in here and do all this,’” she says of their fun-filled rehearsals.
The Real Housewives of Atlanta star has been putting in 4-5 hour rehearsals every day for the past few weeks. She spoke with ESSENCE.com about her goals for DWTS, her thoughts on Wendy Williams saying she wouldn’t win, and what really happened between her and Marlo Hampton.
ESSENCE: Your dance partner Tony Dovolani is supposedly no nonsense. How's it been working with him?
NENE LEAKES: I think I've heard someone say that. But he's so not that. Obviously he has a passion for dance—he's been doing it since he was a kid. We've had a great connection. He and I danced and connected very well. We have been non-stop dancing 4, 5 hours, every single day. I've never missed a rehearsal. He's been great with me.
Everyone talks about how they lose weight as soon as they join Dancing with the Stars. Are you seeing the differences already?
No. I didn't lose weight immediately. I would love for that to happen. I'm on medication though [NeNe suffered a pulmonary embolism in November last year], that kind of make me gain weight. We're working out a lot. I'm scared to step on the scale because I like to judge myself from how my clothes fit. We’ll see what happens. I do have a goal. And I definitely want to lose some weight with Dancing with the Stars.
What’s your goal?
I'd love to lose 15 pounds. That's a lot. I can't see me at 15 pounds smaller. That would be a disaster, OK? I'll be wearing everything.
Are you someone that's very active to begin with, or has this been a jolt to the system?
I'm busy because I work all the time, but I'm not very active. I am a go-getter though and I'm not scared of a challenge. So I'm in there. I'm running around the dance floor with Tony the whole time. He's totally shocked. We're laughing and we're having a good time.
You told Jimmy Kimmel that your exotic dancer background would give you a little bit of an edge. Has it?
[Laughs] Well, I thought it would give me a little edge. It didn't give me not a thing. This kind of dancing—if you have never trained for–is really tough. I thought I could at least roll my hips. They roll their hips in a whole other way. Their hip rolling is incredible. So, the exotic dancing didn't help me a bit, chile. I sure wished it had.
What do you think of Wendy Williams saying you and Tony are not going to win?
Wendy was not going to win because she had two left feet [Williams was a contestant on season 12 of DWTS]. That was her issue. I know she might want to put me in the same box that she's in but I'm not. I don't have two left feet. I have a left and a right foot. And I have rhythm. Now, I'm not saying I'm going to win—that's not even my thought. I just want to take it one week at a time. If we make it all the way to the end, that’s great, but I can't go in thinking that far in advance.
Now on to Real Housewives. What’s really happening with you and Marlo Hampton?
I considered Marlo a friend. She was in my wedding. I supported her when nobody supported her. As in, not one housewife wanted her around. Not Kandi, not Sherée, not Kim Zolciak, not Cynthia, not Phaedra, Andy Cohen, Bravo, or True Entertainment. In fact, Bravo said she was not their brand. That's how they described it. So, they didn't want her on the show. On the season prior to this, you didn't see her on the show at all because nobody wanted her around. I called Bravo; I called True Entertainment trying to ask them to let her be on the show. And all I can say is what you see on the show is not what happened to Marlo and me.
No one can step in our relationship and break us up if we're real friends. So, that's not it. Our stuff is deeper than Kenya Moore. If you watched my wedding show, you saw we had issues there. I felt like Marlo came in and caused a big divide among the girls. From there other things happened. But I see what they're trying to portray on the show. She knows, I know, Cynthia Bailey knows what happened between me and Marlo is way deeper. I wish her the best. I think she has a good heart. I do. I'm not interested in going to the media and bashing someone that I once called a friend. I do wish her the best, but I will never be friends with her again.
How are you feeling about the show overall this season?
I feel like these networks and production companies—I'm just keeping it real—I just feel like they build you up to tear you down. I feel like they've done whatever they could do to try to not show me in the best light. There are so many things that happen on the show and they... I don't even want to talk about editing, because I feel like so many people cry wolf on editing. I'm just saying that they've done whatever they could to try and diminish anything that I've done and I'm okay with it because I know about reality TV. Every season there has to be a villain, there has to be somebody that straddles the fence, and there has to be a little s**t stirrer. All of those things make the show. They decide who's going to be the villain this season or who's going to be this person or that person. We don't have any control over that. I think that the show has gotten great ratings. As much as people say they don't like drama, and why don't you guys stop doing this and that, they continue to tune in. And even more people have tuned in.
Do you see yourself coming back?
This has opened up so many opportunities for me that I'm really grateful for. And I will say that I will continue to do it for as long as I can. I don't really know when that will be. But I know that I won't be doing it forever.
Catch NeNe Leakes on the season premiere of Dancing with the Stars tonight at 8|7c on ABC.