‘The Real Housewives’: the most iconic housewives of Bravo’s hit franchise
Since around 2020, The Real Housewives has gone from a US TV phenomenon to an obsession for women in the UK. Why have British women fallen in love with dramatic, sneaky, and narcissistic wives and mothers living in luxury overseas?
It’s not for the cities or fashion or decadent parties — it’s for the housewives themselves. These larger-than-life women have kept us glued to our screens by orchestrating drama, tossing down drinks and breaking the hearts of their fellow wives. Here, Rolling Stone UK count down the most iconic housewives from the Bravo franchise.
From: The Real Housewives of Potomac
The self-proclaimed Grande Dame of Potomac, Karen Huger works hard to keep her crown, especially with her frenemies Gizelle Bryant and Ashley Darby constantly scurrying around, plotting her downfall at every turn.
Most housewives are (dubiously) rich, some are glamorous, and very few are funny, but Karen gives you all three. She’s had her fair share of troubles, including moving out of the affluent Potomac area to (gasp) a rental property, alleged affairs and husband Ray’s tax problems. After dodging and weaving allegations for multiple seasons, she decided to address the rumours in a way that only Karen could, by holding a press conference with the ladies… without any press.
No one does petty quite like Karen: she will fight even the smallest of battles, including usurping castmate Wendy Osefa’s paltry one-wick candle launch, with her own three-wick La’Dame candle. The feud is still going, and at last count saw [checks notes] both women offering five- and seven-wick candles.
The wicked step-mother hen of the group, Karen often brings the freshman housewives under her wing during their first season, before devouring them if they try to fly off on their own (or too close to her rival Gizelle) and claim the crown. That can’t happen, and she won’t let it, clipping their wings if they get above their station, after all, the Grande Dame stays the Grande Dame…
Countess Luann De Lesseps
From: The Real Housewives of New York
The Countess has had so many iconic moments, only a memoir and spin-off movie could do her justice.
Her tenure is filled with scandal, including an alleged dalliance with a Jack Sparrow lookalike pirate in St Barts and her ill-fated marriage to the Upper East Side’s top shagger, Tom D’Agostino. Luann has always kept us entertained, including her cult, perennially sold-out cabaret show where she performs her much loved ear-worms ‘Chic C’est La Vie’, ‘Money Can’t Buy You Class’ and ‘Feelin’ Jovani’.
The trajectory of her demise over the past 12 seasons of New York is akin to a Shakespearean tragedy, going from teaching etiquette lessons, attending galas and demanding people call her the Countess in the first season, to falling into a bush in Mexico and ending up being arrested in Palm Beach for ‘not’ stalking her ex-husband and assaulting a police officer.
Despite her many missteps, including being sued by her own children, Luann has, staggeringly, still managed not to gain any trace of humility or learning from her journey. The one season she was relegated to a ‘friend’ of — sometimes Housewives are demoted or leave as regulars and merely pop in for coffees and parties — the Countess showed Bravo what they were missing and created such chaos on the trip that she was immediately reinstated as a main cast member for the next season, proving that NYC can’t be cool without the Countess.
Her delicious lack of self-awareness, delusion and narcissism, coupled with her lack of talent, makes her the neurotic apple of our eye. Her flaws are what make her so captivating to watch — after all, as she said, “Even Louis Vuitton makes mistakes.”
From: The Real Housewives of New Jersey
With one action, Ms Giudice raised the bar for physical drama in Housewives.
Before she flipped a table in 2009, the behaviour of the women across the franchise was comparatively contained, limited to venomous insults and damaging attacks on personal characters. Now the ladies from Orange County to New York knew what was expected and celebrated: pure manic energy and a willingness to evoke God when getting violent at the local Italian restaurant. Whenever Teresa’s eyes go blank, you know the Kill Bill siren is playing in her head and you’re in for a treat.
She’s mellowed in recent years after she and her husband both served jail time for fraud and you can’t help but love her through her personal weaknesses, and tribulations with her brother and his wife. As other iconic women have come and gone, Teresa has remained the queen bee with her multiple lookalike diva daughters.
When you think about the franchise as a whole, New Jersey isn’t one of the most striking iterations of the show, but Teresa Giudice is at the forefront of the Real Housewives cinematic universe. Forget The Sopranos, she delivered the spirit — or at least a demon — of New Jersey to the whole world. There was a cultural shift when she spat those immortal words: “Don’t forget, girlfriend, I’m from Paterson, did you forget?”
From: The Real Housewives of Atlanta
When RHONY’s Bethenny Frankel was asked who belonged on the Mount Rushmore of Real Housewives, she created a highly charged debate online with Bravo stans. Throughout all the endless combinations that fans and stan accounts argued, one face was set in stone, that of one Ms Linnethia ‘Nene’ Leakes.
Even if you haven’t watched a single second of any Housewives franchise, there is a high chance that you’ve heard of the Real Housewives of Atlanta alum. Due to the sheer power of her put-downs, Nene has transcended into viral meme culture. Her time on the show is sprinkled with wonderful one-liners such as “I said what I said,” “Now why am I in it?” and “So nasty and so rude.” When Nene was still on the show, she was clearly the star, something that the ratings always reflected, with Real Housewives of Atlanta constantly topping the TV ratings.
Whether she’s embarking on her TV and theatre projects in LA and NYC, rolling her eyes at Kim Zolciak’s music career, chastising castmate Kenya Michaels for living in the ghetto because she had a “white refrigerator” or telling her friend-come-nemesis to close her legs to married men, Nene’s entertainment value is off the charts, and even though she has exited the show, she stays on top, and stays “riiiiich”.
From: The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
LVP, a sneaky and devious little Brit abroad, is such notoriously great television that Bravo has continued her long-standing spin-off Vanderpump Rules for a decade and counting. From the moment she arrived on our screens, bringing her tiny dog breakfast in a (pink) bed on a silver platter, Vanderpump’s wealth, pomp and wry sense of humour demanded respect and obsession.
To collect her best moments for a YouTube fancam would be impossible: there was the time she flew a miniature horse on a private jet; the time she walked Hanky, her pet swan, in West Hollywood; when she and Brandi Glanville had a physical scrap. Oh, or the time she nicknamed Adrienne Maloof’s shoe design “The Maloof Hoof”.
When she eventually left the show in season nine, it was because all her scheming and manipulation caught up with her. Still, in true Vanderpump style, she denied it all bitterly and flamboyantly and told them all to kiss her British arse.
From: The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City
There was never a quiet moment with tiny, fuming Jen Shah around: quite literally, there was screaming, crying and more screaming whenever she entered the frame. She threatened to drown a passive audience of one (Whitney Rose) in a hot tub, inadvertently revealed her privates to her friend’s teenage son and pointed more fingers than John Travolta, Donna Summer and every dance floor in the entire 70s combined.
Whether you forgave her for being mean and downright toxic towards Meredith Marks’s teenage son, you had to admit she dominated the action and subsequent conversations for the first two seasons of Salt Lake City. In what is now easily one of the top three Housewives episodes of all time, she fled the scene mid-shoot when she was alerted that the FBI were coming for her, starting a cat-and-mouse chase that the Bravo production team managed to capture in tantalising, dark and hilarious detail while the other women gossip about what is going on.
Recently, she pleaded guilty for conspiracy to fraud dramatically close to the start date for her trial for allegations that she tele-scammed hundreds of mostly older people out of money. Even if the shady lady isn’t around to start fights at parties for season three, you can guarantee the levity of this serious case will keep everyone shouting for her — and about her.
Taken from the October/November 2022 issue of Rolling Stone UK. Buy it online now.