Mary Amons came into my life a number of years ago, through common acquaintances. Pre Real Housewives of D.C. Slowly but surely, we first became friendly, then friends, and we are on our way to top even that. Over coffee recently at Leopold's, a favorite Georgetown gem, I asked her what it was really like to be on reality TV, and she told me the good, the bad, and the ugly. Things have definitely changed for Mary... she is now divorced, recently launched her interior design firm, is penning her memoir and a has a possible spinoff is in the works which will involve her eldest daughter Lolly... a successful fashion stylist who is now locking Mary out of her closet!
What is the best thing about having been on TV?
The best thing that came out of the show is the opportunity to connect with people, which has come from the notoriety that the show gave me. I love it when people recognize me from TV and come say hi and tell me their stories. I love it when people just walk up to me and chat (although it does sometimes bother my family!). I take that as such a compliment... I think it speaks to how easy-going I was on TV... I never had a wall around me so people don't feel intimidated by me. I love to be approachable, approached, and I always want to remain that way. I count the visibility and the opportunity to connect with people and grow that came with this show as a blessing.
How was it to watch yourself on TV every week?
It was totally surreal to watch myself live my life in an hour long show; it was real, but it was also edited... Seeing myself on TV made me realize what a different experience that is as compared to looking in the mirror. The more I watched myself, the more I learned about myself. In the mirror, I see myself as one-dimensional. On the show, I saw all of myself -- I thought wow, I have fat arms. Need to work on my arms. But I also thought wow I have pretty legs. I got to see myself from all angles. I saw this as an opportunity to grow. If I saw something I didn't like, I became aware of it -- and I changed it, or at least tried to. The whole experience gave me an unusual self-awareness.
What was your favorite perk?
Clothes, hair and makeup! My favorite part of it all was the press tour. We went to Television & Critics Association the week before we launched the show in LA and stayed at the Beverly Hilton. Traveling like a rock star is awesome! I also loved having my hair and makeup done all the time -- I miss that part! It was also nice to be approached by clothing lines who want you to wear their clothes and accessories...
I wore my own clothes mostly, however the producers encouraged me to wear more color -- which is not really in my wardrobe. I was able to borrow clothes from Saks, and Piazza Sempione in particular was amazing. The PR girl in NYC had me come to their showroom and pick samples from their showroom and wear it for the season. I had to give everything back... which was fine! But it was great to get to wear those clothes! The best were the two pony hair dresses, which I would never have otherwise worn!
What did you dislike?
The schedule was very demanding. We filmed for five months, I was subject to their schedules 5 days per week, five hours per day. And that does not include hair and makeup, which added two hours. We were all subject to whatever location they wanted us at; they gave us very little notice.
I also worried about the lack of control in editing. I had to trust our producers in the editing process... and that show is of course all about drama, which I understood... that was the risk I agreed to take when I agreed to do the show.
While the show was on air, we would get the show on a Tuesday, and the show aired on Thursday night. I would get a hand-delivered package on Tuesday afternoon with the DVD, and then sat on the edge of my seat watching it, in fear, thinking "Eek, what's coming." The good news is that I only experienced a few "cringe-worthy" moments. We then all had to post our entries on the Bravo Blog, by end of day Wednesday, which would be posted as the show aired. This was our opportunity to set the record straight if need be, elaborate on some things... we could write anything we wanted, but it was of course edited. We couldn't throw Bravo under the bus, and could not say anything about the process. We were definitely encouraged to stir up the drama in our blog.
Would you do things differently if you could do it all over again?
Yes, there are a number of things I would do differently...
-- I would have had more things to do and showcase; for example, I wanted to showcase my charity work, and Bravo ended up cutting all of that out. I should have had more things to showcase, for example a business venture.
-- I would have spoken up more during the show; there is a perception that I was not a very good friend to Cat, because she was accused of being a racist. I didn't do anything to involve myself in the situation, because I am so non-confrontational. I would do that differently, partly also because this whole experience has given me more confidence in my own relationships.
-- I would not have as much wine on the show... I sometimes looked like I liked my wine a bit too much! Fewer wine bottles on the counter please! I was a bit tipsy in one of the first scenes, at my birthday party...
What about the impact of the show on your marriage?
It is my belief that the issues I had with my husband that led to our divorce were real issues, and were there whether or not there is a camera. It is not because you put yourself out there and expose yourself that your marriage will unravel. If you have a solid marriage, your marriage should survive a reality show. The Housewives Curse can seem like an epidemic, but I don't believe in it. I think the experience of the show can be a catalyst, or can contribute to issues, but it cannot make a great relationship go south. The experience of the show can indeed help build your relationships. If on the other hand the relationship is already on shallow ground, the show won't help... indeed, none of us are still in the relationships we were in when the show was going on.
I also experienced changes in some of my friendships. I really found out who my true friends were in this process. There were people who wouldn't give me the time of day before but then became all about me once I got on TV. I also had people shun me because I was on the show, thinking it was trashy and that it was an ignorant, desperate thing to do. Women can be really judgmental... this taught me who my true friends are. The people who know me and love me know what my intentions were with this show. They knew my reasons were true and authentic.
Do you want to go back on TV?
Yes! I get a lot of energy when the camera and the lights are on me. This is something I want to experience again. I feel very comfortable with it, and this first experience was a confirmation for me that I should be doing something that allows me to be on camera. I always wanted to be an actress... every since I was a little girl, My grandfather was on TV and was an entertainer. I told him I wanted to be an actress when I was 8 years old and he almost choked on his food; he said "show business is not for anyone I care about." He told me acting was not so much about talent, but rather about timing. He also told me to learn how to speak clearly and enunciate properly!
I am much better on camera as myself rather than playing someone else. I want to be true to myself, on and off camera. It is inspiring to me when I am on camera, to let go and be completely vulnerable and honest with myself. Especially in reality TV, I think many take it as an opportunity to play a role, whereas I just want to be my authentic self, to play me.
Part of why I want to go back on TV too is that I also love the positive influence I can have on people. I have so much more of a chance to inspire people, and be a positive influence. This inspires me to stay grounded, humble, and working hard to achieve my personal best! This is definitely power -- a power I did not have before the show. I think about this a lot, as the power of influence can be used for good or evil... I always want to use my power for good. I want to encourage and inspire people to be their best. I want to do this, whether on another reality show or my own lifestyle show, maybe both!
- Ada Polla is the CEO and Founder of Alchimie Forever