On a sunny, crisp November weekend, 88 Bravolebrities and thousands of ardent fans descended upon midtown Manhattan for a three-day hedonistic event celebrating the thousands of hours of reality television we have watched (and re-watched). What once could’ve been considered a convention of couch potatoes was now BravoCon 2019—a gathering of people with vastly different identities and politics who somehow formed our own subculture around a basic cable network, with shared behavioral patterns and inside jokes. Or, in Bravo parlance, “We see each otha.” Now, I’ll *spreads legs* mention it all about what I heard and saw in the 38 hours I spent on the front lines.
OK, first let’s talk money and the imposed caste system at the event. If you find this boring and just want to hear about the nasty shit Vicki Gunvulson said about people during panels, or which two Housewives were making out one night, or the secrets that producers revealed, skip on down because there’s plenty of that.
Because tickets went on sale in August, about three months before the actual programming schedule and full talent roster was announced, people weren’t really sure what to expect. Still, three-day passes were sold out in 60 seconds, which is pretty wild considering the prices: $300 for General Admission, $575 for VIP, and $1,500 for SVIP (plus fees and taxes). The prices are commensurate with Coachella, but that’s an established 20-year-old event, whereas BravoCon seemed like an experiment, albeit one with extraordinary results.
GA got you access to the event spaces, panels, photo experiences (more on that in a bit), and photo ops with Bravolebs. However, GA came with no guarantees. You had to wait on really long lines and if seating filled up at a panel or the timing ran out for a photo op, you were shit out of luck. VIP was probably the best deal. You got all the stuff that GA offered, plus you got to go in the “fast lines” at the venue entrance, at the bar, and at photo ops, and you got priority seating at panels and events. SVIP had even more bells and whistles, with the best perk being an open bar in at least one of the venues. But honestly, security seemed a little confused about the difference between the two, so ultimately, a lot of people paid about $1,000 extra for the same experience that many of the VIPs ended up getting anyway.
As for myself, I had a press pass, which usually operated as an SVIP pass except for one instance at the Vanderpump Rules After Party Sponsored by Pepsi. (It was hard for me to not think of Kelly Bensimon’s “I’m up here, you’re down here” speech when breezing past everyone in line.)
The VPR party was one of several “buy-up” evening events taking place at Hammerstein Ballroom—a venue that seats more than 2,000 asses—as was a special taping of Watch What Happens Live and Luann’s cabaret show. It was difficult to ascertain how much those tickets cost because they were only available to purchase for people who already had BravoCon day passes, but I was told that GA tickets for those events started at $50.
If this all sounds incredibly expensive to you, well, you’re correct. I met a mother and daughter (there were so many moms and daughters in attendance together) who flew in from Texas for the weekend. They both had SVIP badges, so that’s $3,000 in tickets right there. With airfare, hotel rooms, cabs, merch, and food and booze, it’s estimated they’d spent more than $5,000, all in. However, they had no regrets. When I first approached them, on Day One, they were literally shaking with excitement. “I don’t watch the news,” the mom told me. “I only watch Bravo. I don’t want to think about the horrible things in the world.” I found it refreshing that she was so honest about that, while also silently judging her complacency in this political climate. I feel a little bit bad saying this next thing, but I find it to be extremely relevant: She had talk-to-the-manager hair. *Camille voice* But now we said it.
As I looked around the various event spaces, I saw a lot of white women. I’m not sure that speaks to the actual demographics of the Bravo fanbase as much as it does to the pie slice that could afford to travel to—and spend such a weekend in—New York City. But while white ladies (like myself) made up a majority of the population, diversity was certainly on display. During one panel, I sat next to a trans woman of color who had traveled from the south to attend BravoCon alone. Still, she was well-heeled, wearing an SVIP bracelet on her wrist and Chanel boots on her feet. The most diverse audience, in my observation, attended the “Peach Tea Sip and See,” a panel made up of cast members from The Real Housewives of Atlanta, moderated by Sylvia Obell. During the audience Q&A portion, one woman approached the mic and said, “I’ve never felt more seen in my life,” in reference to black women represented on such a hit show. There were a lot of touching, emotional moments like that throughout the weekend—where women were brought to the verge of tears—that made the experience really special.
Aside from Bravolebrity panelists, I only saw six straight men during all of BravoCon: Ken Todd, Kroy Biermann, Jerry O’Connell, some girl’s dad, and Braunwyn’s husband who wears statement necklaces, which isn’t gay but certainly queer in the literal sense. Speaking of fashion, I have never, in my 40 years of living on this earth, seen so many sequined blazers in one area. I didn’t even know that so many varieties of the garment existed. (I shit you not, I saw a sequined duster.) There was also no shortage of fur (real and faux) or leopard print anything. And there were a lot of designer bags—the kind with logos all over them so that everybody knows it’s a designer bag, lest we think said bag-holders are poor. If I were to cast the audience on one of the shows based on their ’fits, it would be something of a cross-section of The Real Housewives of New Jersey and Vanderpump Rules.
There was a moment on Day Two that gave me pause. It was at the panel “Real Housewives: OGs Only.” It was moderated by Andy Cohen and featured women who had been on their respective Housewives region since its first season: Kyle Richards, Vicki Gunvalson, Luann de Lesseps, and Teresa Giudice. Vicki Gunvalson, the OG of the OC, has famously been demoted to “friend of” status—meaning she’s a supporting character who does not appear in the opening credits—on this current season of The Real Housewives of Orange County, much to her chagrin. The demotion came on the heels of a several-seasons run, in which Vicki’s antics became more and more abhorrent (including but not limited to lying about cancer, attempting to out someone, and using her knowledge of an alleged domestic violence incident as some sort of social currency). The types of Bravo fans with whom I regularly discuss the show scowl at the idea of Vicki, whereas they once laughed at it. But not this crowd.
During the Q&A portion of the panel, an audience member asked Vicki if she had been aware, during the course of filming this most recent season, that she had been reduced to “friend of.” Vicki disclosed that she had signed a “reduced role” contract in January, one month before filming began. Then, the audience began chanting “Bring her back! Bring her back!” with the exact same cadence and gusto as “Lock her up!” I wondered how many people in that room had actually been to a Trump rally and had perhaps chanted “Lock her up!” at some point. One person joked to me that a Venn diagram of Trump supporters and Vicki supporters would be a circle.
But despite any political differences, it was extremely easy to make friends there. I did, indeed, feel like I was surrounded by people who spoke my language, which at times involves gruffly shouting, “GOODBYE, KYLE!” in a British accent or volleying, “Who said that?” back and forth until someone laughs. As someone who suffers from situational shyness, small talk can be a real struggle. It’s difficult for me to connect with others on the typical surface-level topics of conversation—“the weather” and “traffic” are boring, and “current events” is not a safe space. But I’ve found that the Real Housewives franchise is the balance wheel of casual chitchat. This was never more apparent than at BravoCon.
I did not have a plus one, so I was ostensibly on my own, spending about 13 hours per day at different events. I never once felt uncomfortable or alone. I made friends wherever I went, and it was so easy. You know how elevators can be kind of awkward? All one had to do in a BravoCon elevator was ask, “So…what do you think about Bethenny’s departure from RHONY?” And people were suddenly passionately engaged in something I actually care about.
At a free-for-all trivia event on the first day, I saw a woman sitting alone and I approached her. She was from Charlotte, North Carolina, and said that her friends back home aren’t into “this stuff.” We discovered we were in the same Bravo-related Facebook group (shout out to Whispering Alenes). We both won merch during the trivia contest (mine was an apron that says, “It’s not about the pasta” on the chest) and stood in line together for the Housewives photo experience (more on that in a second) before parting ways to go to different events. Later that night, I saw her hanging out with Ariana from Vanderpump Rules! It was a true moment of compersion for me, to see someone I don’t really know living her dream.
The events were spread out between one space on 34th Street and then two additional spaces in West Chelsea, about seven blocks south and two avenues over. It was a bit of a schlep, to be quite honest, but I wore sneakers. Other women, the ones from out of town, were in heels and I felt terrible for them.
There were three venues for panels and events: Hammerstein Ballroom hosted 2000 people, the Grand Ballroom hosted 900, and the Skylight Modern hosted around 500. Nearly every panel I went to was completely packed. Union West, the 22,000 square foot venue, was the sort of hang out area, with couches, Top Chef food stands (I paid $14 for a single meatball), a BravoCon Bazaar where different Bravolebrities had their own merch booths, a State Farm-sponsored She Shed where you could recharge your phone, which was helpful, or paint your nails with red nail polish (which seemed like a potential nightmare given that the She Shed had a white couch), and several photo experiences sponsored by Lays Poppables.
The photo experiences were incredible, giving attendees the opportunity to star in their own intros to either The Real Housewives, Vanderpump Rules or Project Runway, replete with a director, cameraman, and props. Being able to insert oneself into the Bravo universe and then take that piece of it home—and more importantly, post it on social media—was probably worth the cost of admission.
The Bravo Bazaar was less of a hit, in my opinion. There was a lot of merch, but unfortunately, not the kind of stuff I would wear—sports bras that said “I run Bravo marathons,” T-shirts that said “I need my own Bravo show”—and trust me, I was really looking to score some merch. I collect Christmas ornaments from my travels and the big things I did during the year, so I was really hoping to find an official BravoCon ornament, but no dice.
Some of the selection of merch booths by Bravolebs was odd. I heard from one of the vendors that it was a big shit show and caused a lot of uproar, because people had to be invited to sell merch. A lot of longtime cast members with businesses were not invited to sell stuff. However, Kathryn Dennis of Southern Charm was selling footstools from a collection she evidently started called Kensie + Saint, named for her children. Jill Zarin, formerly of RHONY, was giving out carpet samples from Jill Zarin Home. Jennifer Aydin, from RHONJ, was selling what appeared to be one of those neck pillows you take on planes, but in this instance, it had a pillowcase. The box for it indicated that it was “The Ultimate Beauty Pillow” and then beneath that it said “Lips Lashes Brows,” but it was unclear how the pillow, which costs $35, increased the beauty of those three facial elements.
The Witches of WeHo—the wine created by Vanderpump Rules stars Kristen Doute, Katie Mahoney-Shwartz, and Stassi Schroeder—had a booth for wine tasting. Craig Conover and Shep Rose, both from Southern Charm, were selling throw pillows and trucker hats, respectively. Ariana Madix from Vanderpump Rules was selling t-shirts (and maybe her cocktail book), and she was one of the only Bravolebs who was actively working her booth all three days, ensuring a lot of face time with fans. Dorinda Medley from RHONY had wildly overpriced merch ($50 for a sweatshirt with an iron-on decal!) promoting her aerobics, I don’t know… thing? Is it a regular class? I’m not sure. At the time, I looked at the crude drawing and thought *Dwight voice* How dreadful. I came to find out, via a post on Instagram, that Dorinda allegedly stole this ugly-ass drawing from some fan who is quite upset about it. Check out Dorinda’s reply to him!
The absolute highlight for me was the Housewives Museum. The attention to detail was incredible, and I was truly giddy and giggling walking amongst the relics of Housewives history. Allison DuBois’s e-cigarette, Tamra Judge’s breast implants, and Kim Richard’s blue bunny (the latter two of which were on loan from the Bravo Clubhouse) were all encased in glass. Kenya Moore’s dress that she wore when she insisted that she was “Gone with the Wind fabulous” was eternally twirling on a motorized mannequin. There were several reunion dresses from various women/cities. I thought it was weird that, while the names of the women, the show, and the reunion season were listed, the designers were not. I couldn’t help myself. When no one was looking, I hopped up and took a peek to see who made RHOOC Gina Kirscheneiter’s dress. It was a label called “Dress the Population.” I’ve never heard of it, but the tag indicated it was made in China.
The night before BravoCon officially kicked off, I went to an unofficial party at the Moxy Hotel, hosted by a newly-engaged Kelly Dodd from RHOOC. We were supposed to play Housewives-specific games of Guess Who, but I’m not sure if anyone ever got around to that. I was milling about the VIP area and got to meet LeeAnne Locken from The Real Housewives of Dallas. She was lovely and explained to me that Bravolebrities were not allowed to attend events that they were not participating in, be it a panel or Watch What Happens Live, or a party or something. LeeAnne was participating in a few different panels, one of which was an LGBTQ-themed panel as a fill-in for Lisa Vanderpump, who had canceled. Lisa’s presence/lack thereof was a hot topic throughout the weekend, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Emily Simpson and Braunwyn Windham-Burke, both from RHOOC, also attended the Moxy party, where they gave a really cute engagement speech/poem to toast Kelly and her new fiancée Rick Leventhal. About 45 minutes later, Barb the builder Kavovit, formerly of RHONY, appeared, and she and Braunwyn made out for a little bit. It was truly wild to be in such close proximity to all of this.
The next day, I picked up my press passes in order to attend the various events and panels. I just want to note that I have been covering The Real Housewives franchise for more than 12 years. I started doing so on this very website and have written about the show for other publications since. (Perhaps one of my favorite posts I did in my eight-year career at Jezebel was this montage of Housewives trying to cry through Botox.) I was kind of hoping that the comms team at Bravo would be aware of my years of service and simply bestow a three-day pass upon my entitled ass. But no, here I am, all these years later, dancing for my dinner. And I do it gladly.
The first panel of BravoCon was Bravo Allstars: OG Housewives Edition, featuring all former Housewives—Caroline Manzo, Jill Zarin, Jeana Keough, Adrienne Maloof, Kim Richards, and Kim Zolciak-Biermann—and hosted by Andy Cohen. Caroline Manzo got the biggest applause of all when she walked out on stage and Adrienne Maloof got the least amount. All of the women still watch the shows they were on, except for Caroline. When Jill Zarin’s package was played on the screen overhead, she mouthed the dialogue from her scenes. She also announced that her dog Ginger had died. Kim Z-B said that she still texts with Nene Leakes, which I’m certain is based on mutual hatred for someone rather than a genuine friendship. Kim Richards said she’s been working on herself “energetically and metaphysically” and that she wants her blue bunny back. Her demeanor sort of devolved throughout the day, resulting in this illuminating interview about her sobriety
The producers’ panel was probably my favorite, as they actually talked about production and what it’s like to interview these women. One producer recounted how he had to personally remove Kelly Bensimon from Scary Island and fly back home with her. A producer from The Real Housewives of Orange County said that Vicki Gunvulson got into the habit of saying “Camera, camera, camera” when someone was talking to her about something that she didn’t want on camera, because she had learned early on that if she did that, then it would get cut out. That was part of the reason why OC producers began breaking the fourth wall on occasion. A producer from Atlanta said that interviewing Porsha about her feelings during her breakup with her fiancée Dennis has been a challenge because Porsha is now back with him, and reticent to say anything negative about him or indulge in the negative feelings she had about him at the time.
At The Real Housewives of New York panel, Sonja Morgan’s absence was glaring. While it was mentioned that she was not there, her absence was never explained, but I heard that she was not invited (Update: According to a Bravo rep, Sonja was invited, but she told the network she had a conflict that weekend), despite the fact that she is currently filming the next season of the show. She must be pissed. Remember how pissed she was when Dorinda didn’t invite her to a one-night sleepover in the Berkshires? Coincidentally, during the panel, some video started making the rounds on social media, showing a drunk and sobbing Sonja, screaming in the streets of Philadelphia after getting kicked out of a gay bar. I’m worried about her.
At night, a special episode of Watch What Happens Live was taped, with 88 Bravolebrities on one stage. Well, sort of. Lisa Vanderpump came on stage for just a few minutes during the Vanderpump Rules segment but hightailed it immediately after. It would seem that the producers of the show had no idea she was going to do that, as chatter on their walkie talkies could be heard where they were all asking where the hell she went. Her whole minimal participation thing was really confusing. She canceled on the GLAAD event and then pulled that stunt on WWHL. I’m dying to know what the actual tea was there. I saw her husband Ken Todd waiting just off stage, holding her handbag. I guess the two of them had planned her exit in advance.
Oh, also, Andy asked Kim Z-B twice—once during the OG panel and again at WWHL—if she was pregnant. She said she was not and later made it a point to post a video of herself doing a tequila shot on her Instagram. Either Andy knows something we don’t and was trying to get her to “own it,” or he body-shamed her in front of a national audience. At the end of the taping, which lasted for two and a half hours, Tamra Judge stage dove and then crowd surfed.
The next morning, I was exhausted, but I did it all over again. This time I started drinking much earlier. The bars at all the venues began serving booze at when doors opened (around 9:30 a.m.) each day. So people were pretty drunk by the time The Real Housewives of New Jersey panel started at 10:30 a.m. Some highlights from that panel: Teresa Giudice rolled her eyes at her sister-in-law Melissa Gorga a number of times while Melissa was talking. Teresa pretty much confirmed that she and her husband Juicy Joe are done. However, she kept defending the way that Joe has treated her, referring to the emotional abuse that he has inflicted on her in terms of like, “You don’t know him like I know him. I’m used to him.” Dolores Catania poignantly said, “I don’t want her to be used to that. Now she’s gonna see how the rest of the world talks to women.”
At another OGs panel, Kyle Richards recounted how she and Lisa Vanderpump ran into each other a few weeks ago. She said they were at a teeny, tiny restaurant in Beverly Hills with just 10 tables. The host ended up sitting her down right next to Lisa and Ken’s table. Kyle said hello to LVP, but she says that LVP did not say hello back. She also brought up how LVP had avoided her the night before at WWHL, and evidently did not enter the green room, where all the other Bravolebrities were.
Somebody from the audience asked who really plans the trips, the cast or production. Luann de Lesseps tried to give a canned answer, but Vicki Gunvulson screamed out, “It’s production! I wanted to go to Greece and we went to Florida!”
My absolute favorite moment of the entire BravoCon experience was Porsha Williams’s entrance to the Atlanta panel in a wheelchair, smiling and waving. It was never explained what happened to her foot. During the Q&A portion, a professor of slavery got up to the mic and took Porsha and Kenya Moore to task for certain comments they made on the show (Porsha, for believing that the Underground Railroad was a literal train under the ground, and Kenya for “Gone with the Wind fabulous,” equating fabulousness with a movie that portrayed African Americans in such a stereotypical and derogatory manner). Kenya, ever the poised beauty queen, had a really good answer to explain the genesis of the phrase. She said that earlier in the evening, the women had been talking about how Kenya had been the second African American woman to win Miss U.S.A., which led to a discussion about Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to win an Academy Award, for her role as Mammy in Gone with the Wind. So, when Kenya first said, “I’m Gone with the Wind fabulous” she meant that she has been breaking barriers for black women.
That night, I attended the Vanderpump Rules After Party Sponsored by Pepsi at Hammerstein Ballrooom. It started at 9 p.m., and the main event was supposed to be DJ James Kennedy’s set. However, nobody was dancing or even looking in his direction up on the stage. Instead, 2,000 people were looking off to the right, where there was a very small VIP section roped off for the VPR cast, pushing and crowding and clamoring for a selfie. It was a very dark moment that I did not enjoy. I was up in a weird purgatory section, neither GA or VIP, observing this dystopia and finding it depressing. Also, I paid $17 dollars for my cocktail that I immediately dropped all over some woman’s Tory Burch flats. Although I apologized profusely, she was supremely uncool about it, as if giving me a dirty look for a long enough time would somehow improve the situation. If I’m being completely honest, I did her a favor. Those shoes were not it.
The silver lining here is that by standing in Purgatory, I somehow got to take a selfie with Tom Schwartz and Lala’s fiancee Randall Emmett, both of whom were extremely nice and accommodating.
By the morning of Day Three, I was a wreck, exhausted, and kind of hungover. First up was the RHOOC panel. It was mostly boring, as the ladies had just filmed their reunion the week before and got all their arguing out then. However, Kelly Dodd did mention that she did not regret hitting Shannon over the head with the mallet. This clearly upset Shannon, and she reminded everyone that her vision was blurred. Kelly replied, “Because you took your contacts out!” Shannon confirmed that was the case.
I went downstairs to check out Dorinda’s aerobics event. People powered through their own hangovers and were actually exercising (in sequins blazers no less). It was very cute and sweet and wholesome, and it brought a smile to my face.
Later, at a panel titled “Housewives 2 Housewives,” Tamra Judge (OC), Dorit Kemlsey (Beverly Hills), Brandi Redmond (Dallas), and Jackie Goldschneider (New Jersey) discussed various things, most notably, Tamra said that she was actively avoiding running into Lisa Vanderpump and that she found Ken Todd to be intimidating.
The absolute worst panel of the entire three-day event was The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, which featured Dorit, Erika Jayne, Lisa Rinna, Teddi Mellencamp, and Denise Richards. Unlike other panels where women were talking shit and being their authentic selves, these women refused to answer the softball questions the moderator lobbed at them. He asked Dorit, “Who from another Housewives city would you want to take a trip with?” First of all, who gives a shit? Ask her about her finances! But Dorit said, “Oh, I don’t know. I can’t pick.” And he let her off the hook! Over and over again, the women kept doing this. Someone asked Erika Jayne, “As a musician, who is your dream person to collaborate with?” And she said, “I like to keep that close to my heart, so that’s where I’ll keep it.” It was unbelievable. Then someone asked Denise, “Fuck, Marry, Kill: Below Deck” and she wouldn’t answer! Finally, someone from the audience got up and said, “Who do you think is worse at apologizing: Ramona Singer or Lisa Vanderpump.” The moderator said, “How about, next question.” I lost it. Truly. I was more angry at the moderator than anything. I started screaming, “No! They will answer the question, that is what we’re here for!” I almost fell off my chair. Other people around me took my cue and began to scream as well. Finally, Lisa Rinna said, “Well, who do you think is worse?” Again, with a non-answer. I was apoplectic. I fired off a nasty Instastory where I called the moderator garbage.
But really, I was just tired and cranky and hungry. I shouldn’t have called him garbage, even though I meant it. Sometimes it’s better to be nice than to be right. That’s something I struggle with and *Ramona voice* hey, you know what, I’m a work in progress. In all sincerity, I’m sorry if I hurt his feelings by living my truth. I went to the She Shed and ate a State Farm-sponsored macaron and felt better.
I cleansed my palate with another producers’ panel. It was all pretty much the same stuff as the first producers’ panel I attended. Except, this time, during the Q&A portion, Heather McDonald showed up. However, she didn’t get up quickly enough and didn’t get a good place in line for the mic, so the moderator was just about to end the panel before Heather could ask a question. She threw a fit and started saying, “No! What about me!? It’s Heather McDonald!” If you are like these producers, and you don’t know who Heather McDonald is, she hosts a podcast where she covers a lot of reality TV stuff. But she also frequently does “Asian voice” (replete with a gong sound), has uttered phrases like “you know, she’s a stereotypical black girl,” is transphobic, and has devoted hours of her podcast to a series she called “Serial Sister,” where she exploited and vilified her real-life sister, publicly dragging her and telling personal stories about their falling out. Oh, and she’s a Trump supporter.
These numbskulls sitting behind me started advocating for her, so Heather butted in line in front of everybody to ask her stupid question, which wasn’t even a question, but a comment. “I like Jill Zarin.” That was basically it. Guess who she was at the panel with? Jill Zarin.
It was at this point that I’d had *Taylor voice* enough, enough, ENOUGH! I decided to ditch out on going to see Luann’s cabaret show. I’d actually already seen it last year. I had attended the Atlantic City show that she left rehab early to perform at.
Overall, BravoCon was such an incredible experience. I absolutely loved it, even the parts where I was unraveling and yelling at people and scowling at Heather McDonald. You know, a common refrain on reality TV is “I didn’t come here to make friends.” But at BravoCon, I ended up doing exactly that.