The former Real Housewives of Atlanta star returns to TV this week on WE tv's Marriage Boot Camp: Hip Hop Edition alongside her boyfriend, The Haves and the Have Nots actor Medina Islam (who, unexpectedly, is the ex of her former RHOA co-star, Claudia Jordan).
"They asked me a few times [to do Marriage Boot Camp] and I had declined," Phaedra reveals to ET on video chat, "and they said, 'Well, you should ask anyone that you really know and trust,' and so I called Lil' Mo, because I trust her judgment and I've known her for years, and I said, what was it like? Should I do it? And she said, you absolutely should do it. She said, 'It's the best experience I've ever had on television.'"
Phaedra and Medina join a cast of characters including Love & Hip Hop alumni Hazel-E, Tahiry Jose and Willie Taylor, all living together in a Hollywood mansion to undergo couples therapy (on steroids) with Dr. Ish Major and Judge Lynn Toler of Divorce Court fame.
"[Lil' Mo] said, 'Phaedra, I've made friends for a lifetime. I got real counseling. I got great advice,' and she said, 'It really changed my outlook on love and life,'" Phaedra shares. "So, from that conversation I said, you know what? I'm going to do this. Because, obviously, we know -- everybody knows -- I know how to work and I'm well prepared to get a college degree and make great business decisions. But when it comes to relationships? I need one-on-one. I need Relationships for Dummies, because I have not made the best decisions in that department."
Phaedra and Medina were just four months into their relationship when filming started. The pair -- who first connected on a dating app before being introduced by a mutual friend in real life -- got together not too long after Phaedra split from Chicago-based radio DJ Tone Kapone. Tone was Phaedra's first major relationship since her divorce from husband Apollo Nida in 2016. Phaedra and Apollo split when he went to prison in 2014.
"I have a lot of anxiety around dating," Phaedra admits. "I just wanted to make better choices, and I knew from just my past with relationships, I needed help. I needed real counseling, and that's what I was seeking to make my next move by best move."
Phaedra and Medina hadn’t spent all that much time with each other before moving in together for the show, because they live on opposite coasts; Phaedra's in Atlanta, while Medina's based in Los Angeles. All of that combined led to a surprising confession from Phaedra on day one of Marriage Boot Camp: she and Medina had yet to be intimate with one another.
"He wanted to move the relationship a little faster than me," Phaedra notes. "And from my relationship with Tone, I knew I needed to not move so fast and make sure it was the right relationship, and that we had dotted all our I's and crossed all our T's before moving it into another round."
"My relationship with Tone was very passionate and sometimes passion is blinding," she adds. "I wanted to make sure that we got to know each other without the physical portion first, because I had already done that. One of my good girlfriends says, 'A mistake is something you do once. When you do it twice, it becomes a habit,' and I want to make sure I'm not getting into a habit of moving too fast."
Phaedra won't reveal if she and Medina have consummated their relationship yet (she teases to tune into Marriage Boot Camp), but does hint that things have only gotten more serious since doing the show together.
"The show allowed us time that we would have never had," she notes. "Being in this house with each other in the same bed every single day, every single night, 24 hours a day for several weeks, I really got to know him on a different level."
"I found I really could live with him," she adds. "He's super clean, he's super neat and so, the things you learn when you actually marry someone and it makes you crazy, because guys are not always neat and clean. I mean, we really got along so well in those close quarters, it made us totally connect."
The pair will celebrate one year together at the end of summer, though fans wouldn’t know it by looking at either of their Instagrams. Neither Phaedra nor Medina has posted a photo of the other on their main feed since last September, when they went public with their romance.
"I find that when you are too public and you post too much, it puts too much scrutiny on the relationship, and people want to make comments or they want to be very active in what's going on in your private life," Phaedra confesses. She shared a lot of photos with Tone while the two were together, all of which she’s since removed from her Instagram page.
Phaedra says the coronavirus pandemic has definitely slowed down things for her and Medina, though. Before the near-worldwide shutdown, she was considering a move to L.A., but has since changed her mind, as she wants to stay close to her parents and siblings. She says she's now trying to convince Medina to move to Atlanta, though he likely wouldn't move in with her. Phaedra says she and Medina made a pact not to introduce one another to their respective children until a ring is on her finger. Phaedra shares two sons -- Ayden, 10, and Dylan, 7 -- with her ex, and she is their primary caregiver. The boys do spend time with their father whenever he comes to Atlanta from Pennsylvania, where he currently resides, Phaedra says.
"My children are my prized possessions," Phaedra gushes. "They've talked on the phone [to Medina], but no face-to-face meetings or anything like that, because if we're getting married then that means, hey, it's forever -- maybe not -- but it's going to be permanent."
Still, the 46-year-old is interested in getting married again. She's just not quite ready to declare Medina "the one." The TV personality says she and Medina had to work through some of the issues that are holding them back, ironically, on Marriage Boot Camp.
"I'm a whole lotta woman in a little bitty package," she declares. "I'm dynamite, but would love to [get married again]. I love the institution of marriage, and marriage is a great thing when it's the right person and you understand the business of marriage -- because marriage is definitely, it's like a partnership in every sense of it."
Should a wedding be in their future, Phaedra says she'll definitely be getting a prenuptial agreement (she also had one with Apollo). For now, she's just enjoying the ride of being with a man who's unlike any man she's been with before.
"I've always dated bad boys," she confesses. "He is so kind, so sweet, tall, beautiful, a gentleman. I mean, it's refreshing. It's like a dip in a nice cool pond."
As for whether Phaedra is ready to dip back into a different pond -- the Real Housewives pond -- she's keeping her options open. The reality star exited the Bravo series after season 9 following allegations that she had helped to spread damaging, false rumors about co-star Kandi Burruss' personal life. Even so, fans and even some of Phaedra's former co-stars (most of whom Phaedra has stayed in touch with, she says) have regularly called for her return, most vocally NeNe Leakes. The network is currently finalizing the cast for RHOA's 13th season.
"It's flattering that people often ask about me, but right now I'm trying to find love," Phaedra says. "That's where my focus is."
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Phaedra Parks Happy to Be Done With the 'Dark Side' of Reality TV (Exclusive)
Phaedra calls her time on Housewives "a great experience," and she's been selective about her TV projects since. Marriage Boot Camp is only the second show she's appeared on since leaving the Bravo franchise in 2017; the other show was Braxton Family Values in 2018. While promoting that series, she told ET that she found her final years on RHOA to be too "dark" for her liking.
"This is the thing, life is about growth," Phaedra now says. "I'm not a one-dimensional person, and you've got to do things in the best interest of who you want to be and, as a parent, who you want your children to see you as. And so, as a mother, I want to do things that my children can always look back on and be very proud of."
"I'm at a point now where my little guys are seven and 10 and we make decisions as a family," she continues. "When I decided to go on Marriage Boot Camp, we had a very long conversation about it, because I explained to them what Mommy was doing and [asked if] they were OK with it and so that's where I am with all of my decisions. It has to be the best thing for me as a parent, parenting two African American boys who will grow up to be the president and the king."
Phaedra is also devoting her time to social causes, actively participating in the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against police brutality. Phaedra, who is a licensed mortician on top of being a lawyer, recently oversaw the funeral for Rayshard Brooks, who was killed by a police officer in June. For more on that story, watch the video below.