'The Real Housewives of New Jersey' veteran laughs at criticism she doesn't bring story to the show and dishes on the season 12 drama.
After more than a decade on reality TV, Melissa Gorga has proven herself to be an asset to The Real Housewives of New Jersey -- whether the audience always recognizes that or not. Season after season, the veteran 'Wife is faced with criticism that she "doesn't have a storyline" or that her "storyline" is "talking about everyone else."
"I always think that's so funny, even [Real Housewives executive producer] Andy Cohen always says it, he's like, 'Where did this whole storyline thing come from?' I'm like, 'The fans made it up!'" Melissa remarks to ET over video chat. "The fans think unless your husband's cheating on you, or you're Erika Jayne, or you're going to jail or you robbed a bank, then you shouldn't be on the Housewives. So they just want all villains, they don't want any normal people to have a normal life and show their family. It's Housewives, it's not, like, Mob Wives!"
"It's become habit for people to say that and so, we're fine with it, whatever you have to do," Melissa adds. "When I do have a storyline that they 'want,' that means I'm losing. So I'm good."
Season 12 is Melissa's 10th as a cast member on RHONJ, her tenure marked by the roller-coaster ride that is her and her husband, Joe Gorga's, relationship with his sister, OG star Teresa Giudice. But because Teresa's been on the show since its inception -- and many seasons have centered around her struggles, from cheating allegations to a criminal trial and prison sentence -- some viewers judge every other cast member against what Teresa's brought to the table (table flip, included).
"What is so confusing about showing that I have three kids, I have a life, I have a husband, I have struggles creating my small businesses, I have a sister-in-law that I battle with?" Melissa asks. "I laugh because, when they say that to me, I'm like wait, [this season] opens up with everyone talking about us! It opens up with Teresa and [her daughters] talking about us, so what does that mean? Am I your storyline now?"
Melissa is quick to point out that her "small business," her boutique, Envy, is actually growing, opening in a larger retail space in Ridgewood, New Jersey, this week.
"I can't control what they're going to put in, what they don't put in," she says, noting that the women film hundreds of hours of "personal story" that never sees the light of day.
"So when you see, like, Jennifer and Bill [Aydin] or Teresa talking about us, does that mean I'm their storyline?" Melissa queries. "I mean, no! That 'storyline' thing is ridiculous. It's always been, it's just silly. I think Jennifer started saying that and obviously I can't compete with the people who went through bankruptcy and, sorry, if I'm on the wrong show then because that's not for me."
Jennifer joined RHONJ in season 9, and quickly became a foil for nearly everyone on the ensemble (save for Teresa). That dynamic came to a head at the season 11 reunion, where Jennifer added fuel to little fires started over the course of the season that was, doubling down on petty issues with Melissa, Margaret Josephs and Jackie Goldschneider. After watching back the special episodes, Melissa took to Instagram with a series of images and "a novel" (as Jennifer put it) of a caption that read in part, "I posted everyone except for one person who I feel is truly happy when family and friends are divided. Probably because she would throw her own mother under the bus for TV. Or if it would make Teresa happy."
It's not hard to figure out that Melissa's referencing Jennifer there, creating a domino effect of drama that's still unfolding as season 12 airs.
"That was my answer back to everything she was saying at the reunion," Melissa explains. "And then she saw that and said, 'This came out of left field, this Instagram post!' And then she retaliated, but the truth is, I was watching the reunion when I wrote that."
Part of Jennifer's retaliation was commenting that Melissa's husband was a "crook." She also labeled Margaret a snake with the use of an emoji. It set the ground for a "scorched earth" move by Margaret in the season 12 premiere: Exposing Jennifer's husband, Bill's, decade-old affair on camera.
"Listen -- and I'm not defending Margaret -- I don't know that if it were me I would've ever said it, you know what I mean? But I think Margaret had gotten to the point where she was starting to feel like, slut-shamed almost," Melissa reflects. As long as Jennifer has been on the show, she's passed judgment on Margaret, who's never hidden the fact that she and her husband, Joe Benigno, got together as a result of an affair of their own.
"She's like, 'Listen, then me and your husband were the same person. So if he's amazing, then why can't I be amazing?'" Melissa says. "And I'm sorry, there's sense to that, I work with sense and that makes sense."
It's what Melissa is calling Jennifer's lack of sense that rubs her the wrong way, and has led to a pattern of confrontations between the two women over the years. Melissa has a habit of charging at Jennifer during heated conversations, most recently during a cast trip down the Jersey Shore.
"I argue really well with someone who's going to reason with me, even if we're going to yell," Melissa explains, "but she goes to the 'la la land' place when she argues and she does very like, 'Wah! Wah!' Like that annoying thing. So in my soul, I want to grab her and grab her, right? My hands want to grab her, right? But in my head I know that is not allowed, that my children are watching, that is not the right thing to do, and that you get fired as soon as you do that."
"But then I just want to talk," she continues. "I just want to be like, 'Let's talk.' And then, I would never touch her because that's not my style -- I really wouldn't -- and in her defense for this one [at the store], I am aggressive. ... So I'm going to put the blame on both of us there to be honest. I did get up, I am not trying to play 'Miss Victim' or 'Miss Innocent,' I wouldn't have put my hands on her though."
As the incident aired, Jennifer liked various comments on Twitter seemingly calling out an "unfair edit," criticizing how Jennifer was coming off in the moment versus Melissa, as well as Margaret and Jackie over the course of the season.
"I think that's ridiculous," Melissa spouts when the idea of a "bad edit" comes up. "She's not getting hated on all over the place so-- this is what I never get: I'm not saying anything, I'm not in there trying to defend it, it's a show. We filmed it, it was real life, but it happened, we've all come to a different place."
"I actually feel bad for Housewives, when they invest that amount of time when they're not filming, I honestly do," she adds. "And I'm not saying that to be funny or catty, and it's not just Jennifer there's been a long list of them on our show that are no longer here, that used to do that. There's exact people that just put way too much time into worrying how they looked in that one episode, which to me then comes off very fake, because you are now just trying to please the fans and get the Instagram fan like."
Melissa says she's noticed a trend in the RHONJ cast over the years: the women who act out on camera for fan approval tend to not last very long.
"I'm not saying we have crazies on our show, but the ones who are a little known for the crazier species on our show -- right? -- usually get the vote of more on the Instagram [approval] side because, I don't know, people who play on Instagram all day and talk bad about celebrities relate well with those kind of people," she remarks. "You got what I'm saying?"
"I feel like people are good to [Jennifer] on social media, you would think she'd be like, 'OK!'" she adds. "It's like, I'm baffled. You know how many years I have been dragged through the mud on this show? I mean-- and Teresa, too! Teresa and I from season 3, we have given our heart and soul, our families, our children, our tears, so much to this show, and no one gets a pass that's all I'm saying."
Teresa is tied up in Melissa's mess with Jennifer, seeing as she's Jennifer's closest friend on the cast. It's contributed to the never-ending carousel ride Melissa finds herself on season after season with her sister-in-law, in which Teresa looks to Melissa (and Joe) to stand by her side, no questions asked. But when Melissa and Joe need support, Teresa stands back. While Melissa's given up hope on Teresa ever riding for the Gorgas the way she expects the Gorgas to ride for her ("People do not change at this point when they're 50 years old, right? So, it is what it is."), she did notice a slight shift in season 12.
"I was giggling a little because you could see how bad Teresa did not want Jennifer to say that Teresa was on her side," she points out. "Teresa kept saying, 'No, you don't mean this. You don't mean any harm, right?' It was funny to see Teresa almost pushing her and persuading her into wanting to make up with us, when you can clearly tell that was not Jennifer's intention, that was not what she wanted to do."
"I think Teresa was worried that she's going to look bad if she's staying friends with Jennifer, while Jennifer's dragging our name all over the place and treating us like crap, when she's on the other side asking us to defend her boyfriend," she says. "So I think Teresa was like, 'Damn, I'm in a little situation here.'"
Melissa and Jennifer found their way to some semblance of friendship over the course of filming season 12. It remains to be seen if watching back the episodes changes that, especially now that Jennifer's admitted to making nice with Melissa as a favor of sorts to Teresa.
"Then to me, it's not real, then to me it's fake," Melissa says in response. "I don't want you to do it because it will make Teresa happy, that is one thing that it doesn't do me any good. It's not like we're total vibe, we don't vibe so close together anyway. So like, don't do anybody any favors if you're just doing it for Teresa, and that's honestly how I feel."
"And if she wants to say she's really just doing it for Teresa, well then that's that, let's wash our hands with it and let it go," she says. "It seems like she's saying that in the episodes, but in person it doesn't feel that way, so I don't know."
Melissa admits to feeling like she doesn't know the "real" Jennifer, experiencing one version of her castmate while filming, another by watching back her comments in confessionals on the show and a third from her social media behavior and reunion "performances."
"I like people to stay very consistent," Melissa says. "At least with Teresa I know exactly what I'm dealing with."
One thing Melissa's come to expect from her sister-in-law is that she operates under different, self-imposed rules than the rest of the cast. That's on display this season thanks to her relationship with her now-fiancé, Louie Ruelas. Teresa stormed out of filming when producers pushed her to get Louie to explain an arguably bizarre video he made for an ex-girlfriend that made the rounds on social media. Teresa attempted to shut down every conversation about it (and anything from Louie's past), claiming she's "protecting" him from a spotlight he didn't sign up to be under.
"I understand and I get why she's protective of him," Melissa shares. "She doesn't want him to be like, 'Whoa! I'm out of here, this is way too much for me.' I get that, I understand that. I truly believe what Margaret and what I -- you don't see me as much on camera do it, but I was definitely saying it off camera -- I was saying, 'Address it, address it. No one's going to talk about anymore. Address it.' And I just couldn't understand why no one would address it. And I feel like Margaret, if you watch her, she wasn't being nasty she's like, 'We just want to know why.'"
Louie finally said his piece on the video after Margaret brought it up on the shore trip, much to Teresa's dismay. It's a tipping point for the pair, whose issues -- including Teresa believing Margaret leaks information to "the blogs" -- come to a head on the cast trip to Nashville later this season, where Teresa unloads the contents of a dining table on her co-star.
"I feel like Teresa almost thought about it a little too much in her head and thought maybe everybody was coming [for Louie]," Melissa surmises. "Nobody was. We were just like, 'We're on a show here, everybody gets the questions, explain this funny video...' Because if Joe Gorga went dancing around in some underwear or whatever, he did something crazy, we're all going to ask Joe and I'm going to make him sit down and answer, right? So it's like, what's the big deal?"
When Louie did speak up, he did so with an intense energy, telling Teresa he would walk out on the group if she didn't let him speak. He also got heated with Margaret.
"Louie likes to be in charge, definitely," Melissa says of the exchange. "Secretly, I appreciate that about him. He has done this many times, having conversations with me, Joe and Teresa, he has definitely told her to like, 'Zip it,' and she listens. And so it's like, I appreciate him, I appreciate her listening to someone."
It remains to be seen what exactly leads to the table-shift incident in Nashville (even Melissa struggles to recall what exactly unfolded in that moment), but Melissa promises, "It's some great TV: fun, wild and crazy!"
The Real Housewives of New Jersey airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.