‘RHONY’: Leah McSweeney on Why Ramona Singer Is Like a Vampire and More Takeaways From Her First Season
By Brice Sander
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Leah McSweeney floated into her first season on The Real Housewives of New York City and stung like a b**ch, just like her tagline promised. But she also won over viewers with her give-no-s**ts attitude and willingness to show the good, bad and messy in-between of her life… all while a pandemic unfolded across the globe.
"It's been so nice and it's so great," the RHONY newbie notes to ET over video chat. "I can't imagine if, what if everyone hated me and they were like harassing me on social media? I would not be able to deal with that and the pandemic at the same time right now. I just wouldn’t be able to. So, God gives you only what you can handle and honestly I would not be able to handle that anyway. It's so nice, it's nice to have support."
While Leah missed out on some first-time Housewife rites of passage thanks to COVID-19, like a press tour and visits to the Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen clubhouse, she did get to wrap up her inaugural season with the equivalent of a baptism when it comes to Housewives: the reunion. RHONY's production team was able to work out an in-person reunion for season 12, shot on Aug. 5 at a mansion on Long Island. The women and host Andy Cohen practiced strict safety protocols to pull off the day, which Leah says was both everything and nothing like she expected.
"I don't think one person didn't shed a tear," she teases. "Except Andy -- I don't think he shed, I don't think he was crying. Everyone else cried at one point or another. Everyone."
All six season 12 cast members -- Leah, Ramona Singer, Luann de Lesseps, Dorinda Medley, Sonja Morgan and Tinsley Mortimer -- were in attendance, sitting six feet apart in separate, plush chairs.
"That part was a little sad actually, but maybe it was better?" Leah questions. "Then no one can get in each other’s faces and scream."
That doesn’t mean the day was free from shouting, though.
"Like, the fighting started happening before I even -- like, when it was just time for us to talk about what we were wearing, it already started," Leah reveals. "I'm like, this is crazy. Like, is this supposed to be going on right now?"
Leah says it was "great to see Tinsley," who departed the show mid-season when she relocated to Chicago to start her next chapter with fiancé Scott Kluth. Tinsley left on awkward terms with Dorinda, who seemed to have it out for the socialite for some unexplained reason. Leah says Tinsley got to "speak her truth, get some things off her chest," but laughs when asked if there was any resolution for Tinsley and Dorinda.
"You got to tune in, you got to watch," she says. "You know, there's a lot of resolution, though, that does come. I definitely left feeling like a lot of things were resolved. Some things weren't, but a lot of things were."
It feels safe to assume that some of those unresolved issues involve Leah and Ramona, who have been at odds nearly all season long, all seemingly driven by their generational disconnect. Ramona is 63, Leah is 37. Ramona has been quick to call out Leah’s "bad behavior" and "30-year-old-ness," while turning a blind eye to similar actions taken by her 56-year-old bestie Sonja Morgan. Ramona appears empowered to chastise Leah because she thinks they have a "mother-daughter" relationship, an idea Leah doesn't subscribe to: "I just don't believe that."
"I didn't even get to say this at the reunion and so I'm going to say it now -- maybe I did, I don't know -- watching, in hindsight, I actually let Ramona get away with so much," Leah says. "I mean, albeit, it was my first season. I'm trying to navigate [things], I'm trying to be respectful. I'm trying to also be me. So, I feel like that's never going to happen again."
Leah says she wouldn't go back and change anything that happened between her and Ramona, though, as everything that went down played out as she felt like it should in the moment. Only now, she knows the signs to look out for with Ramona, aka "the Singer Stinger."
Leah has met Ramona with some metaphorical jabs as the season has aired, from a shocking Cameo fan shoutout video filmed with friend of the cast Elyse Slaine in which Leah commented on Ramona's sex life, to Instagram commentary on Ramona's pandemic-related behavior. Leah says it's all addressed -- both ways -- at the reunion.
"I got a few apologies at the reunion, I'll say that," Leah shares, before asking, "How sincere they are...?"
"There is something about Ramona, she kinda does that, like, remember in True Blood when the [glamouring], when the vampire, like, looks into [a person's eyes]?" Leah mentions, referencing a mind-control technique used by the vampires on HBO’s gothic horror hit.
"I feel like Ramona glamours people," she says. "I feel like she does glamouring, like, I’m not even kidding. She just does! So, it was hard to stay mad at her."
On True Blood, the vampires would stare into the eyes of humans to gain control of their brains and implant thoughts, speaking in dulcet tones to make the messaging stick. Leah says Ramona basically does the same, changing her voice to be breathy any time she needs to apologize. She then typically appears to get choked up before asking the person she's apologizing to for a hug. Or, just embracing them in one.
"She's one of a kind," Leah says. "She's a special, special human, what can I say?”
Fans have seemed just as annoyed with Ramona's antics on season 12 as her co-stars, with some online even calling for this to be the series' OG's final RHONY ride. But Leah fully expects the "Ramonacoaster" to return for a yet-to-be-announced 13th season.
"I can't really imagine it without her," she says. "In some ways for better or worse. You know, you're not like -- just because she's not 'good' -- people are saying she’s not a 'good person' or whatever -- that doesn’t mean she’s not good for the show."
It's an interesting thought that's popped up as the country faces a major call for social change after the death of George Floyd, which placed the Black Lives Matter movement at the center of the national conversation. Bravo let go of multiple cast members from Vanderpump Rules after past racist actions of theirs resurfaced, and viewers have called for even more of the network's stars to be let go to set an example of what is and isn't acceptable from their talent. Leah cautions fans to think of the bigger picture, though: One, people aren't typically on reality TV because they set the moral standard, and two, part of the journey of watching someone's real life is seeing them learn new things in real time.
"If we're all the same, it'll be so boring," she adds. "Also, this is the other thing: Things that were acceptable 10 year ago, what people thought were funny or whatever, have changed and you can't expect [them] to know that without telling them first. And you can't expect someone to be able to change overnight or at all, really. So, it’s complicated."
It's possible Leah had her own teachable moment with Ramona at the reunion about Black Lives Matter and Ramona's previous use of the phrase "all lives matter." Leah said she was going to bring that up while participating in Bravo's roundtable discussion special, Race in America: A Movement Not a Moment. Now, Leah says Ramona claims to know the difference between the two phrases.
"She says she was uneducated," Leah recalls. "I don't know if that's really an excuse, because she says she travels the world. She says she's, like, this and that and worldly and cultured. It's hard to know whether someone -- 'cause I do believe some people say 'all lives matter' and they do believe, with all the best intentions, they're saying something good, you know? They are. Because in essence all lives do matter, but the whole point is like, Black lives don't matter enough. So, you can’t say 'all lives matter' yet, you know? I don't think -- a lot of people don't know that. They just don't."
Between shooting the season, reliving it while it aired and taping the reunion, Leah says she understands Ramona a lot better, but adds that she "won't be holding back as much [in the future], let's put it that way."
Leah notes she let Ramona "break" her in season 12, something she won't let happen again. That break came when Ramona freaked out on Leah -- and broke the show's fourth wall -- after Ramona's sister Tanya caught Leah "dirty dancing" at Ramona's combination 63rd birthday, "I have 50 close girlfriends," and coming out -- to what? unclear -- party. The thing is, Leah wasn't alone. She was actually grinding with Luann, Dorinda and Elyse, while Sonja danced on a mirrored table nearby (and actually shattered the mirror, glass flying everywhere). Expect a long chat about the whole ordeal at the reunion.
"In terms of the conflict with Ramona, I will say this: I'm a person that doesn't really hold grudges," Leah offers. "I believe in forgiveness. I believe in atonement. I believe in owning up to my own stuff, and I'm all about the resolution, so we'll see what happens."
Leah acknowledges that there may have been some subconscious mother-daughter feelings mixed into her relationship with Ramona, but attributes that to the fact that she was experiencing growing pains with her own mother, Bunny, while filming the season. Bunny was concerned about Leah's return to drinking. The newly minted reality star had been sober for nearly a decade before joining RHONY, and, amid the near-worldwide lockdown thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, she's once again returned to not drinking.
"Honestly, I really just can't deal with hangovers, can't do it," she says of her decision. "I'm obsessed with being productive, to a fault sometimes, and it's very hard for me to be productive when I'm hungover. I love getting drunk -- I can't even lie. I loved it. It was fun doing it."
"I'm happy that it's now immortalized and on season 12 for all to enjoy, but it's very hard for me to be productive when hungover, and also, nothing bad happened, but I was like, you know, what? Something bad's possibly gonna happen and the stakes are high. It's not worth it. It's just not worth it."
The mom of one says she doesn't like to make proclamations about the future, even admitting she doesn't think about it much, but she's pretty sure she’s done with alcohol for good. One other prediction she's OK with making is that The Real Housewives of New York City will look different next year. She wants to see "diversity across the board in terms of age, ethnicity, and thought" when it comes to finding new cast members. The show has never before had a Black Housewife.
A name viewers have mentioned as a possible addition to the RHONY roster, albeit a white one, is Leah's little sister, Sarah, who made a few guest appearances on season 12 (and got into some social media battling with Ramona herself).
"But I love her, and my sister is so freaking smart and so funny and so entertaining and young and hot and all that, so she would also be so great for it and people would enjoy it so much," she continues. "So, that would really be up to her and Bravo."
Before the cast expands, though, there's still more of season 12 to enjoy, including a finale that Leah promises is "unlike anything that you've ever seen" and more appearances of Leah in a Housewives first: confessionals filmed entirely in a sweatshirt (of her own Married to the Mob design, of course).
"I just was like, you know what? The Kardashians wear sweatshirts in their confessionals, why not try it out?" she says, with a laugh. "I mean, I get it. They're the Kardashians and like, I get it -- but still, why not?"