'RHONY's Leah McSweeney on Judaism, Sobriety, Co-Star Confrontations and Azealia Banks (Exclusive)

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Second seasons on The Real Housewives are historically tough, but Leah McSweeney thinks she avoided that "sophomore slumpsimply because her first season on The Real Housewives of New York City was so... much. 

"I think in my first season, people were like, 'You had a great first season, it's going to suck for you the second season!' First of all, I got outed for having bipolar disorder," the outspoken Married to the Mob designer tells ET over video chat. "I was in the middle of a relapse. I put it all out there. I don't know how much harder it could have been, season 2."

"It was a little more nerve-wracking because I knew what to expect and I knew how hard it was," she adds, "and I knew how exhausting it is to be at [Ramona Singer's] house for four days straight. And the first season, I didn't know what I was getting myself into, but the second season, you know what you're getting yourself into and you do it anyway. But overall, I think that I actually feel much better now than I did when I wrapped the first season. I was like, 'Oh my god, what was that?' And right now I feel great about it."

Leah indulged in a Housewives right of passage between seasons, getting a purely cosmetic nose job (which unexpectedly corrected an undiagnosed deviated septum), but also did a lot of self-reflection, which is not necessarily the norm. She stopped drinking just days before her first season premiered last March, having picked up alcohol for the first time in nine years right before she started filming the show the fall prior. The 38-year-old also started seeking out organized religion.  

"They do say that converts have Jewish souls, so I've been told that that's maybe one of the reasons why, but I think that I want to have a more meaningful life and I want to be a better person and, for me, that way is through Judaism," Leah explains of her decision. "I'm creating the life I want, and creating the boundaries I want and reclaiming my life. I think it was a really interesting way to think about it."

Leah, who was raised by a devout Catholic mother, says getting sober again was the tipping point that turned her toward religion, which she historically rebelled against. She says she's in classes once a week to learn about her new religion, and will likely be converted before the Jewish high holidays in September. She hasn't yet decided what sect of Judaism she'll convert into, as she's still exploring and finding the perfect fit.

"It's a significant, huge thing in my life," she notes. "So this is not something that you rush."

Part of Leah's journey toward Judaism will be featured on RHONY season 13, which also centers on her choice to return to a sober life. The mom to 13-year-old Kiki says her decision to give up drinking had more to do with hangovers than bad behavior, but admits she doesn't mind avoiding those moments, either. 

"I can do so much more sober and be more myself and, of course -- look, I love going nuts," she says. "I love being crazy. I mean, I said that before, and we know it's entertaining for everybody. But I don't feel hindered by my sobriety, I feel like it's liberating, totally liberating."

Leah's co-star, Luann de Lesseps, surprised her when she announced at the start of filming season 13 that she, too, was getting sober, after years of ups and downs with drinking. Luann confided in Leah at the cast's first group gathering, asking her to be her "wingman." 

"I didn't really know if she was serious or not," Leah shares, "But I think it's great. It was very helpful to have her not be drinking, for sure. Because Ramona, wow. Let me tell you. OK, now that I'm sober, I don't know if it was because it was the pandemic but she was wasted a few times to the point where I'm like, 'What are you saying? I don't even understand what you're talking about.' And she had lipstick smeared on her face and stuff. I was like, 'Wow, Ramona turns up. I didn't even know this,' because I was too drunk last season to realize it."

Sober eyes led to sober truths being revealed. As teased in the season 13 trailer, Leah's not afraid to confront the ladies in the group this time around, even Luann, who cautions Leah with, "Don’t overstep your boundaries!" While viewers might think that moment has something to do with Leah being Luann's sobriety "wingman," it's actually about Luann's next original song. 

"I can tell you that, look, I'm not, 'I'm a businesswoman.' I don't do that whole girl boss thing, but I have a brain. And if someone wants me to be part of their song, I want to see a contract and I want to know what I'm going to be getting out of it," Leah teases. "Because if you're making money off of my voice and I'm having a part of this song, where are my points? It could be half a point. I don't care. It's about the principle."

"I don't like people not compensating for being a part of a project," she adds, "and I know that her and [Sonja Morgan] have had that issue in the past from what I've seen between them, so I kind of had to give her some s**t about it."

That confrontation comes later in the season, but there's plenty to see during the group's extended stay in the Hamptons, including the moment from the trailer where Leah declares each and every one of her co-stars a ho.

"They were trying to say that I speak in a vulgar way, and Ramona was raised a certain way and that's why she doesn't speak a certain way. I was like, oh hell no. You guys are all hoes," Leah says. "Don't try to say I'm the ho and no one else is the ho. That's ridiculous. These women are known for being loosey goosey. Let's stop. I'm not doing this fake bulls**t. You're not going to act one way when the cameras are rolling, and then when the cameras are off, you're gallivanting all over sucking face with whoever at whatever f**king The Carlyle, The [Regency], whatever they go to. I don't know. I'm just not doing that."

Viewers will also see Leah face off with returning former 'Wife Heather Thomson (the Happy Place designer says she's done speaking on their so-called feud, though), as well as the group take on Sonja, who seems to be struggling through the season. Fans will soon watch her have yet another meltdown about her ex-husband's family, the Morgans of the banking world, when Ramona casually brings up mortgages at a competing company.

"Yeah, so Ramona just said that Wells Fargo had great rates right now and it just, Sonja just flew off the freaking whatever, I don't know, off her rocker or whatever the saying is," Leah reveals. "It was sad. It was really, I think she had kind of an exorcism that night. I don't know what's going to make it, what's not, but it was -- I think we were all like, wow. And it, at some point this season we do talk to her and we're kind of like, are you OK? I mean, I don't want to be complicit, but I also don't want to be annoying. I want to be like, hey, if you're ever feeling like, I'm here, you can talk to me, whatever, but I don't want to ever, her feel like I'm judging her or anything like that at all."

Sonja Morgan and Leah McSweeney have a conversation on The Real Housewives of New York City
Heidi Gutman / Bravo

Leah say she can't "speak on" Sonja's current mental state, but reiterates that the group had their concerns about her well-being, especially when things hit a "breaking point" on the cast trip to Salem, Massachusetts, where Sonja busted through a piece of pane glass protecting a fire extinguisher.

"I think some of the other women are not that great at talking with someone and not, making them feel like they're judging her," Leah reflects, "and that's not what you do when someone is struggling. And in terms of her breaking the glass, yeah, I was very worried. I was very happy that she didn't hit a vein. She could have hit a vein and, I mean, she could have had to get stitches. She's lucky that she didn't really hurt herself. But yeah, fists were flying in the air. I was like, please do not hit my nose!"

Leah says it was nice to have new Housewife Eboni K. Williams by her side throughout season 13, as the pair shares a similar sensibility and low tolerance for B.S. 

"I'm not going to shade anybody right now, but -- OK, I'm going to," Leah declares. "No, I've been hearing that people were like, 'Something's missing this season.' I'm like, no. We have our first Black housewife. Nothing's missing. Actually, we have everything now. Maybe wait and watch the season before you comment based off of the first episode. I'm sorry. Are you mad that we weren't all s**t-faced clawing each other's eyes out the first scene? Give us a minute. That'll happen." 

When Bravo announced Eboni's casting last fall, RHONY watchers raised a collective eyebrow, wondering how the likes of Ramona, Sonja and Luann -- white, Upper East Side dwellers, who have never shied away from flaunting their privilege -- would mesh with the franchise's first-ever Black star, who seemed unafraid from the jump to call out uncool behavior.  

"I think at the end of the day, we all grew, everyone, Eboni also," Leah says. "She tells me that we helped her grow. She helped us grow. This was a complete bonding experience, because we're filming during a pandemic, during an election, during Black Lives Matter, during a racial reckoning -- an entire reckoning, culturally, socially in this country -- and there was no one better than Eboni to walk with us through it and be with us through it. So at the end of the day, I'm just so proud of what we did." 

Leah McSweeney and Eboni K. Williams enjoy a picnic with their Real Housewives of New York City co-stars.
Heidi Gutman / Bravo

Eboni isn't the only person who changed the dynamic this season, though. Season 12 ended with saw two major exits, with Tinsley Mortimer and Dorinda Medley both bidding adieu to the series. Leah says she's ready for both women to reenter the cast.

"I have a dream team, OK? And it's Dorinda, Tinsley -- because they need to work their sh**t out and make up so I don't have to be in the middle of that mess -- and then we need, I think one more woman and it'll be wild," she says.

Tinsley left New York City -- in the midst of filming season 12 of RHONY -- to move to Chicago and pursue her relationship with then-fiancé Scott Kluth, which caused a lot of friction with Dorinda. The couple has since split, under confusing circumstances. As Leah put it on a recent episode of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen, Tinsley "dodged a bullet." 

"Tinsley's great," Leah offers up. "I'm going to see her. She's coming to visit soon, and I think we're going to have a discussion on what she's doing and hopefully I'm going to have her an Eboni meet. We're all going to hang out."

"I think she can be talked into [coming back to RHONY]," she adds. "I think I'm pretty persistent. I think I'm pretty persuasive. And I do think that her and Eboni would really like each other, because there's a lot of similarities. They're southern girls, they're all about being beautiful and they're both really smart. And I just, I think that they would enjoy each other."

Cast changes aside, there are also allegiance shifts within the remaining group, with Ramona and Luann becoming "Lumona," taking over the bestie title once held by "Ramonja," aka Ramona and Sonja. But Leah, she's not buying it.

"It's bulls**t. Are you kidding me?" she cracks. "Do they hang out when the cameras are not going? They live right near each other. Do they talk all the time? They've been hating each other for all these years and just now you feel like you have something in common? I don't know. I just really don't buy it."

"Listen, hopefully I'm wrong and they genuinely did find some kind of [friendship], but when I watched it I was like, this is weird," Leah adds, referencing a scene in the premiere where Luann invited Ramona over to see her new place.

"'Oh my god, your apartment. It's so amazing...' OK, stop," Leah scoffs. "Me and Eboni talk every single day, multiple times a day. She's my real friend. And I talk to Luann and Ramona and Sonja, also. But let's be honest, if I wasn't on the show with them, would I be hanging out with them all the time? Probably not."

"Maybe Luann, yes, we would be friends," she clarifies. "I have friends of all different ages and stuff like that, and they are from all walks of life. I don't know."

Leah's many friends have sparked a lot of interest on social media. She hosted a premiere party for RHONY's return, with the likes of Lourdes Leon, Madonna's daughter, and rapper Azealia Banks in attendance.

"I know that Azealia's a controversial person, but I actually met her when she was 16, before she did '212,'" Leah shares. "My good friend, Seth, was managing her and she was going to LaGuardia High School. He brought her up to my office in the Empire State Building at the time. It was like, 'Will you give her some clothing?' Like this and that, and I gave her some clothing and we've been friends ever since. And she now tells me that, at that time, her mom had no money. She didn't have that much, anything, and I was the first person to give her something. So I think that she's always going to have a special place in my heart. I'm always going to root for her."


"And Lourdes Leon, we've just been DM-ing and we have some mutual friends," Leah continues. "She also went to LaGuardia High School, but we know mutual people like New York, Downtown, kind of thing." 

Also in Leah's orbit is reality TV favorite Kelly Cutrone, though don't expect any of these famous faces to pop up during season 13. "Which is such a bummer," Leah admits, "but next season [Kelly] will."

Something else you won't see in the neat future is Leah dating. She said goodbye for good to "Pita Chip," her mysterious sort-of boyfriend, in December and says she's currently "disgusted" by men.

"I probably need to work on that before I date, obviously," she remarks, noting that her mindset has changed since shooting the early episodes of the season, when she confided in Eboni that she was ready for love. 

"I mean, look, if someone great comes along and it just happened, but I'm not dating right now, I'm not looking for dates," she says. "I'm not on dating apps. I'm not, no, I'm just not. I talked to [famed matchmaker Patti Stanger] a while ago and was like, yeah, maybe send me some guys. And I'm just now I'm like, no, I'm done. I'm not doing it. I'm not interested."

For now, Leah says she's focusing on the show, and trying to ignore all the anxiety that surfaces as the audience watches her life from months ago unfold onscreen.

"I think that this is a season that is going to be most appreciated after watching it from beginning to end," she says, "It's extremely transformative. And I know change is hard, and transforming is painful sometimes, but I'm just excited for people to really watch it and keep an open mind."

The Real Housewives of New York City airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

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