The Grande Dame of 'The Real Housewives of Potomac' fills ET in on what to expect from season 6, from alliance shifts to a vow renewal.
"You have to stay tuned for Candiace's and my growth and how we work through that, because there's love between Candiace and I," the Grande Dame of RHOP offers up to ET over video chat. Karen and Candiace left the season 5 reunion at odds, with Candiace alleging that Karen attempted to get her in trouble with the network behind the show, Bravo, after her physical altercation with then co-star Monique Samuels. Karen maintains she was just trying to get her friend help.
"I know we have people rooting for us," she says, going on to hint viewers will see the one-time duo in a stronger place than they were before their falling out.
"[We had] very difficult conversations that needed to be had, and that was the point where growth starts," Karen shares. The pair's differences were tied up in the Monique of it all, as Karen maintained her friendships with both women. Karen is still friends with Monique today, she says, even though Monique opted to exit the show after the season 5 reunion finished airing last December. At the time, the only women speaking to Monique on the cast were Karen and co-star Ashley Darby.
"Decisions were made that need to be understood and respected and moved on," Karen says. "My relationship with Monique, I'm not a fair-weather friend. I am a constant person. I'm able to have a friendship with her, but put that in perspective and separate it from the RHOP, and I respect my friend enough to do that."
Karen says the coronavirus pandemic "put everything in perspective" and calls filming in a COVID-19 world a "two-edged sword."
"It caused us to have conversations that we probably didn't want to have, but to grow from that because we had to have them," she teases. "So it brought us closer together as a group completely. I know I feel that way. … Listen, Mia [Thornton], the new girl, Candiace, Wendy [Osefo], Ashley, all of us are in a much better place because of this."
Notably absent from Karen's rundown of the cast are Gizelle Bryant and Robyn Dixon, whom Karen helped to nickname "the green-eyed bandits." The season 6 trailer features a considerable amount of pot-stirring courtesy of Gizelle, and judging by what Karen has to say about her one-time pal, that does not go over well with the Grande Dame.
"I'm so proud of each and every one of my friends on this show and it also takes the drama from people like Gizz to do what she does without any conscience," she cracks. "Well, I hope for Gizz. We gotta hope."
Karen seems to have a different perspective on Gizelle than Gizelle has with her. The EveryHue Beauty founder recently told The Breakfast Club that she and Karen are "good" after wrapping season 6, but Karen says "good" is relative.
"Listen, I'm all for people making authentic efforts to better themselves and to be a good friend. I'm all for that," Karen says. "I'm just very wise. So, that has to be proven to me. But I'm hopeful that it's real this time and that we can get on to a better place. So I'm always open. But, honey, I got a third eye on Gizz. At all times."
Karen pretty much only refers to Gizelle as "Gizz" or "Gizzy," nicknames she's never run by her co-star ("I've never asked her. I didn't ask for permission," she quips), and says she’ll keep her at an arm’s length until the 50-year-old proves she can be trusted.
"'We're alright for now' is what she actually said," Karen notes of The Breakfast Club comments. "I'm on pause and on ready, honey, at all times for your 'alright for now' not to be genuine. Am I wasting my time with that? No. I had a ball with all of the other ladies. We grew fantastically close. I love each and every one of them."
Gizelle, ironically, brought Karen closer to at least one other castmate: Wendy. She now calls her co-star a "good friend," quite the pivot from her season 5 assessment of the professor/political commentator, whom she admitted to being "unimpressed" by last year.
"You know what? I will say that Wendy and I impressed each other because what we did as grown women is we took out the negative person who didn't want us to get closer and we dared to take a look at one another and we grew from that," Karen says. The unlikely duo grew together after Gizelle brought rumors about Wendy's husband to the table. Those rumors remain a mystery, but based off of Wendy's reaction to the situation in the trailer (she tells Gizelle, "I see you for everything everybody ever said that you were") and what Karen has to say, it would seem as if anything Gizelle says about Eddie Osefo on camera should be taken with a grain of salt.
"I personally don't get into spreading rumors," Karen says. "I'm friends with Wendy. I support she and her husband, Eddie. And Wendy and I, by the way, have grown -- I'll tease you with that -- tremendously, this season. So the respect that I have for their marriage and family would be one that says, if Wendy came to me and said, 'I had a problem,' I had a problem. I'm not one that reads blogs and makes it TV. I got enough TV right here."
Karen says she "poured into" Wendy during the rumor saga, giving the pair a chance to bond one-on-one for the first time since Wendy joined this friend group.
"I think she does good at representing a woman, a Black woman in particular, that loves her husband," Karen adds, of how Wendy handles the ordeal. "And how dare you [Gizelle] keep coming for our husbands when you don't have one for us to return serve to. I'm just saying, don't touch anything that you don't bring to the table. How about that?"
Gizelle famously reconciled with her ex-husband, pastor Jamal Bryant, during season 5, but as the season 6 trailer revealed, their rekindled romance fizzled out. As Karen put it in the trailer, "Honey, you got dragged. Then you let him back in, and he dragged you again."
"I felt sorry for her," Karen says of the apparent breakup. "That's unfortunate, but again, my focus was not on her disproving the lie that she put out last year about this fake relationship. It was about moving on with my group of friends so that we could survive. After all, we had been through a very difficult year. It could not have been about her this year. So, I handle her when necessary, but I certainly don't waste time on her because there's so much more beautiful pockets in each and every one of my friends on this show, and I'm so excited for everyone to meet them."
There are two new additions to the cast in season 6, both of whom have Karen’s stamp of approval. There's "friend of" Askale Davis ("She's a breath of fresh air and a stunning beauty," Karen notes) and new full-time 'Wife Mia Thornton, who joined the group by way of Karen.
"She is a hoot and she's likable and a breath, again, of fresh air," Karen says of her new onscreen buddy. "I can tell you, the show certainly gives you that opportunity to learn more about your friends, and I learned so much more about Mia -- and I can say this, none of it turned me off. It made me smile, OK? But we're real with our friendship. So we don't always agree on everything, but she and I, when we're in the moment, you'll see that we talk about things in the moment. We don't let it get by. We don't bury it and pick it up five weeks later. No, we handle it then. So I enjoy my relationship and my friendship with Mia."
Mia already earned a bit of Housewives cred with the viewers, as the trailer showcases her literally tossing salad into Candiace's face.
"That tossing of the salad was everything for me," Karen remarks, without giving away what brings Mia to launch greens across a kitchen island. "Those are the things that make me like Mia more because she's unexpected joy, and she's on point. And I like that. She always surprises me."
"We've got a very, very opinionated, very strong cast," she adds. "We're very, very intelligent. And we certainly want our way and we will be heard. So, there's a lot of listening that needs to be done during the tossing of the salad that may not have happened at the tossing of the salads. Yeah, I was there for the whole thing. I was like, Father God, help us."
In the same interview where Gizelle gave her "alright for now" answer about Karen, she also claimed that Karen was responsible for her rough start with Mia, saying Karen was in Mia's ear to not trust Gizelle. "She speaks louder than words for herself and there's not much change," Karen says in response.
As far as Karen's personal story goes, this season is leading up to a vow renewal between Karen and her husband of 25 years, Ray. Now, vow renewals don't have the best track record when it comes to Real Housewives marriages (see: Vicki and Donn Gunvalson, Shannon and David Beador, Ramona and Mario Singer, Cynthia Bailey and Peter Thomas, just to name a few), but Karen says she and Ray will break that so-called curse. Mostly because she doesn't believe in it.
"I have done everything I can to not make it the wedding that I had 25 years ago," Karen notes. "I do different things. I'll give you a teaser. You know how the woman comes down the aisle? I put a cherry on that and you'll see what I do. I climb something."
The vows are also different this time around, as the couple commits to a reality they already know well.
"The euphoric feeling of being in love goes in and out the window. It's unrealistic to think that you're going to feel, 'Oh, butterflies...' every five minutes. But that thing that cannot change is the friendship," Karen says. "And so that is what I'm hoping the viewers will tune in to see us make that a very, very integral part of the vow renewal."
The renewal comes after a tense chapter for the couple, who shared their struggles to connect in season 5, as Karen’s world continued to grow beyond the walls of their home. In one memorable exchange, Ray admitted he "thinks" he loves his wife, a comment that hit a nerve in Karen. She ran upstairs after Ray shared that thought with a relationship coach, tearfully talking to production members about the state of her union. Getting to watch back that experience as a couple was eye-opening.
"Ray did apologize and that meant the world to me," Karen reveals. "I was very grateful for that. But along with that apology, I accepted some responsibility in this relationship, which made it better for us because our communication continues. Our friendship continues. Our foundation is there and our institution is here, it's still here. So I'm very, very grateful that while it was painful to share with the viewers, it drew us closer together as family, including our children. So I got a gift through that struggle. So we're stronger than ever. This family sticks together and I love it. So I don't regret him coming forth with his true feelings. Not at all."
And as for why Karen was sporting a Wonder Woman costume while filming the new season of RHOP, she once again offers up only a tease.
"I think it's important to show that you can be Wonder Woman any time needed, and this was needed," she says. "My timing is always -- there's always an answer or a reason to what I do."
"I've shown a lot of layers," she continues, reflecting on her nearly seven years in front of reality TV cameras. "I joined this platform to be authentic, to be reality. And there's nothing else I can do, but do that. And it's not perfect. And it takes confidence to own your good and your bad. And it takes truthfulness, and I'm hoping that others will evolve because some of them are just as mature as me and you would think that they would do that. But that's their journey. And if that's not going to happen for them, oh well. I got enough, more chapters for you guys. I'll keep you posted. I'll keep you reading."
The Real Housewives of Potomac airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT starting July 11 on Bravo.