Apparently, Bravoholics have Lisa Barlow to thank for The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, at least according to… Lisa Barlow, and her co-stars Jen Shah and Heather Gay.
"Yeah, it started with me," Lisa tells ET’s Keltie Knight, who met up with the trio of newly minted Bravolebrities at Salt Lake City's Log Haven Restaurant to learn all about RHOSLC's debut season. The interview airs Wednesday night on Entertainment Tonight (find out where to watch here).
"I do so much with the Sundance Film Festival, and I had a lot of good friends that work in production, and I was introduced through a mutual friend to the production company," Lisa explains. "I was literally getting a blowout when the call came in and I was, like, on one. We had the best conversation -- it lasted over an hour and a half -- and they're like, we have to do something in Salt Lake. So I was like, cool, what are we gonna do? And it started … The Real Housewives of Salt Lake."
The women's relationship with The Real Housewives runs the spectrum from super-fan (Heather, who credits RHONY's Sonja Morgan as her favorite) to casual viewer (Lisa watches RHOBH) to novice (Jen, who had her team of assistants put together a dossier on the existing shows in order for her to get familiar with the format). At the start, though, the women didn't even know they were signing up for Real Housewives.
"I thought they were doing a show about businesswomen," Heather confesses, noting that's the schpiel she gave Jen to sign on, seeing as she owns multiple marketing companies. "I really thought it was gonna be, like, a Southern Charm-type thing."
Lisa credits herself with recruiting Jen (who says she hired a full production team to help her with her Skype interview for the show), Meredith Marks and Heather (which might come as a surprise to viewers after they see the premiere episode). Those ladies then helped expand the search for the remaining cast members, Heather’s second cousin, Whitney Rose, and Mary Cosby. A friend of Lisa's recommended Mary to producers. Little did they know what kind of character they had on their hands.
"Mary's the pot-stirrer in her own way, just because it's like, hello? Earth to Mary," Jen quips. "'This is what you said yesterday.' You know what I mean?"
When Bravo announced the show's cast back in September, Housewives fans honed in on Mary's bio blurb, as it included this factoid: "[She] inherited her family’s empire of churches, restaurants and more. The caveat in her taking over the family business was that she marry her late grandmother’s second husband, Robert Cosby Sr. " Jen says Mary brought up the fact the first time they met.
"We went and had dinner and she said, 'Look, you probably heard…' and I was like, no, I haven't heard," Jen recalls. "I had no idea, and she said, 'Well, I'm married to my grandfather, because my grandmother put it in the will that that's what she wanted to have happened.' I literally was like, OK, girl. Do your thing. That wasn't, like, 'Oh my gosh!'"
"I've heard a little bit of Mary's story, and it's not that big of a departure for me,” Heather offers. “Like, I understand the concept of faith over love. I understand the concept of arranged marriages. Like, it is not that far removed from my experience, or my friends’ experiences, or my ancestors’ experiences. So, I get it. I get it's shocking, but I think there's a lot more depth there.”
"Sometimes the headline speaks," she adds. "It doesn't give the essence of what's happening."
That's kind of the concept behind RHOSLC. The headline is Housewives in the land of Mormons. The story, though, is much more layered. A focus of season 1 will be Heather figuring out life after the Church. The self-proclaimed "good Mormon gone bad" parted ways with the religion with her recent divorce.
"I'm walking away in the show, this is the process," she says. "I'm lighting my entire life on fire, and it is hard. … It's devastating because it felt like the option got ripped out from me, because so much about Mormonism is based on marriage and the family, and when that imploded, like, it didn't feel like I really had an option. I didn't know a lot of single Mormon moms that were successful. They either got remarried immediately or just were struggling, and I didn't really have anyone to pattern my life after. So it was, for me, it was very unsettling, and it's been really difficult."
"I didn't choose to be Mormon -- I wouldn't ever have chosen to be Mormon -- but I was born into it and I wanted to do it right," Heather notes. "As much as I would love to just, like, have one foot in the Mormon door and live my life, I feel it just doesn't work for me. There's too many issues that are absolutely incongruent with how I believe and how I wanna live."
"We all have our own journey with it," Jen adds. She, too, was born into the Church, but opted to leave and convert to become Muslim, her husband’s religion, after learning about the Church’s history of excluding Black people.
"I'm kinda like, listen, it didn't work out for me and there's no way for me to make it work out, so I'm going to set the whole thing on fire and live how I felt when I was born," Heather muses.
This season, viewers will see Heather reenter the dating pool (Jen sets her up!) and plenty of parties, courtesy of Jen. According to the women, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for Jen to throw a blowout event at her house (the "Shah Chalet") every other month before the show, some soirees ringing in with a price tag upward of $80,000. The ladies don’t skimp on pampering themselves, either. Jen drops $50,000 a month on clothes.
"We work, we reward," Lisa says to anyone who might question spending that kind of money. Pretty much every cast member runs a successful business. Jen is an executive, Lisa owns two liquor companies, Meredith runs a celebrity-loved jewelry and fashion line, Whitney has a skincare brand and Heather owns her own medical spa, a booming business. The women seem to believe the Salt Lake City community's love of cosmetic procedures will surprise viewers the most out of anything.
"The mommy makeover is, like, it's just like a rite of passage in Utah," Heather proclaims. "You have four kids, five kids, six kids, eight kids and then you get it all cleaned up, chopped up, filled up."
"We're filling anything that's shriveling," she adds. "We're doing whatever people want. We're not dictating what beauty is. These women get to choose for themselves."
Heather says a lot of her business is run on "Costco cash," the money that women take out while checking out at the warehouse retailer, so that their cosmetic procedures stay under wraps from their husbands.
"No one scrutinizes the Costco bill!" Heather cracks. "Their husbands think, 'My wife doesn't do anything. I would never allow her to do that. She's beautiful like the day she was born!' That's the truth."
By exposing some of Salt Lake City’s secrets, even those hidden in plain sight, the cast is bracing for impact once the show premieres.
"I think I'm going to get tarred and feathered," Heather admits, only half-joking.
"I already said, filming, I’m like, 'I'm super f**ked up,'" Jen adds, saying she can take on any criticism that comes her way, because she owns who she is. "I go, like, zero to 100, because I'm very passionate and I need to realize, like, other people don't quite understand that passion."
While Housewives don't always see eye to eye, all three women agree that the entire cast went "all in" and held nothing back while making the show.
"The thing that I really want is for people to feel like they can do anything," Lisa says of what she hopes people take away from RHOSLC. "I hope I'm aspirational that way, inspiring, or even [if] someone's like, 'Maybe I just wanna take a baby step towards something…' and they feel like, well, she can do that, then I can do that, too. I mean, that's the whole reason why we started even going down this road."
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo, starting with a super-sized premiere on Nov. 11.