An Inside Look at the First-Ever BravoCon 2019 in New York City
The Bravo network, along with its beloved figurehead Andy Cohen, has set the gold standard for reality TV, and ultimately shaped what this decade has really been about: glitz, glam, façade and fandom.
This year's inaugural BravoCon 2019 brought over 77 Bravolebrities (yes, that is the official term) together for three days of panels, parties, and fan meet-and-greets where plenty of shade was thrown and tea was spilled.
It's difficult to describe the sense of wonder and awe that most of those in attendance felt when Lisa Rinna did one of her signature freestyle dances at the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills panel, or when, during her cabaret, Luann de Lesseps crooned onstage in a black feather headpiece and a glistening Jovani gown. "This is my Super Bowl meets prom," a 30-something woman seated next to me gushed, tearing up. Or as comedian Heather McDonald put it, "It's Disneyland for 40-year old women."
The unlimited Talenti gelato and cocktail bars on every floor no doubt added to the enthusiasm (it's hard not to be in a good mood with a drink in your hand), but this was an event — people of all ages wore sequins under leopard coats, with full hair and makeup, like they themselves were at a Bravo audition. A majority of the sold-out crowds even flew in for the convention — one woman came from Ireland just to ask RHOBH star Erika Girardi if she would be going on tour in the U.K. anytime soon, while another from Ohio told Rinna her dancing "made her heart sing" after beating breast cancer.
Designated photo opportunities with cast members were built into the daily schedules, and even surprise pop-up experiences at the Bravo Bazaar merchandise store led to fan encounters and Instagram selfies aplenty. But for those who couldn't attend and sip on Vanderpump Rules' Tom Tom cocktails or watch Jerry O'Connell moderate a Battle of the Sexes face-off, here is our insider take on the full weekend — gossip and exclusive details included.
Real Housewives Mementos
It's been 13 years since The Real Housewives of Orange County kicked off the Housewives franchise (or did they? Real Housewives of New York City star Ramona Singer had some thoughts on that during the weekend's live taping of Watch What Happens Live). BravoCon smartly set up a museum for the most-talked-about props across all Housewives shows, including the infamous blue bunny that RHOBH then-star Kim Richards refused from Rinna, the ashes of Real Housewives of Atlanta's NeNe Leakes and Cynthia Bailey's friendship contract, RHOBH's Dorit Kemsley's signature "bo$$" barrettes, and Rinna's bag of pills. Dorinda Medley of RHONY lent the decor from Bluestone Manor's "fish room" to the museum, too.
Visitors were able to snap photos next to a display of memorable reunion gowns, and those fashion choices were dissected further by designer and Project Runway judge Brandon Maxwell during a panel on Saturday with Housewives fashionistas Kyle Richards, Bailey, Kemsley, and Tamra Judge on-hand to discuss their style evolutions.
Big Apple Drama
The RHONY ladies received a 2,000-plus person standing ovation as they strutted onstage Friday evening for one of the first cast panels. Stars Ramona Singer, Luann de Lesseps, Dorinda Medley, and Tinsley Mortimer talked about the history of the show and any initial reservations they had before signing on. Singer admitted to originally declining to join the cast — only the second Housewives series behind RHOC — because she thought she'd be "too boring." Thankfully she was wrong and we've since been given a ride on the Ramona-coaster. In fact, Singer even did a special Turtle Time dance onstage.
Medley similarly hesitated before joining RHONY in Season 7, but felt it was right to honor late husband Richard, who had been encouraging her for years. "He loved people and he loved any sort of anthropological study of people, and this is an anthropological study. I say it's like National Geographic on steroids," Medley joked. "I like the cameras and the cameras like me." Today, Medley finds the show to be "therapeutic. You learn a lot about yourself."
Singer might not totally agree, citing her split from husband Mario as one of the turning points for herself throughout her time on RHONY. "Did the show cause the divorce? I don't know," Singer mused.
"I think it's called another woman, but that's OK," de Lesseps chimed in. Meanwhile, de Lesseps later confessed a fan gave her a "jewelry box coffin" for her wedding ring from ex-husband Tom. "I already sold [the ring]," de Lesseps revealed to cheers.
Sonja Morgan was noticeably absent at the panel, but Singer praised her nonetheless, saying, "I love Sonja. She has a heart of gold. She's very special to me."
Breaking the Rules
Fans got a sneak peek at the first episode of the new season of Vanderpump Rules, followed by a cast panel that discussed, among other things, all of the couples' new, seemingly-identical homes, getting comfortable with one another (including bathroom habits), and Jax Taylor's tendency to block people on social media. "Raise your hand if you've been blocked by Jax!" co-star Stassi Schroeder joked. Schroeder also announced her upcoming digital series, Basically Stassi, which is essentially a much-deserved Rules spinoff.
Later that evening, the after-party ensued with SUR boss (and former RHOBH star) Lisa Vanderpump and husband Ken in attendance as guests like Jerry O'Connell and Summer House stars Paige DeSorbo and Lindsay Hubbard danced to DJ James Kennedy. Tom Sandoval and Tom Schwartz mixed drinks and House of Yes performers made it an evening to remember.
Watch What Happens Live Goes Bigger Than Ever
Speaking of Tom Sandoval, the Rules mixologist appeared in full drag as alter ego Lisa Manderhump, named after the Lady Vanderpump herself, for the special taping of Watch What Happens Live. Over 70 Bravolebs were onstage at the sold-out Hammerstein Ballroom, and casts from Shahs of Sunset to Below Deck as well as all of the Housewives franchise stopped in to chat with host Andy Cohen.
For the Rules ensemble—with surprise guest Vanderpump and one of her many pooches — Cohen asked if Vanderpump realized her sexual chemistry with resident bad boy Jax Taylor. Vanderpump laughed it off and hinted that there's even more chemistry with a certain new character in this upcoming season.
Speaking of new characters, the latest addition to the RHONY cast, Leah McSweeney, was brought onstage so fans could put a face to the name — exactly what Southern Charm Austen Kroll didn't do when he ran into Kate Chastain of Below Deck backstage. "He was like, 'Hi, who are you?'" Chastain said. "I told him, 'This is the second season, I'm on Real Housewives of Tideland Ocean.'"
The animosity between Bravolebs didn't end there. Former Real Housewives of New Jersey star Caroline Manzo spoke out about Teresa Giudice. "I remember the times that we laugh, belly-laughed, and I'm sorry that that's no longer there," Manzo said while part of the "OG Housewives" segment. "I miss that and I'm sorry for that but at the same time, you're an ass."
Giudice's highly-talked about special with estranged husband Joe was also mentioned later in the evening. "To me, that's how I know Joe," Giudice said, in defense of his brusk interview. "A lot of people thought he was not as loving. [Fellow Housewife] Dolores [Catania] was really mad, she was like 'that f**king asshole.' But that's the Joe I know. I thought he was good."
In contrast, wedding bells are ringing for multiple Housewives, including RHOA star Cynthia Bailey who announced her nuptials with fiancé sportscaster Mike Hill will take place on October 10, 2020. Housewives Singer (RHONY) and Kelly Dodd (RHOC) hugged onstage after Andy Cohen confirmed Singer will be Dodd's maid of honor in her upcoming wedding, but that was as far as the East Coast-West Coast franchise love went. Singer went on later to "squash the beef" with RHOC cast member Vicki Gunvalson after Singer said that RHONY put the franchise "on the map."
"I put you on the map!" Gunvalson yelled before standing up to confront Singer.
RHOBH star Teddi Mellencamp also went toe-to-toe with Chastain from Below Deck. An avid Bravo fan herself, Chastain tweeted at Mellencamp following the #Puppygate drama last season, calling fitness accountability coach Mellencamp out for not "following her own advice."
"I love watching Bravo and who can blame me, right?" Chastain said to applause. "I will continue to hold you accountable in my tweets." Whatever floats your boat!
RHOBH alum Kim Richards brought up that damn bunny once again in honor of the "squash the beef" theme. Richards announced that Rinna's daughter Amelia is now dating the brother of Richards' son-in-law, so one day Rinna and Richards might be sharing in-laws. Rinna was gracious as always and they hugged onstage before the show continued.
Host Cohen and Don't Be Tardy matriarch Kim Zolciak-Biermann sang her signature single "Don't Be Tardy for the Party," before Gunvalson, Taylor, and Southern Charm's Shep Rose did a shotski. And Million Dollar Listing New York real estate agent Fredrik Eklund planted a tender but steamy smooch on Cohen before the night ended.
The Sunday afternoon RHOBH cast panel sans Kyle Richards had plenty of scoops. Rinna teased the unveiling of Lisa Rinna Lips for lipsticks and glosses coming soon, before dancing atop a table. Girardi, preparing for her Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago, gave the audience some of Erika Jayne with a proper lesson in how to "pat the".. well, you know.
Denise Richards then proposed a Below Deck-RHOBH crossover episode with the Housewives as charter guests, before Mellencamp stole the show with some real-talk — no doubt with Deck's Chastain in mind. "I think the biggest thing I get is because of the word 'accountability,' everyone thought that meant accountability with everything, and I'm like 'it's health and fitness, people!'" Mellencamp said. "You think I'd do Real Housewives if I was accountable for everything? Come on."
De Lesseps' "Luann's Countess & Friends Cabaret Show" was the final event of BravoCon, and what a perfect way to close it out. Although the Countess had the audience waiting for an hour, once she began, her show was a dazzling spectacle filled with gown changes, wigs, and self-effacing humor. De Lesseps' sultry numbers, including classics like "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend" alongside her original pop hits like "Girl Code," "Money Can't Buy You Class," "Chic, C'est La Vie," and "Feelin' Jovani" brought audience members to their feet. She even played bongos and did a slight striptease with her long gloves. The "Friends" portion of the evening went to stand-up comic Jade Catta-Preta, the new host of E!'s revived The Soup, and Broadway's Jelani Remy from Ain't Too Proud. Remy serenaded de Lesseps twice, including a rendition of John Legend's "All of Me," altering the lyrics to "all of Lu."
No Countess Cabaret would be complete without a few RHONY digs, and this one was no exception. Former cast members Radziwill and Simon van Kempen were deemed "uncool" in the "Cool/Uncool" game, as per de Lesseps' "Girl Code" chorus. And the audience also learned of de Lesseps' crush on Vanderpump Rules' Taylor! "I'd like to get to know him," de Lesseps purred. What about a "real-life" pirate, like her infamous tryst abroad? She'd only be interested if Pirates of the Caribbean star "got his teeth fixed. I have a thing about teeth," de Lesseps said.
With so much to do and see, honorable mentions from the weekend go to getting physical with RHONY star Dorinda Medley's aerobics class, dining Top Chef style with a prix fixe dinner, and indulging in a boozy brunch á la Southern Charm.
Mark your calendar for BravoCon next year! We can only imagine what other drama they'll have in store, especially with the new Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.