With Bravo bowing The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City tonight with what looks to be a real barn-stormer of a cast, we got to thinking about all the casts that came before SLC.
Housewives move in and out of these series for all sorts of reasons, be it scandal, fan disinterest, or discord among castmates. Some franchises hang on to their A-players longer than others, and certain women are institutions who will never leave (hello, Ramona Singer, Kyle Richards, and Teresa Giudice). But with so much turnover on shows that have lasted ten seasons or more, the dynamic of the series can shift and change. For fans, it's only natural to ponder which cast lineups represent their respective shows at their most fundamental. Which lineups best define that series?
To be clear: these aren't all-star teams. These are casts as they existed in one season or another. And we're not making determinations based on the events of the seasons, just the caliber of the cast members in question.
Signature Lineup: Vicki Gunvalson, Tamra Judge, Shannon Storms Beador, Meghan King Edmonds, and Heather Dubrow (Season 10)
Let’s start with what should be an understood truth: RHOC works best with five Housewives. We're not sure why that’s the case with this city and not others, but it absolutely is. Another understood truth: Though they may grate on the nerves, Vicki Gunvalson and Tamra Judge are essential to any signature cast. They are the backbone of the show. So we come down to two strong casts: Season 7, with Heather Dubrow, Alexis Bellino, and Gretchen Rossi, and Season 10, with Heather, Shannon Storms Beador, and Meghan King Edmonds. It’s a remarkably tough call: Alexis and Gretchen are legends, and the tension between those five women in particular is classic Housewives. (Tamra and Alexis's adversarial relationship gave us the forever-iconic “You are psychotic, Jesus Jugs!” at the Season 7 reunion.) But Shannon’s impact on RHOC has been substantial, refreshing the series after years of malaise and giving us an alliance for the ages in the Tres Amigas (Shannon, Vicki, and Tamra). And Meghan is a deeply underrated cast member, considering she’s the young upstart who exposed Vicki’s then-boyfriend Brooks Ayers as having faked cancer. For capturing the dynamics of RHOC more clearly — Vicki and her friends versus the young girls — Season 10 edges Season 7 out.
Signature Lineup: Kelly Bensimon, LuAnn De Lesseps, Bethenny Frankel, Alex McCord, Sonja Morgan, Ramona Singer, and Jill Zarin (Season 3)
Picking a single signature lineup for RHONY is a near-impossible task, as you might expect for a show running for 12 seasons and counting. Bethenny is a must-include, so that knocks out the middle seasons. The question, then, is whether you value later-season players like Dorinda Medley and Carole Radziwill more than original housewives Jill and Alex. Ultimately, it's those early-season casts that defined the show: Jill and Bethenny's near-familial bond that went sour; the way Alex's pretentiousness and obnoxious husband could irritate the other women; LuAnn's "Miss Manners" routine that somehow morphed into a vanity music career. And with the addition of Kelly in Season 2 and finally Sonja in Season 3, you had a seven-person cast with zero weak links who could pull off an excursion like "Scary Island" that still ranks among the best Housewives episodes of all time.
Signature Lineup: Cynthia Bailey, Kandi Burruss, Nene Leakes, Kenya Moore, Phaedra Parks, Porsha Williams, and Kim Zolciak (Season 5)
Atlanta is a series that took a few seasons to find its ideal casting balance, adding essential building blocks along the way (Kandi joined in Season 2; Phaedra and Cynthia in Season 3; Kenya and Porsha in Season 5). The show, currently filming 13th season, is a 100% better show than it was when it first premiered, and we seriously considered picking its most recent (Season 12) cast as its ideal lineup, especially because we enjoy Eva Marcille so much. But ultimately that would leave too many signature cast members off the map, like Kim, Phaedra, and Sheree Whitfield. By picking Season 5 (which was a generally lackluster installment, even if it did feature Kenya's "Gone-with-the-wind fabulous!" line), we got to fuse the Kenya/Porsha years with Kim and Phaedra. We'll just have to mail an apology note to Chateau Sheree for not being able to include her.
Signature Lineup: Teresa Giudice, Melissa Gorga, Jacqueline Laurita, Caroline Manzo, and Kathy Walkile (Seasons 3-5)
This is an incredibly obvious call, given that it's so rare that a five-person cast stays exactly the same for three seasons. The only quibble is that iconic villain Danielle Staub doesn't appear in these seasons, but there's no way to get around that. You could say the Season 1 cast, but Dina Manzo was a real dud of a character. Give us Kathy Wakile: buttinsky supreme any day. Once Melissa and Kathy joined the cast and the show pivoted to Teresa versus The World, RHONJ truly became the show it was meant to be. And while Teresa/Melissa powered the later seasons of the show, the transition of Caroline and Jacqueline from Teresa's allies to enemies over the course of these three seasons gave Jersey its most potent drama.
Signature Lineup: Lisa Vanderpump, Kyle Richards, Camille Grammer, Taylor Armstrong, Adrienne Maloof, and Kim Richards (Seasons 1-2)
Like with RHOC, Lisa Vanderpump and Kyle Richards are non-negotiable parts of a signature lineup, as irritating as they may be to certain pockets of fans. Kim Richards is up there, too, considering how foundational her realtionship with her sister was to the series’ early drama. Then comes an important question: Do we weigh OG legends like Camille Grammer and Taylor Armstrong feel more heavily than later favorites like Lisa Rinna and Eileen Davidson, who have largely forged the show into what it is today? The choice between Seasons 1 and 2 and Season 5 largely comes down to taste. Do you prefer the too-real dramatics of Kyle revealing Kim’s alcoholism, and Camille revealing Taylor is being abused by her husband? Or do you fall more for the soap opera-esque histrionics of the Amsterdam fight? With apologies to the soap opera queens — and to the singular talents of Brandi Glanville, since she was only a Friend of the Housewives in Season 2 — for us, the OG lineup remains the most iconic one.
Signature Lineup: Gizelle Bryant, Karen Huger, Robyn Dixon, Ashley Darby, Monique Samuels, and Candiace Dillard (Seasons 3-4)
RHOP is still a relatively young series, so our signature lineup choices are limited. Series stalwarts Gizelle Bryant, Karen Huger, Robyn Dixon, and Ashley Darby are guaranteed, which means this comes down to how much you liked Katie Rost in her first season compared to when she returned as a Friend of the Housewives, and whether you prefer Charisse Jordan Jackson’s champagne room antics to Candiance Dillard’s drag-out drama. Considering the latter gives us three members of the older generation and three younger girls, it feels like the correct choice: it’s reflective of how Potomac, more than any other city, features women of all ages coming together.
Signature Lineup: LeeAnne Locken, Stephanie Hollman, Brandi Redmond, D’Andra Simmons, Kameron Westcott, Cary Deuber (Seasons 2-3)
An even easier selection than Potomac, since Season 1 of Dallas features the forgettable Tiffany Hendra and not the big personalities of D’Andra Simmons and Kameron Westcott, and Season 4 features the underwhelming Kary Brittingham. Seasons 2 and 3 bring in newbies to balance the stalwarts — LeeAnne Locken, Stephanie Hollman, Brandi Redmond, and Cary Deuber — and their various combinations of drama kept us entertained for two seasons.
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TOPICS: The Real Housewives Franchise, Bravo, The Real Housewives of Atlanta, The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Real Housewives of Dallas, The Real Housewives of New Jersey, Real Housewives of New York City, The Real Housewives of Orange County, The Real Housewives of Potomac, Reality TV