Monday, August 31, 2009

Omarosa: The “Life After” Interview

with Kam Williams

Headline: A Tete-a-Tete with the Top Reality-TV Villain of All Time

Omaroseonee Manigault-Stallworth was on February 15, 1974 born in Youngstown, Ohio where she attended Rayen High School before earning her Bachelor’s degree in Broadcast Journalism at Central State University. She later moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue both a Master’s and Ph.D. in Communications at Howard University. She later served as Deputy Associate Director of Presidential Personnel at the White House under President Bill Clinton, although her subsequent appearance on a television show would come to eclipse all of the above.
That’s why you probably know her from The Apprentice as just Omarosa, the diva with the world-class attitude. The statuesque beauty was recently crowned the #1 Reality-Show Villain of All Time by TV Guide. This was no mean feat, when you consider that she had to beat out some rather reprehensible characters for the title, such as pathological liar Johnny Fairplay from Survivor and wife beater Jonathan Baker from The Amazing Race.
Omarosa only has herself to blame, having cultivated a bad girl image on The Apprentice with lines like, "I'm going to crush my competition and I'm going to enjoy doing it." Still, in no way does that TV persona matches the humble and charming real-life Omarosa whose greatest passion is working with at-risk youth and the homeless. Dedicating most of her free time to community service, she has volunteered her time to the Maya Angelou Public Charter School, in D.C., and to the Positive Vibrations Program and the Fred Jordan Mission in L.A. Furthermore, she serves as a celebrity goodwill ambassador for the Haitian Support Program and is currently enrolled in Divinity School.
Here, Omarosa talks about all of the above and about her appearing on Life After, a new series premiering on TV-One in September. The show features interviews with celebrities about the effects of transformational events on their lives.

Kam Williams: Hi Omarosa, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met in May at the African-American Pavilion in New York. I approached you for an interview, but you gave me a business card with a bogus email address.
Omarosa Manigault: I’m sorry. I didn’t know that they had printed the wrong email address on it. I got home, and I was like, “Why would yawl send these cards with me?”
KW: Well, I did manage to track you down again for this interview anyway. So, what interested you in this new TV series, Life After?

OM: I was interested because TV-One has successfully given African-Americans an opportunity to tell their own stories. I started out on NBC, and I don’t know if major networks do the best job of telling the stories of African-Americans. I was also on Bravo and VH-1, and these networks are not committed to presenting the authentic experiences of African-Americans. So, I just jumped at the chance to work with TV-One.
KW: You know, I’ve been trying to interview you since you first appeared on The Apprentice. I did get to talk to Kwame that season, and to Randal Pinkett when he won the fourth season. But NBC would not let me near you.
OM: Years later, I heard these stories that at the height of The Apprentice they turned down black reporters and black interviewers. I had no idea that they were blatantly preventing me from doing any black press.
KW: The first question I wanted to ask was whether or not you felt you were presented accurately on The Appprentice, because I’ve interviewed a number of reality show contestants on other shows like Survivor who complained that they’d been edited unfairly.
OM: Kam, let me just tell you this, in the boardroom, I’m as tough as they get. You’re not going to find anybody who’s going to negotiate harder than me, who’s more committed to a project or who has higher expectations. I fully expected to be treated the same as my male counterparts. But some people felt that because I was a woman, I should kowtow to the boys and let them run all over me. But I didn’t. There was a lot of truth in terms of how tough I was in the boardroom. However, I left it there, and as soon as I walked out of the boardroom, I was a very kind and loving person. But the only thing that folks got to see were these spats inside the boardroom or inside the war room when we were preparing for projects. And for many Americans, that was the first time they had a glimpse into the process for putting together a high-level ad campaign and into what actually happens behind the scenes at a Fortune 500 company. They were shocked! They didn’t know that that’s par for the course at that level of competition. So, yes, the portrayal of me in the boardroom as a tough businesswoman who doesn’t take any stuff, that’s all accurate. But to suggest that that’s the way I am perpetually, at every moment of the day is inaccurate.
KW: Life After is about the effects of transformational events on people’s lives.
What was yours?
OM: Well, there were several. One occurred when I was very, very young, only 7, when my father was murdered. That’s a milestone you never forget.
KW: I’m sorry to hear that.
OM: Thank you. There were also positive moments in my life that stand out, like being appointed to the White House at 23, or walking into the boardroom with Donald Trump for the first time, or working for Bill and Camille Cosby at the National Visionary Leadership Project. So, I have been privileged to enjoy some exceptional moments that the average person will never have an opportunity to experience. And I realize that most people know nothing about these aspects of my life. So, I saw Life After as a wonderful opportunity to share what my life really was like prior to The Apprentice.
KW: I know you have your Master’s. Have you finished your Ph.D. yet?
OM: I’ve finished the course work for my doctorate, but at some point I have to go back to defend my dissertation. I’ve been at Howard and living in Washington for about 8 years now.
KW: I thought you were based in Beverly Hills?
OM: I have a place in D.C. and a place in Los Angeles, and I commute between the two.
KW: And you have charities in both cities you do volunteer work for.
OM: Anywhere I go, I’m serving. Anywhere I go, I’m doing God’s work. That’s why I ask people to not judge me by your perceptions from TV, but by my work. I dare anybody to put me and any celebrity side-by-side to compare the amount of time I commit to being a change agent, how much time I’m actually in the trenches, not just writing checks, how much time I spend with kids who have no one who believes in them, or who don’t have a place to lay their head or a meal to eat that night. I’m the one there in the trenches, and I’m not looking for glorification from the media, because that’s what I’m really about.
KW: So, how did it feel when you went on Wendy Williams TV show and she lashed out at you, calling you the stereotypical “angry black female.”
OM: I think people who know her were laughing, and thinking “ain’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” It was really unfortunate, because it was a lost opportunity for Wendy and me to have a productive, civil conversation without any name-calling or bickering, but her M.O. is to be provocative, to out you, and to bring up derogatory things about you. That’s how she advances herself. In the interview, she brought up my ex-husband, my plastic surgery and this and that. It was coming from every way but up. I feel very good about how I handled Wendy and that I didn’t let her walk all over me like she does all her other guests.
KW: You worked in the Clinton administration. So, did you support Hillary for president?
OM: Yes, briefly. I wanted to be a part of electing the first female president until Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring. I felt at that moment that race superseded gender. To me, supporting the effort to put an African-American in the highest office of the land was not a choice but an obligation.
KW: I read your book, The Bitch Switch, which was very feminist in tone. Yet most of your squabbles seem to be with other women. Why so?
OM: We, as women, have not come to terms with the fact that we are our own worst enemies, and that we have done more damage to our own movement than any male could have done. So, I wrote the book to help women learn how to deal with that side of themselves that at times is not secure, where their self-esteem has been compromised, where their sense of strength and power just doesn’t seem to be there, so they can learn to rise above it and not denigrate or demean another female.
KW: Vanessa Goldstein asks whether you and Wendy Williams have spoken at all since the run in.
OM: No, I don’t keep the same company as Wendy, and I live in D.C. and L.A. while she’s in New York. I didn’t have a relationship with her prior to the interview. Before I went on her show, she was trying to dig up any dirt on me from TV appearances and from my private life. That’s what she does with celebrities. She finds whatever’s going wrong in their lives and exploits it. That’s not a person I want to communicate with or have any relationship with.
KW: Marcia Evans asks, what did you learn from the Wendy Williams interview?
OM: I learned that I could hold my own with a bully. I learned that there are so many more important things in life than what shoes or what designer label you’re wearing. It’s about the substance of who you are and what you do for others that matters.
KW: Marcia also wants to know, how would you handle that interview differently, if you could do it all over again?
OM: I wouldn’t change anything about it, because that was my authentic reaction to her. That was truly how I was feeling at that moment, and how I responded to a woman who was trying to put me down, demean me, and walk all over me, and use me as a doormat. No one will walk all over me. And I certainly wasn’t going to take that from Wendy Williams.
KW: Marcia says that it appears that you always have your guard up. True?
OM: Absolutely! [Laughs] Do you know how many millions of people wished they were sitting where I sat? How many millions of people were vying for that spot on The Apprentice? How many people wished they were on the red carpets at premieres and award shows, or sitting in pitch meetings with network executives, or jet-setting from one coast to the other just to appear at a party? I realize there are millions of people who feel they can do what I do a hundred times better, and with a lot less effort, and they are still jockeying for my spot. So, yes, I am always attentive and on guard, and ready to defend the career I’ve carved out for myself.
KW: Can you still just walk down the street, and go to the mall or a movie theater like a regular person.
OM: I don’t get to do a lot of the things that I used to do. For instance, I tried to go incognito to the Cherry Blossom Festival, which is my favorite event in Washington. I had on a big hat, but I ended up being a distraction and taking over a hundred pictures with tourists and fans. [Laughs] And it’s the same with grocery store. You’re very vulnerable in these public places, because of the internet age.
KW: Marcia Evans had another question: how are you perceived by other professional women of color?
OM: Ironically, on my book tour, I’ve had a chance to speak to so many other women of color. Unfortunately, I’ve found that my experience has been similar to theirs. They feel isolated and lonely and alienated. And they’re not able to express themselves, because then they’re labeled as a bitch, or as moody, or as having a chip on their shoulder. They’re not able to be sassy, and funny and witty, as African-American women tend to be because they’ll be given these terrible labels and put into a box. I get away with it on reality-TV because it creates ratings and revenue and excitement, but the sad truth is that in real life, most women are hated and persecuted for the same behavior. Black women have been marginalized, and not allowed to be the funny, witty, sassy, edgy women that we tend to be.
KW: Speaking of ratings, how did the ratings fare that first season on The Apprentice after Trump fired you?
OM: I believe it dropped from 25 million to 18 million viewers after I left. So, I understand my value to reality-TV. I know what I bring to the table, and they’re aware of it as well, which is why I’m on my 20th reality show, because that’s what I do, and I do it well.
KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
OM: I wish people would ask me more about where I’m going next as a person, instead of focusing on this TV journey.
KW: Okay, where are you going as a person?
OM: I’m glad you asked me that. [LOL] I’ve entered the United Theological Seminary, because I believe I have a responsibility as a missionary Baptist, an obligation to emulate the work of Christ. So, I need to prepare for what God has in store for me. The next chapter of my life will be committed to serving Him, not to worrying about what polls I’m on or what designer I’m wearing on the red carpet. My focus is on pleasing the Lord.
KW: The Tasha Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
OM: I was intimidated for the first time when I put my book out. I was worried because books are so forever.
KW: The Columbus Short question: Are you happy?
OM: Absolutely!
KW: “Realtor to the Stars” Jimmy Bayan was wondering, where in L.A. you live?
OM: I live smack dab in the heart of it all, Beverly Hills adjacent.
KW: The bookworm Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
OM: The Bible. I read it everyday.
KW: The music maven Heather Covington question: What music are you listening to nowadays?
OM: Maxwell’s new CD, Pretty Wings.
KW: What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome?
OM: Getting over my father’s murder.
KW: The Rudy Lewis question: Who’s at the top of your hero list?
OM: My mother, Mommarosa.
KW: What type of names are Omarosa, Mommarosa and Manigault? Let me guess, Haitian?
OM: No, Nigerian names.
KW: The Laz Alonso question: How can your fans help you?
OM: By buying my book, and by continuing to visit my site, and by Twittering and Facebooking me. []
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
OM: I see a woman who’s made an amazing journey from the projects to the White House and who has focused on being the best that she can be.
KW: Teri Emerson would like to know, when was the last time you had a good laugh?
OM: When I bought my nephews the gym shoes with the wheels on the bottom. Wheelies. And while they were trying to learn how to ride them they kept clowning around and falling. It was sooooooo funny! Me, mom and my sister were cracking up.
KW: What is your favorite meal to cook?
OM: In the summer I like to cook a lot of fresh fish and veggies.
KW: Attorney Bernadette Beekman asks: What do you REALLY want in life: marriage, career, kids or just to be famous/infamous?
OM: I want to be a good Christian and to follow God's will. If you are faithful, all else will fall into place.
KW: What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
OMN: God bless!
KW: How do you want to be remembered?
OM: I would like to be remembered as a child of God.
KW: Thanks again, Omarosa, and best of luck with all your endeavors.
OM: Thanks Kam!

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