LAWRENCEVILLE - Big personalities and big ambitions may equal big drama for three Gwinnett women who have embraced the cameras and will be featured in Bravo's latest installment of its "Real Housewives" reality TV series which premieres tonight.
After following the lives of wealthy women in Orange County, Calif., and New York City, the show is headed south, where viewers will get a glimpse into the lives of five women in Atlanta's high society social scene.
Gwinnett's very own "Real Housewives" are Duluth residents Lisa Wu Hartwell, NeNe Leakes and Kim Zolciak.
Lisa Wu Hartwell
Hartwell, originally from California, is a business powerhouse, running a real estate firm, Hartwell & Associates, adding pieces to her jewelry line, Wu Girls Jewelry, and producing a clothing line for infants, Hart 2 Hart Baby.
Viewers who tune in to "Real Housewives of Atlanta" will meet Hartwell's husband, NFL player and former Atlanta Falcon Ed Hartwell, and their now 16-month-old son, EJ, who Hartwell said grew to love the cameras.
"At first, when he saw this big camera filming him, he was like, 'What is that?' Then he started getting used to it, so whenever I bring my camera out he smiles for the camera," she said.
Hartwell, a resident of a swank Duluth country club community, also has two sons from her previous marriage to musician Keith Sweat; Jordan, 13, and Justin, 11, who won't appear on the show.
The last housewife to be brought on board the project, Hartwell said her decision to appear in a reality television show was difficult.
"It was a hard decision for me," said Hartwell, who writes screenplays and has appeared in films. "I didn't want to be stereotyped and typecast as a reality star, but I write movies so I have control of my images. I also at the same time thought it was a great platform for all my businesses."
A resident of an exclusive Duluth townhouse community, Zolciak is a single parent raising two daughters, 11-year-old Brielle and 6-year-old Ariana.
Zolciak's name was dropped as a potential housewife by Leakes.
"Insanity made me want to do this reality television show," Zolciak joked, but then got serious. "I love attention. I love the cameras," she said. "Sign me up."
Zolciak thinks viewers will be surprised by the real Kim.
"My appearance doesn't necessarily match who I am on the inside," she said. "I'm a great mom. (Viewers) will see that."
"Real Housewives" viewers will hear about Kim's elusive boyfriend, who is only referred to in the show as "Big Papa."
"He is a mystery at this point," Zolciak said. "I want to keep that part of my life private and sacred and to myself in hopes that I get the big engagement."
Zolciak is currently working with producer Dallas Austin on a country album, which is due out later this year, and her dreams of music stardom are also part of the show.
Zolciak said she doesn't have a background in music outside of her own shower.
"As far as professionally, no, I've never sang. I just happened to decide I want to sing, and there you have it," she said. "I don't know how I even ended up where I'm at other than being blessed really."
Zolciak said she's hoping for seasons two, three, four, five, six and seven of "Real Housewives of Atlanta."
"I would love the opportunity to film again," she said. "Although it's exhausting, it's exciting."
Leakes lives in the upscale Sugarloaf area of Duluth with her husband, Gregg, an entrepreneur and motivational speaker, and their two sons, 18-year-old Brice and 9-year-old Brentt.
"We have a fabulous life," Leakes said. "We're very happy."
Leakes graduated from Clarke Central High School in Athens and attended college in Atlanta.
The most animated of the three Gwinnett women, Leakes embraces the spotlight.
"I am fabulous," said Leakes, whose mantra is "destined for greatness."
Leakes is also the founder of The Twisted Hearts Foundation, which raises awareness of domestic violence against women. She has plans to debut a handbag line called True and said she and Hartwell hope to write a book about domestic violence.
Leakes was the first housewife to sign on for "Real Housewives of Atlanta."
"This young lady called me one day ... and said, 'Oh my gosh, NeNe, I think you would be fabulous for "The Real Housewives of Atlanta,"' and I said, 'Girl, what are you talking about?"
Leakes said the woman told her the show's creator was in Atlanta looking for fabulous women who live in gated communities.
"I said, 'Oh, that would be me. Turn me on to her," Leakes said. "And she did, and I interviewed and I landed it. I was fabulous, they loved me. I was funny and they said, 'You are it.'"
Producers then asked Leakes if she had friends who fit the criteria, and she introduced them to three of the other members of the cast - Zolciak, Sheree Whitfield and DeShawn Snow.
"I'll be very surprised if the show don't get a second season," Leakes said. "Now, if for some reason it doesn't, I will be doing my own thing. I am going to rise to the top, if it's rising to the top with my foundation, rising to the top with my handbags, with my book, I am rising to the top.
"I am one of a kind," she said. "There is nothing like me in Hollywood."
Tune in to Bravo at 9 p.m. Tuesdays to see if you agree.
SideBar: If you watch
· What: "Real Housewives of Atlanta"
· When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays
· Where: On cable TV network Bravo