Love her or hate her, it’s hard to ignore the larger-than-life force of nature that is NeNe Leakes, the outspoken Real Housewives of Atlanta breakout star who’s taking on a new reality: as one of the contestants on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, premiering March 6 on NBC. She’ll bring her feisty, in-your-face attitude to the boardroom and launch a battle of the divas with Star Jones.
"I think she’s fantastic,” Trump said. “She’s going to be a very big star. She was great on the show. She’s tough and smart. She’s going to be a monster star. People are going to love NeNe.”
Leakes had been invited to do the show before, but declined. “I was scared to join. I definitely had hesitation. Everybody's afraid of Mr. Trump. And I just thought I wasn't smart enough to do this whole thing,” she told us. But the show's producers persuaded her to change her mind. “And I’m glad I did,” NeNe added.
That doesn’t mean it was easy for her. “The schedule was very hard, the long hours, and everybody was getting sick. I just left the Housewives filming and went straight into Celebrity Apprentice, and I was going through a lot in my personal life,” she said.
Going in, she had no game plan, other than not to be the first one fired. “I don’t strategize. I walked in really blind. I thought, ‘I’m just going to be myself.’ I’m not good at backstabbing. I’m loyal to whoever I’m with. I met people on the show that I will probably be friends with and talk to for the rest of my life.”
Others, not so much. “Star’s got it in for me. Everybody knows that I get in Star’s face. I’m not afraid to get in anybody’s face,” she declared. “I will get in anybody's face if they really push me there and take me there. I feel like I was pushed and taken there.”
Trump called the new pool of contestants “the most volatile group we’ve ever had,” and Leakes attributed that to the fact that “we’re all very passionate about what we’re doing. And we all believe something totally different.” She acknowledged her temper and lack of a middle ground, adding, “The moment somebody’s being phony I’m going to lose it. But the thing that people don't really know about me is that I have a quiet and shy side. I also come out and fight for what I believe in, so you’ll see all of those things.”
Leakes said she learned a lot about herself through the process: “I really learned how strong I am. And I’m glad I did the show. On The Real Housewives of Atlanta, you don’t necessarily get to see the business side of me.”
"But I will still be NeNe,” she added. “And I still will keep it real.”
Image: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images