‘Mrs.’ pageants get real in CT, thanks to Bravo

By MIKE CHAIKEN EDITIONS EDITOR You’ve seen their photographs. You’ve seen them waving from a convertible in your local parades. But how well do you know the women in the crown and sash? Well, you will get to know at least six of these women pretty damn well over the next few weeks as Bravo debuts the new reality series, “Game of Crowns” this Sunday night. And the Nutmeg State is in the spotlight as three of the cast members call Connecticut home. Their trio of counterparts are based in neighboring Rhode Island. In the course of the show, viewers get to see the sights of Connecticut and hear a few plugs for area landmarks such as Bristol’s ESPN. According to press materials from Bravo, “This docu-series follows six pageant wives competing on the ‘Mrs.’ circuit whose lives revolve around glamour, perfection and winning at any cost. The cast includes Shelley Carbone (of Wethersfield, Conn.), Lynne Diamante, Leha Guilmette, Lori-Ann Marchese (of Berlin, Conn. and a former Bristol resident), Susanna Paliotta, and Vanassa Sebastian (of Ledyard.)” In a series of phone interviews Shelley, Lori-Ann, and Vanassa all took time to talk about the show. When asked if she was already a fan of shows like “Game of Crowns,” Shelley, a mother of four, replied, “Who doesn’t watch reality shows.” Shelley said she’s worked her way through the entire “The Real Housewives…” franchise… first, indulging in “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” and then graduating onto “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” At the moment, Shelley said she can’t get enough of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” But her addiction to reality shows doesn’t end with the battling “Housewives.” She also is a fan of shows like “Million Dollar Listings” and “The Million Dollar Matchmaker.” Now, Shelley—Mrs. America 2011 and Mrs. Connecticut 2010, finds herself in her own reality show. The ball got rolling, said Shelley, when her friend Vanassa reached out to her. Vanassa, who was Mrs. Connecticut America 2013, said a casting agent had approached her about a reality series about Mrs. pageant universe. And Vanassa wondered if Shelley was interested. Shelley was. And after an interview, she was tapped for the show. And Shelley couldn’t be happier. Not only is she on television, but she’s on Bravo… and she’s on a show that revolves around her. Vanassa said reality shows are indeed a guilty pleasure of hers. However, she said, she never made it her life mission to become part of one. When she was approached about participating in “Game of Crowns,” Vanassa said she had to do some thinking before she committed. First of all, her husband is a private man. (Vanassa’s husband’s family owns Foxwoods Resort Casino). “I was fearful of putting myself out there and living in a fish bowl.” But, Vanassa said her daughter offered some advice to guide her. Vanassa’s daughter said, “If it’s bad, it’s an experience and it’s a life lesson. If it’s good, it’s wonderful.” And Vanassa said she took her daughter’s words to heart. Reality television also figures in Lori-Ann’s life. The owner of Body Construct, a fitness studio in New Britain, said her mother is a big fan of reality shows, and is totally obsessed with “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.” Now that she has a daughter on a reality show, Lori-Ann said, “(My mother) can’t believe it… She tells everybody.” Lori-Ann said fans of reality shows will like “Game of Crowns” because there is drama and there is humor. “I am funny,” said Lori-Ann, who frequently cracks jokes or rolls her eyes comically in the first two episodes. Also, Lori-Ann said fans will enjoy seeing how the contestants are one way onstage and how they are totally different off stage. When asked what it was like to have a camera follow her and her family around during the 10 weeks “Game of Crowns” was taped, Shelley said your perception changes. It’s not about glamour, she said, you realize, at the end of the day, it’s work. “Definitely, I’m an all or nothing girl,” said Vanassa when asked about what it was like to have a film crew follow her and her family around. With her husband’s support, said Vanassa, “I jumped right in… I opened up my entire life.” There were no forbidden rooms for the camera rooms. Everything was on the table. As the cameras rolled, said Vanassa, “I had to find the balance of being authentic and real without compromising who I was… Some people put on a show and try to be something they’re not. You just have to be you.” In the end, said Vanassa, everything that was taped was a real moment. “They’re not staged. They don’t tell you what to say.” As for the reaction of family and friends to the taping, Shelley said some didn’t care about the cameras. Some people came out of the woodwork just to be seen on the show. Other people who were fixtures in her life, however, faded away from view as the show was prepared. “They get a little nervous.” But, she said, “You have to respect that.’ “My husband (John) is great,” said Lori-Ann of the intrusion of the cameras in their lives. He appears on the show in a number of segments. And, Lori-Ann said, “He feels like a star….He loves it.” At the time, all three women were interviewed, a week before the premiere on Bravo, none had seen any finished episodes of “Game of Crowns.” “You’ve seen more than I’ve seen,” said Shelley when she learned Bravo lent the press some screener copies of the first two episodes. “I’d really like to know how it was put together.” The show definitely has a plum spot on the Bravo schedule… following “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” on Sunday. “That’s such a great spot,” said Shelley. “I think that is incredible,” said Lori-Ann of the slot. “I love that.” Vanassa agreed the slot after “The Real Housewives of New Jersey” is perfect. First of all, it provides a good lead in for an audience. It’s also great personally because she’s a fan of the show. And, she said, “The Real Housewives…” does what “Game of Crowns” is striving for. “It’s real… there’s real emotion.” And like “The Real Housewives of New Jersey,” Vanassa said she knows the show will open the cast members of “Game of Crowns” to criticism from the public at large. “I’m well aware the world is going to see (these real moments) and they’re going to judge.” But Vanassa said, “This is what I signed up for.” As the three women waited for the premiere of “Game of Crowns” this weekend, Lori-Ann said all the signs are pointing toward great success. “I think it’s going to be a really big hit,” said Lori-Ann. From this moment forward, said Lori-Ann, “it’s game on.” “Game of Crowns” premieres on Bravo Sunday, July 13 at 9:15 p.m., following “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

'Game of Crowns,' a new reality series filmed partially in Connecticut, debuts this Sunday night after 'Real Housewives of New Jersey' on Bravo.

‘Game of Crowns,’ a new reality series filmed partially in Connecticut, debuts this Sunday night after ‘Real Housewives of New Jersey’ on Bravo.