Filming the first season of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Kim Zolciak, the curvy blond with big ambitions to become a country music star, turned her back on her best friend NeNe, but found a new companion in Sheree. And while her singing career didn’t exactly take off (yet), her romance with mystery millionaire Big Papa piqued viewers’ interest while speculation about her age (and her hair) lit up the Internet.
As The Real Housewives of Atlanta gears up for the first season reunion special (airing Tuesday on Bravo), Kim addresses the rumors, and chats with PEOPLE about her friendship with NeNe, her breakup with Big Papa, and how she’s changed since seeing herself on TV. — Chris Willard
How are you and NeNe getting along? Have you had that glass of wine yet?We have not had that glass of wine to be honest with you. Hopefully in the very near future, now that the show has calmed down and life is a little bit calmer, we’ll actually sit down and have a conversation. I heard that NeNe was upset about the footage of her singing about me in the limo. Her intention wasn’t to hurt my feelings. With that being said, NeNe and I have been friends for a long time. I think she’s great. She’s funny and entertaining, and my older daughter (Brielle) just adores her.
How did you feel when you saw the footage of NeNe singing about you?I thought it was funny myself, but I was a little hurt by the stuff she said. At the end of the day, had she not been drinking and not been out having a great time, I don’t think that would have happened. I know her well enough. NeNe has a really good heart.
Was what you saw in the episode different from how it was described to you?I was told the story accurately. I was prepared, but hearing it and then watching it are two different things. And then I had my daughter. I wouldn’t allow her to watch that episode, but it played again and she caught it. I was actually out of town and my daughter called me hysterical. “Mommy, why did she say these things?” And I had to tell her it was all in good fun, she didn’t mean any harm by it, etc. So, I had to deal with my own emotions on top of my daughter’s. It was difficult but she understood.
It seemed like Brielle and NeNe were very close. How was their relationship changed now that you and NeNe aren’t BFFs?I always try to teach my kids how important friends are. My daughter just started middle school, so she’s dealing with drama herself. Middle school is where it starts, so friendship has been a topic of conversation in my house. But with NeNe, she misses her. They were pretty tight.
When you announced that you were 29, many bloggers cried foul, saying there was no way you were only 29. Can you respond?I’m not a liar. You can put that in plain English. Integrity is most important to me. I’m actually 30 now, but I have to agree about some of the footage … I did not do my own makeup the majority of the time and there’s one instance where I was getting makeup done for a photo shoot and I looked 50. It was terrible. But you pound on that black eye shadow and big red lips, what do you expect? I’m sorry they feel that way, but the reality is I am 30 — and you can take it or leave it.
Have you quit smoking? I did quit for a period of time. It was like torture. I don’t even know how long. I was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life … I quit for about a good month, but I’m back to smoking. Not really like I was, but my relationship with Big Papa ended and that was stressful, and the music, and the show. It’s all merely an excuse, but it’s something you really have to focus on and it’s a battle daily, hourly. But I saw the footage of me smoking in the house and I cringed. It was disgusting and I couldn’t believe at times I would do that. I smoke oustide now.
What else was hard to watch?The singing in the studio was horrific. What was that? It made for good television. We had been in the studio hours and hours that day and most know your producer doesn’t sing or stand next to you. He’s on the soundboard. So it made for good television, but my album will speak for itself.
So you are still going forward with plans to record an album?I’m actually working with WEJ Records, it’s an independent label, and they’re negotiating a contract for major distribution. This all happened recently after the show aired. They have a new song for me, which I’m crazy about. I’m not gonna tell you the name quite yet. It’s a little different, not country. I hope I get the opportunity to show I’m able to sing.
How else has your life changed since the show premiered?My skin’s a lot tougher. I tend to take things pretty personally and I really had to take a step back and go, “You know, this is where you wanted to be your whole life. It’s a show. It’s entertainment.” I know who I am, the who love me know who I am, and I love who I am. Sometimes when you watch footage of yourself, you tend to analyze or critique. Shortly into the series, I had to just let go of it all. Of course I’m recognized everywhere I go, which I love. But it’s changed my personal life. The one thing that I wanted to prevent was the demise of my relationship but in showbiz and reality shows — like Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey, their relationship ended in divorce and that was the one thing I was trying to avoid.
So you’re not with Big Papa anymore. What can you tell us about him?We were engaged. And he’s a great person. He’s still a part of my everyday life at this point. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m crazy about him. And he’s great to my girls.
There was a lot of speculation that he might be married.He is legally married, but he’s estranged from his wife. It’s kind of like Sheree. I always give this analogy. Sheree’s been going through a divorce for three years. Sometime things take a while to move forward.
Has anyone guessed correctly?Yes, I’ve seen his name stated on a couple of Web sites.
Any clues?He’s not black; he’s not an athlete. He’s pretty well known across the board. If you were to mention his name, the in his industry would know exactly who he is.
Another hot topic on the Web was your hair. I’ll tell you that the hair comment has been pretty difficult for me. I’ll leave it for the reunion show. It’s discussed and it’s been incredibly traumatic for me. Wearing hair extensions wasn’t by choice.
What else was tough?The smoking thing was also a big surprise. How incredible! I guess when you see yourself on TV, you realize — wow. I don’t drink like that either. Good god, every episode I had a glass of wine. It’s unbelievable to me.
Like the scene where you’re drinking in your car with Sheree outside the lingerie shop?The way that it was aired looked as though we drove off in the car. That’s insane. I’m the mother of two little girls. I would never jeopardize myself drinking and driving. Ever. I don’t agree with that. I had bought a bunch of stuff and we were waiting for them to package up the stuff so we went out to the car to listen to my song. We went back in to pick up everything and dropped off the glass of wine that we didn’t even drink to be honest. We had a couple sips and left. So it appears as though I was drinking and driving, but give me a little bit more credit than that.
What else can you say about the reunion special? It looks like Lisa loses her cool with you, but she’s usually so calm and stays out of the drama. What went on?There was definitely drama. I’ve seen the clip and you know, I think “he said, she said” gets in the middle of everything. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Virginia Sherwood /NBC