Real Housewives Who Were Completely Different Before The Show

No matter which city "The Real Housewives" films in, there are two guarantees — every episode will be wildly dramatic and every Housewife will embody glitz and glamour. From Beverly Hills all the way to Dubai, the 11 installments that originated in the U.S. revolve around women flaunting all they've got. But even as the women parade around on yachts, it's hard not to wonder how exactly their life panned out so well as to end up on a million dollar ship (and on a franchise featuring the obscenely wealthy).

Sure, the lives of these reality TV stars might be the subject of envy, but their time before the fame wasn't always as flashy. In fact, several cast members had to grind to get where they are, working nine to fives or odd jobs that may be surprising to some fans. 

Although it's definitely a no judgement zone when it comes to finding out just who these women were before the cameras followed them, it is safe to say that they have changed quite a bit since before their "Housewives" debut. Whether working on the fringes of the entertainment industry or partaking in a traditional post-grad job, here are a few Housewives who were much different prior to their time on their Bravo show.

Melissa Gorga had many jobs as a college student

Pursuing a B.A. in elementary education already comes with many sleepless nights, but Melissa Gorga pushed through to get a degree from New Jersey City University. With a glow like hers, it's no wonder that the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star started off as a tanning consultant. Her next career move was the center of a highly contentious blowout during Season 4, infamously known as "Strippergate." Her sister-in-law, Teresa Giudice, heard that Gorga worked as a stripper from a man who claimed that Gorga once danced for him. Naturally, when Gorga found out, it led to a major confrontation.  

Don't get it twisted, though. Her rep went out of his way to clarify that "Melissa worked at the club behind the bar, not as a dancer. Worked one day a week for almost a year. She has nothing to hide," he told HuffPost (via Bustle). 

Drama aside, Gorga initially planned to push her budding singing career on the show. However, even after dropping singles like "Just Wanna Dance" and "How Many Times," she parted ways with the music scene, or is at least keeping it off camera. "Right now, it just makes more sense for me to do things that keep me in the state of New Jersey, but I never say never," Gorga said (via Bravo).

Phaedra Parks represented stars as big as Bobby Brown

Phaedra Parks made it loud and clear during her time on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" that practicing law was her calling. Between all the Atlanta galas, cast vacations, and even her ex-husband's own legal woes and subsequent arrest, Parks impressively managed to keep practicing law during her stint on Bravo. Way prior to her casting, she earned a Juris Doctorate from the University of Georgia and opened up her own law firm, The Parks Group

She'd also represented celebrities as big as Bobby Brown and Jermaine Dupri before "The Real Housewives" was even a concept. Media giants like NBC took notice of her qualifications in 2005 when she appeared as a legal analyst during the network's coverage of Michael Jackson's infamous trial. Her mile long list of clientele doesn't mean she won every case though. Brown had quite the opinion on his former lawyer in his 2016 book, "Every Little Step."

"Her later television stardom didn't surprise me because she always seemed like she was craving attention and publicity," Brown wrote. "I won't cast aspersions on her lawyering skills, but I will say that when she was my lawyer, I usually wound up going to jail," (via EURweb). 

Bethenny Frankel nannied for one of the biggest stars

Bethenny Frankel built herself an empire outside of "The Real Housewives of New York," which is estimated to be a whopping $80 million. The face behind Skinnygirl started off adjacent to fame, so her popularity seemed pre-destined, considering she nannied Nicky and Paris Hilton. Through her friendship with the Hiltons' aunt, Kyle Richards, Frankel watched the two sisters after school. Paris eventually caught up with her former babysitter on Frankel's podcast, "Just B."

"Part of the job became coming in my Ford Probe to get you and Nicky from Lycée, from this sort of fancy French school," Frankel said to Paris. "So I would take you to go get ferrets at the pet store at Century City, and Nicky would want to go to Rampage," Frankel added, recalling more of their moments together. "Look how far you've come, boss babe," Paris said. "A nanny to Paris Hilton, and now killing it!" 

If you look even further back into Frankel's past, she got her start making money at an even younger age. In high school, Frankel claims she rented out hotel rooms for parties and charged her classmates covers to enter. "I was always an entrepreneur," she said in her Inc. interview. "I just didn't know what it was called."

LeeAnne Locken had her start in an unconventional family business

Although "The Real Housewives of Dallas" only lasted five seasons, LeeAnne Locken's rise to fame can't be forgotten. The former Miss Arizona got involved in her family's business rather young — not many people can say that they got their start working at three years old. Her big responsibility? Working the duck pond at a carnival. Locken's stepfather worked in the carnival business, so the former Housewife found herself at the fair every summer. 

She eventually progressed to blowing up and replacing balloons used in games. That routine is clearly still locked in her head, since she explained it during an interview with Vice. "Blow 'em, wrap 'em, tie 'em, hang' em," she said. "You had to be able to blow up 20 balloons in ten minutes. I got really good at it."

Even though Locken saw her job as "normal," the kids at her high school used it against her. "I got to high school and was like, why is everyone calling me a circus freak? It was very painful." Locken turned that pain into gain, though, and proudly incorporated her past into her opening tagline before each episode: "I grew up a carny kid. Play games with me, and you're gonna pay."

Kim Zolciak-Biermann put her degree to work

Kim Zolciak-Biermann wasn't always decked out in designer, despite what viewers saw on "The Real Housewives of Atlanta." Zolciak-Biermann actually sported scrubs for several years when she was nurse. Details of her former career aren't widely known, though, enough to where a fellow Housewife accused her of lying about her hospital work. "Just because you strip in a nurse's outfit does not make you a nurse," Phaedra Parks said on Season 3.

In Zolciak-Biermann's defense, she seems to have the photographic evidence. "The day I graduated nursing school. I was so damn proud of myself," she captioned an Instagram throwback from her graduation at the University of Connecticut in 1996. Internet snoops also dug through some records and found her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) paperwork, both from Georgia and Connecticut, where she grew up, reported Straight from the A

It's believed that Zolciak-Biermann worked in the field for five years, but perhaps she put her career on hold when her notorious sugar daddy, known as "Big Poppa" during the early installments of "RHOA," swept her off her feet. 

Cynthia Bailey and Karen Huger both worked in fast food

Stars are people just like us, right? You can argue that Cynthia Bailey from "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and Karen Huger from "The Real Housewives of Potomac" might be the most relatable of them all. Before Bailey was renowned for her modeling, her first job was at Taco Bell. On an episode of "Housewife to Housewife" that featured the two stars, Bailey revealed that she wasn't just any employee — she was promoted to manager after three or four months. She also admitted to have an affinity for the ever-so-popular Mexican Pizza. 

And it's all love for Taco Bell on Huger's end too, especially for the iconic-but-discontinued Meximelt. "It was my hustle ... I'm proud of that," Huger explain to Bailey. "I was starting my first company, and my son was one years old. So I was doing that at night, mommy during the day, and executive secretary also trying to get the business off the ground. 'No' was not an option for me and that was a means to an end, and I made it happen."

They might've only lasted about a year in those roles, but they didn't rule out going back to their old stomping grounds. Yet this time, they were most interested in opening up a franchise.   

Gizelle Bryant was a regular at church as the First Lady

If you ever visited Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore prior to 2009, there's a good chance you might've seen Gizelle Bryant there. At the time, she was married to the church's pastor, Jamal Bryant. However, things got messy behind the scenes, as Jamal had an affair — quite the revelation to "The Real Housewives of Potomac" cast member and churchgoers.

Jamal explained that their divorce had nothing to do with Gizelle. "I stepped ... outside of my marriage ... not because anything was flawed in the marriage or in her, but in my own immaturity for the level I was getting ready to go into," he told Roland Martin. The former First Lady described herself as a different person when she was married to Jamal, because she had to not only represent herself, she had to represent the church and her ex-husband's ministry.

"I knew that being married to a pastor, I was looked upon to be a certain type of person," she said while on "The Daily Dish." "I couldn't go off on anybody. When people came to me with all their problems and issues, I just had to be like 'God bless you' — I couldn't say 'I don't care because it's ain't my business' which is what I would do now." Gizelle resurrected a part of her past when she began dating Jamal again in 2019, although they broke up again two years later, per E! News.

Dolores Catania has a surprising history in law enforcement

You name a job, any job, and Dolores Catania has probably done it. Waitressing? Check. Shampoo girl? Check. Realtor and surgical assistant? Also check. The most interesting on the list, however, was her being a corrections officer — especially considering that some of these Housewives and their spouses have records of their own. 

For six years, that meant Catania was either in the courtroom, supervising those incarcerated in prison, or even transporting prisoners. She technically made history on "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" and across every other installment as the first former cop to land a role. Catania turned in her badge when she had her children and opted to be a stay-at-home mom instead. Turns out she made the more profitable decision since she was cast as a regular on the series after quitting.

When reflecting on all of her past occupations, Catania had a simple explanation. "I don't think about things. I just do them," she said on "The Daily Dish."

Porsha Williams' start was in childcare

Porsha Williams always seemed to have a nurturing side. Outside of having her own daughter, Williams got her start by opening up a daycare at 24 years old, long before "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" scooped her up. After being inspired by her parents' careers, as she wrote in her autobiography, "The Pursuit of Porsha: How I Grew Into My Power and Purpose," she started her own business.

"I was raised by two entrepreneurs. ... So I understood very early on the power of ownership — whether that was owning your own business or owning your own story," she wrote. However, her ex-husband, Kordell Stewart, appeared on The Steve Harvey Show and said that she lost the business when they were about to get married (via Reality Tea). The former couple married in 2011.

Unfortunately, it wasn't always smooth sailing in the facility that is no longer in existence. The daycare appeared in local news multiple times, such as in 2009 when The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that a child died while at the center, resulting in a lawsuit. Williams and her mother were also sued after allegedly defaulting on a loan used toward the facility (via Lipstick Alley). 

NeNe Leakes was known as Silk onstage

While Nene Leakes has departed from the franchise that catapulted her to fame, her track record as a fan favorite remains. Between her no-nonsense attitude and clever lines of attack, she's often a viral sensation on social media. Before the world knew her name, though, Atlanta's Gold Club knew her by a different one: Silk. Leakes was once a stripper for several years, but it's nothing she's ashamed of. 

"I felt powerful in front of these men," she wrote in her 2009 memoir, "Never Make the Same Mistake Twice." "They were obviously there to see what I had, and I quickly realized that those men weren't there to make me feel bad about myself. Quite the contrary. They were there to make me feel good."

On a 2018 episode of "Uncensored," the small screen star elaborated on what led her to dancing. "We [Leakes and her former roommate] couldn't pay our rent one month and we were like, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?'" Together, they answered a job advertisement for "nude modeling," which turned out to be a call for adult dancers. It provided some financial stability for her and her son, Brice, who she was raising as a single mother. Now financial insecurity is a thing of the past, as she's reportedly worth $14 million

Wendy Osefo set records in academia

Wendy Osefo didn't need "The Real Housewives of Potomac" to gain any recognition. Before landing a spot as a new Housewife, she was already gracing TV screens nationwide as a political commentator on networks like Fox News and CNN. But her career isn't marked by just one impressive job title or accolade. Osefo served as the Director of Family and Community Engagement for the antipoverty initiative under the Obama administration and set records as the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D in Public Affairs and Community Development from Rutgers University.

"You look at professors and you look at politicos and you think these are serious people — which we are — highly educated, critical thinkers," Osefo told Refinery29 when discussing her hesitation to join the show because of her job. "That's their profession, that's not necessarily who we are. ... What this has shown to me is that a lot of politicos and a lot of academics are Bravoholics." 

And even with filming, Osefo still manages to keep up with another pre-show profession, being a professor at John Hopkins University.