Perhaps the only thing worse than getting paid to cut the fool on reality TV nowadays is acting out of character without the paycheck. That's pretty much the predicament "Real Housewives of Atlanta" supporting cast member Mama Joyce has found herself in this season as her early dislike for her daughter Kandi Burruss' fiancé, Todd Tucker, brought the show's drama to a high boil.
Whether or not it's your cup of tea, RHOA has set ratings records in its sixth season on the Bravo network. (Last month, episode nine became the most-watched in the history of the series and the entire "Real Housewives" franchise.) A big part of that boost must be credited to the disdain the doting Mama Joyce has shown for Todd, whom she's referred to as an "opportunist" for hooking up with her platinum-selling songwriter and sex-toy maven of a daughter. In one of the season's most memorable scenes, Mama Joyce revamped the lyrics of a Temptations classic to throw shade at Todd during a rare moment alone with him at Kandi's dinner table: "Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no ocean deep enough, ain't no desert hot enough to keep my off ya ass, baby," she said with a shrewd smile. (Apparently, Kandi gets her mouth from her mama, too.)
After getting roasted on social media as fans surmised that Mama Joyce feared being cut off financially, she hired a PR professional and went on the offensive. When I talked to her a few weeks ago, she was still in the thick of it. Her voice crackled as she relived the scene in which she almost came to blows with her daughter's BFF, Carmon - who's been accused of having an affair with Todd - in a bridal shop while Kandi tried on gowns in the dressing room.
A mother-daughter truce put the storyline to rest for several episodes, but Mama Joyce made her presence felt again Sunday night when Carmon played Kandi a scathing voicemail she'd received from Mama Joyce calling Carmon an "ol' low-down heffa."
Needless to say, our phoner was much sweeter. In fact, she took such a liking to me that I started to wonder if I might have a better shot than Todd as her future son-in-law. We even joked about her making sure she gets compensated before agreeing to be on any future seasons of the show. With all the drama she's bringing, she damn sure deserves it.
What should I call you, first, should I call you Mrs. Joyce or Mrs. Jones or what?
Everybody calls me Mama Joyce.
OK, that's fine. How has the interview circuit been treating you? I know this isn't something that you've typically done a lot of in the past.
Well, really good. Really good. I'm just glad to be able to put my side of the story out there.
Let's talk about that, because from what I understand you still don't get paid for being on "Real Housewives." But you've gotten this publicist, which I assume is coming out of your pocket. It almost feels like the backwards way to do it. Why did you feel the need to take such a proactive role in managing your image?
Well before I was OK with just being the wise mom and somebody to talk to and all that. But this year they kind of portrayed me as the greedy mom and the mom that wanted her daughter's money - like the evil villain or something. That's not me. The only thing I was doing was trying to protect my daughter. I'm nothing like that. [Somebody on the show] was like, "Who takes care of her?" And Cynthia [Bailey] said, "I think Kandi takes care of her." And I just wanted to set the record straight. Kandi doesn't take care of me. I take care of myself. Kandi has never taken care of me. Now, my daughter is very good to me and always has been, but I'm on retirement, I own rental property, and I've always been self-sufficient. In fact, I've lived in this same house that I lived in a month before Kandi was born. And I've always tried to help Kandi save. She was 18 and living with her mom and had saved $100,000. What 18-year-old lives with her mom and is able to save $100,000 unless her mom is not using her money?
That makes sense.
I've always pushed her to save. When I had a job ... if I got a 5 percent raise on my job, I would put up 2 percent in savings. I never drank. I never smoked. So if you cut that out of your budget, that's a lot of money that you have. I used that money on my kids. Or I used that money to put up. So that was extra money I had.
What was it like raising Kandi as a single mother in Atlanta?
Well, I had Kandi and her brother. Kandi had a brother that was killed in a car accident when he was 22. And I was the neighborhood mom. All the kids wanted to come and be at my house. I pretty much took care of all the kids. I used to like to cook and have all the kids over. Everybody liked to be at my house.
What kind of stuff were you known for cooking?
Oh, just everything. Spaghetti. I could cook anything. I was a great cook. I'm still a great cook.
Tell me, since you aren't new to reality TV, what it's been like watching yourself on the show this season and feeling like, for the first time, what you see isn't reflective of how you see yourself?
Well, it was really hard. But I can't blame anybody but myself. I kind of let my emotions really get away from me. I can't blame the show because you know how they edit things the way they want it. But at the same time, it's not their fault. You can't blame anybody but yourself. Everything is reality, and they cut out what they want and they leave in what they want. My whole thing is I love my daughter and I want nothing but the best for her. I've always wanted nothing but the best for her. So some of the things that happened, I wish I could change. And when I look back at it I would've done it differently. But once you do it, they keep what they want.
What do you wish you would've done differently?
Well, at the bridal [shop], I wish I would've never gotten so mad that I would want to actually hit someone. But I was so angry at [Kandi's friend] Carmon. But they didn't show the part where my sister and I were talking, [and] my sister made the statement, "It'll never happen." And I said, "I hope not." We were not talking to her. And [Carmon] said, "Hmph, that's a damn shame." Like that. And I said, "What are you talking about? We're not even talking to you." She butted in our conversation. It went from one thing to the other and I said, "Well, you know [Kandi's fiancé Todd Tucker] better than anybody." She said, "Well, that's what you've been saying." I said, "Hey, that's what everybody else is saying." And then she stood up like she wanted to hit me, but they didn't show it like that. But if you remember, when Kandi came out [of the dressing room], Kandi said, "You both were standing." [Carmon] was the first one that stood up. I was like, I know she's not standing up like she's going to do something to me? So when she stood up, then I stood up. And I was like, "Well why don't you just leave!"
If she had been such a daughter or friend or whatever, when I asked her to leave she should've just left. But she didn't. I don't even want to go through how it went. I was really, really angry at her because she's going to stand there and argue with me about my daughter, saying, "I don't know why you're here anyway." What does she mean, why I'm there? I'm her mother. What the heck you doing here? And I kept saying, "Why don't you just leave!" That was two separate incidents, but they made it look like it was one. Because she had left [the store], went out, and came back in.
Why did she come back?
See, that's how they edit it. She came back and sat back down. I'm like, what did you come back in here for? So that's the way things go. But I found out she wants to be on this new show, "The Assistant," so she does what they tell her to do.
So you think she's trying to vie for her own reality show spot?
Right, she's looking out for herself. But everything I said was the truth. When I said she wore Kandi's old shoes, I didn't lie. When they did the pilot for Kandi's show ["The Kandi Factory"], I hadn't seen her in a long time, and I said, "Hi Carmon, how you doing, baby? I haven't seen you in a long time." She said, "Hey Ma, how you doing." And I said, "Oh, you look nice. I like those shoes." She said, "Well, you know, I've been over to Kandi's and I got these from Kandi." I said, "Oh, they're cute."
I was over there one day and Kandi had just had some hair put in, I said "Ooh, baby, I like that hair. When you take that out, I want [celebrity hairstylist] Derek J to put that in my head." No shame in that; I'll use the hair. But when I said I'd use the hair, [Carmon] was like, "Oh Mama, I was going to ask Kandi to let me use that hair." I'm like, hey, you got the last hair! Ain't no shame ... People do use other people's hair. But she's going to sit there [on TV] with a bold face and say, "I ain't never used nobody's old hair or old shoes in my life." She probably had on something of Kandi's then. So if she'll lie about that, ain't no telling what else she'll lie about.
Mama Joyce, are you making sure that you're taking care of yourself during this time, because I don't want you to be too stressed out about it.
Well, now I am. I was really getting stressed out. Kandi was going out of town a couple of days before Christmas, and I just prayed and I prayed. I just asked God to just give me the strength. Kandi and I hadn't talked in a couple of weeks, and we'd never gone that long without talking. And I asked the Lord to please give me the strength to get my head together, to forgive and forget. I called her. It was late at night because I knew she was going on vacation. And I left her a message to tell her I hope she had a good trip and I love her and love [my granddaughter] Riley and I hope they enjoy themselves. She called me the next day and they were at the airport and she said she was glad to hear from me. We've been talking everyday ever since.
And we've been together. So everything's really good. And I've made up my mind - good, bad, or indifferent - whatever Todd does is between them. Like I told her, I am through with it. I pray and hope that he's the right person for her. And if he is, I will be the first person to say that I'm sorry, I made a mistake. And if he's not, I am not going to rub it in, I'm just going to be there for her. But the main thing is I just want her to be happy.
What do you think would prove to you that he is the right person for her?
Well, I think only time will tell that. I just want her to have somebody that's working, and working along with her. And not just there to live off of her and come up on her.
Well speaking of people coming up, have you heard fans of the show joke about how you should get your own show along with some of the other mothers of reality TV - like Lil Scrappy's mom, Momma Dee, and Jim Jones' mom, Mama Jones?
I've heard that, but I don't know about that.
That's not something that you're particularly interested in right now?
I'm in a good place right now.
That's good. I saw some photos of you at a recent event. It looked like you had a date with you. Do you still date?
Yeah, that's somebody I've known for a long time. We've been dating now for about a year and a half, but I've known him for oh about 15-16 years. But Kandi approves.
Oh, really. Is she as protective of you and your interests as you are of hers?
You best believe she is. And even when she and her brother were little, they were very protective. If it was somebody that they didn't like, they let me know and I did not date them. But I never had anybody staying here with us. I never brought men to the house.
That's a good rule. Do you think that you will continue to make appearances on the show in the future?
You know, you can never say never. I really couldn't say right now.
I'm just asking because I want to make sure that if you do that you talk to the producers about cutting you a check first.
I know what you mean. [Laughing] You make sure that you put that out there and you put that in your article.
I am because you are a lot of the reason why people are watching right now.
And you know, that's what the producer said when he came to me this year. 'Cause I wasn't hardly on there last year. And he was like, "Mama Joyce, you've just got to come back because everybody was saying that they just miss you and they want you back on there this year." I said, "Well, they couldn't have wanted me too bad; they're certainly not paying me." [He said:] "Well that's why I'm here because I'm going to make sure you get paid this year." And I have not seen not one penny.
[Laughs] Well, we've got to work on that for the next season.
OK. That'll be just fine. 'Cause this is the fifth season and they have not paid me yet. I'm like, don't they think they should pay me? And look, last year all you heard about was "Love and Hip Hop." They were about to knock "Housewives" off the air. This year, you ain't heard nothing about "Love and Hip Hop."
Yeah, you brought "Housewives" back. You brought it back.
Thank you. They should give me a bonus this year. [Laughs] Why don't you put that in there?
[Laughs] I'll do that.
What's your name?
Rodney Carmichael with Creative Loafing
You are so nice, Rodney.
You are, too. I really enjoyed talking to you. And hopefully things will be smooth sailing from here on out for you all.
For me and Kandi I know it will, because I am totally out of her love affair. I'm out of it.
Alright Mama Joyce, take care.
Thank you, baby, I appreciate you calling.
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