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Real Housewives of Vancouver dish on becoming reality stars

Photo credit : Handout
Real Housewives of Vancouver dish on becoming reality stars

"It's not about how much money you have, or how big your boobs are, or how much you've been lipo-sucked," Jody Claman, the self-aggrandized queen of the queens in The Real Housewives of Vancouver, rants about the show's purpose. "It's about how you make people feel, and making them laugh."

I'm chatting with the mother of three from West Vancouver in the penthouse of the downtown Vancouver Loden Hotel, where everything has soared a few octaves as the flange of reality stars meet up. The Botox-freezing, Louboutin-teetering, pout-posing is in full assault, as high-octane heels strike the floor like the ker-ching of a cash register.

Dressed in her fashion line, MIA, 48-year-old Claman -- along with her throaty laugh -- is shrugging off some of the negative comments already online even before the show debuts on Wednesday. (Blogger Perez Hilton's posse has gone wild: Larissa27 says: "These hags are nobodys!") "Don't be so serious, people," Claman lectures. "There's one life, and within the blink of an eye, you're gone."

Not that the first-in-Canada show is all giggles, of course. True to the franchise family -- from Orange County to the weapons-grade version in Atlanta -- the drama escalates at whiplash speed. It's Birkin bags at dawn in the first episode for Mary Zilba, the "sensitive" singer and mother of three who confesses she regrets mentioning a relationship breakup, which others pounce on as if it were the latest offering from designer Mary Katrantzou.

"I wish I hadn't been so honest. It's been an emotional roller-coaster," the 47-year-old laments of the five months of filming. Having been taught that if you didn't have anything nice to say, you didn't say anything at all, just why did the former Miss Ohio agree to the show? "That's such a good question," Zilba laughs, before dishing about being at a crossroads in her life: With the end of said relationship and no recent record releases, she felt landing a show was "a Godsend" in helping her return to the entertainment world. (It was also a chance, she adds, to bring attention to a personal cause: Tuberous Sclerosis Canada.)

Cutting the steeliest eyes-to-the-camera model pose, Ronnie Seterdahl Negus also points to charity being a key persuader. (For family reasons, she supports BC Centre for Ability; Claman is also promoting Larry Lunch Bucket, a food scheme in the Downtown Eastside.) "It took a lot of courage for us to put our lives in front of a camera," says Negus, a mother of five, also from West Vancouver, who has a horizontal take on criticisms to the show. (Her thoughts on cosmetic enhancements? "If someone wants to go and get Botox, let them. I couldn't give a rat's ass." On the perceived Housewives' self-promotion? "Everybody should live and let live.")

Perhaps seeing themselves on TV will be the opportunity to fix a few things about their personalities, ponders 43-year-old Negus. "I'm sure when I watch it, there will be times when I go, 'I can't believe I said that,'" she continues, "but at the end of the day, we're all works in progress."

"Our lives are highly glamorized on the show," pipes up Shaughnessy's Reiko MacKenzie, a martial-arts aficionado, "but we're still human beings and we still make mistakes."

Those mistakes are likely to make headlines in the weeks to come. With last year's suicide of Russell Armstrong, one of the stars in the Beverly Hills edition, it's hard to ignore the serious attention a reality show can bring. Being so exposed even worried Christina Kiesel, the twice-divorced travel addict who appears somewhat fearless. She hopes people will know that much of what she says is designed to be tongue-in-cheek. "I wanted to entertain people," muses the 30-year-old, who would like to host a travel show, "but the judging certainly scared me. Now I have to get over what people think about me. It's made me stronger."

Each star ensured their families were on board, but MacKenzie has already dealt with scrutiny over her husband's acquittal in a trial of a 1994 murder. "When you come on a reality show, people always find things that they love to talk about," the 37-year-old fires back. "What happened to my husband was almost 20 years ago, and really has nothing to do with who I am or who we are together today."

Pumped from doing 10 pushups before the interview, the mother of two says she was determined to avoid any vitriolic pugilism on the show. Think of her more as the "voice of reason," MacKenzie continues: "I definitely pick and choose my battles carefully." With more than a nod to Survivor, she adds that "not knowing whom to trust" was the worst. "It was a mental war game," she comments.

Apart from Reiko's Japanese heritage, much has been said about the shortage of Asian-Canadians on the cast to represent the city. Trust the irrepressible Claman, however, to tout her multicultural credentials: Not only does she speak Cantonese and her children study Mandarin, they celebrate Persian new year and they're Jewish. "I'm like a Walmart girl; I like everything," she says.

And while the show looks set to make them household names, if you're wondering why the more well-known one-per-cent social set in this city aren't appearing in the show, Zilba sums up the casting. "They wanted us all to be six degrees of separation from Jacqui Cohen," she laughs.

Real Housewives of Vancouver premieres Wednesday, April 4 at 9 ET/PT on Slice.