For Kandi Burruss & Todd Tucker, Truth Is More Dramatic Than Reality TV
It’s totally absurd the way reality TV flips the age-old script on dramatic convention. Instead of requiring viewers to suspend disbelief, it forces us to watch through squinted lids while mumbling, “I can’t believe this bullshit.”
Which is exactly what I thought upon hearing “Real Housewives of Atlanta” star Kandi Burruss was rehashing the same storyline for season six that earned her a boatload of fan sympathy during her first season on the show (Season 2).
Once again, the former Xscape artist, hit songwriter and successful sexpreneur is engaged to be married. And, once again, her doting mother Mama Joyce is hot on her fiance’s “ass.” (That’s a direct quote.) Besides being the plotline for their televised surreality, it inspired the premise behind “A Mother’s Love,” the musical written by Burruss and co-produced with her partner Todd Tucker, which premiered to star-studded audiences at the Rialto last weekend.
But here’s why I really cared. Amid the cesspool of Atlanta’s fiction-baiting reality TV divas, Burruss has always been the anomaly. Already acquainted with riches and fame, she had no reason to manufacture drama just to collect a check.
When I interviewed her in 2009 after season one, I was struck by how real and unpretentious she kept it. She even told me at the time that she couldn’t imagine herself pursuing reality TV past one additional season. And yet here she is, four seasons later, fully immersed in the role. So in preview of “A Mother’s Love,” I talked to Kandi and Todd last week about navigating the blurred lines between real-life drama, reality show drama, and their new onstage drama.
As far as I can tell, they passed the bullshit detector test.
Kandi, we got to see a lot of the same kind of tension between you and your mother on your first season on the show, regarding her suspicion of your mate’s intentions at the time. Would you say it’s as serious now as it was then?
Kandi: I think it’s worse this time around. It’s not necessarily worse but it’s definitely about fame. Me and my mom have the tendency to go through this a lot in every relationship I’m in. It’s always something.
Todd, has coming from the reality show world, as a former producer of RHOA, made it easier for you to deal with her mama’s drama? Todd: Coming from working behind-the-scenes, you never expect to be in front of the camera. We’ve filmed scenes and it can take hours and even days to come off the high of it or even the emotional rollercoaster of it. But, I guess I signed up for it when we got together so I’m just trying to play my supportive role, play my part.
Kandi: The show is catching what we’re going through, but it’s not like it’s only happening while we’re on camera. A lot of things that we deal with are off camera. I feel bad for Todd sometimes, I’m not even gonna lie, because he’s never experienced someone’s mom not really liking him like that. When the drama first started, he used to always be like, ‘I mean, I don’t get it? Everybody’s mom likes me.’ [Laughs.]
How much of the drama between you all is reality TV and how much of it is the truth, because at this point I’m sure that Mama Joyce realizes reality TV is a hustle and if you’re not entertaining they’ll get rid of you. But do you worry that you all might be overdoing it a little bit for TV? Kandi: No, that’s 100 percent real. Just to give you an idea of things, my mom always does this. Last year when we weren’t even taping me and my mom were trying to go to counseling together to try to get things back on track and it didn’t have anything to do with the TV show. And even a previous person I dated before Todd over five years ago, she was going and running credit checks on him and everything – and he was never on the show [laughs]. That’s my reality whether I’m on the show or not. That’s just how it is. My mother takes being protective to the extreme.
What do you attribute that to? Kandi: My brother passed when I was 15, and then I got my record deal at 16, so it was just one of those things where my mom was protective. And she swears that everybody around me – not just my boyfriends but even my friends who I’ve been friends with forever – she swears that everybody’s out to get me and just wants something from me.
So it’s not just relationships, it’s even friendships.
How do you all keep the friction with Kandi’s mother from coming in between your relationship? Because usually one or two things can happen: It can pull you tighter together, like “us against the world.” Or it can start to divide you. Todd: I think what it’s doing is it’s pulling us together and making us tighter. My only fear if we don’t fix it is that [Kandi] may regret not spending time with her family, and then it falls on the relationship later on. In the beginning, yeah, it’s us against the world, but when you miss some of that time with your family, it can ultimately affect the relationship later. So that’s my biggest fear. That’s why I’m just so on board with trying to fix it, probably a lot more on board that I would be if I was just dating someone – because bottom line, we are engaged, we are working on trying to be married. So I’m ready to do whatever I have to do to fix it.
Have you all set a date yet? Kandi: Well, we do have a date we want to be married by, but we haven’t decided if there’s going to be a wedding or if it’s just going to be an eloping [laughs]. I just felt like who wants to have a big wedding if your mom may come or may not come. And if she does come, she may have an attitude. I don’t really want to deal with that. But on the other end, [Todd]’s like that’s not fair to him and his mom, which is true, because he’s never been married. So of course his family would want to see his big day. So that’s why we go back and forth.
I know there was some talk of pre-nups last season. Where do you all end up settling on that? Kandi: See, now you want us to tell what’s going to happen with the show. I’m just playing. We’re definitely going to do a pre-nup.
Todd: Yeah, I’m saying it, too. We’re definitely going to do a pre-nup; I ain’t done, financially.
Todd: Don’t get it twisted.
Well, obviously that word “opportunist” has been thrown around. How do you react to that when you hear that word, Todd? Todd: The crazy thing is I really don’t react to it because it doesn’t apply to me. People say ‘opportunist’ and it’s like, what opportunity am I taking from her to advance myself? I’m from the TV world; I’m not from the music world. So it’s not like she’s opening doors for me to do my next album or managing me. Moves that I make in TV, she doesn’t have those connections to pick up the phone and say, ‘Greenlight my man’s show.’ I’m out there pitching my work and doing my thing; so that opportunist word, I don’t feel like it applies at all.
What would you consider to be Todd’s greatest strength, Kandi? Kandi: He definitely knows how to make things happen. If I have an idea or a dream or something that I want to do, he knows how to put things in motion. People can say what they want about [him being an] ‘opportunist’ – and that irks the hell out of me because I definitely needed him to help make this musical happen. He didn’t even want to do this; I wanted to do it and he figured out how to put it together. This is a big production, and obviously production is his strong point because he knows how to put the crew together. He knows how to run a ship. So for me, he’s the perfect person as far as being a team.
And as far as family, I notice that every single day he’s talking to his mom all day too, so he loves his mother as much as I love mine. And most women want a man that loves his mother, because they always say if a man loves his mother he’s going to truly love you.
And the same for you, Todd – Kandi’s strengths? Kandi’s loyal, humble, and strong-minded. When she sets her mind to something, even if the shit don’t make sense, she’s going to make it happen [laughs]. This play is something that normally would’ve taken a year to produce; we’ve done it in a few months. And her thing was, “We can make anything happen, even if it’s impossible.” I really admire that about her. When she gets going, she just has that drive. If she’s on your side she’s going to ride for you. She will ride till the end.
With everything that you all do in terms of living your lives so publically, how do you keep your relationship sacred and not allow it to be cheapened by the blogs and the gossip?
Kandi: Really, it’s hard. The only way we can do that is to ignore what’s going on outside of us. I’m not going to lie to you, this year there have been some moments where I was like, I don’t know if I want to keep dealing with this [laughs].
[Todd] says it’s not a good a thing that I ignore the problem; cause I just keep it moving and say whatever other people have to say doesn’t even exist in my mind. I don’t even worry about it. But I don’t know, Todd, how do you deal with it?
Todd: I think you’re a veteran in this, so you know how to ignore it. I think I’m learning to ignore it. One thing that I’ve started to learn is that on the blogs, today it’s about you, tomorrow it’s about somebody else. You’ve gotta kinda wake up tomorrow and see that it’s all good today.
But I think the thing that keeps us going is, you know, we get home late on Thursday night, we DVR “Scandal” and we spend our quality time as a family – me, her and [Kandi’s daughter] Riley, and my daughter when she’s in town. We just continue to be who we are and do our family thing and focus on what’s real in our personal lives outside of what’s happening on that camera.
When I got to talk to you a couple of years ago, Kandi, it was right after your first season on the show and you said that you wouldn’t do the reality TV thing more than one additional season. What changed for you? I think what happened was I really saw the benefits for my business. I hate that my dirty laundry, as they say, is being aired for the world. But if, in the midst of all that you do get to see what I’m working on business-wise, then I don’t really see a reason not to do it.
With that being said, my store TAGS has grown to four stores since I first opened while the second season of Housewives was on the air. [My sex toy line] Bedroom Kandi was a huge success in the first year, and we made it an in-home party consulting group and now I have over 900 women across the country who are Bedroom Kandi consultants. So I just look at it like this show almost like an infomercial for whatever you’re doing business-wise – that’s if you actually have some business going on. Other people may just be doing it to be famous; I don’t really care about being famous. I really want to make a better future for my family.
That’s a smart way to look at it, an infomercial, I like that. Kandi: That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
Since you mentioned your sex toy line, I have to ask. Do you all experiment with the Bedroom Kandi sex toys in the bedroom? Kandi: [Laughs]. Of course. I have to test things out to make sure they’re all good for everybody else.
Todd, you’re not intimidated by the toys, man?
Todd: Naw man, it’s just some assistance, you know.
Kandi: Never would I ever want to replace my man with a toy. It’s just an addition and sometimes we spice it up and have more fun with the toys. It’s not like every single time we do it we use them. We just bring them in every now and then, you know.
So where do you all see yourselves five years down the line, personally and professionally Todd: Reality-wise, this is her thing so I’m going to ride with her as long as she wants to ride it. But family-wise, married and hopefully a little boy.
Why’d you laugh at the “boy” part Kandi? Well, because we don’t normally talk to other people about the fact that we want to have another child and that we definitely want a boy.
So y’all do keep some stuff private, huh? Kandi: Well, yeah, I don’t think I volunteer everything. If you ask me some stuff, I’ll tell you but I’m not going to volunteer everything either.
He’s right, I’ve gotten immune to being in the public eye and having everybody in your business. I don’t really think about everybody else. And it does help me that I have other friends whose lives are in the public. So when it’s crazy I can call Rasheedah and vent or say things to some of my other friends that I knw they understand. But outside of that, I just keep it pushing. I try not to let nothing get me down. Because even though earlier in the game I didn’t think I’d be doing this whole reality show thing for that long, I still think that there is a limited amount of time that anybody is going to be on reality television. So I’m just preparing myself to be ready for the time that I’m not going to be on TV.