Alexis Bellino is not your typical reality star. She and her husband Jim attend church with the children weekly and pray together as a family at meals and bedtime.
While both were previously married, they seem determined to do it right the second time around and if the whole world happens to be watching as they try, well, chalk that up to America’s voracious appetite for reality programming.
Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise is big business as former OC Housewife Jeana Keough (who has a new reality weight loss show premiering on Bravo in September), knows well. But whether it’s conducive to keeping a marriage strong is another story. “I know it was very hard on my family the first couple of years,” she says. “They got caught saying things they regretted and I know the show was hard on my marriage. Having troubled times air on TV cost my husband his job.”
Since it was Keough who introduced Alexis to the producers of RHOC, we asked Keough how she thinks the newest housewife is handling family life in the fish bowl. “Well, she has three little kids so it’s difficult. But when her husband told her to keep her voice down because people were staring at her, a lot of women wanted to jump through the TV and slap him. When you’re trying to control three little kids all day you forget how to talk to adults sometimes. And besides,” she adds wryly, “People weren’t staring at her because of her voice.”
And sure enough as the Bellinos welcome Parenting OC into their home, the photographer and aides do stare — but at the whole picture. To the left is a dining table set with ornate Versace plates. Pictures of the children and wedding photos adorn the walls and a black concert grand piano peeks out from behind an alcove, but before I can ask who plays, three children come whizzing by. We are introduced to 4-year-old son, James, and daughters Melania and Mackenna, both 2-and-a-half years old. It seems much of Melania’s pasta lunch has ended up in her hair. She’s oblivious as any toddler would be to the fact that the cameras are here to take her picture and that the Alfredo sauce presents a problem. Dad, however, notices right away and requests that the baby sitter clean up Melania’s hair, and one senses that in this household there is never a dull moment.
As Alexis prepares upstairs we learn that Jim has a degree in theology and a new hotel, the Lofts at Laguna Beach, a collection of 14 themed suites, opening this month. While the entrepreneur is also developing lower-end housing (a relative term in OC) he finds himself less involved in real estate since the market has turned. It’s also clear that his main focus is not business so much as keeping his marriage strong, and one can’t help but be impressed by an earnestness that is endearing. But today Alexis is the main feature, and as she descends the staircase the questions begin:
Parenting OC: How do you stay grounded and continue to be true to yourself when your life has changed so much in the last year?
Alexis Bellino: I think having a strong faith base helps. We don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk too. For me, I feel having that stability, that faith life, and having a really good marriage is important. And James will let me know if I’m getting too full of myself. My biggest dilemma is trying to manage the time. Making sure that the children aren’t suffering or getting left with other moms more than they were before.
POC: How do you do it?
AB: I make sure each child gets one-on-one time with me. The girls have their gym class that they go to, and I take them to that. I take my son to school and pick him up, and we’ll have an hour of mommy time at the park. For two-and-a-half months now it’s been no nannies; it’s just been me and a couple of baby sitters making it happen.
POC: Is it a madhouse when you pick up your son from school or does everyone pretend not to notice you?
AB: No, it’s actually very normal. At the places that my husband and I frequent, they make it a point to try to keep everything normal, like I’m just a mom. Sometimes I feel someone looking at me out of the corner of their eye or I’ll hear someone whisper something, but not much.
POC: Do you worry about what others say?
AB: Well my husband’s mother used to say “It’s none of your business what other people say about you.” So I try to remember that.
POC: I know you were friends with RHOC cast member, Jeana Keough, and that’s how you were introduced to the producers. Are you still friends?
AB: Yes we are. Our lives have taken different routes now. I’d assumed she’d be on the show with me, but she’s got a whole new opportunity that has come up for her which I can’t discuss, so we don’t see each other as much. But she’s a very sweet lady.
POC: What’s a typical shooting day like? How do the kids like having the cameras around?
AB: Well, the first couple of times we’d be right in the middle of shooting and James would stop and look straight at the camera and say “Mommy, that’s a really big camera!” So the producers laugh and then everybody has to regroup. It’s supposed to be reality so when we’re reminded that the cameras are there, it throws everybody off.
POC: How many cameras do they bring in?
AB: Usually one larger camera and a smaller one that’s off to the side to get everybody’s reaction. They mic the adults in the house, but they only put a microphone on my son, James, once. The kids are always there in the background though.
POC: I interviewed the poker great, Annie Duke, recently about the final episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” last year when she came in second to Joan Rivers, who called Duke some vile names on television. Duke said she allowed her children to watch and tried to use it as a learning experience. Do your children ever watch RHOC and do they understand when someone’s not being nice to Mommy?
AB: Someone’s always going to have something to say
AB: They’ve been extremely supportive and they pray for us often to give us the strength and wisdom to make the right decisions, something you need when you’re under the spotlight of a reality show. But they’ve never told us we shouldn’t be doing it. I’m sure there are some people who don’t agree with it; but this is our life that we’ve chosen and we’re living our life to the best of our abilities within that framework of being on a reality show.
POC: I would imagine being on the series has to have changed your family some, no?
AB: We’re trying our hardest to keep it from changing us. We want to still be the same Bellinos that everyone knew before. But I’m open to anyone who thinks otherwise. If someone wants to give me advice or constructive criticism, I’m open to it. It doesn’t upset me.
POC: Has there ever been a time this year when you’ve regretted the decision to do this?
AB: It’s been a positive experience so far. I just try to keep my head held high with all the negativity and scrutiny that comes from it and move forward.
POC: But isn’t that the whole point of reality TV: To sit back imperiously and judge others?
AB: Wow, I never thought of it that way, but maybe you’re right. My husband and I have always loved reality TV because it’s just light entertainment. You don’t have to worry about following a story line or missing an episode. The reason I always caught myself being swept in is because I always found one person I could relate to, who was maybe facing the same obstacles that were occurring in my life at the time. So I felt like I’m not alone. Reality TV is relatable to people.
POC: Three of The New York Housewives were on the cover of US Weekly recently. Which of those women do you relate to?
AB: Alex and Simon have a very strong relationship and they have two young children they’re trying to raise all while trying to juggle the reality show. I can relate to the fact that it’s not always easy, and the children don’t always behave the way you’d like them to, but that’s life.
POC: Are your children’s classmates aware of the show?
AB: My older son James has never come home and said that anyone has mentioned the show.
POC: Even in Newport Beach the Great Recession is affecting people. How has it affected your family?
AB: We’ve all been affected. My family has definitely felt it. Some of the things we’ve done include cutting back on the number of vacations we’ll go on this summer. Instead of doing two or three big things, we’re just going to take one summer vacation. We’re also cutting back on our spending. If the credit card bills get out of line, we’re like, ‘Okay, got to cut back next month; we were a little crazy this month.’ We’ve now got three children going to preschool and instead of three days a week we’re going to send them two days a week.
POC: Are you allowed to talk about the monetary compensation for the show?
AB: No, I’m not.
POC: Is it fair to say it’s enough to make it worth your while?
AB: I don’t think anybody would do this if there weren’t a monetary benefit to it. You don’t just open up your life to the world if there isn’t some compensation.
POC: What would your advice be to any woman who wanted to get onto the show?
AB: I would say you have to be ready for everything from your past to come out and that’s hard because at 20 you weren’t the same person you are at 35.
POC: Have you become more thick-skinned because of it?
AB: Yes. I was always a very sensitive person but now I realize, hey, I can’t change the way people are going to view me. And I’m not ready to change my life for somebody else. I have to live my life for me; so it’s difficult sometimes. You have to take it in stride.
POC: Have any of the girls from the show said anything that you felt was out of line, that really hurt you?
AB: Well, I thought that a couple of those people were genuinely my friends, but then after the season unfolded I realized they consider friendship to be something different than I do. After seeing how they talked behind my back now I know what’s in store for me.
POC: Again, aren’t the producers partly to blame for the backstabbing and catfights? Isn’t that what they’re hoping for?
AB: That’s a huge misconception. There’s no staging going on and the minute the producers think anything is rehearsed or ‘acted’ they’re the first to tell you, ‘Hey, this is reality TV, you can’t direct each other or tell each other how to act.’ The fights are real and the drama is real. Sure it gets elevated because the cameras are on, and you feel an internal pressure to make sure that your point is heard. But the predicaments that happen, whether it’s a house getting foreclosed on or anything else, is all 100 percent real.
POC: Are there rules when it comes to shooting around James, Melania and Mackenna?
AB: My two younger children don’t have the vocabulary yet to tell me if they’re tired, but if I sense that things are getting out of hand with them, then I’ll say, okay, that’s enough. But for the most part the cameras just come along for our regular activities like going to the park or shopping, or the Balboa Bay Club, though it doesn’t all air.
POC: The Bay Club is a great place for kids isn’t it?
AB: In the summer it’s our hang out. The kids can swim in the kiddie pool or we can take them over to the big pool and a lot of our friends are there with their young children so it’s always a great, safe time with people, you know.
POC: You make it clear that being a good wife is one of your top priorities. Is Jim a good husband?
AB: He’s an amazing husband. We have a relationship that some people may not understand; I don’t want to say a ‘closed’ relationship, but we have rules that we’ve established in our marriage because we don’t want to jeopardize any part of our family in any way, shape or form.
POC: Can you tell us some of the rules?
AB: Sure. We don’t do Girls Night Out or Guys Night Out. We might go to a birthday dinner or something, but we’re home by 9 or 10. Once the late crowd starts coming out, we just don’t put ourselves in that predicament. We don’t go to bars or nightclubs without the other spouse. We have open access to cell phones and e-mails in that there are no passwords. And that’s not because we don’t trust each other, it’s because we have nothing to hide.
POC: Ideally, your spouse is supposed to be your best friend; so who you want to hang out with any way, right?
AB: Well, exactly. But I got attacked for that last week by someone who said we had a ‘controlling relationship.’ I just laugh at that, because in the middle of the day, when I’ve been bombarded and I finally get 10 or 20 minutes where I can make a phone call, the first person I want to call is my husband. It’s not my girlfriends; it’s my husband.
POC: Pretty rare for this area‚ ‘those sentiments‚’ but a good idea when you consider 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.
AB: That’s our philosophy. And divorce is not an option, no matter how bad the fight gets or how angry you are at the other spouse. It’s just not an option.
POC: With this kind of experience, your children should be able to navigate the whole world of reality television very well when they’re older should they wish to be involved. Is it something you’d encourage or discourage?
AB: I’m years from that happening, but at this point I don’t see anything wrong with it, as long as they’re passionate about it and as long as they’re good kids who have stuck to our rules. I don’t think it would be a problem.
POC: Your show is a guilty pleasure for a lot of women. What’s your favorite guilty pleasure?
AB: (giggles) Oh gosh, I’m so bad! I like all those reality shows! I like “True Beauty,” even “Tool Academy.” I don’t know why. I’m a reality show junkie.
POC: So reality shows aren’t so much a coarsening of culture as just good, plain fun?
AB: I hope so, and I want everyone to know that the other women on these reality shows, they’re not bad people. They’re really not. I don’t think any of them have a malicious heart where they want to be negative or hurtful. I think they just get caught up in the heat of the moment and they don’t realize the repercussions sometimes.