Here comes the Countess: Luann talks ‘Real Housewives’ and her cabaret show, coming to Foxwoods
When Luann de Lesseps comes to Connecticut to perform her cabaret show at Foxwoods on Saturday, it will be a return to her home state.
The woman who’s famous as the Countess from “Real Housewives of New York City” grew up in Berlin, Connecticut, and she comes back to the state often to see her mother.
“I was just in Connecticut,” she says in a phone interview Monday. “My mother lives in Cromwell, and she’s 94. She’s amazing. She still drives and gets her hair done.”
De Lesseps is coming to Foxwoods from Boston, where she has a show the night before.
Asked if she visits any local haunts while at Foxwoods (where she has performed in the past), she says, “My local haunt is probably to play blackjack after the show.”
“I grew up with a big family, one of seven children. … We used to play cards as kids, and I played with my brothers for a quarter, and we played blackjack, so I love it.”
How often does she win?
“Well, you know, I like to go in with a certain amount of money and say, ‘OK, when that’s gone, you’re done.’ Sometimes I win. Sometimes I break even. Sometimes I lose. It’s the luck of the draw,” she says.
A lot has happened between de Lesseps’ younger years in Berlin and her being at Foxwoods to perform a show featuring her singing numbers like “Money Can’t Buy You Class” and “Feelin’ Jovani” and doing comic segments about her life.
“I sing a song in the show, ‘Dreams’ from Stevie Nicks, because I always dreamed of a bigger life — I just didn’t know where that was going to take me. Obviously, I couldn’t have dreamed of living in Milan and marrying a French aristocrat (Count Alexandre de Lesseps from 1993 to 2009), and living in Switzerland and having the life I’ve gotten,” she says.
De Lesseps was a nurse early on and, when she was competing in the Miss Connecticut pageant, was noticed by a model scout. She moved to New York City to model and then went overseas. She ended up working in television in Italy before eventually returning to the States and joining the initial cast of “Real Housewives of New York City” in 2008.
De Lesseps became a “RHONY” star, and the show opened up a lot of opportunities for her — including the chance to develop her own cabaret show, which she debuted in 2017.
De Lesseps saw a niche she could fill in the world of cabaret.
“I’ve always had a love of music. I recorded a couple songs, I did a couple of covers, ‘Dreams’ was one of them. So I always had a love of singing. I’ll be the first one to sing at a dinner party. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities doing that because people are like, ‘Wow, you’re so fun’ because I have such a good time with singing. It’s not like I take myself too seriously — I think that’s what makes a difference. I recorded a couple songs previously. I’ve sung on ‘Housewives’ a couple of times, just ‘Happy Birthday’ and stuff like that,” she says.
She thought cabaret would be ideal for her because she could incorporate comedy — she says she loves to tell jokes — as well as singing.
“I had a director in New York that I was told about that wanted to do something like this with me, and I got married. I got divorced. I was just embroiled in other things, and I never followed up. Then, one day after I got divorced, I said, ‘You know, I’m going to follow up with this guy in cabaret.’ And we made the show. I write the show. Every song I sing is one that I’ve picked,” de Lesseps says.
She has a new director for her cabaret act who has worked with Kristin Chenoweth and Barbra Streisand. When he saw de Lesseps’ show, she says, he told her, “‘Oh, my God, Countess, I was coming here not expecting very much from you, but you blew my mind. You were dressed like nobody I’ve ever seen, you can sing and you’re funny.’ He said, ‘I’m going to find you an agent.’ And there we go, and then I was off on the Live Nation tour.”
She says she loves cabaret because it’s very personal.
De Lesseps also does a Q&A with the audience, and she says of performing in front of a live crowd, “What I love is people are so there for me and supportive and just love me. I always say, if I fall on my face, they think, ‘Oh, Countess, that was so elegant, the way you fell.’ Like I fall into the bush (on ‘Housewives’), and they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, that was so much fun.’ That’s how I roll — I try to laugh at myself. Part of my show is self-deprecation. For example, I show a video in the show of every terrible thing that happened to me in my past — every one of them, every headline, everything. And then I sing a song about it. … You have to take those terrible moments and turn them into something good. Hopefully in life, if you screw up, you recognize you screwed up and you just go move on and keep on walking.”
For those not familiar with “RHONY” history, the terrible moments in de Lesseps’ past include: She was arrested in Palm Beach in 2017 after being discovered intoxicated in a hotel room that wasn’t hers. She ended up entering an alcohol treatment program.
More drama happened the year before; in December of 2016, she wed Tom D’Agostino Jr., against the advice of some of her “Housewives” castmates, who had heard rumors of his cheating. By the following August, they were divorcing.
Spreading joy around
Fans who go to Foxwoods will see de Lesseps’ full cabaret act, something they don’t by watching “RHONY.”
Because the TV series would have to pay for the music rights of the tunes she performs, it doesn’t feature much of her singing.
“They only show the talking part and the drama of the girls coming backstage and I’m getting ready and I’m like, ‘Get the hell out of my dressing room.’ So the show doesn’t fairly (reflect) what I do in cabaret,” she says.
When fans come to the live performances, she says, they are shocked by how good it is.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to spread, like, joy around,” she says.
What’s next for the Countess
“RHONY” is being entirely recast for its next season, but there’s a spinoff called “Legacy.” Discussing the latter show, de Lesseps says, “We’re working on contracts right now, so it looks like that’s going to be happening this spring. But I can’t really say officially because we’re still working on it. But yeah, it looks like that’s going to happen. So I’m excited about that.”
Coming up this summer is the series she shot with fellow “RHONY” castmate Sonja Morgan. “Luann and Sonja: Welcome to Crappie Lake” was filmed in southern Illinois.
“It’s kind of like ‘Schitt’s Creek’ meets ‘The Simple Life,’” she says.
“We go into this town to really lift the spirits and bring our know-how to building a community back after what we’ve all been through. We’re doing good, and at the same time, there’s a lot of great comedy in it,” she says.
Quick takes with Luann about ‘Housewives’
What questions does she get asked the most by fans?
“How much is it scripted? How much of it is reality? What is Ramona really like? I say she’s just like she is on television.”
How much IS “Housewives” scripted?
“It’s not scripted. It’s a highly produced, edited television show. But when we get into a situation like we go on a trip, I mean, that’s just what happens.”
Some actors say they can’t stand to see themselves on screen. All the “Housewives“ have to view their show so they can respond to what happens on the episode. What is it like for de Lesseps to watch herself?
“I can’t stand it. … I watch what I need to and kind of go from there. …. There’s always something where you say, ‘I wore that?’ or ‘I said that?’ Listen, we’re not perfect. We just do what we do. There’s always room for times where you go, ‘Oh, geez, I wish I didn’t say that.’ But it’s done, and what’s done is done.”
If you go
Who: Luann de Lesseps
What: “Countess Cabaret”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Great Cedar Showroom, Foxwoods