The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
At the beginning of The Real Housewives of New York City’s 12th season, the posh socialites found themselves at something of a crossroads. With the departure of Bethenny Frankel, does the show focus less on the career arcs of some of New York City’s most remarkable businesswomen, or do they continue with the Golden Girls-esque hijinks that had started to creep into the franchise earlier as each cast member got divorced after decades long marriages and had to figure out sailing the ship of society alone?
Turns out the folks at Bravo TV who air this storied show went with a bit of both, and the 12th Season ended this past week on an unusual note. Just as it appeared that they would end on the usual upbeat note at Sonja Morgan’s charity party for GLAAD, where Eurovision 2013 co-songwriter Desmond Child (who co-wrote “Believe in Me” for Bonnie Tyler and the United Kingdom alongside two-thirds of famous songwriting team The Matrix) had written a song for RHONY cast member Luann de Lesseps to perform, fellow cast member Dorinda Medley stormed off in a rage after newbie Leah McSweeney mentioned the recently moved to Chicago cast member Tinsley Mortimer.
In a way, this a metaphor for Eurovision as long-time head Jon Ola Sand departs and has been replaced by Swedish TV producer and espionage novelist Martin Österdahl. Do we continue with the drunken antics of Dorinda Medley, or do we wish her well (as they did in real life as Bravo announced that Medley would be leaving the show by “mutual consent”) and aim for some slick professionalism? What does RHONY look like under a Melodifestivalen model that Österdahl has perfected over the years to some criticism? Or could Eurovision learn from how the Real Housewives franchises have evolved over the years to stay relevant?
We’ll discuss this point shortly but first, the point of this article is that legendary songwriter and producer Desmond Child (Eurovision 2013, “Believe in Me”) wrote and debuted a song for Luann de Lesseps called “Viva La Diva,” so lets get the details of the song and performer and songwriter out of the way.
Now, ESC United has already done a profile of Desmond Child, so if you want to read about his Cuban upbringing in Miami, his writing hit songs for the likes of Kiss, Bon Jovi, and Ricky Martin, and ultimately how he ended up writing for Bonnie Tyler’s entry for the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2013, you can read about that HERE.
Additionally, this is not the first tango involving The Real Housewives and Eurovision. You can read about how Bryan Todd wrote songs for two cast members of The Real Housewives of Orange County and his writing a song for Slovakia’s 2011 entrants Twiins HERE.
And lastly, Xscape’s “The Arms of the One who loves you” was written by none other than Diane Warren, who co-wrote “It’s My Time” by Jade Ewen, the 2nd best British entry of the 21st Century. One of Xscape’s members is The Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Kandi Buruss, who also co-wrote TLC’s “No Scrubs,” one of the biggest pop songs of the 1990s. Warren and Child would collaborate on several songs, including Cher’s “Just like Jesse James” and Ratt’s “Detonator.” ESC United writes about Warren at least once a year due to her legend status, being involved with more than one rabid fanbase, and her being the Susan Lucci of the Grammy Awards.
As a side note, I also wrote a speculative piece about sending Boy George to Eurovision 2020, only because his label was Universal Music Group (to whom the BBC farmed out their internal selection) but he is also managed by the husband of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’s cast member Dorit Kemsley. Evidently the BBC wanted to go with something hip and modern in James Newman, and I agreed with the choice on ESC United’s “Expert” Panel wholeheartedly and forgot about this. You can read the speculative RHOBH and Boy George nonsense HERE. And it was another article wherein I praise future legend Alen Chicco.
I will again mention the New York art drag scene that Alen Chicco heavily references in his superb Nacionalinė Eurovizijos atranka 2019 entry “Your Cure.” If Dorinda Medley can bring Caroline Stanbury’s make-up artist Luke to RHONY after Stanbury left Ladies of London (Bravo’s London based version The Real Housewives), then the RHONY can bring Chicco as well. Not to mention, ESC United also did a profile on Chicco’s NYC born choreographer Matthew Dane Livingston.
Okay, so after pointing out that ESC United is a one stop Real Housewives and Eurovision shop, back to the point of this piece in that Bonnie Tyler’s songwriter Desmond Child was a prominent part of RHONY’s Season 12 Finale.
Born May 17, 1965 in Berlin, Connecticut, Luann Nadeau grew up some distance from any social circles that would contain any Europeans with the title of Countess. One of seven children, and allegedly having Algonquin and French-Canadian heritage, Nadeau was a practicing Licensed Practical Nurse.
But she was also doing modelling work for the Wilhelmina Agency, and it was as a model and hanging out at the right parties that she met her first husband, Count Alexandre de Lesseps. How he got his title and where’s it’s from, I don’t know. We’re ESC United, not Burke’s Peerage. History buffs may recognize the de Lesseps name, as Alexandre’s ancestor Ferdinand de Lesseps was the French diplomat who pushed through the Suez Canal and was an early investor on the Panama Canal. The current Count is a successful entrepreneur himself, and with Luann he had two children (Noel and Victoria, with the latter’s entry into the art world documented on several episodes of RHONY).
Now known as the Countess, de Lesseps was a prominent figure in New York City society circles, and was considered both well-connected and eccentric enough to be one of the first on Bravo’s minds when looking to cast for a spin-off of their ratings bonanza The Real Housewives of Orange County. Andy Cohen and company had sought out an “old money” location such as New York City or Miami as a contrast to the “gauche” nouveau-riche ladies of RHOC.
As such, RHONY has a much different dynamic than RHOC, with new money vs. old money conflicts as society types consistently mock the work ethic of Jewish working class entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel, who was just launching her Skinny Girl brand. Both new money and old money and their interactions are skewered, from Ramona Singer’s reptilian focus on climbing the social ladder for the former and some of the later European “aristocracy” featured on the show being shown up as a bunch of depraved EuroTrash imbeciles and low rent grifters.
Debuting on March 4, 2008, RHONY was another ratings hit for Bravo. However, it did not take long for the Real Housewives curse to strike the Countess – she and Alexandre divorced on April 11, 2009, allegedly over his infidelity with the descendant of an Ethiopian monarch. The Countess took it all in stride, and released a book, Class with the Countess: How to Live with Elegance and Flair, was released five days later.
The overall sentiment of the book was then translated into her very first song. As she told the AV Club in 2010, “My book [Class with the Countess] is about my journey in life and how I learned to be elegant. I translated that into song, so I talk about how money can’t buy you class, but elegance can be learned.”
And thus, the infamous “Money Can’t Buy You Class” was born.
Lyrically, it’s a fair representation of RHONY’s major themes. And for the Countess herself, it is a middle finger to those who made fun of a backwoods Connecticut woman becoming a Countess. As a vocalist, let’s just say that she has limitations. The verses are mostly spoken word in her distinctive smokey voice, while the sung chorus has Auto-Tune set to “Cylon.” Slapped over a bang average dance track, “Money Can’t Buy You Class” was a critical bomb.
Many more Real Housewives songs have come and gone, but to date “Money Can’t Buy You Class” has, at least to iTunes metrics, been the 2nd most commercially successful Housewives song to date. The somehow even worse “Don’t be Tardy for the Party” by RHOA cast member Kim Zolciak is arguably the biggest Housewives single of all time.
One beneficiary of “Money Can’t Buy You Class” is none other than producer Chris Young, whom de Lesseps met in a Manhattan nightclub. After this, Young was inundated with offers to producer work by top shelf artists, including the likes of punk legends The Ramones.
He was also heavily rumored at the time to be doing work on Azerbaijan’s entry for Eurovision 2010. Despite there being documented radio appearances in Baku, Azerbaijan, it does not appear Young ended up doing anything for Azerbaijan’s eventual entry, Safura’s “Drip Drop.” If anyone knows if he did anything for the entry, and he kept quiet due to a non-disclosure agreement, drop us a line.
Young produced de Lessep’s second single, “Chic, C’est La Vie.” Not much of a departure from her debut single, except the Auto-tune is thankfully not as obvious.
Meanwhile, in 2012, Desmond Child had dinner with Bonnie Tyler in Nashville, Tennessee, and he had several songs for her to consider for her upcoming album. Child had previously written songs for Tyler, including “If you were a woman (and I was a man).”
As Tyler told BBC Radio One in 2013, “When I got to Nashville, I was looking for songs around the publishers, and got in touch with Desmond and he said “come up for dinner tomorrow night and I’ll give you some songs.” He’d already recorded some of these demos, but I said “I really love these two songs.” And he said “But “Believe in Me” isn’t finished yet. I tell you what, come back up for dinner tomorrow night and I’ll finish writing it then,” which is what he did. I’ll never forget that night, we got there and Bob Ezrin was there, the producer of The Wall for Pink Floyd. After dinner [Child] wrote the second verse.”
Bonnie Tyler ended up being internally selected by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision 2013 in Malmo, Sweden. Though British legend Engelbert Humperdinck did not exactly light up Baku, Azerbaijan with “Love will set you free,” the BBC returned to another legendary British artist who had crushed America in the 1970s and 1980s. And this time, Tyler already had a song in mind in “Believe in Me.”
Sadly, the song itself was criticized despite Child’s pedigree of Number 1 hits across three decades. Johnny Logan himself told the BBC, “I think Bonnie’s great. I don’t think the song was strong enough. If you had the right song, if you had a “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” Bonnie’s the right girl for it. But I never felt the song was strong enough. If you’re going to win Eurovision, to go through some of the incredible voting I’ve noticed over the last few years, you have to have something that’s going to stand out above everything else. Otherwise you’re just going to hope to pick up 10 or 11 votes.”
As such, Tyler finished in 19th place. Though for those who sneer, remember that 19th is the United Kingdom’s 4th best placing in the past decade.
At the start of the RHONY Season 12 finale, by which time the Countess was no longer a Countess after marrying supermarket coupon magnate Tom D’Agostino in 2016, had a drunken run-in with Florida Police, divorced D’Agostino within a year, and started a career doing a nationwide cabaret tour, we learn that Luann has a new song called “Viva La Diva.”
Now what does “Viva La Diva?” bring to mind?
Now to be clear, “Viva la Diva” is not a rip-off of “Diva,” though lyrically it surely contains at least an homage. It is impossible that Child, a well-known LGBT musician and producer, is unaware of Dana International and her historic win at Eurovision 1998.
Though upon review, with the retro-disco feel Child is going with on “Viva La Diva,” the Eurovision artist this song bests approximates in spirit and sound is Serhat’s Eurovision 2016 cult hit “I Didn’t Know.”
And to date, Kirkorov’s take has got to be the best cover of “Diva.”
Luann performs “Viva La Diva” at a drag bingo fundraiser being hosted by RHONY cast member Sonja Morgan. The Season 12 finales begins with Luann recording “Viva La Diva” at Desmond Child’s studio, with him present, and the finale is capped off by a performance. Of course, Luann tells everyone she runs into that it was written and performed with Desmond Child, also name dropping Ricky Martin and Bon Jovi constantly. The idea is, she now believes she is in the same league as them. I’m sure Child put in a good faith effort to pair her with an appropriate song, but to have been a fly on the wall when Child was first presented with this assignment!
As Eurovision is currently at a crossroads now that we are moving into the Osterdahl era from the Sand era, RHONY finds itself at one too. This season, a lot of drunken escapades happened. New cast member Leah McSweeney, while topless, went on a drunken rampage on Ramona Singer’s lawn, throwing tiki torches. As a statement against the tiki torch wielding alt-right goons who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, this will certainly be the most entertaining.
But for a franchise famed for drunken shenanigans, it seems like the producers have had enough. Luann herself was in rehab after her drunken brawl with law enforcement, Leah repented to her mother over the damage her alcohol abuse has caused, and this year many cast members have expressed concern over seven season veteran Dorinda Medley’s drinking and the resulting outbursts. Bravo has gotten many laughs over the drunken hijinks, but with several instances this season of the drinking veering down dark roads, the viewer gets the sense that next season we’ll be getting a change in tone.
This finale does something that not many in past seasons and other franchises have done. After the usual end credit comments showing what each cast member got up to between the season finale and the reunion – to be shown the next week – we cut back to the party. McSweeney casually mentions Tinsley Mortimer, who left the show mid-season to move to Chicago, and Medley overhears it and charges in and begins to shout insults at everyone present.
It’s an undignified end to a franchise favorite, and you feel sorry for Medley as you get the sense she never really got over the untimely death of her husband Richard ten years ago. It was announced before the season finale that Medley had left RHONY, and that bit at the end of the finale certainly shows why.
One of the best moments of Dorinda’s time at RHONY is when she heckles “Jovani!” constantly at de Lesseps during her cabaret show, expressing irritation that de Lesseps did not acknowledge that Dorinda had introduced de Lesseps to the designer and brand. An even better moment is when de Lesseps turns the heckle into a song to make light of the moment.
Hopefully whatever direction Dorinda goes in, she finally gets the healing she needs. And after that dark moment, we as Real Housewives fans aren’t so gleeful to see drunken antics, especially since the hijinks lead down some dark roads and have nasty consequences. How Bravo navigates this change, whether it’s with the introduction of a newer more-career oriented cast member, or the rehabilitation of an old out of control cast member, it will be a sober new world order especially since they, like all fans, have to deal with the fall out from a certain worldwide virus.
And as we end Sand’s tenure in charge of Eurovision, which has seen a tremendous improvement in overall quality from a camp-dominated schtick festival of the 2000s to a professional, slick and modern contest, let us hope Osterdahl pleasantly surprises us and continues to take Eurovision to a brighter future, and not take it to a processed and bland Melodifestivalen type show that many fans are fearing.
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