The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City's Jen Shah on Racism, Leaving the Mormon Church & More
RHOSLC's new Housewife dishes on everything from season 1 drama to diversity in exclusive interview with E! News
There's a new city on the scene!
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City finally premieres tonight on Bravo and new Housewife Jen Shah is spilling all the scoop on the new series.
"Salt Lake City is the perfect city for The Real Housewives because No. 1 it's absolutely gorgeous. Everyone who comes here is in awe of the beauty of Salt Lake City," Shah told E! News exclusively. "But I think it's perfect because it is so unexpected. I think people are going to be shocked when they see that we are bringing the fashion of Beverly Hills, the drama of New York, we can read people just like Atlanta and Potomac. I think they are going to be shocked because they're not expecting that. And then we are also adding another layer that I don't think is really been brought to the forefront in other franchises, not only diversity but diversity within religion as well."
The businesswoman and mother said she "immediately" said yes when asked to be a part of the show, adding, "But personally too, I felt like because the show is based out of Salt Lake City that it would be important for me to be part of the show to represent some diversity and to make sure they know it's not just all blond-haired, blue-eyed girls out here in Utah, that we've got some flavor."
Shah, who is Tongan and Hawaiian, and husband Sharrieff are parents to two biracial Black sons.
"Salt Lake City now, today in 2020, we are getting more diverse, much more than 40 years ago," Shah explained. "People joke around where they're like, ‘Are there any Black people here in Salt Lake City?' and I'm like, ‘Yeah, all six of them are in my family basically.' Because it's not the norm here, especially not for Black people. There's a lot of Polynesians here, we're getting a lot of different ethnic groups, but it's definitely a culture shock I think for some people."
Shahs says growing up in Salt Lake City, people would often times mistakenly assume what race she is.
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"It was difficult just because I was different and a lot of people thought I was Black growing up because they didn't know. They just knew if you're not white, you're Black, and so that's just what they thought," she said. "Now people are obviously a little bit more educated because we do have a large Pacific Islander, Tongan population here. But yeah, a lot of times people think I'm Black and obviously my family is, so that's just usually what they think. I had to work 20 times harder than my male counterparts here, not only because of me being a minority but the religion too. That was hard. It's like if somebody could choose every single way to be different than where they're at, that's basically what I did."
Shah grew up Mormon like most people in Salt Lake City, but converted to Islam years ago because of ideological differences.
"When I was about five years into my marriage, we had our first son and it was time to start thinking about how we are going to raise him under one religion. It was important to me that we had consistency, I didn't want my son to be confused with what mommy is practicing and what dad is practicing," Shah revealed. "So I told my husband, I just assumed he would convert to Mormonism and that's when he was like, ‘Well, no because they didn't accept Black people into the Mormon church until like the late 1970s.' I initially didn't believe him because I had never heard that and I grew up in the church. So I went to do some research and asked for guidance and the questions to be answered from my bishop, my mom and nobody could really give me an answer other than, ‘That's just how it was.' And so at that time I just didn't feel comfortable. I didn't feel that I could continue subscribing to a religion that didn't accept my husband and my kids. I didn't know how to explain to them why that was the reason."
Shah says she has been on the receiving end of racism. She's also had to have difficult conversations about race with people who are more conservative and close-minded in Salt Lake City.
"Here in Utah there's a saying, ‘They're the nicest racists you'll ever meet here in Utah,' and the reason why people say that is because it's not like Alabama or down South where they will just tell you to your face, where my kids have been called the N-word to their face, where it's just right in your face like in the South," she said. "Racism is prevalent but I feel like they take it in a much more ignorant fashion where it's like, 'Oh wait, I didn't know that me saying this would be so offensive.' It's like they say it to your face but with a smile type thing. So there's been a lot of conversations. I was that mom that was running to the principal's office because I didn't appreciate someone calling my son 'chocolate boy' on the playground or just things like that where other parents didn't see the real issue with it or they thought it was harmless and it's like, 'No, it's not. It's offensive.'"
As for drama the show, Shah says her "direct" style of speaking will definitely get her into hot water with her RHOSLC co-stars this season.
"On the show I think because of my personality and I am so direct, it creates drama…I'm pretty sure I had drama with every single person on the show," she laughed. "It's a strange thing here in Utah where a lot of the girls, there's no confrontation and they will have an issue with people but they're like, 'Oh my gosh, hi! How are you? You look so cute.' And then behind your back they're like, 'Oh my gosh, I hate her. I can't believe she did this.' And I am like the opposite personality.
The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City premieres tonight at 10 p.m. on Bravo! Scroll down to meet the rest of the RHOSLC cast.
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Born in New York, Lisa Barlow has been living in Utah for over 20 years. As the owner of a marketing company and various tequila brands, she considers herself "Mormon 2.0" as she is not one to adhere to all of the traditional and strict Mormon rules. Lisa attended BYU with Heather and has been best friends with Meredith for years. Married to her husband John with two children, she seemingly has it all, but struggles with her quest for perfection when her unrealistic standards start impacting her friendships.
With a penchant for God, couture and only the finest champagne, Mary Cosby is a Pentecostal First Lady who inherited her family's empire of churches, restaurants and more. The caveat in her taking over the family business was that she marry her late grandmother's second husband, Robert Cosby Sr. They have since been married for 20 years and have one teenage son together. Small but mighty and always dressed to the nines, her unconventional past has made her guarded and she quickly finds herself on shaky ground with some of the ladies.
A devout Mormon from birth, Heather Gay was married to Mormon royalty for 11 years, but has distanced herself from the church after her divorce. A self-proclaimed ‘good Mormon gone bad,' she now considers herself "Mormon-ish" as she plays by her own rules. A devoted mother to three daughters, she owns a burgeoning Med-Spa business, Beauty Lab and Laser where the ladies often frequent. As she embarks on the next chapter of her life, Heather is on a journey of self-discovery as she finds her voice and looks for love again.
Meredith Marks is a celebrity jewelry designer with a store on Main Street in Park City. Jewish and married for over 25 years, Meredith and her husband Seth have hit a rough patch and with their kids in college, she is faced with being an empty nester for the first time in her life. An ice queen with a knack for partying, Meredith is often out on the social circle alongside Jen and Lisa, who love to buy her jewelry – even the rings off her fingers. Meredith appears to have it all but when rumors begin to swirl, she must decide if she wants to turn to her girlfriends for support or suffer in silence.
A descendant of "Mormon Royalty," Whitney Rose has been trying her best to navigate life outside of the religion for over a decade. She left the church after she fell madly in love with her boss, Justin, and the two had an affair. Within weeks, they both left their spouses to be with each other and got married when Whitney found out she was pregnant. Married for 10 years, they have two children – Bobbi and Brooks – and she owns a skin care line called Iris and Beau. Now, she is faced with parenting her father who is dealing with his own struggles and depends on her for everything. And just when it seems like society is finally beginning to accept her 10-year-marriage, scandalous rumors about her progressive relationship start to swirl.
As a Tongan and Hawaiian growing up in Salt Lake City, Jen Shah felt like she often stuck out in her traditionally white, Mormon world. When she learned about the historical mistreatment of black people in the Mormon religion, she converted from Mormonism to Islam. A mom of two with her husband, Sharrieff, Jen is the queen of her house and her businesses as the CEO of three marketing companies. Always decked out in designer brands, Jen loves to host parties and spares no expense – it's important to her that everyone knows she is the best host in Utah. With an extravagant personality and sharp tongue, she can go from 0 to 100 very quickly, but usually comes back with apologies and love. But it's not always fun and games for Jen with this group of women when she quickly finds herself at the center of the drama.
(E! and Bravo are both part of the NBCUniversal family)
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