Trump’s America is all about second chances. Not, of course, for refugees or DREAMers, but for failed screenwriters, underqualified sons-in-law, and former reality-TV stars. Omarosa Manigault, of The Apprentice and TV Guide’s 2008 list of Top Ten Reality-TV Villains fame, was recently cast in her most demanding (and confusing) role yet: White House staffer.
Reality television is known for its two-dimensional characters—as in, we literally only know two things about them. Whitney Port worked at Teen Vogue and wasn’t Lauren Conrad. Aviva Drescher has a prosthetic leg and makes for good GIFs. Nick Viall cries a lot and still believes in true love. By contrast, Omarosa is the rare recurring cast member who can’t be reduced to a standard edit or a cogent plot line. She is a former Democrat who worked in the Clinton White House for two years, during which she cycled through four different positions (according to co-workers, she was “disruptive” and irreparably bad at her job). She is a staple of Donald Trump’s Apprentice empire, having been personally fired by the future president three times. She’s called Don Lemon a “queen” and poured a glass of wine on Piers Morgan’s head, but she’s also raised $40,000 on the Apprentice for the Sue Duncan Children’s Center. She’s a diehard Christian, born-again Trump supporter who was tweeting her support for Hillary Clinton as recently as April 2015. Two years later, she’s the president’s third-favorite black friend (after Ben Carson and Frederick Douglass), and just married a pastor at the Trump International Hotel.
You can take the girl out of the boardroom, but you can’t take the reality TV out of the girl. After all, Manigault is something of a reality-TV junkie. Six years after she first debuted on The Apprentice, Manigault teamed up with her former co-star Donald Trump for The Ultimate Merger, a show that pitted rich men against poor contestants in a televised bid to earn Omarosa’s affection. After one unsuccessful season, the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas-based production called it quits. So it’s only fitting that Manigault has finally found love on a Trump property. Unfortunately, Omarosa didn’t sign up for the full Kim K wedding treatment, forcing devoted fans to scour the web for primary-source accounts of her special day. The Instagrams, tweets, and testimonials don’t disappoint.
Manigault and her soon-to-be husband John Allen Newman were joined by around 150 guests, including Kellyanne Conway and Real Housewives of Atlanta star Phaedra Parks. At the cherry-blossom-themed wedding, Omarosa pledged to take her husband “for richer or for richer”—Get it? Because she loves money—before jetting off to Italy for her honeymoon.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a reality-TV star’s wedding without some sponsored swag. According to White House financial disclosures, Manigault’s pink wedding ensemble—valued at $25,000—was gifted to her in return for an appearance on TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress.
For those of you who don’t channel surf on weekday afternoons, Say Yes to the Dress is a reality-TV show that pairs employees at NYC’s Kleinfeld Bridal with television-friendly bridezillas. Prerequisites for appearing on the show seem to include signing a release form, having a sassy wedding party, and trying on at least one Pnina Tornai. Currently in its 15th season, Say Yes to the Dress is the mermaid cut of reality-TV shows: It may not be new or trendy, but the universal appeal is undeniable.
In agreeing to make an ethically murky exchange in return for some TLC exposure and a free wedding dress, Manigault proved once again that she’s a perfect fit for team Trump. And in a similarly on-brand bit of synergy, Omarosa’s episode of Say Yes to the Dress aired over her wedding weekend, gifting America with some rare insight into the pre-nuptial proceedings. Unfortunately, Manigault seemed to get cold feet in the lead-up to her TLC appearance, and canceled a Daily Show appearance to promote the episode. Luckily for the rest of us, while Omarosa could pull the plug on her publicity tour, she couldn’t very well tell TLC not to air her episode, as that would require her to buy her own wedding dress.
Episode 5 of Season 15 of Say Yes to the Dress is neither a premiere nor a finale. Even more insultingly, the episode culminates in the nuptials of a couple who say “I do” underwater. That’s right: Omarosa Manigault, one of reality TV’s most outlandish villains, was out-crazied by a scuba-obsessed bride on a random episode of Say Yes to the Dress. TLC’s wedding dress-shopping show and polarizing political debates go together like… two things that do not go together. So it’s not surprising that Omarosa’s episode tried to side-step Trump controversy altogether. The segment, which was filmed prior to the inauguration, only mentions Manigault’s boss’s political aspirations in passing. When Kleinfeld consultant Lisa is given her assignment for the day, she raises an eyebrow: “Omarosa from The Apprentice? She’s on the Trump Team!” Lisa makes a face implying that she would much rather be pulling looks for Chelsea, or even Hillary’s hot nephew. Since Lisa is a professional, she limits her response to “oh boy.”
Oh boy, indeed.
Omarosa rolls into Kleinfeld’s with the confident smile of a woman who is getting $25,000 worth of goods for two hours of her time. Resplendent in what can only be described as a basket-weave-cropped cape, she’s flanked by a crew of girlfriends and her “mama-rosa.” In her talking-head introduction, Manigault doesn’t even mention her work on Donald Trump’s campaign, choosing to identify herself as “a business professor at the Howard University School of Business.” Of course, she pays homage to her reality-TV past, recalling, “The public got to know me on a show called The Apprentice with Donald Trump. I was the tough girl in the boardroom: unapologetically ambitious.”
Manigault is dead-set on avoiding the traditional white wedding dress. She explains, “I was engaged to Michael Clarke Duncan, I had chosen this beautiful white dress for that occasion. I went from planning our wedding four years ago to planning his funeral because he passed away, and so I went through a really tough period after he passed, and a really long period of grieving, soul-searching, and so I want to do something that is reflective of this new chapter in my life.”
Manigault doesn’t allude to the controversy that surrounded Duncan’s death, with the actor’s sister accusing The Apprentice star of pressuring Duncan into re-writing his will. Say Yes to the Dress is not here for legal controversies or TMZ stories any more than it is here for politics and partisanship. Say Yes to the Dress is here for slow-motion pans of Omarosa Manigault’s engagement ring, and bridal anecdotes like this one: “John and I met while serving on a board for a charity that helps inner-city youth learn the game of golf.” Trump would be so proud.
Omarosa explains that she and John are looking to recreate one of their first dates, which took place during D.C.’s famous cherry-blossom festival. Of course, the perfect themed wedding requires a one-of-a-kind Kleinfeld wardrobe. Manigault notes, “I want to walk in the church and let them know—the first lady has arrived.” Move over, Melania/Ivanka/Kellyanne.
Naturally, Omarosa Manigault is the perfect Say Yes to the Dress contestant. She doesn’t have a budget, and her only demands are for a non-white gown and “drama.” She clarifies that, “I want everything at the same time”—which, for Omarosa, means a flattering, gilded, cotton-candy-colored dress that’s simultaneously “perfect for a pastor’s wife.” Somehow, despite finding her perfect dress on the first try, Manigault manages to get into a bit of a tiff with Fashion Director Randy. Omarosa calls Randy “bossy,” and doesn’t like the form-fitting gown he’s pushing for. “I’m trying to get into heaven,” Manigault lectures him. “Unless I’m going to be your plus one, the cleavage isn’t going to work.”
As she explains in a talking head, “Randy’s never worked with a bride like Lady O… we both are very strong personalities. And when two bulls come together, sometimes they lock horns.” That’s right: Omarosa even got a villain edit on Say Yes to the Dress, a TLC show about trying on wedding dresses and falling in love. After pranking her bridal party with a “provocative” Pnina gown, Omarosa ultimately “says yes” to dress No. 1. Before running out of Kleinfeld’s with her free swag, Manigault spares a few extra seconds for a moment of reflection: “I don’t have as much edge as I did on The Apprentice,” she muses, “I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.”
Lady O, you just bartered your fifteen minutes of fame for a comped wedding gown and managed to start a fight with Randy Fenoli. Don’t sell yourself short.