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January 18, 2012  | by: Dania McDermott

In the land of Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, our opinions of its players can change wildly with each season — Camille’s gone from desperate trophy wife to fun-to-be-around divorcee; Kyle’s unwittingly revealed her insecure side after seeming like the ultimate in confidence; Kim’s evaded the label of alcoholic since sharing that a host of barbiturates is to blame for her loopy affect — and that’s just the Beverly Hills cast.

As season four of the Atlanta sect continues to unfold, viewers are again privy to the dawn of a “new” housewife: Nene Leakes.

Once dubbed the “realest” housewife of Atlanta, Leakes was unabashed when dispersing her opinions. Whether directly addressing the viewer during confessional interviews or simply spending time with frenemy, Kim Zolciak, Leakes’ no holds barred persona left little room for speculation as to where she stood on any given issue. In a word, she was obnoxious.

Viewers loved it, her lack of tact and inhibition lauded as both hilarious and brutally honest. Which it was. Unpretentious and unapologetic, Leakes was something of an anomaly amongst women like ex-housewife, DeShawn Snow, who threw bullshit charity events to feign importance. Leakes invested in Twisted Heart, a foundation for women in abusive relationships — a cause that she made clear was personal. And when her now nonexistent friendship with Zolciak showed its first signs of trouble at the end of season one, people actually empathized with the way Leakes was treated. “First season was great for me,” she told LA Times in 2009. “Most people loved me.”

Season One Nene: Loud and Playful

Season One Nene: Fun, Blunt, Outgoing

Most people loved the show, period. Already a glorified hit by the end of its first season, Leakes was quite arguably its break out star. Dropping the long weave she’d sported for season two, Leakes also seemed to abandon the core of what made her TV presence work: Humor. Still clinging to past hurts, she griped bitterly about being excluded from “Tardy for the Party,” attempting (unsuccessfully) to bully season two newcomer Kandi Burruss for her involvement in recording and producing the song. Kandi, Nene maintained, was too “ghet-toe.”

Season 2 Nene: Bullying, Bitter, Extra

Season 2 Nene: Bullying, Bitter, Extra

Of course, Leakes’ angry overtures made for expected Housewives fare, but they also signaled that we may have given our favorite Atlanta star too much credit. Even Burruss, who soon became a fan favorite herself for refusing to take any guff from the considerably taller Leakes was surprised that they didn’t get along: “She was my favorite one last year,” she revealed in the same LA Times interview. “And we really clashed.”

Following allegations that she’d choked Zolciak in an off-camera fight at the end of season two, season three’s Nene would apparently clash with everyone. Battling bitterly with former bestie Dwight Eubanks over shady business dealings was one beef, while quarreling with son, Bryce and now ex-husband, Gregg kept her sparring at home.

Season 3 Nene: Nipped, Tucked and Borderline Bourgie

Season 3 Nene: Nipped, Tucked and Borderline Bourgie

But it wasn’t a purely combative season for Lady Leakes. In a display of the candor viewers once cherished her for, the reality darling turned reality villain revealed she was getting a nose job. And a breast lift. It wasn’t exactly the sort of decision one could realistically keep secret, but lesser housewives have denied going under the knife before.

The surgery was indicative of internal shifts in her career aspirations and ego, however. Sidling up to legitimate model and season three addition Cynthia Bailey as quickly as she dismissed fellow newcomer and attorney Phaedra Parks for not being “fabulous enough,” it became painfully evident that Leakes was hungrier than ever to be associated with all things high end.

In keeping with her growing desire for money and visibility, she appeared on Celebrity Apprentice during the lull between seasons — a platform where her big mouth and brash attitude put a smirk on the otherwise smug mug of series’ host Donald Trump.

Season 4 Nene: Haughty, Dishonest and Entitled

Season 4 Nene: Haughty, Dishonest and Entitled

She didn’t win, but it didn’t matter. Leakes’ inflated ego was omnipresent by the premiere episode of season four: When accused by once-buddy Sheree Whitfield of demanding more money for an appearance that she’d invited Leakes to take part in behind her back, the characteristically combative housewife was all bark with no bite — that is, Whitfield recited facts so visibly indisputable that Leakes could only shout over her in an attempt to drown out the truth. “While you were running your mouth, I was running to the bank,” she declared. “Depositing a TRUMP check. I’m rich, bitch.”

It was the second time the phrase would ignite a maelstrom of attention, and the first stark indication that the ladies of Atlanta were contending with a brand new bitch.

Rich Old Lady Swag is Simply Marvelous

Rich Old Lady Swag is Simply Marvelous

Appearing on Watch What Happens Live alongside Andy Cohen following Sunday night’s episode, Leakes provided further evidence that her evolution has yet to reach a standstill. When asked about Kandi’s mom, Joyce, insisting that she and Kim say hi to each other, she responded with an upward lilting of words typically expected of natural blondes: “I REALLY really LIKE Joyce,” she began. “I just don’t think it was appropriate,” she concluded with a contrived sense of etiquette.

Season 5 Nene: Inauthentic, Disloyal and Opportunistic?

Season 5 Nene: Inauthentic, Disloyal and Opportunistic?

Much of the interview proceeded in this manner, Leakes’ nasal, unusually high pitched voice an uncomfortably forced constant that was difficult to digest. When questioned about the recent cover shoot for The Hollywood Reporter, Leakes’ heavy handed enthusiasm read like a bad Joan Collins impression, all dignified and “dahling.”

But the most cringe-worthy moment came when Cohen inquired about Kim. Her blood pressure clearly on the rise, Nene’s valiant effort at coming across as elegant, refined and ladylike whatever she isn’t began showing major cracks in consistency. The more she grappled between a falsified affect and the way she’d speak to her son, the more nauseatingly labored her entire facade became. “I’m into grow-ing,” she panted in response to the question of whether Kim’s changed. “Maybe she has, I don’t know. And frankly I don’t give a damn.”

It was as close to the “real” Nene as the thirty minute show got, though we’re not entirely sure who the real Nene Leakes is anymore — and neither is she.

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