This past weekend, thousands of day-drinking reality TV junkies took over the Javits Convention Center in New York to see hundreds of stars from the Bravo network. There were stars from Real Housewives, Below Deck, Married to Medicine, Southern Charm, Vanderpump Rules and more – all presented to a bevy of screaming fans eager to take photos, offer support for or boo Lisa Rinna. Depending on who you ask, this could be heaven or hell.
I was there. And for me, it was a mix of both.
I think I’ve professed my love for reality TV here on Lainey Gossip before. So when I heard that this year’s convention was a go, I rang my two best friends, bought our flight tickets, arranged our accommodations and made it there with a clear vision: get a photo with Andy Cohen and tell Heather Gay she is ICONIC.
Neither of those things happened, though. Why not?
First, the sheer expense of it all. BravoCon was very much a tiered event. The ticket options were 1 or 3 day passes at either the GA, VIP, or SVIP levels. Prices ranged from $170 for a 1 day GA pass to $1,950 for the 3 day SVIP level pass – which came with all sorts of accoutrements, like “complimentary” access to a Watch What Happens Live taping or attendance to the Legends Ball, each of these costing a minimum of $175 a la carte. Needless to say, my GA ticket was not getting me anywhere near Andy Cohen or Heather Gay. Or any other Bravo star for that matter.
Second, the mayhem. We were only there on the Sunday. Everyone knows that all the activity and excitement takes place on the Friday and Saturday. I was concerned about how much we’d miss, but after hearing about the mayhem that took place on the first two days, I was content with my choice. And once the videos showing the crowds, likening the event to the infamous Fyre Festival started surfacing, I knew we made the right choice.
The scheduling was also part of the chaos. There was always something happening – a panel discussion, a photo op, an add-on experience. But for GA ticketholders who had to spend most of their time in long lines, a lot was missed.
Throughout the day, I felt this strange air of frustration and betrayal. I felt like I had spent thousands of hours consuming these shows from the very beginning. I first tuned into Real Housewives in 2009, hooked after Teresa Giudice’s table flip. I felt like I was an integral part of the audience that helped catapult these stars to the levels of fame which they currently enjoy. But because I wasn’t willing to shell out $2,000, BravoCon humbled me, reminding me that the network is at the helm of it all, not me.
There came a certain point where it felt like every star on Bravo was becoming a business owner. There were brands, products, restaurants and bars coming out of the woodwork. Skinnygirl. Witches of WeHo. Loverboy. CaraGala. MommiNation. Bedroom Kandi. She By Sheree. Pump. SUR. TomTom. And, sure, why wouldn’t these stars use their camera time to also market their businesses? (Lainey: apparently Bravo doesn’t pay well to be on whatever show.) The entrepreneurial storyline became such a content pillar of the shows that Bravo started collecting a percentage of profits because of the free advertising the stars were getting just by talking about their businesses while filming.
It’s no wonder, then, that there was a Bravo Bazaar at BravoCon that allowed attendees to shop the products we’ve heard so much about, in person. I might be overly skeptical, but I couldn’t help but feel like in addition to there being a genuine interest in some of the products, this was just another opportunity to get money from people eager to connect with the stars.
I mentioned that scheduling was part of the chaos. So imagine how many of us GA ticketholders wound up in the Bravo Bazaar, eager to forge some sort of connection with the stars since it was becoming increasingly difficult to do so in person. And it worked. I left with a $30 candle by Kandi Burruss that turns into massage oil when heated. And I have my own line of candles! What did I need this for?
There were overpriced She By Sheree clothes there. We know damn well she doesn’t make the clothes herself. All she talked about on Real Housewives of Atlanta was them being stuck in Alaska. But you bet people were spending their money on her athleisure wear. As a small business owner, I can’t describe the value of having a booth at an event like BravoCon. Thousands of people over the course of three days? Not only is it sales, but it’s also marketing. Whoever hadn’t heard of your brand while watching the show certainly knows about it now.
Similar to the evolution of the stars and their brands, though, is also the evolution of BravoCon itself. Despite this only being the second convention, it’s changed a lot since its inaugural year in 2019. Three years ago, it was small and intimate and there was a lot of face time with the stars. It’s almost as if it was this thing the network was trying to do, throwing stuff at the wall to see what would stick. But as word about BravoCon spread among reality TV nation, and there was this rumble of anticipation to get out after the pandemic, the organizers realized how much of an appetite there was for an event like this. This year came countless sponsorships from companies like Lays and State Farm, the pricier tickets and a new swath of stars that have been introduced between the first event and now. So what will become of the next BravoCon?
Yesterday, I filled out the survey for my experience. It was hard to communicate my ambivalence. How do I summarize feeling disappointed and forgotten as a GA ticketholder, while also basking in the glory of sharing oxygen with so many people whose lives and journeys I’ve followed closely for years? The question I keep getting asked is whether I would go again. And it’s an answer I don’t yet have. I don’t think the convention is worth going to unless you do VIP or SVIP. And I don’t know that I’ll be able to justify the exuberant cost of doing so, despite what my heart desires.
There is much to be said about the science of how these stars went from everyday wives, servers, yachties and doctors to the public figures they have become. Bravo has certainly been the driving force for these stars reaching higher levels of fame. And with a showrunner like Andy Cohen, who has masterfully woven so many of the shows, the stars and the stuff that happens outside of filming together into a widely-watched, never-ending spectacle, these people were destined to make it big. Even if it’s at the expense of some of the network’s most tried and true fans.
Attached: Andy at BravoCon 2022.